Some friends and I recently traveled to Ireland for a week of golf. While the golf courses haven’t changed much in the four years since my previous trip, the economy has. In 2004, Ireland was in the middle of a building boom, fueled by their position in the European Union as a lower wage country. Wages and housing prices caught up with the parity and the building boom is all but over.
Headlines in the Irish Independent told of a €8.8 billion shortfall in this year’s budget due to a 10,000 home decrease in the estimated number of new homes this year. Next year is projected to bring another record budget deficit. Tourism is down 30% due to the continuing fall of the dollar to the euro (when I visited in 2004, I think a euro cost $1.14; this week it was $1.57). Another article that I read talked about increasing the official retirement age from 65 to 68 to relieve the country’s pension burden.
Ireland’s problems are but a microcosm of ours in the U.S. Our building boom is over. Politicians haven’t been able to solve the Social Security and Medicare problems that are looming with the retirement of the baby boomer generation, and I haven’t read of a plan by either of the remaining major Presidential candidates that calls for fixing the budget and Social Security and Medicare funding issues. Funding for the war in Iraq is not counted in the “official” budget deficit and the major reason that our currency is falling against the euro and other currencies is the amount of debt that the Treasury department is issuing without regard for the long-term consequences.
Recently, a group of college presidents took a stand about climate change and the need to work toward improvement. Perhaps it’s time that we take a stand on the economy as well.