Sunday, 14 November 2010

And on the subject of international mobility...

... here's another story about young people getting out of Ireland.

Most people's sympathies will be more with the unsatisfied young emigrants than with Vodafone. The generation above them spent irresponsibly on both private and public goods. (Distribute the blame between private and public, according to your own political preferences.) Now the young are expected to pay for it.

Some libertarians see mobility ("voting with your feet") as a substitute for the failings of democracy. They can even get a bit utopian about it. This idea does not work so well if societies have to make investments over time. For then, people may exit during the hard times when society invests for the future, and return during the easy times when the investment pays off.  Mobility can also damage the "social contract" whereby young workers pay the pensions of the old, and expect to be paid for in their turn.

(Technical note: in theory, all these problems may be soluble with individualised funded pensions and with government debt to smooth consumption. In theory is the operative phrase. Real societies aren't like that.)

Ireland is a small country with a history of emigration. Crises may be made worse if the young and talented rush for the exit. Positive conclusion: small is not always beautiful.

Normative conclusion: a country is not just a bag to store capital and labour. Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur ;-)