In the past couple of weeks, a Scotsman conquered the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament.
That same week, a group of Welshmen formed the spine of a Lions rugby team that comprehensively beat the southern hemisphere’s Australia. During the past five years in golf, four Irishmen have broken through in world ranking Major championships.
These sporting episodes suggest the islands to the west of Europe have a capability often ignored in the debate about developing and developed economies. It has become common practice to talk up how the developing world is fast evolving as the centre of gravity in world economics.
Hence, the argument goes, the younger generations should head off to those geographies in search of a brighter future. This narrative is usually accompanied by conclusions that the West or developed economies are strewn with social and economic failures which render them useless as places to plan a future.
Sport can often be a valuable reference point when debating this issue. Firstly, it is comprised of the new generation, as participants tend to be young. Second, it says something about the work ethos that exists among a generation that are often criticised for lacking the energy of those who went before them.
Third, it suggests the education and training systems that exist around sports are disciplined, ambitious and competitive.
I would argue mature economies (“developed” is a pejorative term) have an enormous advantage over nascent countries despite the economic and social problems that we are reminded about on a daily basis.
We exist in a society where healthcare support is widespread and deeply rooted in our social fabric. Health budgets, remember, are under pressure primarily due to an ageing population — itself reflective of improved diet and medicines.
Life expectancy in Ireland is 80 years of age. Compare that to Brazil (73), India (67), or South Africa (49).
Welfare support, despite cuts, remains more advanced and all-encompassing in the UK and Ireland than systems that exist in the so-called “developing” markets.
The corporate world also remains an eco-system with powerful foundations in economies with long histories. A perusal through the myriad of investments taking place across many new economies shows a strong presence of companies owned and headquartered in Europe and the US.
Just look at Irish companies such as Kerry Group, CRH, Avolon, and Kentz to discover substantial investments in economies stretching from Malaysia to Mexico, Mozambique to India.
Many graduates who work for Irish companies are deployed early in their careers to these markets and learn to understand cultural and business practices, adding powerful intellectual property to parent companies. This helps build our global capabilities in companies that continue to have their head offices located in mature economies.
It seems, therefore, that sport and business in the real world point to a capability and dynamism that suggests geographies close to home continue to offer bright and optimistic futures for those leaving school or college.
This point should not be lost in a whirlwind of headlines that make out Ireland and Britain are hopeless places where life is endlessly threatened by anaemic politics, broken education, and social welfare systems, together with a voracious threat to our economies from emerging markets.
These are just more conventional wisdoms that have been allowed fester and mutate during a period of very weak economic progress. They should not be allowed demoralise those about to enter the world of adulthood.
* Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal
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