“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”
That sounds like something Oscar Wilde might have said but the Danes beat him to it by way of an old proverb, the provenance of which has been lost in the mists of time.
Yet making predictions is what many of us do at this time of year, along with resolutions and promises to ourselves and others. For economists, guessing the future is not just an indulgence in whimsical musing, but an essential part of their function. For politicians, it may be a matter of survival — at least until the next election.
For the nation as a whole, 2018 holds much promise but there are also challenges ahead that have to be faced with vigour and resolve.
Economically, the future looks brighter than it has for years. Even by the most conservative estimate, the Irish economy grew by more than 6% last year. The unemployment rate is likely to fall to 5% in the coming months and the public finances are close to being back in balance.
Best of all, it is the domestic economy that is fuelling our remarkable economic recovery. Smaller companies are expected to create 25,000 jobs in 2018 despite challenges including Brexit, according to the Small Firms Association.
However, it will take far more than wishful thinking to make this happen. It will require not just hard work by
business-owners and their staff but creative thinking by the Government.
Since the 1960s we have relied on encouraging foreign direct investment to bring about domestic prosperity. It has, by and large, been a successful policy, but more and more also a limited one as it is increasingly vulnerable to global economic, currency, and political volatility, most notably in the shape of Brexit and the Trump administration.
It is now time for the Government to provide additional supports to indigenous industry in the form of a fairer tax system for both smaller businesses and their employees, not just to provide a barrier against these economic tides, but as an investment in the future.
We face other challenges, too. Abortion is likely to be the dominant feature of political discourse in the year ahead. The Citizens’ Assembly has made its recommendations and the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution has issued its report.
It is now incumbent on all of us to reflect carefully on what the next course of action should be. It is the duty of every citizen to give any changes in our abortion laws the attention they deserve, because we will be making decisions on behalf of generations to come.
But a functioning democracy is not just about economics or politics, it is also about how we care for the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable. Our health service is at breaking point, our education system in crisis, and the level of homelessness is beyond scandalous.
These are all matters that must be addressed with urgency if we are to make the future better than the past. If we do that, we will turn that Danish proverb on its head by showing that the only way to predict the future is to shape it.