The global financial crisis has made austerity a new reality for many people. At Biq Questions Online, Brian Kaller reflects on why the Irish will find it easier to endure the hard times ahead than will we Americans :
The Irish have a lot in common with Americans, and not just because our globalized culture has everybody listening to Beyoncé and talking about the series finale of Lost . To a Missouri boy like me, many things seem familiar: faces and last names, crops and churches, country music stations and county fairs. This is where much of rural America comes from, the original of the species. In other ways, of course, Ireland is a European nation, with nationalized health care, coalition governments, no death penalty, and no guns.
And when it comes to attitudes toward economic hard times, the Irish could not be less American, owing to the country’s unusual modern history. Irelands stark landscape of windswept plains and ancient monoliths draws legions of tourists, inspires New Age records, fantasy literature, and inspirational calendars. But we see those ruins out of context. When built, they were surrounded by towns, farms, and a cold rainforest like Oregons today. In medieval times, Ireland was a civilized and densely populated country compared to most of Europe. Even after the land was conquered and the forests felled, as many as 8 million people lived here almost twice as many as today. Over the last 200 years, the populations of most countries increased dramatically Britains by seven-fold, America’s by a factor of 50. Irelands was cut by almost half.
The most important reason was the Famine, of course, and you can still hear the capital F in todays Ireland. But that epochal crash was just the worst chapter of a history that emptied the land and made Ireland the worlds most famous exporter of sad songs and refugees. Perhaps no other people but the Jews have been so defined by tragedy and exodus.