Sunday, 26 July 2009

Where have all the people gone?

An Saoi: Bus journeys in Dublin have become pleasant again. There is nearly always a seat and while there may have been a reduction in the number of buses on some routes, those of us lucky enough to be served by a number of routes are not unduly discommoded by waiting an extra minute or two.

There is also a distinct lack of non-nationals. So where have all the people gone?

While searching for answers, Vodafone helpfully announced a 46,000 or 2.4% drop in mobile phone customers in the three months to 30th June in Ireland and this confirms a trend decline noted in Comreg’s report for the first quarter. There was a total decline of 74,000 in the first quarter and based on the Vodafone figure, subscriber losses in the second quarter may be as high as 100,000. Now, the first thing every new arrival to Ireland gets - even before their PPS No. - is that essential of modern life, a mobile phone.

A number of academics who post regularly on Irish Economy have expressed fears about their graduating students being forced to emigrate, and certainly conversations overheard on buses seem to confirm that many see no future here.

The CSO also published recently the Retail Sales Index for May. The volume decline in car sales and household furniture has been well covered elsewhere, but what about food (-6.6%), or even fuel (-11.2%), let alone clothing (-17.1%)? I accept that people may have cut back to a degree on many items, but food? The decline between April & May alone was 2% but the decline in the previous three months was 4.1%, suggesting a clear pattern in the decline in the number of consumers is contributing to the decline.

The CSO was due to publish, before the end of July, migration figures for the early part of the year. Date of publication has been deferred until the end of August. Can it be that they are rechecking their figures?

Net Emigration in the 1950s was in the region of 412,000 or about 13% of the resident population at the end of the decade. In two years it exceeded 70,000. In the late 1980s, it averaged over 35,000 per annum. 2009 may yet break all records, for the wrong reasons.

“This country is too small to support all her people” as someone called Brian Lenihan once said in 1991, but is that true?


Tipster said...

Ho much of the drop in food sales coulc be accounted for through reductions in prices as the food retailers compete more vigorously?

Tomaltach said...

The drops shown were for volume I think Tipster.

An Saoi said...

@ Tipster: This is the volume figures; the value figure is 8.1%.

Tipster said...

@ The two of youze above me: Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification.

Slí Eile said...

Caution is needed in regard to a possible resumption of net outward migration. It is too early to say yet. There are some telling indications of a marked shift. However, this is likely to vary by age-group and economic sector. The prospects of finding employment abroad are, of course, very limited. However, we may still see a resumption especially if conditions improve in the UK and US. In that case we could be looking at jobless growth (such as in 1988-1993) and long-term structural unemployment. Courageous and new thinking is needed to trace a way forward rather than bowing to some inevitable safety value. I know you are not suggesting inevitability.
One other aspect - McCarthy et al. assume net outward migration to justify cuts in public services to migrants and their families. In this case the political message has run far ahead of available data.

Brian Woods said...

Sli, I would be much more pessimistic about outward migration of Irish (English speaking) nationals. All the usual destinations have an oversupply of labour. In addition, I do not hold out much hope for 'growth; there are some really bad indicators out there.

Some of you guys need to explain clearly - to the Great Unwashed, the significant difference between a production/construction led economy, where financials support, as opposed to a Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) economy which peddles credit and manufactures debt through consumption. This latter type of economy is collapsing in a slow-motion deflation spiral of wealth and money destruction. Really bad situation.

Worse is to come. Please consider the Export-Land Model of liquid fossil fuels production; ie: Total Production - Domestic Consumption = Nett to be exported: (T-D=N). T is declining at approx -2%, D is increasing at approx +2%. N is decreasing, hence less 'energy' for export, for us. There is a positive , causative correlation, between availability of energy, and economic growth. Less energy, less growth! QED.

An additional, and more worrisome issue, is that the world total of new fossil fuel 'finds' is less than the total world decline. Supply has peaked-out, demand has stalled - for the present. If demand resumes, something is going to snap: price rise?

Food production and transport are 100% reliant on liquid fuels, and fertilizers need natural gas. Fuel prices increase, food prices increase. Snap!

We really need to start thinking outside our current economic paradigm box.

Brian P

An Saoi said...

I chose to look at the mobile telephone numbers because they (telephones) are ubiquitous and up to date statistics are available, not just for Ireland but for other EU countries.

Ireland is also one of the few European countries with a substantial level of natural growth in population. It would be reasonable to expect a growth of over 1% per annum in mobile numbers purely on this account. This is one of the reasons which make the figures so intriguing.

I did not want to rely on David McWilliams style comments about GAA transfers to foreign clubs, but the stats are available as are the stories about clubs in trouble. I suspect however that many people who join these foreign GAA clubs were not active in Ireland. Rather these clubs provide as much a social as a sporting role for those resident in foreign climes.

Economists & Statisticians follow where markets have been and gone.We will wait to see where the figures go but I think we will be waiting until 2011 or 2012 before the CSO has caught up.