While Irish Government officials jump for joy at news of the record of employment, precious forethought has been given to the curveball that further automation will play in the labour market.
With a fifth or more of the population foreign born, the sociological reality is that the Republic of Ireland since the Celtic Tiger has replaced vast stretches of its working class with Eastern European and increasingly South American labour pools.
From the Silicon Docks, to the Nangor Road, and to Midlands meat factories, this demographic wave has been profound in transforming the street life of the nation, and though neoliberal policymakers are loath to admit it, stretching the housing market past breaking point.
While the economy coughs and splutters into a looming energy crisis one wonders findings from a UCC study on automation should weigh heavily on those advocating for and against mass migration into Ireland.
Completed at UCC in 2019 by UCC’s Economics Department, the report examines the industries and localities to be affected by automation and risks posed to employment with 40% of current roles facing the rust heap in the next two decades.
Drawing on 2016 census figures the report is keen to highlight the economic distribution as being a driving force behind the populist ascendancy of the past decade, only set to heighten in the years to come.
With those employed in administrative and traditional plant based roles being on the chopping block the study gives a regionalised perspective as to the towns to be most affected in the years to come. With Edgeworthstown and Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan coming top of the list for towns facing turbulence with the majority of roles facing economic vaporisation.
According to the study the viability of a town can be judged by its size favouring those of mid size range. Quoting from the report:
“Towns with a population less than 5,000 people and greater than 10,000 people are less exposed to automation. This suggests that mid-sized towns may not benefit from the critical mass required to be less exposed and perhaps are not niche enough to have the benefit from being small and distinct”
In addition, towns with younger populations are better equipped to ride the wave with particular concern given to Border and Midland towns enduring enhanced brain drain, particularly those with residual industrial and manufacturing bases.
The report concludes with the need for regionalised local strategies and state efforts to mitigate the ‘digital gap’ between rural and urban areas. Written before the lockdown and surge in working from home, one variable neglected in the report is the issue of migration.
With towns reaching top of the leaderboard for automation also having high migrant populations working in particular the meatpacking industry and adjacent industries, surely the impending demise of these jobs should herald a new departure in state policy.
While census figures are yet to confirm it, Edgeworthstown is one of the nation’s first Irish minority townlands with 35% and above born abroad. A 3,000 person market town, this has been driven by Eastern Europe and increasingly non-EU migrants in the local food packing industry.
With food processing an area facing significant rationalisation and streamlining surely the Irish state ought factor the impending changes when considering allowing more migrants to come.
France for example suffers from the social legacy of disgruntled Algerian proletariats automated and outsourced out of a job. While we can be grateful that most of our migrant population is transient and without the historical hangups of Algerians in France, we must prepare for a high degree of dislocation should we mismanage any economic transition.
Mass migration caters to the economic needs of today not the national wellbeing of the next century. Some tweaks now to visa and citizenship schemes, clamping down on the asylum racket and preferential treatment to Irish born citizens would take the teeth out of demographic change if applied resolutely and help buttress society against the changes of automation.
Whether we consolidate the welfare state into a UBI backed regime or wish to ride the wave of automation is our own business, what can’t occur is expecting mass migration to pick up the slack within the economy.
Mass migration has been sold to us in the post-Cold War epoch as being an inevitable and welcomed trend in a nation’s economic development. WIth the walls remerging across the world and drastic economic changes around the corner the time for retrenchment into nation state focused policymaking now.
A reorientation of the educational system away from politicised degree mills into broad based skill sets and an immediate end to the language school pyramid scheme is also required for the years ahead.
Opposition to mass migration need not be built off raw nativism alone (though that helps) but the sheer recklessness of it all in the face of the technological leaps and bounds ahead of us. Importing millions in at a time of flux right as the economic rug is to be pulled from whole sectors of the economy is myopic to the extreme.
Automation involves the anti-human worldviews of Klaus Schwab and friends but leads to a more comfortable lifestyle for us, consolidated behind the structure of viable nation states. At present Ireland is choosing a world of favelas and race riots as the future prepares to walk us by.