chapter  14
27 Pages

Political economy – from nation building to stagnation


Introduction As part of his wider critique of long-run Irish economic performance, Joe Lee has claimed that Irish social scientists, including economists, have been much more proficient at theoretical and empirical imitation than innovation (Lee 1989; Conway 2006: 7). Lee’s position has gained support amongst writers concerned with examining the history of sociology in Ireland. These authors have claimed that Irish sociology during the twentieth century was a theoretically derivative rather than innovative project (Conway 2006: 29). Likewise, Lee is not alone in his claim that Irish academic economists have lagged in terms of originality. Ronan Fanning went so far as to indeed claim that ‘the winds of change in Irish economics blew vigorously in the corridors of the public service long before the faintest zephyr disturbed the tranquillity of the groves of academe’ (Fanning 1984: 155). Ronan Fanning’s narrative of a heroic and modernizing civil service triumphing over academic conservatism and ineptitude is inconsistent with more recent historical interpretation, however. Fourcade has demonstrated that internationally it was public or quasi-public agencies that often harboured the most mathematical forms of economic research before they became commonplace within academic economics (Fourcade 2009: 247). In the Irish case anyway Fanning exaggerated the civil service’s receptivity to new economic ideas (Garvin 2004: 77). He also rather too conveniently ignored the fact that a ‘hero’ in his narrative, Roy Geary, had commentated favourably on one of the ‘villains’ pioneering application of statistics to price theory (Duncan 1933-34). Bryan Fanning’s The Quest for Modern Ireland provides a detailed and balanced analysis of Irish intellectual life between 1912 and 1986 (Fanning 2008). This more recent research is an antidote to the oversimplifications of Joe Lee and Ronan Fanning. Bryan Fanning’s book is concerned with a range of intellectual debates that it is claimed stimulated the transition to modern Ireland (Fanning 2008). While it is especially perceptive in terms of the interpretation of Irish sociology it provides, The Quest for Modern Ireland would have been even stronger if outlets such as the Economic and Social Review, Irish Banking Review and Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland (JSSISI) had been considered in addition to the literary and socio-political outlets.1