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Today’s New York Times contains this letter from one Mr. Peter Ebnet of St. Cloud, Minnesota.  Mr. Ebnet is distraught that Ireland is prospering.  I send him here an open letter:

Dear Mr. Ebnet:

You are "saddened" that Ireland is becoming economically prosperous. No, that’s not quite right (or fair of me): You are "saddened" because Ireland is losing its "identity" as its people cooperate ever more closely with more and more peoples from around the world in a process that improves their standards of living.

The sight of "foreign manufacturing plants" in Ireland burdens you with "oppressive melancholy." You regret that Gaelic is fading today everywhere as a spoken language, save in the western coast of Ireland – the part that remains poorest and that hasn’t yet been much affected by globalization.

You expressly hope that other countries don’t follow Ireland’s recent path, lest they lose their "identities."

Reading your letter reminds me of a conversation I had about five years ago with a friend – a dear and good friend – who just returned from her first trip to Ireland. She was disappointed because Ireland "looks a lot like America."

This American friend of mine wanted Ireland to be filled with cute little thatched-roof cottages inhabited by gentle peasant-folk tending their gardens, feeding their pigs, and looking about merrily in verdant meadows for four-leafed shamrocks. My American friend was appalled that the Irish share her taste for material wealth – for houses with solid roofs – for modern appliances – for automobiles and broad, smoothly paved roads – for shopping centers, airports, fusion-cuisine restaurants, and all the other blessings of a worldwide market.

Of course, my American friend didn’t quite see herself in this way. She simply didn’t see or think. To her – a middle-class American woman for whom material wealth is the norm – the expected opportunity to gaze first-hand upon simple peasants going about their peasant-ways in their peasant-clothes in their peasant-settings was almost something of a right. "How dare they not be as I expect them to be!" was her unsaid theme. "How dare they enjoy similar things to those that I enjoy!  How dare their country look like mine!  This unexpected set of affairs makes my vacation to Ireland less pleasant."

In other words, this friend of mine – like you, Mr. Ebnet – selfishly wants other people to be museum pieces for her enjoyment. You and she dislike signs of material progress in Ireland because you live in the United States, with ready access to an abundance of material wealth that the Irish are just now beginning to enjoy themselves.

You blithely wish that the Irish had remained poor so that you would have continued, during your visits from America, to luxuriate in their quaint languages and enjoy gazing upon Ireland’s natural vistas unaffected by advanced commerce.

And you want other peoples to reject the wealth that the Irish (and Americans) now enjoy so that they retain their "identities" – identities as poor, peasant-dominated societies.

Why should other people want to make these sacrifices for you, Mr. Ebnet? Are you willing to make like sacrifices for them? Are you, for example, willing to go off to live in the Minnesota woods in an unheated log cabin with no running water or electricity? No car? No supermarkets? After all, I’m sure that visitors to America would really appreciate gazing upon a true American pioneer, living just the way our great-great-grandparents lived.

If you’re not willing to take this step, Mr. Ebnet, please tell me why you expect the Irish and other peoples in places less affluent than the U.S. to do so? Or, at least, please explain why your selfish desires about how Ireland and other countries should look and sound deserve a hearing given that the people who live in these places obviously want more material prosperity.


Don Boudreaux (whose grandmothers were born Teresa Flanagan and Estella Ryan)