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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Lessons for U.S. in Ireland experiment

The James Joyce Bridge in the province of

The James Joyce Bridge in the province of Leinster in Dublin, Ireland. Credit: Kari Granville

I’ve seen the future.

It’s in Ireland.

Go figure.

Europe’s poor cousin is ablaze with economic activity. Dublin is booming. Streets are bustling; shops are packed; cranes fill the sky. You can’t get a seat at a decent restaurant without a reservation — there are good restaurants in Dublin now.

The last time I visited the Irish capital was 25 years ago. Everyone was Irish. Today Dublin is an international city. Hues and accents of every shade and tone can be seen and heard on any street corner. Foreign workers are moving in to work for firms like Google, Microsoft, Pfizer and Accenture. Englishmen are coming to Ireland for jobs.

Gollee and begorrah!

I had forgotten what real economic growth feels like. It’s exhilarating. People walk the streets of Dublin with a skip in their step today.

I vaguely recall enthusiasm like that in late 1990s New York. The world was our oyster; there was nothing Americans couldn’t do — or so we thought.

That was before back-to-back presidential administrations, one Republican and one Democratic, quadrupled our federal debt, or close to it. We went from $5.5 trillion in the hole at the turn of the millennium to about $20 trillion now.

We still haven’t learned. We still borrow to pay basic operating expenses. President Donald Trump just cut a deal with Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling again. The Republican-led Congress will do it again in three months time, presumably, when the current deal expires. Our children’s economic future is a political football.

Ireland found itself in a terrible financial jam in 2008. It did the unthinkable: It reduced spending and hiked taxes to meet liabilities. It was a painful time for the country. The words Ireland and austerity became synonymous. Big-spending Keynesians predicted doom for the Emerald Isles.

Those same experts tie themselves into pretzel knots now to explain away Irish growth. They point to Brexit, even though the current economic expansion began long before Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Congressional leaders have shown none of the bravery Irish leaders did when the rubber met the road across the pond. Even Trump, a man seemingly immune to public criticism, won’t touch unstainable federal entitlement programs. Neither, it seems, will Republicans. People might vote against you, so damned the future. It’s the next election we’re after.

It’s the next election we’re always after.

Talk now is of targeted tax cuts. That’s only a good idea if it’s tax cuts that spur more revenue than they cost. Lowering the business tax rate to make American consumer goods more competitive will almost certainly do that. That we should do. Frivolous tax cuts we can’t afford, as much as we want them.

But it’s overspending that will kill us in the end. The debt looms larger by day.

A White House and both branches of Congress controlled by ostensibly conservative Republicans and we can barely slow it — as post-austerity Ireland booms. As long-ago Irish emigres flock back to her shores.

The ironies of history.

Begorrah, indeed.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.