Is America Just an Oversized Ireland?

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In a review of Fintan O’Toole’s Ship of Fools, a book about the boom and bust of the Irish economy, Henry Farrell summarizes the pathologies of Irish political culture and then concludes:

Yet is American politics so very different? Irish politics is profoundly shaped by perceptions regarding the difference between those who have influence within the system and those who are relegated to the periphery….This is as plausible a description of the United States as of Ireland. In the U.S. system, too, the broad imperatives of globalization are marshaled by well-connected and “untouchable” business interests to defeat regulatory oversight, of the financial system and elsewhere. The American version of these interests is less roughly spoken than its Irish equivalents, and wears better suits, but otherwise it is not very different from the forces that brought Ireland to near collapse. If Ireland once seemed like a miniature America, America looks increasingly like an oversized Ireland. A comparison that was once all too self-congratulatory now has disturbing implications.

I had a hard time staying interested in Ship of Fools even though it’s a short read. That’s not because it’s an especially bad book — though I would have preferred a little bit more analytical meat to go with the unrelenting outrage — but because if you covered up the names you could have fooled me into thinking it was just another book about America’s financial collapse. If O’Toole is to be trusted, the only real difference is that American politicians will generally be prosecuted if they’re caught in obvious and provable corruption while Irish politicians aren’t. Beyond that, though, the political culture is pretty much the same, the financial culture is pretty much the same, the real estate boom was pretty much the same, and all the rhetoric that supported it was pretty much the same.

Obviously that’s not O’Toole’s fault, and certainly the details are often interesting in their own right. But basically, “Ireland was a mini-America” pretty much sums up the whole thing. Move along, nothing to see here.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

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