[FOUNTAIN]Ireland rises from the mire

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[FOUNTAIN]Ireland rises from the mire

Ireland is like an "old sow that eats her farrow," wrote James Joyce (1882-1941), of his mother country in his biographical novel, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." The vulgar expression "old sow" reveals his mingled love and revulsion for his poverty-stricken mother country.

Ireland is well-known for its historical poverty. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the leader of the British Puritan Revolution, rose to power through that revolution and conquered Ireland, a Roman Catholic country, and confiscated land from the Irish people.

In the mid-19th century, a poor potato crop caused the starvation of a third of Ireland's 3 million people. Another 1.5 million Irish sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to survive. The ancestors of the Kennedys and of Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric, were among the emigrants.

Ireland and Korea have many things in common. Just as Korea was left devastated after the Korean War, Ireland was a poor rural country even after it became independent from Great Britain in 1922. In 1987, similar to Korea's woes during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Ireland was pushed to the brink of declaring a debt moratorium.

But Ireland fought back strongly, using dramatic economic liberalization and other steps to attract foreign investment; the Irish eventually rescued the country of 3.8 million persons and scanty natural resources.

The government and the people devoted major efforts to luring foreign companies. Labor and the government worked together to draw up an act that limited wage increases to 3 percent annually for three years, and corporate taxes were reduced to the lowest among European countries. More than 1,200 foreign companies rushed to its shores and now employ 40 percent of the Irish work force. Foreign direct investment in Ireland shot up to $20.5 billion in 2000 from around $3 billion in 1990. Per capita income soared to $25,000 a year in 2000 from $8,000 in 1987; incomes there are higher than in its former colonizer, Great Britain. Foreign Policy, a U.S. diplomacy magazine, in a joint study with AT Kearney, a consultancy, announced last week that Ireland is the most globalized among 62 countries it surveyed. Korea ranked 31st, and foreign direct investment in Korea in 2001 fell to $11.8 billion won, the first drop since 1992.

Korea should learn from the "old sow" that transformed itself.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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