The man who coined the term Celtic Tiger avoids clichés like the plague

Term “Celtic Tiger” may have contributed to the hubris that ultimately slayed the tiger

Kevin Gardiner, the man who coined the phrase “Celtic Tiger”.  Photograph: Frank Miller

Kevin Gardiner, the man who coined the phrase “Celtic Tiger”. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Had the title of Kevin Gardiner’s 1994 economic report for investment bank Morgan Stanley remained as originally written, Ireland: Growing Quickly Without Much Inflation, it might have been long forgotten.

Just before publication, a phrase and a new title, The Irish Economy: A Celtic Tiger, jumped to mind and the Cardiff-born economist has pride of place in Irish economic annals for coining the phrase.

Gardiner, now an investment strategist at Rothschild, has said that nothing he has written since has resonated so loudly. An Irish economist once wished him boiled in his own spit for coining the phrase.

He has been asked many times to come up with another phrase that might describe Ireland’s economic journey since then but he has refused. He jokes that he “avoids clichés like the plague” now, believing that the term “Celtic Tiger” may have contributed to the hubris that ultimately slayed the tiger.

“It made people cut corners and rely a little too heavily on the cliché. I am wary of how these phrases develop a life of their own and lead to short cuts. They make people views things in a less careful way and may contribute to some of the animal spirits – to use the phrase from [economist John Maynard] Keynes – and the circus around the phrase can have a little bit of an impact,” he said.

Gardiner declines to comment on the merits of the use of the phrase “Phoenix miracle”by the Central Bank economist Gabriel Fagan, saying that he has not looked at the data underpinning it, but adds that he is a “huge fan” of the Irish Central Bank and their economic analysis.

The London-based economist says that the factors cited in his report that drove Irish economic growth 23 years ago remain. It was “a serious call . . . and not a bad one.”

It still explains the rapid Irish economic turnaround since the crash, he says: an attractive place for US companies to set up operations, strong exports and inward investment, a young, educated English-speaking population and a friendly place to invest in and do business in.

“There was always substance beneath the cliché: Ireland’s economic success originally had little to do with credit, and it clearly still doesn’t,” he said.

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