Then and now: Lesson of the rear-view mirror is that change is the one constant
There were few ‘jobs for life’, lots of farmers and almost no multinational firms. Irish business did things differently in 1963
If we ever doubt that the past is a foreign country, just take a glance at the shape and structure of the Irish economy half a century ago. Fifty years isn’t that long – some of us were even alive back then. But the changes that we have witnessed over five decades were often breathtaking.
Economic historians often complain, with justification, that the teaching of modern finance and economics fails to incorporate the lessons of the past. A nodding acquaintance with history would have helped avert some of the worst excesses of our most recent crises. But an occasional look in the rear-view mirror also serves up other useful lessons, not least of which is that change is the one thing that is constant in economic life, change that is almost always unpredictable. We also need to be reminded from time to time that our sense of history, our belief in how things used to be, often amounts to little more than fairytales.
Jobs: Become a lawyer
Some of the great myths of today are quickly exploded by only a cursory examination of the past: for instance, anyone who looks back in time hoping to observe an era of secure, pensionable employment for life is not going to find it.
Some things do stay the same. The struggle to boost the economy is an obvious constant. But echoes of the past are to be found in surprising – but nevertheless significant – places.
In 1963 we saw the first major overhaul of company law since independence. The 1963 Companies Act was the first in a long series of reforms, culminating in the current Companies Act that is making its way through the Oireachtas, which itself has been described as one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the history of the State.
The 1963 Act gave birth to many of the corporate rules and structures that are familiar to us today. The current Act means businesses will soon have to think about new acronyms like CLS (company limited by shares) or DAC (designated activity company). Advising our offspring to become lawyers seems as good an idea today as it was 50 years ago.
The banks: Anglo begins
The banks were important back then, but were not the pariahs of today. Anglo Irish Bank’s birth is not quite as murky as its death: some sources see 1963 as the year of its creation; others date it to 1964 with the emergence of Dublin City Bank. AIB didn’t exist – at least the name didn’t, just the constituent parts that would later become Allied Irish Banks.
The Irish banking scene had been relatively tranquil for a long period until the 1960s when a burst of merger and acquisition activity gave shape to the modern banking era. In 1965, for example, Bank of Ireland bought The National Bank, originally founded by Daniel O’Connell.