McWilliams incorrect on the Return to 1980's levels of Emigration

Irish economists are reaching for any evidence of an economic meltdown with which to terrorize the public. Commentator David McWilliams, echoing Prof. Kelly (see my previous post), gets medieval on the return of 1980's style emigration. He references GAA transfer figures as representing

a huge increase in young men moving from Irish clubs all around the country to clubs in London and New York.

The idea behind the piece is very good, using a Freakonomics-style capturing of economic choices (in this case, whether to stay in Ireland or go somewhere else looking for work) through an unusual data set.

(If anyone wants to work with me on it, there is an important story to be told using this data, and it goes back many years, so get in touch if you like working with this type of stuff. I've obtained the data back to 2000.)

David is to be congratulated for looking under this particular rock for signs of our imminent economic disaster, because even though I don't think he found much, the fact that this data exists at all is interesting enough to warrant a head nod of gratitude.

I do have some problems with his interpretation of the data. I didn't believe his story, so I went and got the transfer data myself. They come from two GAA pages, here and here.

The data is monthly, and shows player movement from club to club. Some of the clubs are in London, and the UK more generally, the US, Australasia, and 'Europe'. When you take the numbers leaving for foreign soil and divide them by the numbers of people actually moving in a given month, and compare the years 2007 and 2008, you get this picture below. Click on the charts to get the data I used to construct the figures.


Each bar represents a relative group in group ratio, so in January 2007, a figure of 0.09 means only 9% of the people moving moved abroad. We see a big increase in movement over the summer months, with July 2008 being a big (but not huge) increase.

Then when you look at the absolute numbers moving, the story changes again, as the figure below shows:


Now the way to read the figure is to just count up the numbers moving anywhere, not just abroad. It's a straight summation. And do the numbers moving go up? They do not. They go down. Way down. So not an increase, but a decrease in movement over time from 2007 to 2008.

Here is the same figure as the one above, but this time just for people traveling abroad.


Again, the way to read the figure is just to add up the columns, so 101 people transfered to a club outside Ireland in April 2007. The only huge increase is in May 2007, well before the subprime crisis hit in August 2007, and not repeated through the economic doldrums we are in now.

Even looking at the raw numbers---total foreign departures in 2007 to August (to make the data ranges the same in both years) are 723 out of 2062 people transferring, so a ratio of 35%. In 2008, total foreign departures to August are 588 out of 1346, a ratio of 0.44, but still a decrease in the absolute amounts of people moving abroad to date.

So based on this simple exercise, I'd have to say David's conclusions are incorrect about rising levels of Emigration. The data just don't tell that story so clearly.