Four thoughts on the reformed budgetary process

The new budgetary process announced last week includes an oversight committee within the Oireachtas and a series of stepping stone documents en route to the formal Budget Day announcement speech in October.

These processes are the Spring Statement, to set the tax and spend parameters for the coming 12 months, the National Economic Dialogue, to bring what used to be called the ‘social partners’ together to discuss spending priorities en bloc with Ministers, an expenditure report in early July and the tax strategy papers being circulated by late July.

First thought: A lot of this is happening already, and has been happening for years if not decades.

Think about the process. About half way through the year, a rough spending envelope is envisaged. Lobby groups try to convince Ministers to spend more on their thing, whatever that is, and within the walls of Merrion St., the boffins figure out various tax and spend combinations, which then gets presented to the Minister for her or his sign off on budget day. The same people performing the same processes will be working on the new budgetary processes.

The big difference in today’s formulation is how open and transparent it could be. It may not be. The simple way to make it less transparent is to under-fund the budget oversight committee’s secretariat, plunge them into a sea of unsearchable .pdfs, ignore any requests for raw data by saying something like ‘commercial sensitivity’ or something else, and go to the pub.

Second thought: Assuming everyone engages with an open heart, the big wins may still not be transparent. This is because really stupid ideas like Decentralisation won’t even make it to the floor of the Committee.

The process will have a hard time establishing its importance without additional reports on the distributional impacts or gender impacts of new policies, new models, or an open data framework. Unpopular but necessary fiscal elements (say increasing the local property tax at some point) may well get stymied by a committee afraid to make an voter-unfriendly decision.

Third thought: None of this will avoid last minute dot com political flyers. We may still see weird little subsidies for greyhounds or taxidermists or endangered snails or whatever still creeping in at the last minute, because that’s the way our politics works.

Fourth thought: This is the start of a longer conversation about fiscal oversight and control, vote by vote, within the Oireachtas and within the Government. It is going to be fascinating.

The History of Economic Thought Website

With the support of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), the History of Economic Thought Website has been re-launched.

It is an excellent resource and provides an Alphabetical Index of Economists, Schools of Thought and a collection of Essays and Surveys.

The Essays and Surveys section includes an “Edgeworthian Exchange” link dedicated to Edgeworth’s Tales and The Edgeworthian Revival. Aside from the obvious Irish connections, this link is a fascinating read and might be of particular interest to some.

Very sad news – Brendan Walsh

We just heard this morning that Professor Brendan Walsh, formerly of UCD School of Economics and the ESRI, passed away suddenly.

Brendan was a hugely important and influential figure in the Irish economics community and a terrific colleague to boot.

People better qualified than me will no doubt write an appreciation, but in the meantime, deepest sympathies are extended to his family.

Update: appreciations from the Irish Times, Irish Independent.

Reforming Ireland’s Budgetary Cycle

Via Commenter @DOCM:

The final report of the Oireachtas sub-committe on reform is now available here.

It represents a major, even historical, change, including the introduction by 2017 of an IPBO, which we discussed here.

There remain, however, a number of major ambiguities e.g. no definition of the “budgetary cycle”, lack of clarity in the role of the Budget Oversight Committee (BOC) and its relations ship with the the sectoral committee “shadowing” Finance, PER and the Taoiseach’s department and, in particular, the other sectoral committees (page 9) “Committee also to consider option where Departmental Estimates would be considered by sectoral committees which would make their views known to Budget Oversight Committee for its consideration of aggregate position.”

In short, plenty on the form but very little in the matter of the substance of the involvement of the Dáil in deciding the levels and allocation of expenditure and taxation. It seems. however, that the split between PER and Finance will be between these two issues cf. the remarks by the Minister of Finance:

“The Spring Economic Statement will become a summer statement and it should be ready by June. There will be a full debate in the House. I am providing all the text papers to the finance committee so that there will be a full debate on taxation at that point, in advance of the budget.”

Ireland exits the EDP

Unsurprisingly the European Commission have concluded that Ireland’s “excessive deficit” per the reference values in the TFEU has been corrected.  The Commission decision is here.

The Commission have also published their country-specific recommendations on Ireland based on this staff report.

There is lots in the staff report but on the fiscal side in introducing their CSRs the Commission note:

[Following the abrogation of the excessive deficit procedure, Ireland is in the preventive arm of the Stability and Growth Pact and subject to the transitional debt rule.] In its 2016 stability programme, which is based on a no-policy-change assumption, the government plans gradual improvements of the headline balance until reaching a surplus of 0.4% of GDP in 2018. The revised medium-term budgetary objective  a structural deficit of 0.5% of GDP – is expected to be reached in 2018. However, the annual change in the recalculated11 structural balance of 0.1% of GDP in 2016 does not ensure sufficient progress towards the medium-term budgetary objective. According to the stability programme, the government debt-toGDP ratio is expected to fall to 88.2% in 2016 and to continue declining to 85.5% in 2017. The macroeconomic scenario underpinning these budgetary projections is plausible. However, the measures needed to support the planned deficit targets from 2017 onwards have not been sufficiently specified. Based on the Commission 2016 spring forecast, there is a risk of some deviation from the recommended fiscal adjustment in 2016, while Ireland is projected to be compliant in 2017 under unchanged policies. Ireland is forecast to comply with the transitional debt rule in 2016 and 2017. Based on its assessment of the stability programme and taking into account the Commission 2016 spring forecast, the Council is of the opinion that Ireland is expected to broadly comply with the provisions of the Stability and Growth Pact. Nevertheless, further measures will be needed to ensure compliance in 2016.

The Commission press release detailing all of the decisions taken and documents published today is here.

ESRI Report on Consumer Decision Making

The ESRI published a report on Friday entitled “An Investigation of Consumers’ Capabilities with Complex Products“. The authors are Pete Lunn, Marek Bohacek, Jason Somerville, Aine Ni Choisdealbha and Féidhlim McGowan. It contains a fascinating range of experimental findings demonstrating the pronounced difficulties experienced by consumers in valuing and making decisions with complex, multi-attribute products.

Below is from the ESRI press release. This has been a long-run research programme and the work is worth wide-spread debate in terms of implications for consumer protection, regulation and related policy areas.

PRICE Lab is a research programme in behavioural economics, jointly funded by the Central Bank of Ireland, the Commission for Communications Regulation, the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The lab uses computerised experiments to study what consumers are capable of and what they are not.

The experiments described in the report systematically tested how accurately consumers could distinguish good deals from bad deals. The results showed that once consumers had to take into account more than two or three factors at the same time, they struggled to spot good deals and often made mistakes.

The findings also revealed systematic biases in consumers’ choices. Across multiple experiments, consumers tended to think that deals closer to the top of the product range were good value while deals closer to the bottom were bad, even when the high-end products were expensive for what they were and the low-end products were good value at the price listed.

The report discusses implications of the results for consumer protection. The findings suggest that consumers can benefit if product ranges and descriptions are kept simple. Where companies instead market products in an unnecessarily complex fashion, with multiple characteristics and price components, consumers will be more likely to make mistakes. In markets where consumers struggle with the volume or complexity of product information, comprehensive, independent price comparison sites can play an important role, by helping consumers to integrate the information or by drawing consumers’ attention to the most important product features.

What should an Irish Parliamentary Budget Office Do?

Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs) exist around the world and typically provide budget projections, budget risk analyses, estimates of policy changes, impact assessments, flow of funds analyses, macro-trend analysis, and financial analysis where, prospective policies can be independently costed. The PBO also has an outreach function to show the public the work parliament does in assessing the fit of new proposals.

PBOs are different from Fiscal Councils, in that fiscal councils occupy a watchdog function, evaluating the health of the economy generally and assessing compliance with constitutionally-mandated fiscal rules. Ireland has a fiscal council, it does not have a PBO. The new programme for government commits (on pages 14 and 15) to establishing one.

Continue reading “What should an Irish Parliamentary Budget Office Do?”

Climate change in the 32nd Dáil

The 32nd Dáil has already thrown up some, eh, interesting views on climate change [youtube], which I previously responded to here. The new Dáil also sees the return of the Green Party, with two TDs elected.

With the formation of the new government on Friday we now have a Department for “Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources“. Denis Naughten, independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, has been appointed as Minister.

On the one hand, having a government department with climate change in the title seems like progress. Continue reading “Climate change in the 32nd Dáil”

Course outlines of the great economists

Irwin Collier has a fascinating blog with archival materials on the kinds of things the great economists taught via their course outlines. He has other stuff up there, but I know readers of this blog will enjoy this site. There’s some Irish work of interest here too: You’ll find references to Cairnes in Orcutt’s 1950 Empirical Economics courses, the work of UCD’s George O’Brien work on mediaeval economic thought appears on the Harvard reading list c.1950, and more.

The Economics of City Regrowth – Trinity College Dublin PhD Grattan Scholarship

The Department of Economics at Trinity College Dublin invites applications for a Grattan Scholarship at PhD level, starting in September 2016, on the economics of city regrowth. The funding includes all fees, an annual stipend of €20,000 and a budget for research expenses, over a four-year period. In return, Scholars are expected to undertaking teaching and research assistance as required. Interested applicants are requested to contact Ronan Lyons (ronan.lyons@tcd.ie) by Monday May 16th.

More information is available at this link: The Economics of City Regrowth – Grattan Scholarship 2016-2020

Barrington Medal and JSSISI call for papers

The Statistical & Social Inquiry Society of Ireland is entering its 170th year – which surely means it must rank among the oldest societies of its kind on the planet. As it enters a new year, I would just like to draw the attention of this blog’s readers to the following two notices:

  1. The Barrington Medal, 2016/17, abstract due by end-July.
  2. A call for papers for the Society’s journal, with submissions due by early August.

Draft SPU Update: Risks

The Department of Finance has released a Spring-less Statement (.pdf), showing some interesting debt dynamics projections and a really nice risk-assessment section (see page 26) and their likely impacts on the Irish economy. Brexit figures highly, as one might imagine, but so do other external demand shocks and domestic issues, and the fiscal risks associated with not meeting our climate change targets. The Department writes:

There are fiscal risks associated with a legally binding EU Effort Sharing Decision on climate change covering the 2013-2020 period. Ireland is obliged to achieve a 20 per cent Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction (compared to 2005 levels) in certain sectors. Current EPA projections estimate that Ireland will not achieve this reduction and failure to comply may incur costs of hundreds of millions through the purchase of carbon credits until such time as the target is complied with. Similarly, further new costs may arise in the context of a new EU climate and energy framework for the period 2020-2030, which will set new emissions reduction targets.

Scary stuff.

Lecturer in Economics, Queens University Belfast

The Queen’s Management School, at Queen’s University Belfast, is hiring a Lecturer in Economics. The School is particularly keen to attract those with expertise in macroeconomics; public economics; health, education and welfare economics; and labour economics. More details here. The closing date is next Monday, 25 April 2016.

Macrofinancial History and the New Business Cycle Facts

Jordà, Schularick and Taylor have produced a must-read paper, summarising the results of a decade-long research effort to create a long-run macro-financial data set for 17 countries. The paper is here (.pdf) and they provide some new stylized facts they document should “prove fertile ground for the development of a newer generation of macroeconomic models with a prominent role for financial factors”.Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 21.57.06

In particular, they document a ‘hockey-stick’ effect of private sector creditto GDP for a range of economies, and one of the hockey sticks can be seen in the figure below. After about 1950, for most of the elements the authors study, finance and leverage takes a more and more central role in the development of modern economies.

PostDoc on the Economics of Flooding at UCC

UCC’s Dr Tom McDermott is looking to hire a post-doc to work on a project on the economics of flooding (with an Ireland focus). The project is funded by the EPA, and involves collaboration with Swenja Surminski in the Grantham Research Institute, LSE. The job advert is here and closes May 3rd.

(Link updated, thx Enda H.)

Maintenance & Upgrade Time

The site will be down this coming Sunday morning  Saturday afternoon for maintenance and upgrading. After backing up the database, etc., we’ll be moving the design of the site to the Twenty Sixteen default, which is much better for viewing on phones, tablets, and other devices. We’ll also be adding more features for posters on data and images as well as other upgrades.

There will be more changes coming in the next few weeks, so please bear with us.

Odds on Brexit

I posted before about David Bell’s analysis of the Scottish referendum bookies odds. The bookmakers seemed to do a good job not overreacting to the late poll numbers showing a marked swing to Yes. The days before the referendum were throwing up some dramatic poll results but the odds did not adjust as dramatically, implying the bookies were either temporally averaging across polls, had some priors about the quality of the polls, or were doing a degree of Bayesian updating or something similar. David has provided a nice piece here for those looking to keep track of bookies odds for Brexit. For now, it looks like Stay is the favorite by quite a margin and more than one would think just by looking at opinion polls.