January 27th Conference on Irish Economy

Details of the fourth in the series of conferences on the Irish economy are below. Further details of talks will be posted here in advance.

Conference on Irish Economic Policy


January 27th

Clarion Hotel IFSC

On January 27th 2012, the Geary Institute will run an event on the future of Irish economy policy in Dublin. An era of unprecedented growth followed by a dramatic economic collapse is giving way to several years of sluggish growth. The main theme of the conference will be the development of more intelligent economic policy that enables substantial development even in the context of a tightened fiscal and monetary environment. The conference will take place over the course of the full day, with parallel sessions addressing employment, innovation, education and related themes. The conference aims to provide a forum for new ideas on the conduct of Irish economic policy, including the extent to which academic economics and related disciplines can make a bigger contribution to the conduct of economic policy in Ireland, and the extent to which policy can be designed more effectively.  The conference organisers are Liam Delaney, Colm Harmon and Stephen Kinsella. Please email to register attendance: emma.barron@ucd.ie There is no registration charge.

9.00 – 9.15

Registration and Opening




Chair: Minister Joan Burton

David Bell (Stirling)

P O’Connell/S McGuiness (ESRI)

Aedin Doris (Maynooth)

Chair: Stephen Kinsella (UL)

Ronan Lyons (Oxford)

Michelle Norris (UCD)

Rob Kitchin (NUIM)




Economics and Evaluation


Chair: Donal De Butleir

Robert Watt (D. PER)

Colm Harmon (UCD)

Third Speaker TBC

Chair: Kevin Denny (UCD)

Orla Doyle (UCD)

Alan Barrett/Irene Mosca (ESRI/TCD)

Brendan Walsh (UCD)




Fiscal Policy

Competition and Sectoral Policy

Chair: Dan O’Brien

Philip Lane (TCD)

John McHale (NUIG)

Seamus Coffey(UCC)

Chair: Cathal Guiomard

Richard Tol, (Sussex)

John Fingleton (Office of Fair Trading)

Doug Andrew (former London airport regulator)

3.30 – 4pm



Banking and Euro

Chair: Constantin Gurdgiev (TCD)

Brian Lucey (TCD)

Colm McCarthy (UCD)

Frank Barry (TCD)

78 replies on “January 27th Conference on Irish Economy”

Like the € and banking section. If real time means anything these are the most clued in guys around.

Chair: Constantin Gurdgiev (TCD)

Brian Lucey (TCD)

Colm McCarthy (UCD)

Frank Barry (TCD

Podcast would be great.

The theme is good insofar as it is about dealig with where we are now.

Best of luck with it.

[btw – I am hearig rumours of an imromptu protest march seeking an edit function on this site]

Webcast live not possible I guess (keeping costs low) but we will investigate options for recording for sure, either audio or video, and we can upload later as we did last time (via the iTunes ‘channel’ that the Geary Institute has for our seminars)

Planning a twitter feed for the day to encourage interaction/questions.

Google Hangout….interesting idea – never done it, have stared at the section on the Google + page!! Welcome any help.

Banking and Euro
Chair: Constantin Gurdgiev (TCD)
Brian Lucey (TCD)
Colm McCarthy (UCD)
Frank Barry (TCD)

Oh, to be a fly on that wall.

Fly on wall? Its an open session. Just RSVP if you want to come. You guys are getting confusing I must say

Good job on the lineup, folks. (It’d be great if you could put the recordings up on YouTube/other.)


I realise “right-wing economist” is a pleonasm in this country, but, as far as I can tell, you have the left wing represented by Minister Joan Burton and the right wing represented by everyone else. The potential for “the development of more intelligent economic policy” is virtually nil when almost everyone present has been invested in the unintelligent economic groupthink that got us here. So we’ll hear lots and lots about how austerity is the only game in town and that, dammit, it just has to work and how the problem with Ireland was not that it was too freewheeling and unregulated but that it was not freewheeling and unregulated enough . . . ad nauseam.


Come along and see if you are as sure about what economists think and what ‘wing’ we are from politically. I suspect most of my colleagues think austerity is only game in town because…it is. I doubt any of them like it, I don’t. I doubt any of them would not prefer to be in a stimulus mode – I would prefer that. Michelle Norris on housing policy would hardly seem to me as the reincarnation of the Iron Lady and indeed Rob Kitchin on the tragedy of Ghost Estates has been very influential. The session chaired by Cathal G is precisely on what regulation is about. David Bell will be amused as being characterized as right wing as his work with Blanchflower is perhaps the best statement on how unemployment can crucify society.

I guess my point is…come and see and contribute. I hope you do. And I hope you feel we have more to say.

Ernie – think its more varying than you make out but feel free to make suggestions for next one.

@ Ernie Ball

I don’t think you will be getting too much “group think” from Mr. Gurdgiev or from Brian Lucy for that matter. Delighted Richard Tol will be present to add some colour to the proceedings.

For those of us who need to remain anon. on this blog (e.g. because we know clients and colleagues read it too), perhaps we should wear our ‘handles’ on a small badge on the day? I will be there. Looks interesting.

@Ernie Ball
I wouldn’t really describe Joan Burton as ‘left wing’ just because she mentions things that suggest maybe everyone should get a fair crack at the whip. Possibly left of centre. As for the rest being right wingers… one or two of them might surprise you.

I follow some of these people on Twitter and can say for sure that they don’t believe austerity is the only game in town. Seems to me they’re accepting WAWWA (for now) and trying to find a way forward. I’m attending and looking forward to it.

Ernie remind me more and more of the wonderful Kenneth Williams “infamy infamy theyve all git it infamy”
If he can we would know whom he was: so he can’t and thus he is trapped by his own making.
I suspect there will be a lively and usually goodhoured debate.

(It’d be great if you could put the recordings up on YouTube/other.)

Yes, please do this. Just stick a webcam up on a desk next to the panel if you have to. At the very, very minimum, make a podcast recording.

These economics conferences are now of major public importance, so please do the digitally civic thing and upload them to the web ASAP.

Ref Joan Burton and unemployment
Perhaps Minister Burton might answer ,how many sustainable Irish businesses and jobs have been destroyed, and will continue to be destroyed, by ruinous Irish commercial lease law i.e upward-only rent reviews tied to long leases and no break clauses. Why did she and her government lie to the Irish electorate in their manifestos and program for government. They had a legal opinion from the esteemed senior counsel Gerard Hogan,stating allowing commercial tenants in legacy leases market rents was achievable under article 43.2.2 of the constitution. They also had the economic argument provided to them by a report from Colm McCarthy. Why all the lies?. Minister Bruton stated on RTE TV before the election this was a Labour priority. No other euro-zone country allows this ruinous commercial lease law.

This looks like an interesting and useful event. The organisers deserve plaudits. I reckon there’ll be upto 16 of the regular and occasional constributors here involved – with one notable absentee. It should make for a lively and interesting day.

Just a few observations – and, yes, I know I could pitch up and try to shout the odds, but time, travel and expense present significant entry barriers. And I’m not fed from the public trough 🙂

First, the bigger context. Last night I watched, for the second time, Charles Ferguson’s excellent “Inside Job”, as the present Mrs Hunt had not seen it. She noted the bank CEOs whose banks blew up on their watch walking away with hundreds of millions, while the economists who were the cheerleaders and useful idiots were rewarded with relatively meagre 6 figure sums. And she was not amused. “What is is about ye economists?”, sez she. “Are ye born fe**in’ eejits, or is it part of yer training?”

I took it on the chin – years of practice, but it prompted the insight that the public policy pronouncements of economists never secure any traction unless they benefit and advance the narrow sectional economic or political interests of some group, elite or faction – and even then the rewards are relatively meagre. So all the good economic sense that is likely to surface at this conference won’t make a blind bit of difference to policy formulation and implementation unless those who exercise political and economic power and influence are convinced that it will advance their interests – or, if damage is being done – and has to be done – to their interests, will damage them least.

And this leads to a second observation. This crisis is fundamentally a crisis of democratic governance. Capitalists will do what they always do. If markets can be rigged, monopolies secured, regulation pushed aside or captured or governments suborned, they will do it. Blaming them for what has happened is like blaming the fox for raiding the chicken coop or a lion for killing a zebra. The state needs to be set in a rules-based constitution with effective democratic governance to shackle the beast and to ensure, in so far as it is possible, that it generates economically and socially useful outcomes. So, resolving the current crisis is fundamentally an issue for political economy with an emphasis on reforming the process of democratic governance. I doubt that these issues will surface at this conference.

Thirdly, re the session on Competition and Sectoral Policy. The Troika, for obvious reasons, focuses in the MoU on the fiscal and banking crises – and it is likely the expertise in their team dealing with Ireland majored in these areas. For good or ill, the Government has little overall discretion in these areas – though it has discretion on the nature of expenditure salami-slicing and incremental taxtion applied once the sums add up to the Troika’s satisfaction.

Despite the over-riding emphasis on fiscal austerity and on resolving the collapse of the domestic banking system, it is also clear that the Troika wished to see significant structural reform to counteract the inevitable deflationary impact of fiscal austerity. Although the non-sheltered sectors of the economy have displayed remarkable resilience – and by all accounts the IDA is bursting a gut to maintain the FDI stream, it is unlikely that the ‘export enclave’ will be able to maintain its previous support of GDP growth. And it is possible that the previously beneficial demographic factors may be turning against Ireland. So growth will only come from increased efficiency and productivity in the production and delivery of goods and services that final consumers value both individually and collectively.

And so we come to the sheltered – public, semi-state and private – sectors. The Government has huge discretion on reform in these areas, but it has whittled down what was agreed in the initial draft of the EU/IMF MoU almost to the point of nothingness. Nobody seems to have any clear ideas on what should be done – mainly because there are powerful narrow economic interests who will literally fight to the death to protect their positions.

I doubt this session will produce very much in this respect as it is chaired by a regulator and two of the three presenters are the head of a competition body and a former regulator. And even if they were to, the politician and policy-makers will take no notice for fear of upsetting the deeply-embedded vested interests.

And it gets worse, because all the participants, by training, experience or occupation, are locked in to the narrow canon of neoclassical economics. I’m sure they’re all well aware of the issue of ‘second best’ outcomes, of informational asymmetries and the potential for regulatory capture, of th risks of government failure, of the insights of public choice theory, of the need for structural – as opposed to behavioural – remedies in various sectors, of the need for effective representation of the collective interests of consumers, of the farcical nature of the ‘public consultation’ process in policy-formulation and regulatory proceedings (this is not an exhaustive list), but the constraints of their discipline and their employment forces them to soldier on regardless.

Still, it should be an interesting day.

1. About half of the Irish economy is government controlled.

2. About 28 out of the 30-odd people mentioned here work for the government controlled part of the economy.

3. The government’s role in the economy (other than as regulator) is not on the agenda.

4. Universities are not (yet) “government-controlled”.
5. If private corporations did more public policy research, they would be better-able to contribute to a conference about the economics of public policy.
6. Nobody is buying the US Republican Party talking points from the right-wing in Ireland, because that faith-based stance would require crazy levels of religious fundamentalism which no longer exist here.

3. The government’s role in the economy (other than as regulator) is not on the agenda.

Oh, i suspect the speakers will be busy snapping off at the elbow the hands that feed them while berating the role of the government right left and cetner….

Dan O’Brien Fiscal Policy

What role did the current Irish Times chairperson David Went play in the reckless banks property lending which destroyed our economy?.

@Philip II

Kenneth Williams “infamy infamy theyve all git it infamy”

Frankie Howard surely?

Perhaps we should modernise that to: “Austerity, austerity. They’ve all got austerity.”

@Philip II

Who did ‘Up Pompeii’? It was in that, with Frankie Howerd starring. Maybe they both did.

Banking and Euro

Do any of the four participants predict a “soft landing” for the euro?

to Paul Hunt

i read and agreed with most of what you had to say, and with reference to your final paragraph to which im in total agreement, you may be interested in a conference with a big difference being planned for the end of feb, i believe our approach has never been done in ireland before and comes with many benefits for solution seekers, what i can promise is, its not another tired talking shop!

“What is it about ye economists … ye all fe**in eedjits or is it part of the training” …. Ha Ha

a proposal for a panel perhaps?

@ Ernie Ball

The only way to get alternative economic viewpoints to ‘austerity being the only game in town’ (which, of course, it is not) is to source political economists/analysis from outside of Ireland. Ireland is not engaging in austerity, it is engaging in a historically unprecedented experiment.

Having said that, if I was in Ireland I would certainly be in attendance, and would have no problem actively challenging the consensus opinion. It would be nice to see a speaker from the newly established economic think tank affiliated to ICTU – the ‘Economic Research Unit’.

I wish the organisers the best of success, it is a good initiative.

George Soros weighs in with some food for thought.

“How Europe’s year of indecision sowed the seeds of future conflict”

“Unless the sovereign debt of the rest of the eurozone is successively ringfenced, a Greek default could cause a meltdown of the global financial system.

“Even barring such a nightmare scenario in 2012, the [9th Dec] summit sowed the seeds of future conflicts – over the emergence of a “two-speed” Europe and the false economic doctrine guiding the eurozone’s proposed fiscal pact. That doctrine, by imposing austerity in a period of rising unemployment, threatens to push the eurozone into a vicious deflationary debt spiral from which it will be difficult to escape.”


Aidan, good points. Have a few things in mind for getting something going there. Will post at another stage. We have a proposal nearly together for about 20 online talks on key themes. Will post for discussion at some stage.

DS – if its so good why can’t you send a link or post using your name.

Bklyn_rntr thanks for sharing dude. Good to know we provide an outlet to get stuff off your chest. Probably therapeutic.

As Colm said, looking at the web-streaming/podcasting options.

Well done on this.
Only thing is its a pity it’s on a Friday. Are there any similar events planned for Saturdays?
It’s great to see this being organized.
On another point we need more Euro people at these things. Ireland is effectively being run by Brussels so would be nice to get some of those guys here to defend their actions. But then Brussels doesn’t do democracy!

@ernie: PR Guy got in before me:

Ms Burton is RIGHT of centre!!! The Irish labour Party was always a fairly tepid, bland and shallow version of ‘normal’ Social Democratic parties. Firmly right-of-centre now. Few individual exceptions.


Ms Burton is just the landlord’s bailiff (as is the whole government).
Why are no representatives from Europe here?
Is it because:
1: We don’t know who to target?
2: Even if we did they’re too important to come? or
3: Is it just more fun to tear strips off each other and bring each other down to size)?

@liam Delaney—The Nyberg report highlighted groupthink and the herd instinct. Keep up the good work.

For those talking about a consensus view, its worth reading one of the speaker’s recent articles on the problems with the current European macroeconomic policy. Recent contributions here by Kevin O’Rourke also worth reading.


We got a lot of emails and comments here arguing that there needs to be more debate around the issue of austerity. To be honest I agree and I think it’s worth using the session itself as springboard to other debates. In general, the strategy the EU/IMF and Ireland has adopted does not look to be working and we need to have a good discussion about what that means. I think the day does allow for a lot of that.

well spotted. For an explanation of why it is on Friday see Philip McDonnell’s post. Why is it being conducted in the belly of the beast in the IFSC?

Good to see Brian Lucey back on the Banking panel.

Lot of academic conferences are held on the weekend e.g. Irish Economics Association. Dont think any of the people who organised opposed in principle to doing a Saturday session. Generally, more focused events like this during the week.

…addressing employment, innovation, education and related themes. The conference aims to provide a forum for new ideas on the conduct of Irish economic policy, including the extent to which academic economics and related disciplines can make a bigger contribution to the conduct of economic policy in Ireland, and the extent to which policy can be designed more effectively.

This is a very conventional/conservative format – – mainly economists and regulators discussing issues of employment and innovation — with no input from people who may have a lot more wisdom than them from frontline experience, which would add a practical realm to the debate and the desire to have an impact.

This contribution should not be viewed in a negative way as I have no negative view about anyone on the panel.

However in the context of the issues of employment and innovation, apart from Colm McCarthy, who else has had to meet a payroll?

This isn’t a public sector/private sector issue as last Nov, two of the Big 4 accounting firms in the same week differed by 14 years on when Ireland will return to its pre-recession level of employment.

PricewaterhouseCoopers interpreted IBEC survey results and arrived at 2016 mainly based on aspirations/expectations on exports.

“Export sales will grow by 44% over the coming five years while firms expect to see domestic sales rise by 22%, regaining all of the losses of recent years. Many firms operating in the domestic market plan to break into export markets in the coming years.”

This is a classic illustration of the limitation of chairborne expertise.

Many firms….as if selling overseas is a dawdle!

Developing new markets is a huge challenge and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan announced in the Dec Budget support for exporters targeting BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia. India and China from the original classification plus South Africa).

It will help a small number of firms but exports to these five countries only accounted for 2.3% of total exports in 2010 with China accounting for the lion’s share. Exports to India were at a decimal point. Besides most of the existing exports are made by foreign firms when idigenous firms struggle to sell in Europe it’s a fantasy to believe taht there are easy returns elsewhere.

This conference could do with a direct input from the unemployed and both people who have had successful startups and those who have failed (the latter are usually ignored but they are very important.)

Academics cannot be expected to make serious proposals on employment in the tradeable goods and services sectors as after 60 years of State support, there is so little useful data on enterprises available.

We know very little about the birth, survival and death of the Irish enterprise and a longitudinal study on firms with potential is rare.

The 2006 aspiration to be recognised as a ‘world class’ knowledge by 2013 was made without any reality check on the great high tech hopes of the 1990s. Trintech, one of the last, was acquired by a US equity firm in 2010.

The facts were inconvenient on past experience.

Another aspect of a debate on employment has to contend with the significant PR aspects to enterprise policy.

On Thursday, the IDA issued 4 press releases including its statement on 2011.

Very little information was released and the count for new projects can include ones for 5 jobs or 500.

Gross jobs, net jobs, adding indirect jobs, full time employment or adding contract workers all come into play to the narrative.

I had a query and I got a rapid response from the press office but as regards the additional net jobs of 6,100 in 2011, which were added to 140,000 staff in client companies, which apparently include part-timers and short-term contract workers, after 24 hours I have got no breakdown on the employment status of the 6,100.

Michael, something genuinely am thinking about a lot. The Farmleigh/Dublin Castle events an example where a lot of people who had built successful businesses were invited to talk but almost no academics and certainly no academic economists. Lots of industry-specific conferences that meet your criteria for having people who work directly in industries. Worth thinking about what is a useful format for combining different types of expertise as I dont think any really exist for this in Ireland.


[4. Universities are not (yet) “government-controlled”.]

Universities are government funded (including staff pensions) and the bias in their research output from all social science departments tends to favour more of that which funds them – i.e. government.

Being government funded will limit the range of what you say. Reason why the whole of Europe is social democratic / left of centre in its politics is because government controls and pays for everything from broadcasting to education – to an almost monopoly extent. The idea that government shouldn’t do stuff never really gets on the agenda.

That is really about control.

[5. If private corporations did more public policy research, they would be better-able to contribute to a conference about the economics of public policy.]

You’re not wrong there. But it’s a non sequitor.

[6. Nobody is buying the US Republican Party talking points from the right-wing in Ireland, because that faith-based stance would require crazy levels of religious fundamentalism which no longer exist here.]

– er so in order to accept that the state should not own airlines, airports, food companies, tourism promotion organisations, banks etc…etc……you will need to become a religious fanatic – do I have that right?

“Universities are government funded (including staff pensions) and the bias in their research output from all social science departments tends to favour more of that which funds them – i.e. government.”
You have proof of that do you? Or given your comments on 6, is it too a matter of faith?

@Liam Delaney,

“We got a lot of emails and comments here arguing that there needs to be more debate around the issue of austerity. To be honest I agree and I think it’s worth using the session itself as springboard to other debates. In general, the strategy the EU/IMF and Ireland has adopted does not look to be working and we need to have a good discussion about what that means.”

Sorry, Liam – and please don’t take this the wrong way – but the time for ‘more debate’, ‘springboards to other debates’, ‘good discussions’ is long past. The gist of my comment of 10:21am above (which I suspect was so long that most people skipped it) is that traction must be secured with those who formulate and decide economic policy. And these are vaishingly few. They are in this Economic War Cabinet and this comprises the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, Minister Noonan and Howlin and their key economic advisers and senior officials – probably around a dozen.

So far as I can see all other ministers and senior departmental officials take their riding instructions from the concentration of politcial and official power in this High Command and they need its approval for any initiatives in their own territory.

We now have ‘government by decree’, since the Oireachtas is a pure ‘rubber-stamp’ (while Labour can keep the defection rate manageable), and the only restraint under which it operates is how much of the ‘fear of god’ specific narrow sectional economic interests can put into them.

Debate that.

@all (including Ernie)
In my presentation in the “Housing” session, I hope to present how to implement a workable, fair and efficient interim property tax, a Site Value Tax based on my estimates of the contours of land value around the country. (Ernie: I think my choice of SVT makes me not only left wing and right wing at the same time but also a greenie, all at once!)

Looking forward to an interesting session,

@ RL:

This is the sort of stuff that may appear in your IN box.

Dear Ronan. I have some agri land, lying fallow. I do not intend to put it to any productive use, nor lease it. How might this be valued? If a tax is levied – what will I pay the tax with? I am unmarried, no family, I have an OAP pension; 208 euro per week and cash savings in PO.

Yours, OAP.


Would it not be timely to include a panel on agriculture? It seems a curious oversight.

Over the past year and half politicians have awoken up from their Shangri-La reverie for a Silcone Ireland and figured out that agriculture not only plays a significant role in the export economy but probably of all sectors has the greatest long term potential to add jobs if wage levels can be got right.

Equally I am surprised that is there is no category called ‘The Smart Economy: Twenty Years On and What’s to Show?’ There is a lot to be learnt through analyzing the failure of the collection of novenas that made up the Smart Economy agenda. Much might be uncomfortable reading but there has to be some degree of responsibility taking, not ll but some, by Third Level for not delivering.

agriculture and food good topic definitely and ditto for Smart Economy one. As said, a few of us working on a proposal for set of online ones and these certainly worth doing.

Paul – dont know what you mean by saying the time for debate is past. Much to debate. Agree with you that major decisions affecting the destiny of the country and Europe more generally will not be made on the day, but role of such events and blogs like this is to keep a wide debate alive. Judging by the fact that there have already been over 100 RSVPs reacting to one blog post and many emails, inquiries etc., there is certainly interest in debating the topics in the sessions we put together.

Hi Liam. How about Energy Security ? (no energy, no economy). We are not well situated in this respect. Energy ties everything together.


“a. Much might be uncomfortable reading but there has to be some degree of responsibility taking, not ll but some, by Third Level for not delivering.”
Reminds me of the tale of the thief in Arabian Nights. Maybe the horse will sing. Maybe there will be tens of thousands of jobs. In the meantime the thief lives/the universities get money, something which would otherwise not have happened…

@Liam Delaney,

We seem to be speaking at cross purposes. It’s probably me, but, once a problem or a challenge – or a set of interacting problems – is identified in the public policy sphere, the purpose of a ‘debate’ is to bring together those with demonstrable knowledge and competence to craft and present solutions – many of which may differ in scope, focus and elements (and how they interact with other possible solutions). The purpose of the ‘debate’ – again in my view – is to thrash out these possible solutions in open and frank discussion, with adversarial disputation based on facts, evidence and analysis and with the intent being to secure some common ground and to arrive at a solution – or a set of solutions – that is feasible, practicable, possible to implement and will be able to secure the necessary democratic consent (since it is a public policy).

The purpose of having such a ‘debate’ in public is to engage, inform, enlighten and, ultimately, to persuade as many of the public who are interested as is possible. It does not mean that every problem is solved – some many require much more time and effort than others, some may actually be intractable, while the resolution of others will depend on the actions and reactions of external parties beyond Ireland’s control, but, at the very least, some progress should be made towards crafting solutions.

The other key aspect of such a ‘debate’ on public policy issues – in this case, economic policy issues – is that there are two parties involved. There is the supply side and you and your colleagues have assembled many of the economists with demonstrable knowledge and competence (and, partly as a result, most with high public profiles) on Irish economic policy. For convenience I’ll call them Public Policy Focused Economists (PPFEs) to distinguish them from Public Policy Influencing Economists (PPIEs). The latter are those economists who seek to influence public policy to advance or protect narrow sectional economic interests. The latter have a perfectly legitimate role, but it is vital to differentiate them from the PPFEs who advance, or purport to advance, in a disinterested manner, policy proposals in the broad public interest.

(Some economists flit between both camps and, while I’m sure many are well able to deal with conflicts of interest, I have my doubts about some and it would be wise to be sceptical about some of their pronouncements. However, I have no doubt, whatsoever, that the economists you and your colleagues have assembled are unambiguously within the PPFE camp.)

So what is being supplied? In this case, for each PPFE, it seems to be the demonstration of academic or intellectual mastery of a specific topic or aspect of economic policy. There is clearly widespread interest in viewing this demonstration – or performance. But is this, or should it be, the only demand that is satisfied? Is this the only thing that could or should be supplied?

The primary source of demand should be those who formulate and decide economic policy. But there is scant evidence in public of such interaction of supply and demand. Now it may be that there is considerable interaction, away from public view, between PPFEs and politicians and policy-makers. (We all remember the late Brian Lenihan’s midnight flit to the home of DMcW.) Some PPFEs work as advisers to government and some have secured leading or high-level quango positions. (It may be that performances at conferences such as this are auditions for such postings.) And government, on occasion, commissions reviews and research by PPFEs. I have absolutely no problem with any of this. I would far prefer to have those with demonstrable knowledge and competence inside the tent, that to have to rely on generalist bureacrats, gifted amateurs or ministers’ ‘yesmen or yeswomen’.

But it is crucial that as much as is possible of this interaction between supply and demand on public policy is in public. The clue is in ‘public’ which is both a noun referring to the people and an adjective meaning openness and transparency. These things are ‘res publica’.

And this interaction should be at two levels. First, those who formulate and decide policy should demand this policy advice from the PPFEs and it should be presented in an open and transparent manner. Secondly, those who formulate policy should advance their proposals and these should be subject to critique by the PPFEs again in an open and transparent manner.

So your conference offers many things – demonstrations of intellectual mastery of specific policy topics, possible critiques of government policy actions and proposals, some recommendations on policy options and discussion/clarification of options – but it is not, in my view, a ‘debate’. Nor is it evidence of effective interaction between the supply of, and demand for, economic policy advice.

The PPIEs have much more influence over the formulation of economic policy than the PPFEs. This imbalance is a major cause of the mess Ireland is in. It must change and the ball is in the court of the PPFEs.

@ Brian Woods Snr

I think it should valued as agricultural land, probably roughly the same value as the field next to it.

Answering the other question, how to pay, depends on the exact meaning of the word “fallow”. If the sender means that the field is being put to no productive use, and they have no intention of doing so in the future, then surely they should sell it to someone who will actually do something productive with the field. If they want to hold on to the field for sentimental reasons, then is it that different from a croquet lawn on some millionaire’s estate? This seems to me to be a case of the tax system working to generate the maximum social benefit.

If, however, “lying fallow” means that it is currently in that phase of a crop rotation cycle (all my knowledge of farming comes from the University Challenge episode of The Young Ones), then this is part of normal (farming) business practice and would be dealt with in a similar way to a firm that couldn’t pay it’s corporation taxes, I’d imagine.

@Paul Hunt
Apologies if I’m taking you up wrong here, but I think you are describing a ‘debate’ as a formal debate between two teams arguing over the truth or otherwise of some motion. This isn’t a ‘debate’ in that sense, it’s a conference, but debate – discussion, argument, questioning, explaining, backing up – can, and probably will, happen here. I’d imagine that the questions session after each presentation will not
want for debate.

As for whether it’s evidence of the interaction of the supply and demand of policy advice – well it’s certainly evidence of supply, right? The demand side is the TDs, senators and civil service, and I’m sure there will be representatives from these there.

Surely this is exactly the type of thing the PPFEs should be doing – get a bunch of really good experts in policy relevent fields talking about what they know and invite all interested parties to come and participate in the debate, not in an overly structured ‘debate’.

Short of storming the Dail with regression output and models in hand I can’t think of a better way of communicating the knowledge and I can’t see too many of the panel members charging down Kildare St., unless it’s one of their New Years Revolutions (copyright Tim Vine)

to Liam Delaney

hello Liam,

we are at present close to finalising event details and will post links when all preparation is done,
dave smith

@DS Ah, thanks Dave. Sorry I might have misread your intention in initial posting! Look forward to seeing the event.

“‘The demand side is the TDs, senators and civil service, and I’m sure there will be representatives from these there.”
Damned few I warrant. Damned few

@Phillip II

Perhaps, but I guess what I should have said is that the PPFEs have served up this conference, so the ball is now in the court of the policy makers and it is up to them to return it, in person preferably, to mangle this metaphor even further.


Many thanks for engaging with the way I’ve set out the issues. (It is difficult to get engagement here on matters that go beyond and behind the snippets (often badly) reported in the IT or the reported musings of local or EU Grand Panjandrum or the musings of academic or other commentators on these musings.)

In very simple terms, what I am trying to highlight is the lack of adversarial disputation based on facts, evidence and analysis that will clarify the options available to reconcile conflicting economic interests and allow sound policy decisions to be made in the public interest.

What I am also trying to highlight is the extent to which economic policy formulation, by seeking to suppress and smother the conflicts between various interests that inevitably arise (with faux review groups and ‘public consultations’ establishing some ‘consensus’ among ‘stakeholders), and policy implementation, via this herd of quangos, has been captured by narrow sectional economic interests – with their hired-gun PPIEs playing a major role.

It never ceases to amaze me that this and the last government – with, of course, the full support of the permanent government machine behind them – have been able to propagate and sustain this fiction that, while conceding some limited failings in bank supervision and financial regulation – and in some fiscal policy aspects around these (all of which are now being addressed under the direction of the Troika), policy formulation and economic governance in every other area, apart from a few minor tweaks, was and remains ‘world class’.

This quite simply is bollocks. Until this is confronted and remedied, fiscal austerity will continue to grind down the economy.

And a perfect example of this optical illusion propagated by ‘official Ireland’ that everything in the garden is rosy has come to light:

In the words of the late, great Claude Cockburn – some time of Youghal and the IT (Gageby era) and grandfather of current BBC Economics Editor, Stephanie Flanders – “confirmed by official denial”.

Many of the PPFEs are complicit, by commission or omission, in the propagation of this optical illusion. And so it goes on.

Im finding the reaction to Richards departure very funny… Just imagine what it would be like if he got locked at the going away session and really spoke his mind … I’d pay to hear that 🙂

Anyways, looking at the agenda for the conference, one would be forgiven for thinking the country was not ‘depending on the kindness of strangers’ as Morgan Kelly put it.

Seriously, should there not be a session with a title like “Economic Policy for Failed States” or “Constraints on Irish Economic Policy”

or maybe something less provocative but at least publicly acknowledging the facts on the ground.


I get that you think there is a lack of adversarial disputation in a conference like and I’ve largely agreed with you on that. I was trying to say that I don’t think adversarial disputation is necessarily the best way to inform or develop policy. I think it’s better suited to either/or, or True/False, situations where there are a limited number (often two) of disputants trying to score points off the others. In the end, the winner’s position would be adopted wholesale.

I think it’s better to have someone who really knows their area (hopefully) to present their analysis/idea and then have a discussion about where they are strong, where they are weak, and whether it can be improved. And better again to do that three or four times and then have a good chairperson sum up the main points that arose, and everyone goes home/to the office/to the pub and thinks about it, and maybe gets a better model in their head of how things work. But I’m weird like that.


You’re not in the least bit weird. Would that there were more like you.

You have highlighted succinctly the difference between how public policy decisions are made in a genuinely democratic polity and how a discipline is developed using the scientific method so that it may have valid and useful practical application.

I am not seeking to conflate the two. What I am trying to highlight is the fact that PPFEs have the attention of the public like never before. Government is not demanding advice from the PPFEs on a comprehensive and consistent basis; it only does so when it needs to provide some ‘independent’ or ‘plausibly objective’ cover for policy decisions that have been made already and that have been driven solely by political considerations. This is the usual demand for ‘policy-based’ evidence, as opposed to ‘evidence-based’ policy. The Oireachtas is not demanding advice from the PPFEs; once the Dail has elected a Taoiseach it is purely a rubber-stamp for government decrees.

But people are demanding advice and solutions from the PPFEs. Five years ago people didn’t want to hear anything from PPFEs other than confirmation that ‘things can only get better’. The PPIEs hogged the airways; not surprisingly, they have gone a little quiet of late. But we can be sure that they are working furiously behind the scenes bending the ears of ministers. their special advisers and senior official and seeking to influence the decisions being made by the quangocracy to advance and protect the narrow sectional economic interests of those in the area they operate.

My problem with the PPFEs is that, in focusing so much on what policy options should be considered and what policy decisions should be made, they are not paying any attention to how policy decisions are actually made. In particular for the sheltered sectors, over the last 15 years successive governments have devolved considerable policy and economic regulatory discretion to an increasing herd of quangos. These are all presented as being in some way independent from government and as having ‘world class’ structures and procedures in place. But it is a total optical illusion, since all the key policy decisions are made by government in all cases. And to perpetuate this optical illusion in their dealings with government, the media, the public and their ‘stakeholders’, bullshit has become the lingua franca.

A certain amount of bullshit is inevitable, but it is very dangerous when it dominates the public discourse. And it is also true that, when one considers the sheltered where most of these quangos operate, that there are areas of the sheltered sectors in other EU member states that are so inefficient and dysfunctional that they make the corresponding areas in Ireland seem like of hives of industry and productivity. But, in Ireland, the dysfunction is endemic and widespread.

Richard Tol got in to trouble because, I suspect, he just couldn’t stomach being immersed in total bullshit anymore. He was able to point to some of it on his departure.

But the reaction of his fellow PPFEs is informative. They are very happy to ‘debate’ policy options in public, but they will do their level best to avoid confronting the bullshit – some of which Richard Tol has pointed out. And it is this layer of bullshit – and the politically convenient optical illusions it sustains – that prevents any sensible policy options they might advance from being implemented.

Re your hypothetical letter
“Dear Ronan. I have some agri land, lying fallow. I do not intend to put it to any productive use, nor lease it. How might this be valued? If a tax is levied – what will I pay the tax with? I am unmarried, no family, I have an OAP pension; 208 euro per week and cash savings in PO.
Yours, OAP.”

As it happens, the proposal is for a residential site value tax, although I would hope in time that Ireland is mature enough to apply it across the board. Let’s suppose for a minute that agri land is included in land value tax…

The case you present is hardly a sympathetic one as this person is using scarce land for their own pleasure garden and refuses to acknowledge either the benefit they get from the land or – more importantly – the cost they impose on society by not using it. If they have ten acres valued at €10,000 an acre, they would be expected to pay perhaps €2,000 a year in site value tax. If they do not wish to pay this, they can sell their land. A smart tax system can reflect the final value if it turns out to be say €8,000 an acre and not €10,000.

Once you made the person an OAP, effectively this is the pension-tax issue recast. Society can choose to reward inefficient and unfair use of land among a wealth-rich, income-poor group if it so chooses – once we are all aware that is the choice we are making. In the paper, I will be suggesting a lien on the land so that those who can’t pay up-front can live in their home without worry. It is of course entirely up to the Government, though, and it could opt to buy off the “Grey Power” vote with a one-off “If you’re over 65 when this is introduced and you’ve no income, no taxes for you”.

Likewise the stamp-duty argument, which can easily be overcome with grandfathered tax credits, reflecting the amount of stamp duty paid (possibly weighted by number of properties unless you want to reward those with seven loans as much as those who only bought a family home).

Or indeed any other interest group you want to favour.

But we at least need to be frank to ourselves about which interest groups we’re favouring – at the cost of everyone else – and why.

@Ronan L,

“But we at least need to be frank to ourselves about which interest groups we’re favouring – at the cost of everyone else – and why.”

Excellent point. But who will fund the research examining these trade-offs between various interest groups and how they might be crafted in the public interest? Who will perform this research free from the influence of the various interest groups? How will its value and relevance be secured in the public policy sphere? How will sufficient traction be secured to ensure that it will receive the consideration it would merit in the policy-making process?

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