Ultra posse nemo obligatur, anyone?

Paul Mason has a blog post and interview here, worth reading and watching. I am going to stick my neck out and assert that Manolis Glezos does in fact speak with a certain moral authority. But it is the German deputy finance minister’s constant insistence on obeying the law that prompts this post, along with its title. For German government use of the principle in the economic domain, see here (p. 188).

Another one from Jordà, Schularick and Taylor

The latest in an important series of papers by Jordà, Schularick and Taylor is described here.

Although they don’t spin it this way (which is not surprising, since they don’t provide evidence about the impact of fiscal policy on housing booms and busts), the work suggests to this reader potential arguments (on top of the more standard ones) regarding the benefits of automatic stabilisers and countercyclical fiscal policy.

Irish virtue, Irish (or should that be FG?) interests

There has been some talk recently about how Greece should take its medicine the way Ireland has. So here is a chart, taken from the IMF’s WEO database, showing the two countries’ structural budget balances as a percentage of GDP:


Even if you start the clock in 2008, there is a sizeable difference. And if you start in 2010, when the programmes started, there is no comparison in terms of the “fiscal effort” made. (And yes, I know, it would be much better to look at ex ante measures of austerity, but this is what was to hand.) On top of that, the multiplier in Greece is presumably larger than in very small and very open Ireland. The EC estimates that it is almost twice as large in this paper, not that I take their Greek multiplier estimate particularly seriously. And finally, there is this chart which a friend sends me.

So, to summarise: the Greeks have done more “reform” than we have, have endured a lot more austerity, and live in a country where the costs of austerity are likely to be higher than here. Perhaps the Irish government might want to tone down its assertions of relative virtue, and display a bit of solidarity with Greece. Is a less deflationary and less creditor-friendly Eurozone  not in Ireland’s long term interests, assuming that we remain a member of the single currency?

Except of course that it won’t, for party political reasons. And you can see why. Expect to see more ad hominem attacks on dangerous ex-IMF radicals and other fellow travellers in the months ahead (despite the fact that the government is expecting the electorate’s gratitude for…implementing the programme that the self-same IMF and its fellow-Troika members designed! You couldn’t make it up.).

New Cormac O’Grada Book on Famine

Eating People Is Wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and Its Future

Famines are becoming smaller and rarer, but optimism about the possibility of a famine-free future must be tempered by the threat of global warming. That is just one of the arguments that Cormac Ó Gráda, one of the world’s leading authorities on the history and economics of famine, develops in this wide-ranging book, which provides crucial new perspectives on key questions raised by famines around the globe between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries.

The book begins with a taboo topic. Ó Gráda argues that cannibalism, while by no means a universal feature of famines and never responsible for more than a tiny proportion of famine deaths, has probably been more common during very severe famines than previously thought. The book goes on to offer new interpretations of two of the twentieth century’s most notorious and controversial famines, the Great Bengal Famine and the Chinese Great Leap Forward Famine. Ó Gráda questions the standard view of the Bengal Famine as a perfect example of market failure, arguing instead that the primary cause was the unwillingness of colonial rulers to divert food from their war effort. The book also addresses the role played by traders and speculators during famines more generally, invoking evidence from famines in France, Ireland, Finland, Malawi, Niger, and Somalia since the 1600s, and overturning Adam Smith’s claim that government attempts to solve food shortages always cause famines.

Thought-provoking and important, this is essential reading for historians, economists, demographers, and anyone else who is interested in the history and possible future of famine.

Cormac Ó Gráda is professor emeritus of economics at University College Dublin. His books include Famine: A Short History and Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory (both Princeton).

Pawn to King Four

The ECB has tonight withdrawn the eligibility as collateral for ‘normal’ liquidity provision of self-issued Greek bank paper guaranteed by the Greek government, effective February 11th. The banks must henceforth rely on ELA from the Greek central bank, permission for which is reviewed fortnightly by the ECB, next meeting February 18th. The ECB statement contains this sentence:

‘The Governing Council decision is based on the fact that it is currently not possible to assume a successful conclusion of the programme review and is in line with existing Eurosystem rules.’

Note that the decision is based on a fact! The opinion formed, presumably today, that the programme review may not be successfully completed, was reasonable yesterday and the day before, but has miraculously assumed the status of a fact this evening.

Surely the ECB would not deliberately encourage a run on the banks (presumed solvent, rightly or wrongly, if they are to be ELA-eligible) in a member state? Whaddya mean they did it before?

Irish Economy Conference: Learning from Crisis

Organised by ESRI, UCD, the Geary Institute, UL and the University of Stirling, the theme for this year’s conference is  “Learning from Crisis”. The venue is the Institute of Banking (map), North Wall Quay, Dublin 1 on  25th February 2015.

To cover costs of room hire and tea/coffee, there will be a charge  of 40 euros, and you can pay here. [[Please note, registration has now closed.]]

Students, unemployed, and OAPs can avail of a reduced rate of 10 euros, and can pay here. [[Please note, registration has now closed.]]

The Programme is below.

Continue reading “Irish Economy Conference: Learning from Crisis”