Irish Financial Regulation: Guidelines Rather Than Rules

In his testimony this morning, Patrick Neary explained that the mandated bank lending sectoral concentration limits, which were seriously breached by the Irish banks during the credit bubble, could not actually be enforced since they were guidelines rather than rules. This distinction between guidelines and rules has eerie similarities to a classic scene in The Pirates of the Caribbean, where pirate captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) explains to Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) the flexibility of The Pirates Code.

QUB public policy blog

Queen’s University Belfast have just launched a new blog at http://qpol.qub.ac.uk/ (via Muiris MacCarthaigh).

QPol is the ‘front door’ for public policy engagement at Queen’s University Belfast, supporting academics and policymakers in sharing evidence-based research and ideas on the major social, cultural and economic challenges facing us regionally, nationally and beyond.

Our over-arching vision is to share the University’s independent expertise with policymakers so they can make informed decisions about the most effective and sustainable ways to tackle these challenges, now and in the future.

Our mission is to:

Facilitate the provision of independent evidence-based advice, guidance and information to policymakers, ensuring that policy formulation and law-making are informed by world-class research emerging from the University
Ensure Queen’s as it the heart of the public policy discourse, shaping and driving the debate on emerging challenges, helping policymakers to think ‘longer term’ and more strategically about the challenges facing us today
Cultivate and encourage engagement between the academic and the policymaker through effective methods of communication and mutually understandable language
Accelerate the socio-economic impact of research relating to public policy issues at Queen’s and raise awareness of the influence of the University’s research on government policy and legislation
We want to inspire intelligent debate between democratic institutions, academia and wider society in a vast array of policy areas including the economy, public health, social justice and more.

TCD Policy Institute event on mortgage arrears

The topic of mortgage arrears remains close to the top of the political agenda, with the Government set to announce measures today on the issue. Next week, we are very fortunate to have in Dublin one of the world’s leading experts on housing markets, arrears and foreclosure, Fernando Ferreira of Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Policy Institute, based at Trinity College Dublin, has organised a mini-conference on mortgage arrears for the morning (9am to 11.30am), next Monday 18th May in Trinity College Dublin (JM Synge Theatre, Room 2039, Arts Building). The mini-conference centres on factors influencing mortgage arrears and repossession and focuses in particular on the US and Irish experiences. Speakers include Fernando Ferreira (Wharton & NBER) and Yvonne McCarthy (Central Bank of Ireland). There will also be a panel discussion and time for questions/comments from participants.

All welcome with no need to register.

At Last, Eurozone Culprits Identified!

It is Dark Forces, after all.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has finally terminated the endless speculation as to the source of the Eurozone’s travails. In a speech yesterday he has fingered the likely source of any threats to the survival of the common currency subsequent to a Greek exit.

Speaking to an audience at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, Jean-Claude Juncker said a “Grexit” would leave the euro prey to forces who “would do everything to try to decompose” what remained of the monetary union.

“Grexit is not an option,” said Mr Juncker.

“If we were to accept, if Greece were to accept, if others were to accept that Greece could leave the area of solidarity and prosperity that is the Eurozone, we would put ourselves at risk because some, notably in the Anglo Saxon world, would try everything to deconstruct the euro area piece by piece, little by little.”

His spokeswoman clarified that the reference to the Anglo Saxon world was not aimed at Britain but was to be construed as a reference to ‘markets and speculators’.

It should be a great relief to all, especially Greeks, to learn that the Eurozone is an ‘area of solidarity and prosperity’. The news that the dystopia of ‘markets and speculators’ is confined to the Anglo Saxon world is a further comfort.

Most importantly if the Great Experiment ends in tears there will be no need for an inquest. It was the Anglo Saxons!

Anyone remember Harold Wilson and the Gnomes of Zurich?

Launch of Archive for Economic and Social Review

The Economic and Social review has been working over the last number of years to make the full archive of published ESR papers freely available to the public. The archive is hosted by the TARA digital repository at TCD and all papers published in the ESR beginning with the first paper by R.C. Geary in 1969 up to and including forthcoming papers are freely available for download. We believe the archive is an important resource for Irish economists.

The archive can be found here.

 

Patrick Honohan  will formally launch the new archive at a short event immediately following the ESR lecture which will be held on May 7th at the Irish Economics Association conference in the Institute of Bankers in Dublin

The ESR lecture will begin at 3.30 and will be given by the distinguished development economist Professor Christopher Udry from Yale. The launch will be at 5pm.

We hope all those attending the conference can join us for for both  the lecture and the launch.

How Paternalistic Should Policymakers be?

The literature on behavioural economics has set off a very interesting debate on the extent to which policy-makers should intervene to improve outcomes in cases where individuals are potentially harming themselves but not others.

A paper by Camerer et al in 2003 put forward the case for asymmetric paternalism whereby policy could potentially help individuals who are not making rational decisions, while not infringing on others. An example is pension auto-enrolment whereby individuals procrastinating on pensions decisions are helped in the process of saving while those who genuinely do not want to take out a pension are not forced to.

Sunstein and Thaler added the idea of Libertarian Paternalism to the literature whereby policy-makers strive to improve outcomes (paternalism) while also placing a high weight on freedom to choose (libertarianism). The now-famous book Nudge is an expression of this philosophy and has had a dramatic impact on policy-makers in the US, UK and to some extent Australia and is being discussed at least in the Irish policy environment.

A big debate is ensuing around Nudge with some claiming the philosophy is too interventionist (see Sunstein’s Storr lectures for a list of these critiques and also his responses – see also a reading list I put together here).

Another line of argument is that Nudge artificially restricts the application of behavioural economics to non-mandated policy interventions. A recent Harvard Law Review piece by Bubb and Pildes examines three areas of policy (financial regulation, fuel pollution and consumer credit regulation) and makes the case that the behavioural evidence does not support soft-paternalist policies but rather a more interventionist approach. In particular they argue that there is a large tension between the evidence provided by behavioural economics and the political position being advocated by many of its adherents. In their view, the bounded rationality displayed by citizens leaves them far more open to exploitation and also far less likely to respond to soft-policies to improve their welfare. They cite an extremely interesting article by Lauren Willis in the University of Chicago Law Review, who argues that Nudges are insufficient in cases where large corporations have incentives to counteract them and she gives a detailed case-study from US financial regulation where financial companies quite easily ran around various default options embedded in consumer protection regulation. She argues that mandates and generally more active regulation is needed in many cases due to the degree of control that the regulated firms have over how to implement “nudges”.

Sunstein’s response to this is available here where he argues that it is important to respect people’s freedom of choice and that it is unclear yet that nudges are ineffective in the face of counteracting moves by vested interests. He argues that, while in some cases mandates may turn out to be neccesary and more effective, this should at least partly be an empirical question and should not ignore the importance of autonomy.

This debate is important in the Irish context. There are many areas of policy where policy objectives lead to tensions between implementation of effective policies and the autonomy of individuals to choose. In cases where individual actions lead to costs to others then traditional economics and regulation is on more solid ground. But when there is active debate about how to reduce health-damaging diet and consumption patterns, promote greater pension coverage and other policies effectively aimed at improving individual welfare through changing their behaviour then this debate is very important and interesting. It also hits against the idea that behavioural economics is an attempt to individualise wider social and economic problems. In this debate, there is a clearly interesting tussle between the interests of large companies, the decisions of boundedly rational households and the political factors that lead to the mandates of regulators. It provides an interesting and realistic way of debating policy and regulation.