Using Ireland

I see that the government is changing its tone on Brexit and the border, and I welcome this whole-heartedly.

Life is too short to try to figure out what goes on inside the average Brexiteer’s head, but here is my best shot, as it relates to the Irish border.

Economics is all about choices, and consequently I have very little time for people who don’t realise that if, say, you eat a cake, you no longer have it. But as we know, the Brexiteers have refused to admit that their country does, in fact, have real and important choices to make.

In particular, if they want to avoid costly customs inspections, they need to remain members of the customs union. And if they want to avoid all the other border formalities and barriers to trade that existed before 1992, they have to remain members of the Single Market. If they exit both the customs union and the Single Market, this will inevitably reintroduce frictions of various sorts making trade with the EU more costly than at present, and this will remain true even after a free trade agreement is negotiated. For the whole point of the customs union and Single Market was to do away with those frictions.

So they have a choice, and it seems as though they are choosing to make trade more costly between the UK and the rest of the EU. That will have a variety of negative consequences for the UK economy. But to date, the UK government has been incapable of realising or at least admitting publicly that that is the choice they have made, since they are denying that you can’t both have your cake (leave the customs union and Single Market) and eat it (preserve frictionless trade with the EU). Perhaps they sincerely believe this — a scary thought. Or perhaps they just don’t want to admit it publicly, and given the many lies told during the Brexit campaign, you can understand why.

And this is where they hope that Ireland can help them. They tell us, hand on heart, that of course they want to avoid a Border, but what they really want is to leave the Single Market and customs union, and preserve frictionless trade with the entire EU. Which is, as said, impossible. But some of them apparently think that by shedding crocodile tears about the Irish border, they can achieve the impossible — by inducing the EU to turn a blind eye to smuggling across the border, thus undermining the EU customs regime and our consumer, environmental, and other safety standards. And of course, once the nonsense that technology can “solve” all border problems has been accepted in the Irish context, they hope that this will serve as a precedent for trade with the rest of the EU. Indeed, I have seen that argument made quite explicitly in the UK press, but since it’s Sunday I’m not going to spend an hour digging out the relevant quote.

But all that technology can do is lower (not eliminate) the Brexit-induced costs of legitimate UK-EU trade. It can’t stop illegitimate trade, which is why you really need border controls. And so we occasionally read British politicians and commentators tell us that the solution is of course going to involve a “light touch” approach towards smuggling, in effect “turning a blind eye” to it. Such suggestions are not only intellectually unserious, and unethical –since they amount to arguing that we should give a licence to organised crime to print money — but astonishingly politically naive. The UK is dealing with 27 other sovereign, democratic nations who aren’t going to allow their customs regime and regulatory standards be undermined, and their legal order upended, just to preserve the Brexiteers from the embarrassment that awaits them once the UK public figures out that cake, once eaten, is gone.

And so, as I say, I welcome the new tone coming from Merrion Street and Iveagh House. My best guess is that the hardline Brexiteers have never been interested in a special deal for Ireland per se, since they evidently don’t give a toss about the island, but that they have been hoping that Ireland can serve as the key unlocking a very, very special deal for the UK.

A deal so special that it is, in fact, impossible.

And I don’t think our country should let itself be used as the Brexiteers’ useful idiot.

 

 

 

 

Dublin Economics Workshop – Annual ‘Kenmare’ conference

This year sees the 40th Annual DEW Economic Policy Conference. The event takes place on September 22nd/23rd in the Clayton Whites Hotel in Wexford, with the generous support of the Dublin Chamber. On behalf of the organising committee, I am pleased to announce the programme for the event is live and available via this link.

As in previous years, the conference is the premier forum for presentation and debate on the major economic issues facing Ireland. This year, topics covered include Brexit, housing, monetary policy, redistribution and inequality, Public Sector pay and the National Planning Framework. To pick out some highlights:

  • Kevin O’Rourke (of this parish), Frances Coppola, Catherine Day (ex-European Commission) and Rory Montgomery (Dept of Foreign Affairs) on Europe after Brexit
  • A “during dinner” session on the DEW at Forty, highlighting some of the policy wins, failures and lessons from the last four decades – chaired by Sean Whelan (RTE)
  • International perspectives on solving Ireland’s housing crisis, including a presentation from the author of an OECD report on land use
  • A session on Ireland’s tax policy, featuring among others David Bradbury, head of Tax Policy (and BEPS) at the OECD
  • An expert panel discusses Ireland in 2040, with contributions from John Moran (ex-Dept of Finance) and Conor Skehan (DIT and Housing Agency), among others.

There will also be two keynote addresses, one on Friday afternoon (on Brexit) and one on Saturday (as a follow-up to the Ireland in 2040 session). Given the strength of the line-up, we advise those interested to book early as there will be significant demand and places are limited. All bookings can be made via the website: dublineconomics.com. There are a limited number of special all-in fee packages, including 2 nights B&B and 2 dinners, as well as the conference fee, available at the website.

Presentation to MacGill Summer School

Earlier in the week I contributed to a session at the MacGill Summer School on threats to the economy.  My speaking notes for the presentation are here though delivery may have been slightly different.

Conclusion:

We can build 40,000 houses a year, motorways between our regional cities, urban rail connections in the capital, and the roll-out of broadband across the country. We can reduce taxes, increase social transfers and public sector pay. We can spend all the benefits of the surge in Corporation Tax, ultra-low interest rates and the proceeds from the sale of the banks. They are our choices to make. But we cannot do it all and expect the benefits of prudent economic and budgetary management.

No lobby or special interest group sees their request for support as being the one that pushes the economy into the red. And they are right; but we have to watch the totality of what we are doing. If we try to do too much and fly too close to the sun we will fall to earth.

The biggest threat to the Irish economy may not be the decisions of Teresa May or Donald Trump; the biggest threat to the Irish economy are the choices we make ourselves. Let’s make a better fist of getting it right this time.

Free-to-air Broadcasting and the GAA

The evolution of the modern sports league is directly linked to the growth of broadcasting revenue in sport. While many see sports broadcasting as a public good, since the late 1980s there has been a general migration towards subscription-based, satellite channels. The emergence of satellite broadcasting changed the position from one where content competed for scarce distribution outlets on terrestrial television, to one where there is an abundance of spectrum competing for scarce content. The general improvement in broadcasting technology and changes to the regulatory environment have aided this movement, allowing for restricted access.

Like all sports, the GAA has adapted to this evolution. In 2014 the organisation sold broadcasting rights to BSkyB, with 20 matches shown on its Sky Sports channels, 14 of which are exclusive. The continuation of this deal to 2022 has been argued on the grounds that it promotes the game internationally and provides coverage to Irish emigrants.

Not everyone is happy with this. Speaking on The Sunday Game, RTÉ hurling analyst Michael Duignan said that “the biggest disgrace of the weekend was on Saturday evening, that the Waterford-Kilkenny wasn’t shown on free-to-air television”. He continued: “The Sky deal is so wrong on so many levels and it’s not because I’m in RTÉ working for the Sunday Game. My parents are at home. My father is 83 years of age. A savage hurling man. Why should he go to the pub? He doesn’t go to the pub to watch a match. They have enough money in the GAA. How much money do they want? What about the people who have supported it all their lives that can’t watch it? I think it’s disgraceful.”

The Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003 and Broadcasting Act 2009 do prevent “events of major importance to society” from migrating to subscription channels. The following are considered to fall under this category:

• The Summer Olympics
• The All-Ireland Senior Inter-County Football and Hurling Finals
• Ireland’s home and away qualifying games in the European Football Championship and the FIFA World Cup Tournaments
• Ireland’s games in the European Football Championship Finals Tournament and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
• The opening games, the semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
• Ireland’s games in the Rugby World Cup Finals Tournament
• The Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby
• The Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show

The Act also states that “Each of Ireland’s games in the Six Nations Rugby Football Championship is designated as an event of major importance to society for which the right of a qualifying broadcaster to provide coverage on a deferred basis on free television services should be provided in the public interest”.

In theory, far more could migrate to subscription platforms, including all provisional finals and the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals. While this is unlikely to happen, it is possible. After nearly 60 years waiting, I am sure every Waterford fan would say Saturday night’s game was of “major importance”. Those north of the Suir will obviously argue otherwise.

Economist Role at Dublin Chamber

From the Chamber’s Aebhric McGibney:

Job Title:                     Economist

Reporting to:               Director of Public & International Affairs

Company:                    Dublin Chamber

Location:                     7 Clare St. Dublin 2

Role

Dublin Chamber is recruiting an Economist to work as part of the Chamber’s dedicated policy team.

The Economist will be responsible for the development and dissemination of accurate, timely reports and analyses.

Key Activities/Responsibilities

  • Research and policy development.
  • Prepare economic research and policy positions on issues of relevance to the Dublin business community.
  • Analyse and disseminate information on Dublin and the Irish economy.
  • Analyse public policy developments for their impact on Dublin and on business.
  • Draft key policy documents and reports.
  • Contribute to the research agenda of the department, including servicing policy taskforces.
  • Prepare member-driven submissions to Government and contribute to Dublin Chamber’s work on policy briefs which enhance its reputation as a thought-leader on policy research.

Competencies & Qualifications

  • Honours degree in economics or closely related discipline. A relevant post graduate qualification is an advantage.
  • Thorough understanding of economic theory and policy, and current economic issues.
  • Familiarity with economic data sources and other information.
  • Excellent numerical analysis and report writing skills.
  • Strong interpersonal skills.
  • Ability to communicate succinctly and utilise a range of communication methods as appropriate.
  • Excellent organisational skills.
  • Ability to work under pressure and to tight deadlines
  • Strong IT skills
  • Ability to work in team environment

This challenging and rewarding role requires building close professional relationship with senior leaders in business, research institutions and the public sector.

The ideal candidate will have 5 year’s relevant experience. This is a full time permanent contract, with salary commensurate with experience. Applicants should send a CV and cover letter to aebhric@dublinchamber.ie by 5pm Friday 28th July.

Summer 2017 Economic and Social Review

The summer 2017 edition of the ESR is now on-line, including the following articles:

Brendan M. Walsh (1940-2016): The Economist at Work
by J. Peter Neary and Cormac Ó Gráda

Life Expectancy in Ireland since the 1870s
by Brendan Walsh

Civic Returns to Education: Voter Turnout in Ireland
by Yuanyuan Ma

Integrated Modelling of the Impact of Direct and Indirect Taxes Using Complementary Datasets
by Michael Savage

and a policy article on
If Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build a Door: Reflecting on a Bioeconomy Policy Agenda for Ireland
by Laura Anne Devaney and Maeve Henchion