DEW 2020 Annual Economic Policy Conference: save the date & call for papers

Founded in 1977, the Dublin Economics Workshop (DEW) Annual Economic Policy Conference is Ireland’s longest standing and premier forum for economic policy debate. Attended by policymakers, academics and practitioners, it aims to provide an opportunity for evidence-based policy debate and discussion. The 43rd DEW Annual Economic Policy Conference will take place on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th September 2020 in Clayton Whites Hotel, County Wexford.

The Committee would like to invite those interested in presenting at the conference to submit a paper or proposal to by Friday 27th March. Papers and proposals on the following topics are especially welcomed:

  • Housing
  • The health system
  • Income inequality and poverty
  • International corporation tax reform
  • Competitiveness
  • The Future of EU and UK relations

All submissions will be treated fairly but cannot be guaranteed to be accepted for inclusion.
Barra Roantree (Economic and Social Research Institute), on behalf of the DEW Committee

3 replies on “DEW 2020 Annual Economic Policy Conference: save the date & call for papers”

Ronan, housing is the first item there and is front and centre in the election campaign. The blog, which was often an oasis of well informed discussion, seems to have had its comments settings changed to close after a day or two, so there’s not much likelihood of that happening currently – and I would imagine traffic is very low now. Is there an intelligent, informed discussion about housing going on elsewhere? Is that is accessible?

Since I’ve sneaked in under the descending comments closure door here, Indiana Jones style, I’ll just leave a thought. There seems to have been a bit of a panic around housing legislation recently. Look at subsection (3) (ii) (full text supplied further below), which has completed second stage in the Dail.

(ii) new tenancies will be set according to the Residential Tenancies
Board rent index for equivalent properties within that local
electoral area,

The Explanatory Memorandum just says this: ” Subject to the rent freeze, the Residential Tenancies Board will be used to index link rents to similar properties in individual local electoral areas”

The meaning is not clear. It might be that many TDs assumed it meant that any *increase* in rent would be indexed to the *increase* in the relevant index. But that’s not what it says.

What they might have, perhaps inadvertently, done is pass a bill which would mean that a landlord who has to start a new tenancy, say because the old tenant moves, will basically be told the rent he is to charge to a new tenant. The new rent, if I’m reading this right, would effectively be the average rent for “equivalent” properties within the area according to the RTB index and “equivalent” as derived from an index is likely to mean “3 bed semi” with no regard for something very important to tenants ie “how nice the place is”.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin only referred to “size and location” in the Dail,
“Meanwhile rents, would be frozen for three years at their current level for existing tenants and at the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, rent index level for that size and location of property for all new tenancies.”
… so it seems quality is to be an irrelevance – and he seems to be saying rents will be re-set to whatever the local average is as tenancies come up for renewal.

If so, then landlords renting out really nice properties would be made fools of (and should logically be advised to get out), and those renting out much less pleasant properties will be relatively rewarded. The logical incentive would be to invest as little time, effort, thought and money keeping up the quality of a rental property as the landlord could get away with. There would be a perverse incentive to rent out ‘kippier’ places and nicer properties that would normally expect to achieve above average rents would be an under-priced bargain for those fortunate enough to get one, assuming they weren’t taken off the market.

There would also be an incentive for tenants currently renting nicer properties to seek a new tenancy instead, in order to try to find another nice property that has been forced down to the average rent for the area (practical difficulties and inconvenience aside, the point remains).

Also perversely, a poor quality property currently rented appropriately cheaply given its size and location, would have its rent re-set *upwards* to the average for its size and location once a new tenancy starts.

Housing policy needs to be properly thought through, critically discussed, and clear in its meaning. This doesn’t seem to be happening. There does seem to be plenty of hurried virtue signalling of empathy with tenants and antipathy toward landlords though. There are plenty of people advocating that supply isn’t the issue, the key to get tougher and tougher on landlords. I’ve even heard arguments that the issue of supply is a red herring, just raised as a diversion.

All this may not make for good economics.


Section 19 of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following for
subsection (3):
“(3) (a) On the date of the enactment of the Rent Freeze (Fair Rent) Act
2019, a rent freeze applicable to all existing and new tenancies,
other than those which are social housing supports, shall be put in
place for 3 years. Subject to the rent freeze—
(i) existing tenancies will be frozen at their rate on the date of the
enactment of the Rent Freeze (Fair Rent) Act 2019,
(ii) new tenancies will be set according to the Residential Tenancies
Board rent index for equivalent properties within that local
electoral area,
(iii) this rent freeze can only be extended after a vote by the
members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Many thanks, Ronan, for flagging this up. I found the last shindig in Wexford enjoyable and useful. And the next one looks like it will cover most of the key bases.

However, it does seem to operate in a bubble of its own when one looks at the current political economy of Ireland in the context of international developments.

Various strains of populist, illiberal economic nationalism are driving the political agenda throughout Europe – and in the US. Their emergence is both a signal and a result of the total failure of the progressive left and of the hubris of this mislabeled neoliberalism. Social democracy is close to being a busted flush in Europe and the US. In the few countries where social democrats are in power there are often burgeoning populist, illiberal economic nationalist parties. The latter run the show in Poland and Hungary and in Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands they are in strong, if not pole, positions. Elsewhere centre-right and right-wing parties are conflicted between seeking to absorb their supporters or trying to keep them at arm’s length. The UK Tories, as probably the longest standing centre-right/right party, characteristically has absorbed their supporters. In contrast Germany’s CDU/CSU is struggling to keep them at arm’s length.

It would be highly unusual if Ireland were to avoid contracting its own unique strain of this virus; and we haven’t. But the virus only takes hold and strengthens when social and economic conditions are so dire for so many voters. Ireland has a heath crisis, a housing crisis and a cost of living crisis. An OECD report on health provision last November shows that Irish public spending on health is more than sufficient to fund a single provider, free at point of use health service of a better quality than the British NHS. But what have we got?

Eurostat data on relative price levels show that (1) the overall cost of living is 25%, (2) the cost of housing, water and household energy is 55% and (3) the cost of consumer services is 35% above the corresponding Euro Area (EA) averages. In this context, it’s quite remarkable that the SEAI is able to claim that average electricity and gas prices to households are below EU averages. But they do:

(They achieve this by comparing averages calculated on different bases, which is a bit naughty for the statutory provider of official energy statistics.)

It’s probably part of the official stance (that runs across the traditional politicial spectrum) of let’s pretend the excessively high cost of living isn’t a reality than confronts hundreds of thousands of households and, even if it is, it’s like the rain: there’s nothing we can do about it.

All this is evidence of the sustained capture of economic rents by powerful embedded vested interests across the political and economic spectrum. More public spending, more taxation and higher pay (as proposed by SF and the left) won’t remedy this endemic and pervasive malaise. It imposes an additional unnecessary cost burden on the average household of more than €10,000 a year.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that more and more voters are prepared to register their disgust and anger in the only way they think will have an impact.

It will be interesting to see how the next DEW will deal with the aftermath.

PS. It’s good to see “grumpy” back again.

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