More on Government Economic and Evaluation Service

The announcement of an economic and evaluation capacity for the public sector has the potential to be a transformative venture and should be welcomed in my opinion.

I think this is far more than just filling the public sector with economists as a matter of optics – at least I hope so.  It is worth noting that this is just one initiative pointing in the right direction – for example, the D-PER recently convened a working group that brings expertise (academic, commercial etc) into the room to review major policy domains including nitty gritty things like how major capital projects are valued (Disclosure – I was asked to participate in this and was glad to).

Some things I hope will happen:

  • I hope the service evolves as an identifiable entity within the public service and not just buried in one Department – from what we can tell so far spreading the economists to wherever demand and skills are matched is the plan.
  • I hope to see a ‘Chief Economist’ role evolve – a visible, public facing role who is an advocate for what the service produces and is strong on communication.   Someone needs to be seen in public!!
  • It is very important to see ‘evaluation’ flagged explicitly and this is again a positive move – it suggests microeconomic policy will evolve as a domain and rightly so.
  • We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in a costly fashion with respect to training and ongoing development of the recruited economists – I hope to see routine movement between academic institutions and the service, and between the services and major policy research groups like the ESRI.
What would perhaps be the most exciting thing from this announcement is that it has the ability to empower public administration on issues of economic policy.  This is more than just about expertise and answering Dail questions on how many staff have economics degrees   For example, one of the less appealing aspects of policy, particularly microeconomic policy, has been the tendency to bury good initiatives in layers of – for want of a better phrase – spin.   The initiatives on job creation (which rightly are about halting the drift into LT unemployment) get announced in terms of ‘X numbers of jobs will be created’ which any sensible economist should drive a cart-and-horses through.    I hope a government service would push against this sort of instinct within the decision making processes.
Update – a link to the service announcement by D-PER is
Crisis Conference Economic Performance Economics

Jan 27th Conference on Irish Economy – UPDATE

Just an update on the planned conference on the economy, part of a sequence of Dublin Economic Workshop meetings in collaboration with the Universities (in this case UCD Geary Institute and UL).

Firstly – venue.   We had planned a city hotel but (a) demand, and (b) lack of appropriate supply, has caused us problems.   So we are pleased to have booked the Conference Centre at Croke Park for the event.  Details on the venue are here – parking (lots), transport (lots) and wifi too for your iPads.

Secondly – RSVPs.   Thanks for those that replied to to give your details.   If you have, you are DEFINITELY on the list (just the volume of response means that Emma has not managed to reply to all, plus she was perhaps going to have to cull the list due to capacity issues (she has a black belt – I kid you not!)).   Due to her efforts at getting the venue we are fine and in fact would like to encourage more of you to come along – again RSVP to Emma.   One favour – if you do RSVP, come along.  While this is free to all to attend, it is not free for the organizers so we may be able to adjust the rooms booked etc.   Also, while we will DEFINITELY NOT be providing lunch but there will be some catering on the day (coffee etc) so it would be great to have pretty clear figures for all of that stuff.

Thirdly – webcasting etc.   We will record and upload after the event – youtube and through the Geary Institute iTunes ‘channel’.   We hope to webcast live but not certain at this point.   We will set a hashtag on twitter and will use the Institute twitter account on the day (@ucdgearyinst) to encourage interaction from those who can’t make it, from those outside the country etc.

Finally – latest draft of the programme is below.  We will update titles etc as we go along.

Thanks again for the patience and the support – RSVP please to, and see you there!

DEW Conference on Irish Economic Policy

Croke Park Conference Centre, Dublin, January 27th 2012


Registration and Opening


Economic Policy and Evaluation

Property Market

Chair: Donal DeButleir (IFPRC)

Robert Watt (Department PER)

Tom Healy (CERU)

Frances Ruane (ESRI)

Chair: Stephen Kinsella (UL)

Ronan Lyons (Oxford) – “Residential Site Value Tax in Ireland: Land Values, Implementation & Revenues.”

Michelle Norris (UCD)

Rob Kitchin (NUIM) – “Prospects for the Irish Property Market.”






Chair: Minister Joan Burton T.D.

David Bell (Stirling)

Aedin Doris (Maynooth)

Philip O’Connell (ESRI) – “The Impact of Training Programme Type and Duration on the Employment Chances of the Unemployed in Ireland.”

Chair: Kevin Denny (UCD)

Orla Doyle (UCD) – “Early Educational Investment as an Economic Recovery Strategy.”

Alan Barrett/Irene Mosca (ESRI) – “The Costs of Emigration to the Individual: Evidence from Ireland’s Older Adults.”

Brendan Walsh (UCD) –“Well Being and Economic Conditions in Ireland.”




Banking and Euro

Economic Recovery – Can Competition, Regulation and Privatisation Help?

Chair: Constantin Gurdgiev (TCD)

Brian Lucey (TCD) – “Banking in Ireland – Back to the Future.”

Frank Barry (TCD) – “Rectifying Design Flaws in the Euro Project”

Karl Whelan (UCD) – “Scenarios for the Euro Crisis.”

Chair: Cathal Guiomard (CAR)

Richard Tol (Sussex) – “Energy Regulation in Ireland – Some Current Weaknesses and Lessons for Recovery.”

John Fingleton (UK Office of Fair Trading) – “Economic Growth – How Can Competition Policy Help?”

Doug Andrew (former London Airport regulator) – “Governance, Ownership and Reform.”




Fiscal Policy

Chair: Dan O’Brien (Irish Times)

Philip Lane (TCD) – “The Fiscal Responsibility Bill.”

John McHale (NUIG) – “Strengthening Ireland’s Fiscal Institutions.”

Seamus Coffey (UCC) – “Current and Capital Expenditure: Getting the Balance Right.”

Colm McCarthy (UCD) – “Public Capital Investment and Fiscal Stabilization.”


Panel Session on Irish Economy

Economics Fiscal Policy Higher education

Welfare and incentives

Some of my students today complained – softly – about the workings of the Back to Education Allowance.    Like many such schemes globally it allows for some mechanism to maintain welfare payments whilst returning to full time education at both second and third level.   Laudable enough, although  I haven’t seen this evaluated in terms of impact but then again what is new for Irish policy.


Australian perspective on the PI(I?)GS

Mark Crosby of University of Melbourne Business School writes on the the evolving Eurozone issues in the Australian media (The Age) and on CoreEconomics (   Sees Ireland’s actions as proof that you (a) can tackle problems and (b) maybe Greece leaving might not be such a bad thing!


New Statesman on Ireland

An ‘interesting’ take on the Irish economy by the New Statesman is at


A land down under….

This is a link to a nice conference on the Australian economy which colleagues at the Melbourne Institute ran a week or two ago.   Some good presentations (audio links also available).   Education session is good – I thought Andrew Leigh gave a great presentation which hits a lot of issues and views that I would share (raise quality and quantity).  Ditto innovation.   Some of the political speeches are as you would find them anywhere although I thought the Education Minister gave a smart and focused look at what their priorities are in this domain.

The papers by Van Ours and Gregory repeat a point made often here on labour market response – Van Ours nails this as get active in labour market and keep folks at work, nothing is irreversible, this is a crisis response and not a ‘steady state’ labour market strategy so don’t compare to the literature on Active Labour Market Policies which, he agrees, are pessimistic and carry sizable deadweight.

Crisis Conference

DEW Conference – November 2nd

The third in the series of Dublin Economics Workshop meetings on the Irish economy will take place on November 2nd at the Radission SAS Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 2.   The programme details are as follows:
1300 Registration
Session 1
Chair and Discussant – John Fitzgerald (ESRI)
1330-1415 David Blanchflower (Dartmouth) – What Should Be Done About Rising Unemployment?
1415-1445 Colm Harmon (UCD) – Education and Innovation Strategies
1445-1515 Discussion and Q&A
1515-1530 Coffee Break
Session 2
Chair and Discussant – Colm McCarthy (UCD)
1530-1600 John McHale (NUIG) – The Other Crisis:  Whither Irish Pensions?
1600-1630 Philip Lane (TCD) – Fiscal Policy and Macroeconomic Adjustment in Ireland
1630-1700 DIscussion and Q&A
Please RSVP to (many thanks to those who have already done so!).  We are looking forward to a full house and a lively meeting.

Public Lecture – James Smith (RAND)

On the 15th of October 2009, UCD will award the Ulysses medal to Professor James Smith, former head of the Labour and Population Centre at RAND and two-time recipient of the National Institute of Aging Merit Award. Professor Smith’s lecture will take place in the Conway Lecture Theatre in the UCD Conway Institute at 4pm. The title of the lecture is “Effects of Childhood Mental and Physical Health on Adult Socioeconomic Status”. There will be coffee both before and after the lecture. Those wishing to attend, please rsvp to

Further details of Professor’s Smiths work are available on the webpages below.

Crisis Conference Economic Performance

DEW Conference – November 2nd 2009, Dublin

Event: Third DEW Policy Conference

Venue: Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin (

Date and Time: November 2nd, 2pm to 5.30pm

The third DEW conference will take place on November 2nd between 2pm and 5.30pm in the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, Golden Lane in Dublin city centre. The conference continues the general themes from previous events surrounding the Irish economic position. Speakers to include David Blanchflower (Dartmouth College), Colm Harmon (UCD), John McHale (NUIG), Patrick Honohan (TCD), Karl Whelan (UCD). A full agenda will be posted on this site in September and at the UCD Geary Institute and Irish Economic Association sites.

Due to the usual issues of venue size and logistics we would appreciate if people could register as soon as possible by emailing

Economics Fiscal Policy Higher education

Norman Glass

Readers of this blog might recall my support for the establishment of something modelled on the UK Government Economic Service.   I was sad to hear of the passing last week of a great Irish economist though perhaps one of the least known – Norman Glass – who was in many ways one of the architects of the GES.

The Guardian obituary is at

Norman was a pioneer in economics within policy circles.   He was the first economist in the UK Department of Health for example in the early 1970s.   But it was his time at the Treasury where he really made his impact, becoming in effect the Chief Microeconomist and the driver of the microeconomic revival at the Treasury during the early days of Blair and Brown particularly in the aftermath of the Bank of England independence move.  The development of the working families tax credit, the innovations in linking labour supply policy and welfare strategies, major initiatives in education and health – Norman was central to all of these moves and to the early success of the ‘New Labour’ era.   Norman also developed an interest in the early skills formation agenda, designing SureStart (and later became a vocal critic of what the UK Government did with that programme in letting it become bloated and without direction).   On retirement from the Treasury he went on to lead NatCen, perhaps the largest and best social research company in Europe.

Norman was a complete gentleman, quietly interested in what went on in Irish economics, hugely supportive of students and researchers who made contact with him.   He is also perhaps amongst the most influential Irishmen of the late 20th century, albeit also one of the most modest and ‘backroom’, completely anonymous in his homeland.

I thought it might be interesting to readers to learn about Norman, but in passing I can’t help but think that as we face up to the consequences of terrible decisionmaking in economic policy over the past 15 years or so, and how little evidence there is of clever thinking in economics within the Irish civil service, one of the most important figures in policy decision making and in creating the infrastructure for economics in Government in the UK system, was an Irish economist.   Knowing Norman, I suspect he would have found that funny too!

Higher education

Skills Deficits

One of the things underpinning a lot of posts, notably Karl’s last one, is that there is an elephant in the living room here around the human capital available to deal with economic issues within the core Government Departments.  We know the tales of how there are no economists in the civil service.   What is badly needed is something like the Government Economic Service in the UK. This ensures two things – the presence of a cadre of professional economists within the sector, but also the harmonisation of the training across Departments giving a unity of approach regardless of the topic. Of course the development of PhD capacity in Ireland will help but that takes time – wondering aloud, should we as a body of economists not begin to work with the Government to develop a GES model for Ireland and also develop the training structures?


Thanks folks, for the comments.  I am going to stay out of the debate around constitutional crisis this would cause…..and just pick up some threads.  Cormac’s comment hits it well and he would know well from working at IFS in London what I mean.   The GES is NOT an new body accountable or otherwise – it is a training infrastructure for the civil service that ensures that economists are trained in a way that is consistent across the service regardless of their posting.  It also ensures that economists can move between Departments, be redeployed etc very easily and that economics has a core platform within the service.   Secondly, the issue is not creating new degrees etc but rather to work with the civil service to ensure that platform is in place.  Thirdly, there is both an immediate need for a small, highly skilled cohort now – perhaps this is the 10 or so that Brian L discusses – but the idea that we can continue with the lamentable lack of economics as a core discipline across all government departments needs to be tackled.   In effect health, education, environment and employment have no structured economics unit and to revert briefly to constitutional issues, to be relying on external ministerial advisors is worrying.   Finally, for sure this would need a change in how things work – the economics unit in the UK looks at EVERY piece of policy and proofs it against standard metrics.

Thanks again, folks, for the comments.