Brendan and Dermot Walsh on health and austerity

Dermot and Brendan Walsh have just published a provocative comment in the British Medical Journal on the link between health and austerity  [].

Momentary relief from the deliberations on Anglo!

The comment reads:

Ireland is – after Greece – the country where the post 2008 structural adjustment programme, aka austerity, has been proportionately most severe. Yet there are few indications that this has had a significant adverse effect on basis health indicators.

The crude death rate in 2012 was 6.3 per 1,000 compared with 6.4 in pre-austerity 2007. The suicide rate in 2012 was 12.8 per 100, 000 in 2012 compared with 13.2 in 2007. Admission rates for depressive disorders fell to 117 per 100, 000 in 2012 from 138 in 2007. The percentage distribution of self-assessed health status did not change between 2007 and 2010 (the latest available year).

Overall there is a striking lack of evidence that the major austerity programme implementd since 2007, and the concomitant trebling of the inemployment rate, has had a significant deleterious effect on the health of the Irish population. This evidence needs to be given due weight in international assessments of the impact of economic policies on public health.

Louis Smith R.I.P.

Word just in of the death of Professor Louis Smith, formerly of UCD.

Students and colleagues will remember Louis with affection and admiration. As a teacher he was bright and enthusiastic: sometimes impenetrable, sometimes absent-minded, but always very engaging.  As a colleague he was obliging and cheerful.

Louis was an able and original commentator on policy issues. He was passionate about agricultural cooperatives and about ‘Europe’.  His early and influential role in the debate about the link with sterling should not be forgotten.

His funeral takes place in Donnybrook church tomorrow at 10 a.m.

Sympathies to his family.  Reminiscences about Louis welcome: ni bheidh a leitheid aris ann, cinnte!

Symposium on the Euro as Greek Tragedy: Call for Papers

Symposium on “The euro: (Greek) tragedy or Europe’s destiny? Economic, historical and legal perspectives on the common currency”

University of Bayreuth (Germany), 11 – 12 January 2012

Funded by the “Volkswagen Foundation”


The European debt crisis has brought the European Monetary Union (EMU) to the brink of collapse. A large variety of proposals are currently being discussed, ranging from different stabilisation mechanisms to outright default and the exit of individual countries from the euro zone; even a complete dissolution of EMU no longer appears unthinkable.

The aim of this symposium is twofold: First, we seek to encourage a genuinely pan-European debate on EMU that will overcome the multitude of (highly diverse) national debates. Currently, economic analyses and policy suggestions follow well-established national fault lines (mirroring earlier divisions between “soft” and “hard” currency countries), which makes agreeing on a common diagnosis of the problem and suggesting a therapy exceedingly difficult. Second, we wish to draw on the rich experience of past monetary unions in helping us master the present and the future of EMU.

Lessons from monetary history
(Call for papers)

Half of the sessions will be devoted to lessons from the past, i.e., explaining the conditions under which monetary unions have worked well in the past as well as appreciating the importance of monetary history in shaping the attitudes of different countries towards EMU. Researchers working in the fields of economics, economic history, European integration, political science, history, history of economic thought and legal studies all have important contributions to make in this regard and are encouraged to submit their papers. We will strive to maintain a balance between the different disciplines and we welcome in particular submissions from PhD students and early career researchers.

Different perspectives on the current crisis
(Invited presentations)


Prof. Albrecht Ritschl (key note speaker)
(London School of Economics)

Prof. Agnès Bénassy-Quéré
(CEPII and University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Prof. Manfred Neumann
(University of Bonn)

Prof. George Pagoulatos
(Athens University of Economics and Business and College of Europe Bruges)

Prof. Andreas Paulus
(German Constitutional Court and University of Göttingen)

Prof. Niels Thygesen
(University of Copenhagen)

A specific focus of the invited presentations will be on why economic analyses of the current crisis and policy suggestions to overcome it differ markedly from one country to the next. Following the key note lecture by Prof. Albrecht Ritschl, Prof. Niels Thygesen will elaborate on the “Different perceptions of EMU among the major initiators”. His analysis will be complemented by three country-specific perspectives, namely by Prof. George Pagoulatos’ view from the euro periphery, Prof. Manfred Neumann’s perspective from a “hard currency country” and the possibly “intermediate” French view by Prof. Agnès Bénassy-Quéré. Prof. Andreas Paulus will elaborate on legal aspects of the bail-out mechanism.

Submission and Selection process

Submission Deadline: Friday 18th November 2011

Applications by e-mail (with pdf-file attachments) should be sent to by Friday 18th November the latest. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by Friday 25th November 2011.

Please submit a 1-page summary of the paper you wish to present accompanied by a 1-page CV and (in the case of PhD students only) a letter of support from the PhD advisor.

PhD students / early career researchers wishing to participate in the symposium without presenting a paper: Please submit a 1-page explanation as to how the topic of the symposium relates to your research, a 1-page CV and (in the case of PhD students only) a letter of support from the PhD advisor.

Expenses:  Accommodation and travel expenses will be covered for all participants. If travel expenses are expected to exceed 150 EUR (for Germany based participants) and 350 EUR (for all other participants), please do indicate in your application the level of travel expenses you would require.

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Herz (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

Dr. Matthias Morys (University of York, UK)



In these gloomy times, here is an update on two socio-demographic trends that give some cause for some cheer, and which do not receive due attention. These trends, previously described for earlier years in a piece in the Economic and Social Review, persisted during 2007 and 2008. They are [1] evidence that the long rise in the proportion of births occurring outside marriage was leveling off, and [2] signs that the number of Irish pregnancies aborted in England and Wales had peaked.

The leveling off in the proportion of extramarital births, which continued in 2007 and 2008, is described in Figure 1.

]. Probably more significant, though, is the continuing downward trend in teenage births. Teenage births surged from 1.6 per cent of all births in 1960 to 6.3 per cent in 2001, but fell off thereafter to 4 per cent in 2005 and 3.7 per cent in 2006. In 2007 and 2008 the shares were down to 3.5 and 3.2 per cent, respectively.

The share of extramarital births to mothers aged less than 25 years has also continued to fall. Between 1998 and 2006 it plummeted from 58.2 to 40.6 per cent; by 2008 it was down to 37.4 per cent (Figure 2). This is important since, presumably, a higher proportion of the births to older single mothers were planned, and thus less costly for mother, child, and society at large.

Abortion remains a controversial and divisive issue in Ireland. A decade ago, the proportion of all Irish conceptions terminated in England and Wales exceeded one in ten. The proportion peaked in 1999-2000, and has declined slowly since then. In 2007 and 2008 the percentage of all pregnancies terminated in England and Wales continued its unheralded but remarkable decline to 6.2 and 5.7 per cent. Nor does the diversion of terminations to the Netherlands—sometimes mentioned as a factor—account for the decline. The number of women giving Irish addresses at Dutch abortion clinics fell from 451 in 2007 to 330 in 2008.

Another feature noted earlier was the striking reduction in the number of terminations by young women as a proportion of the total (Figure 3). Their share has virtually halved, from 6.3 per cent a decade ago to 3.2 per cent in 2008. The proportion of teen pregnancies ending in terminations remained high, averaging 22.2 per cent between 1997 and 2006. In 2007 and 2008 the percentages fell to 18.1 and 17.4, respectively. For older women the share ending in terminations also fell. These declines may be partly due to compositional shifts, but improved sex education and increasing use of the morning-after pill are probably more important factors.

So far, so good. But will these trends survive the recession?

An aside on the term ‘macro’

A few years ago, when Ben Bernanke’s appointment was ushered through the US Senate with hardly a murmur, Michael Evans—author of a once widely-used textbook called Macroeconomic Activity—quipped, ‘Macroeconomics, unless it messes up, doesn’t matter very much any more’.  Macro is no longer passé, however, so TCD’s Antoin Murphy is lucky in the timing of his The Genesis of Macroeconomics (just out, Oxford University Press). 


As Antoin points out the term ‘macroeconomics’ was coined by Ragnar Frisch in 1933.  Frisch also invented ‘microeconomics’ and ‘econometrics’, as well as some other terms that never caught on.   But ‘macroeconomics’ was still unfamiliar enough in 1945 for an article in the American Economic Review  to use it with the ‘macro’ bit in inverted commas.  It might never have caught on but for the Great Depression and Keynes’s General Theory.  Ironically, though, Keynes himself does not seem to have keen on the term.  Who was the first Irish economist to use it?


If JSTOR is to be trusted, the first use of the term in an academic journal was by Jan Tinbergen in 1936 (in ‘Sur la determination statistique de la position de l’équilibre cyclique’, Review of the International Statistical Institute, 4(2) (1936): 173-188).  Tinbergen, by the way, shared the Nobel Prize with Frisch in 1969.  The term was slow to catch on: one JSTOR ‘hit’ before 1940, three in 1940-44, and forty-four in 1945-49.  The story thereafter, as reflected in JSTOR, is summarized in the accompanying table.   Will these ‘interesting times’ reverse the apparent downturn in usage?


Year          ‘Hits’
1935-9 1
1940-4 3
1945-9 44
1950-4 149
1955-9 217
1960-4 436
1965-9 959
1970-4 1639
1975-9 2806
1980-4 4429
1985-9 6385
1990-5 7368
1995-9 8028
2000-4 7186







How much the collapse of Anglo-Irish Bank was due to insider borrowing remains unclear.  There seems to be much more to it than that, and perhaps in the end Seanie Fitz—and other insiders, yet unnamed—will repay with interest the millions they owe the rest of us.


However, in the (happily few) sensational failures like Anglo’s in Irish banking history, secretive insider borrowing has been a big part of the story. 


The potential conflict of interest for bankers short of capital has long been obvious.  For this reason, eighteenth-century Irish banking legislation banned merchants engaged in foreign trade from being bankers.  The restriction, alas, led to undercapitalized banks.


Joint-stock banking met that problem, and produced the relatively stable banking system that lasted from 1825 to 2008.  However, there were some failures along the way, and it may be worth recalling that the two most famous stemmed from the abuse of insider borrowing privileges.


In early 1856 the Tipperary Bank collapsed when it was discovered that its leading light, John Sadleir M.P., had committed suicide on Hampstead Heath.  It soon emerged that he owed his own bank nearly £300,000 (something like €30 million in today’s money).


In 1885 it was the turn of the Munster Bank, laid low by the cronyism of a coterie of Cork merchants.  For an account of that episode see 


In the cases of the Tipperary and the Munster, unsuspecting but relatively well-heeled shareholders bore the brunt of the directors’ swindling.  Like Anglo shareholders last week, they protested loudly, but they certainly did not expect the government to bail them out.  In addition, the banks’ depositors were also badly burnt.


History says that insider lending may be work in highly unusual circumstances.  On this the classic work is Naomi Lamoureaux’s Insider Lending: Banks, Personal Connections, and Economic Development in Industrial New England (Cambridge, 1996).  But Lamoureaux’s yankee banks may be the exceptions that prove the rule.  In general insider lending is dangerous, and a bad deal for both customers and shareholders.