Honest thoughts on educational inequality in Ireland

In discussing the sources of variation in academic achievement across students, there is a yawning chasm between the contemporary research literature (particularly in the emerging field of geno-economics) and the mainstream media. The mainstream media sticks religiously to the traditional blank slate theory, claiming that variation in student achievement is caused entirely by differing home and school environments. Tuesday’s Education Supplement of the Irish Times is a classic example. The main headline of the supplement is “Privately-educated elite have greater access to education” and the first paragraph reads as follows:

“Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are denied the same opportunities as their wealthier peers, while parents with money can afford a better education for their children despite Ireland’s so-called free education system, an analysis of the 2017 Irish Times feeder school list shows.”

The article repeatedly relies on the assumption that children of wealthier parents in Ireland perform better in school for only one reason, their parents purchase better educational outcomes through fee-paying schools, tutors, and grind courses. The current scientific literature has an entirely different flavour. A recent paper by Plomin, et al., entitled “The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence,” is typical. Synopsizing their findings, they state:

“Differences among children in educational achievement are highly heritable from the early school years until the end of compulsory education at age 16, when UK students are assessed nationwide with standard achievement tests [General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)]. Genetic research has shown that intelligence makes a major contribution to the heritability of educational achievement. However, we
show that other broad domains of behavior such as personality and psychopathology also account for genetic influence on GCSE scores beyond that predicted by intelligence. Together with intelligence, these domains account for 75% of the heritability of GCSE scores. These results underline the importance of genetics in educational achievement and its correlates.”

To be fair to the Irish Times, an inside piece by Brian Mooney in the Supplement brings a gentle hint of realism into the blank-slate-inspired tirade of the Supplement’s lead article. Mooney hints that there might possibly be other factors explaining why households with two graduate parents grab the university places rightfully going to other households.

“For schools where both parents of many students were graduates, and where they have been supported throughout their education, getting a college place is no great reflection on the success of their school. Alternatively, we are keenly aware that for schools in disadvantaged communities, securing third-level progression for even a small proportion of students is a reflection of highly motivated teachers, and is a fantastic achievement.”

Brian Mooney does not state it explicitly, but scientists have shown definitively that the most powerful “support” that two-graduate-parent households gift to their children is their two tightly packed strands of DNA, which split and recombine, creating a new human infant in the most complex and beautiful physical process in the known universe. This new human infant is not a blank slate; he/she inherits a block-random collection of genomic traits from the maternal and paternal genomes. That genetic process, not fee-paying schools or tutor expenses, is a major source of inequality in educational outcomes in Ireland.

NB: In response to thoughtful comments from colleagues, I changed “the main source” to “a major source” in the last sentence above. That is perhaps more accurate, although it does mess with the rhythm of the final sentence. This edit was made after comments below.

Ireland’s Negotiation Game Strategy for Brexit

Ireland needs to play its hand deftly and aggressively during the EU-wide Brexit negotiations. Irish interests in the Brexit process, post-vote, differ from those of other EU states. For EU enthusiasts in states with limited UK trade, a tempting strategy for preventing a NEXT-IT (Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, etc.) is to punish the UK via a spiteful exit deal. That would be a disaster for Ireland due to spillovers. Ireland needs to fight hard to let the UK be allowed a smooth and minimally-disruptive exit, not face a mini trade war. Ireland would be hit very badly in the crossfire.

IMF Post-Program Monitoring Report on Ireland notes the unusual risk profile of the Irish banking sector

The IMF has released its latest post-program monitoring report for Ireland. What is notable in the report is how it highlights the still very-high-risk profile of the Irish banking sector, and the policy quandary regarding encouraging housing construction without endangering another Irish banking sector crash over the medium term. Despite a strong, three-year-long domestic economic expansion, Irish mortgage loans remain an unusually risky asset class.

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Conference on macroprudential regulation

A conference with the theme Macroprudential regulation: policy dynamics and limitations will be held on Friday January 29th, 2016, at the Institute of Banking, North Wall Quay, Dublin, organized by the Financial Mathematics and Computation Cluster, the Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University and the UCD School of Business at University College Dublin. The conference schedule appears below.

There are no attendance fees for the conference, but attendees need to register. We are grateful to the Science Foundation of Ireland and the Irish Institute of Banking for their generous support of this conference. The Financial Mathematics Computation Cluster is a collaboration between University College Dublin, Maynooth University, Dublin City University and industry partners, with support from the Science Foundation of Ireland.

10:00 – 10:30  Registration and poster session

10:30 – 10:35  Welcome and introduction

Theme 1: Measuring Macroprudential Policy Needs and Policy Effectiveness

10:35 – 10:55  Marcelo Fernandes (Queen Mary University), “Response to supervisory stress tests”

10:55 – 11:15  John Fell (European Central Bank), “Credit flow restrictions: Implementation and coordination issues”

11:15 – 11:25  Coffee break

11:25– 11:45  Scott Frame (US Federal Reserve), “The failure of supervisory stress testing: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and OFHEO”

11:45 – 12:05  Eugenio Cerruti (International Monetary Fund), “The Use and effectiveness of macroprudential policies: New evidence”

12:05 – 12:25  Panel discussion

12:25 – 13:25  Buffet lunch and poster session

Theme 2: Housing Markets and Macroprudential Policy

13:25 – 13:45  Gabriel Brunneau (Bank of Canada), “Housing market dynamics and macroprudential policy”

13:45 – 14:05  Kieran McQuinn (Economic and Social Research Institute), “Macroprudential policy in a recovering market: Too much too soon”

14:05 – 14:15  Coffee break

14:15 – 14:35  Christoph Basten (Swiss Financial Supervisory Authority), “Countercyclical capital buffers in Switzerland”

14:35 – 14:55  Angus Foulis (Bank of England), “The role of credit in the US housing boom: Insights from tiered housing data”

14:55 – 15:15  Panel discussion

15:15 – 15:20  Closing remarks

New York Times: A Migration Juggernaut is Headed for Europe

Eduardo Porter, one of the most highly respected economic analysts in the US media, has an interesting, thoughtful new article on European immigration pressures. He argues that European economies and societies need to prepare for large-scale immigration from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. These regions are close to Europe, are notably poor by world standards, and have a forecast population increase of three billion in coming decades, on top of the large increases which have already occurred in the recent past. Porter argues that attempts to stop completely this migration pressure will not succeed, and instead Europe should try to adjust to an inevitable large inflow.