Four Cheers for Conor Skehan

On Wednesday, Conor Skehan, outgoing head of the Government’s Housing Agency, was grilled by the Oireachtas Housing Committee for the mortal sin of noticing things and speaking honestly about them. Mr. Skehan claimed that some individuals in Ireland were gaming the public housing system, in order to become eligible for public housing ahead of others. Members of the Committee, devout in their observance of the Holy Laws of political correctness,  castigated Mr. Skehan for his public remarks and the evidence he presented to justify them. They noted that it is not possible that a housing-eligible person could game the system – as PC dogma clearly states, lower income individuals are gifted with Immaculate Conception (born without sin) and can do no wrong. So the evidence that Mr. Skehan presented had to be false, and his presentation of it before the committee was proof of his fall from a PC state of grace.

On the plus side, there was at least one honest person in the Oireachtas on Wednesday.

Call for Papers: Fintech and financial risk management: evolution or revolution?

A joint academic-practitioner conference on the theme Fintech and financial risk management: evolution or revolution? will be held in at the Institute of Bankers, Dublin, Ireland on Monday September 10th, 2018. The conference is organized by the Valuation and Risk Cluster (VAR), the Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University, the Smurfit School of Business at University College Dublin, and the Central Bank of Ireland.

New financial technologies are producing widespread changes to financial markets and financial systems. The effects of the fintech revolution on risk measurement, analysis and control are not yet clear. How does fintech change the risk profile of financial markets? Can existing risk management systems cope with the new environment? What changes are required to existing financial risk management methods and systems? Will innovative applications of fintech improve risk measurement and management

Potential topics include:

• Flash crashes

• Risk measurement and control of black-box trading algorithms

• The impact of high speed trading on dynamic rebalancing and hedging

• Natural Language Processing (NLP)-based artificial intelligence and its trading impact

• High speed trading networks and systemic risk

• Information and noise cascading in networks

• Stability and liquidity of blockchain protocols

• Portfolio risk management with automated advisor systems

• Credit risk in fintech lending systems

• Fintech’s impact on the business models of existing financial institutions

• Applications of machine learning in risk management systems

Please send papers or detailed proposals by May 31st, 2018 at the latest to Na.Li@ucd.ie; all papers must be submitted electronically in adobe pdf format. There will be both main conference sessions and poster sessions. The academic coordinators for the conference are Gregory Connor, John Cotter and Trevor Fitzpatrick, who can be contacted at Gregory.connor@mu.ie,  John.cotter@ucd.ie,  and Trevor.Fitzpatrick@centralbank.ie. The administrative manager for the conference is Na Li who can be contacted at Na.Li@ucd.ie. There are no submission fees or attendance fees for the conference. We are grateful to the Science Foundation of Ireland and the Irish Institute of Bankers for their generous support of this conference. The Valuation and Risk Cluster (VAR) is a collaboration between University College Dublin, Maynooth University, Dublin City University and industry partners, with support from the Science Foundation of Ireland.

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.

A Brief Reminder: Macroprudential Conference this Friday, January 29th

Details of the macroprudential bank regulation conference this Friday are here. The conference begins at 10 am with an interactive poster session and a chance to meet other attendees.