Call for abstracts for a conference panel session on “Trust in Economics”

UCD Philosophy Prof Maria Baghramian is organizing a conference on “Trust, Expert Opinion and Policy” at the end of the Summer in Dublin and there’s to be a panel on “Trust in Economics”. She has asked me to post this call for abstracts. Should be an interesting event.

Place: University College Dublin
Time: August 31-September 2, 2017

Carlo Martini (University of Helsinki) and Don Ross (University College Cork and University of Cape Town) are organising a special session on

Trust in Economics

embedded in the international conference on Trust, Expert Opinion and Policy  (a multidisciplinary conference investigating questions of trust in and the trustworthiness of expert opinion).

The conference is organised by Professor Maria Baghramian (School of Philosophy, University College Dublin) and Professor Luke Drury (School of Cosmic Physics, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) as part of their Irish Research Council Project “When Experts Disagree” in collaboration with the project: “The Trinity of Policy-Making: Evidence, Causation, Argumentation”

Keynote speakers at the conference:
Onora O’Neill (University of Cambridge, Philosophy)
Patrick Honohan (Trinity College Dublin, Economics)

Call for Abstracts for the special panel on Trust in Economics

Description of the panel’s topics: What factors influence the extent of public trust in economists? Research and media outlets have recently reported a severe crisis of confidence affecting science, and economics in particular. But available surveys mainly focus on natural and medical sciences. What do we know, based on rigorous and objective surveys, about the attitudes of various publics toward economics? Past and current economic crises and turmoil are often cited to cast doubt on the expertise of economic policy advisors and commentators, but to what extent is this a problem for economics as a science? To what extent does it stem from failures in communication? Are some of the current negative judgments on economics and economists due to lack of adequate effort by economists in building a relation of trust between their science and its public?

We will be selecting a small number of contributed papers addressing, among others, the following questions:

Is there currently a crisis of public trust in economic science?
Do economists value trust in public communication of their science?
Are economists effective in communicating trust?
How should we conceptualize trust in economic expertise?
How can public trust in economics best be empirically studied and measured in surveys?
How can we most effectively build greater public trust in economic expertise?

We invite short abstracts (max 500 words) to be submitted to by July 15 2017. Notifications of accepted papers will be sent out shortly after the deadline.

Deadline for submission of abstracts: July 15 2017

The Irish National Accounts: Towards some do’s and don’ts

The statistical distortions created by the impact on the Irish National Accounts of the global assets and activities of a handful of large multinational corporations have now become so large as to make a mockery of conventional uses of Irish GDP. I suggest four preliminary remarks to help overcome some of the challenges facing observers of the Irish macroeconomy.

  1. GNP is now almost as unhelpful an aggregate economic measure for Ireland as GDP. (This is due to a change in the way in which some globalized countries are managing their affairs, with some significant global headquarters now being located to Ireland)

  2. Ratios to GDP are now almost meaningless for Ireland in most contexts. They need to be supplemented by alternative purpose-constructed ratios for specific uses, as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council already proposed a few years ago with its weighted average of GDP and GNP for assessing fiscal sustainability – though that particular solution will no longer work well for the reason mentioned in point 1.

  3. International statistical conventions should be revisited to help the interpretation of the data in a world where huge MNCs, legally controlled from small jurisdictions are moving assets around on this scale.

One natural approach is to apply the thinking underlying the current statistical treatment of financial intermediaries to this kind of MNC.

(One aircraft leasing firm that publishes its accounts has just 164 employees in Ireland – and just 221 elsewhere – but a balance sheet total of $44 billion, the bulk in the form of aircraft that are operated by other firms. I do not know how the statisticians classify it, but in economic terms it looks much more like a financial firm than a non-financial firm).

Failing international convention changes, it may be necessary to envisage a parallel set of accounts being also prepared for the Irish economy.

  1. Some of the big aggregates of the national accounts are largely unaffected by the distortions. For instance, the figures for personal expenditure on consumer goods and services and for government expenditure on goods and services. These two series can still be used to get a more realistic picture of the recovery as it is felt in public and private consumption. But they should not be expressed as a percentage of GDP, but instead in real constant price terms, seasonally adjusted.

Thus, by the first quarter of 2016, personal expenditure was still just below its quarterly peak of eight years ago; it has been growing for twelve quarters since the trough at an annual average rate of 3.5%.

Government spending on goods and services (i.e. not including transfer payments) in the first quarter of 2016 was still six per cent below peak but has grown by 4.0% per annum on average in those twelve quarters.

Personal disposable income (a much under-used series; up to date figures not available yet); other elements of the government finances; building and construction investment are other series that remain valid and usable for understanding the relevant parts of the economy.

How do these recent growth rates in consumer and government spending compare with those registered in the decade before the bust? Much lower of course: consumer spending rose by an average of 5.6% per annum 1998-2008, and government spending by 4.9%. Recovery yes: boom no.


An Bord Snip: Structural and Strategic Issues

In addition to the Department-by-Department blow-by-blow recommendations, An Bord Snip Nua has offered general comments and recommendations in Chapter 2 of its Volume 1. Among other things, it speaks about:

– Outsourcing and economies through shared ICT.
– Rationalization of Departmental structures and agencies including for the delivery of services at local level;
– Improvements in procedures for public procurement and property management.
– Value for money and performance appraisals.

I would welcome specific comments on these structural and strategic aspects in this thread.

An Bord Snip: Specific Savings

How about some specialized discussion on proposed cuts?

I haven’t yet counted the recommendations in Volume 2 of An Bord Snip’s report, but there is much detail on which specific expert comment would be valuable and could begin here.

Three-quarters of the potential savings identified by An Bord Snip nua are (unsurprisingly) in the three biggest spending areas: Health, Social Welfare and Education. I’m opening a separate thread for each of those three: keep this thread for the rest.

Please no general waffle on this thread please!

An Bord Snip: Education

I’m opening this strand to facilitate more specialized discussion on the cuts in Education proposed by An Bord Snip, which total €0.7 bn or 8% of the €9 billion currently spent in this area.

The proposed cuts include:

Structural efficiencies (e.g. amalgamation of some ITs and VECs).

Staffing reductions and productivity improvements
(e.g. in the area of sick leave arrangements, special needs assistants, pupil-teacher ratios, and more teaching hours)

Programme adjustments (mainstreaming of traveller education, costbrecovery of school transport, PRTLI)

An Bord Snip: Health

I’m opening this strand to facilitate more specialized discussion on the cuts in Health proposed by An Bord Snip, which total over €1.2 bn or 8% of the €15 billion currently spent through the HSE.

Cuts here include: staffing roll-back of over 6000; a tightening of the eligibility requirements for medical cards; increased co-payments for prescriptions and walk-ins to A&E; and some rationalization of agencies.

An Bord Snip: Social Welfare

I’m opening this strand to facilitate more specialized discussion on the cuts in Social Welfare proposed by An Bord Snip, which amount to €1.8 bn or 9% of the €18 billion currently spent in this area.

Among the proposed cuts are an overall roll-back in rates of 3% or 5% nominal; a 20% reduction in Child Benefit; and some changes in eligibility (double payments).