Redistribution in the Age of Austerity

Readers of this blog might be interested in this working paper we’ve just put up on the Levy working paper series. The abstract is below.

We examine the relationship between changes in a country’s public sector fiscal position and inequality at the top and bottom of the income distribution during the age of austerity (2006–13). We use a parametric Lorenz curve model and Gini-like indices of inequality as our measures to assess distributional changes. Based on the EU’s Statistics on Income and Living Conditions SLIC and International Monetary Fund data for 12 European countries, we find that more severe adjustments to the cyclically adjusted primary balance (i.e., more austerity) are associated with a more unequal distribution of income driven by rising inequality at the top. The data also weakly suggest a decrease in inequality at the bottom. The distributional impact of austerity measures reflects the reliance on regressive policies, and likely produces increased incentives for rent seeking while reducing incentives for workers to increase productivity.

Garret FitzGerald Lecture and Autumn School

UCD College of Social Sciences and Law will host the Garret FitzGerald Lecture and Autumn School on Monday 19th October, in the UCD Sutherland School of Law. The daytime School (from midday) will focus on the significance of the social sciences. The evening Lecture will be delivered by Professor Cass R Sunstein,Harvard Law School, on the theme ‘Is Behavioural Science Compatible with Democracy?’. More details and bookings here.

Save the Date: September 30 Conference on Higher Education Funding in Maynooth

On Wednesday, September 30, we are holding a one-day conference on ‘Higher Education Funding: Drawing on the International Experience’ in Maynooth.

The context for this conference is the debate on how to fund higher education in Ireland. In 2014, the Minister for Education established an Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education, and the motivation for the conference is to inform the discussion about the choice of funding options available; we have a particular interest in the interaction between funding mechanisms and differential access to higher education along socioeconomic lines.

International speakers include Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has written extensively on the issue of higher education funding in the US; Claire Crawford of Warwick University and the IFS, who has written several detailed analyses of the UK system; and Bruce Chapman of the Australian National University, whose name is particularly associated with income-contingent student loans, both in terms of his academic research and his role as policy advisor to many governments.

Local speakers include Rory O’Donnell of NESC and Delma Byrne of Maynooth University.

The conference will be open to all. I’ll post further details here in the coming weeks.

Update: Full details are now available here.

Inequality in the Irish Context

John FitzGerald’s ESRI piece has added to the debate on income inequality in the Irish context, with some reaction from TASC’s Cormac Staunton, the Irish Times’ Chris Johns, and some other guy giving the flavour of the exchanges from right and left.

Edit: I think David’s forthcoming ESR piece (.pdf) is a real contribution to the debate and should be noted up here, too.


The 75% of the world’s population not covered by Piketty

In between grading exam papers I have been wading through the Piketty book.  Its a bit like walking through a muddy field.  The going is sometimes a bit stodgy, but you eventually get there.  There have been many reviews and commentaries on the book – one of the best I think is by Debraj Ray ( ), who also wrote what I believe to be the best textbook on Development Economics in 1998, which, alas, I don’t think was ever updated.

Ray is sceptical about Piketty’s “Fundamental Laws of Capitalism”, but believes that the book makes a major contribution in highlighting the concentration of top incomes, arising from both an increasing share of income accruing to capital and also the phenomenon of very high returns to human capital at the top of the wage distribution.

All of this I am sure is very familiar to readers of this blog – Piketty’s must be one of the most reviewed economics books of the last 30 years.  But what seems to get less coverage is what has been happening to the approximately 75% of the world population not covered by the Piketty book.  A recent World Bank study by Lakner and Milanovic (covered here in Vox ) shows that over the 1988-2008 period, growth for the bottom 75% of the world (with the exception of the very bottom 7% or so) has been well above average, thus contributing to an overall compression of the world income distribution.  There have basically been three broad changes in world income distribution over the last 30 years.  Yes, the top 1% have seen high growth, while those between about the 75th and 99th percentiles have done relatively poorly – these are the phenomena covered in Piketty.  But the vast majority of the bottom 75% have also done relatively well, particularly those just above the median – effectively the Chinese and Indian middle classes are catching up with lower income groups in the OECD countries.  The net effect of these three changes is a fall in overall world income inequality.  The data stops at 2008 but my guess is that developments since then have probably only accentuated these trends.  And further globalisation is likely to have the same effect.

The piece finishes off with some speculation about the political implications of all this, which I am not quite so convinced by.  But overall, given that inequality seems to be flavour of the moth these days, it is interesting to get a more global view.

Symposium at NUI Maynooth: “Can Social Investment Save Social Europe?”

On Thurs., 29th of May, a special seminar on Social Investment in Europe will be hosted by the Department of Sociology/ NIRSA, Political Economy and Work Cluster and the New Deals in the New Economy project. The seminar will run from 9.30 to 1.30 and will be followed by the launch of a new MA in Sociology (Work, Labour Markets and Employment) by Minister Joan Burton.

‘Social Investment’ focuses on investing in people’s skills and capacities and supporting them to participate fully in employment and social life (EU Commission). Does ‘social investment’ lead to a renewal or an erosion of the welfare state? Will ‘social investment’ support economic and social recovery?

The event will start at 9.30 with registration and coffee followed by the seminar at 10.00 in the Phoenix building on the North Campus in NUIM keynoted by Prof Anton Hemerijck, VU University Amsterdam and Prof Brian Nolan, UCD, and chaired by Prof. Seán Ó Riain.

Following a break for coffee there will be a roundtable discussion with: Rossella Ciccia (NUIM), Tom Healy (NERI) and Rory O’Donnell (NESC), chaired by Mary Murphy (NUIM).

See more at:

Please register for seminar by emailing before May 26th, 2014

Survey on Income and Living Conditions

The results from the 2012 wave of the EU-SILC have been published by the CSO.

There had been some difficulties with the statistics estimated from the survey in previous years which may account for the lag in getting the 2012 data published.  The data was collected between January 2012 and January 2013.

The main results are summarised in this table.

Of the reported 2012 changes in the poverty and income inequality measures, only the change in the deprivation rate is reported as being statistically significant.

The average weekly net equivalised disposable income for the bottom decile was €118.55 in 2012.  Income decile data was not provided in the 2011 release and the 2010 figures were withdrawn.  In the 2009 release, the average weekly equivalised net disposable income for the bottom decile was €160.05.

Comparable figures for the top decile are €1,041.71 in 2009 and €958.44 in 2012.  It should be noted that possible differences in the composition of the deciles between years make such changes difficult to fully interpret.  The income shares by decile are provided in this table.

The first table here shows that average equivalised disposable income for the population fell by 10.5 per cent between 2009 (€23,326) and 2012 (€20,856).  The second table shows that the share going to the bottom decile fell by 16.7 per cent between the same years (from 3.6 per cent in 2009 to 3.0 per cent in 2012). 

There is more detail in the full publication.  The Department of Social Protection have issued this press release.

Chartbook of economic inequality

Readers of the blog may be interested in a Vox piece by Tony Atkinson and Salvatore Morelli on the Chartbook of Economic Inequality. It provides a summary of changes in inequality for 25 countries (alas not including Ireland) over a 100 year period.  If you follow the links you can get the data on an Excel basis or in chart format.  The vox link is here

ESRI Studies on Taxes and Transfers

Here are links to two studies released through the ESRI this week.  One chart is taken from each but there is much more detail in both particularly the second.

Distributional Impact of Tax, Welfare and Public Service Pay Policies: Budget 2014 and Budgets 2009-2014


Social Transfers and Poverty Alleviation in Ireland

Income inequality

This week the OECD released an update of their income inequality statistics which was covered in an article by Dan O’Brien in yesterday’s Irish Times.  For household disposable income Ireland is not unusually unequal.

  • Gini co-efficient: Ireland 0.307 versus OECD average of 0.313
  • 90/10 income share: Ireland 7.5 versus OECD average of 9.4

Under both measures Ireland is less unequal than the OECD average.  Data is for 2010 except for 2009 data from Hungary, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and Turkey, and 2011 data from Chile.

The OECD dataset also includes a gini-coefficient for direct income (i.e. household income prior to taxes and transfers).  Direct income includes employee earnings, employer social insurance contributions, self-employed earnings and other direct income.  There is no data for Hungary, Mexico or Turkey.  The following chart has the most recent figures (mainly 2010) for this gini coefficient (most equal first).

For the 31 countries shown, Ireland has the highest level of inequality for direct income, and by some distance. The (2009) Irish figure is 0.591 compared to an arithmetic average for the sample of 0.470. 

Charts showing the impact each country’s tax and transfer system has on the gini coefficient and the resulting gini coefficients for household disposable income are below the fold.

Continue reading “Income inequality”

Long Run Income Inequality in Ireland

Those of you interested in long run trends in income inequality in Ireland might like to take a look at this piece from the magazine “Significance”.  It uses the difference between incomes of the top 10% less the incomes of the top 1% as its summary measure for inequality.  It takes a pure time series approach and suggests that for the last 40 years or so there is a  12 year cycle in inequality with a very slight upward trend.

Warning: As John McHale might put it, it is “wonkish”!

ESRI QEC Research Notes

Last week the latest ESRI Quarterly Economic Commentary was published. It includes 5 research notes including one by myself on the regional dimension of the unemployment crisis.

While there is a lot of discussion about unemployment, the differences across regions have not received much attention. The note shows that the differences are significant. It also shows that things would look a lot worse if it had not been for a drop in labour force participation – in the Border region the unemployment rate could have reached 27%. Not surprisingly a sharp drop in employment is the major cause of the increase in unemployment, but a look at the sectoral breakdown of employment changes gives some interesting results. Firstly, construction employment appears to have contracted quite uniformly across the country. Secondly, employment in education and health actually grew. Thirdly, there are some interesting differences across the regions with respect to other sectors. For example, manufacturing declined much more in Dublin than elsewhere. Most importantly the analysis suggests that the underlying factors that are responsible for the differences in unemployment rates across the regions are very persistent but were hidden during the boom. You can expect some more analysis on this in the near future.

The other notes are:
Tax and Taxable Capacity: Ireland in Comparative Perspective
Comparing Public and Private Sector Pay in Ireland: Size Matters
Trends in Consumption since the Crisis
Revisions to Population, Migration and the Labour Force, 2007-2011

Work and Poverty in Ireland

A new report commissioned by the Department of Social Protection and undertaken by the ESRI is available here

The focus of the report is on the very low work intensity (VLWI) measure of social exclusion with which Ireland is a significant outlier.  In Ireland 22.8% of people under 60 live in households with very low work intensity compared to an EU27 average of 10%.  The report looks at the trend in this measure over time and the characteristics of households that comprise this group. 

Property Tax: ESRI Conference Paper


A conference paper  provides evidence relevant to some key choices in the design of a new property tax.  While the paper does not recommend a specific blueprint, it draws on evidence from other countries as to “what works” and analyses the impact of different forms of property tax on a nationally representative sample of households.

Ronan Lyons post yesterday contained three main comments on the paper.  Because some of these appear to have drawn primarily on an Irish Independent report that contained inaccuracies, rather than on the paper itself, it seemed best to issue this as a new post.

1.        The first comment is that “there should be no exemptions from a property tax, only deferrals”.  The  SWITCH model is set up to analyse policy choices.  As I see it, the level of an income exemption limit is a choice variable, and in this context, zero would be Ronan’s preferred option.  Our research found a range of positive values in evidence in many countries. For example, the UK Council Tax Benefit effectively exempts those with incomes close to minimum social security levels. In Northern Ireland, they have set a higher income limit than in the rest of the UK. In our analysis we report income distribution impacts for the zero case, and also for levels at the State Contributory Pension and State Pension+25%. Our work points out the implications of the different choices. Making such a choice is a matter for public debate and government decision. Our paper aims to inform that choice.

2.       The second comment is that “a property tax should most certainly not be related back to income”.  I’m not sure what he has in mind here but it is important not to misunderstand our analysis. Apart from income exemption limits and some marginal relief above this (necessary to prevent 100%+ tax  rates), the property tax bill we consider is simply a flat percentage of market value. We analyse what the outcome is in terms of how the burden is spread across the income distribution – this depends on how, in practice, property values and incomes are related, as well as on the effects of exemption limit provisions. These are questions of legitimate interest for research and policy.

3.       Thirdly, it is stated that our paper asserts that Ireland has “no database on site values”: This is not what we said – it reflects an inaccuracy in the Irish Independent’s report. What we said is that “to our knowledge, there is no data source which combines information on site characteristics (location and size) and household incomes, so that it is not possible to provide a clear picture of how a Site Value Tax relates to ability to pay or its impact on the distribution of income”. If there is such a source, we would be glad to hear of it.


2010 Survey of Income and Living Conditions

The CSO have now released the full results of the 2010 EU-SILC.  The report gives lots of detail on income and poverty in Ireland.  One graph immediately stood out.

Care has to be taken when interpreting this as different households are surveyed each year and the composition of the households in each decile will also change.  Detailed tables can be seen in the report which can be compared to those in the 2009 release.

When looking at the annual change by household composition the following can be seen.

The largest drops are seen for households with one adult aged under 65 and no children under 18, and “other households with children”.  Drops are also recorded for other categories.

Household Budget Survey

The CSO have released the first results of the most recent HBS which was taken between August 2009 and September 2010.  There is also this press release.

Average weekly expenditure is estimated to be €810 per week or around €42,000 per year.  The release contains lots of detailed information by income decile, region, location and household tenure.

Tax Breaks for Job Creators

Stephen Collins reports that ‘project champions’ and their teams will be given large tax breaks to incentivize them to come to Ireland to set up projects that entail ‘new product development’.

Is this a good idea? Anyone know of any empirical evidence on the effectiveness of these types of tax breaks (assuming that they exist elsewhere)?

United Left Alliance convention

My invitation to the above event at the week-end being unaccountably delayed, it’s interesting to see the Irish Times relaying the views of colleague Professor Terrence McDonough (IT do note correct spelling please.) here.

In summary:

“He said the country should default on its debt, leave the euro, build a single public bank, provide a jobs guarantee for all workers and nationalise the Corrib gas field.”