Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category
By Colin ScottThursday, October 1st, 2015
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.
Call for Papers: Macroprudential regulation: policy dynamics and limitations
A joint academic-practitioner conference with the theme Macroprudential regulation: policy dynamics and limitations will be held in Dublin, Ireland on Friday September 4th, 2015, organized by the Financial Mathematics and Computation Cluster (FMC2), the Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University and the UCD School of Business at University College Dublin.
Macroprudential regulation is fairly new, and there are many unanswered questions. Can macroprudential constraints on credit be reliably attuned with the business cycle and/or credit cycle? Are fixed constraints on credit safer and more reliable than attempts at dynamic anti-cyclical ones? Should regulators take account of market or regulatory imperfections, such as in the construction sector, in setting constraints on credit growth? Is macroprudential control by an independent central bank consistent with the democratic accountability of government economic and social policies? Potential topics include:
* Business cycles, financial cycles, and the feasibility of dynamic macroprudential control
* The desirability and effectiveness of LTI and LTV limits on mortgage lending
* Democratic accountability and central bank independence
* Modelling house price movements and household debt and their interactions
* Controlling credit growth and credit flows in the Eurozone
* International case studies of macroprudential regulation.
* Assessment of macroprudential credit-restricting policies
Please send papers or detailed proposals by June 15th, 2015 at the latest to Irene.firstname.lastname@example.org; all papers must be submitted electronically in adobe pdf format. There will be both main conference sessions and poster sessions. We will consider proposed contributions to the poster session until 31st July. The academic coordinators for the conference are Gregory Connor and John Cotter, who can be contacted at Gregory.email@example.com or John.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Financial Mathematics Computation Cluster (FMC2) is a collaboration between University College Dublin, Maynooth University, Dublin City University and industry partners, with support from the Science Foundation of Ireland.
Scott Sumner provides a valuable discussion of the shifting ideological biases of American economists in this piece.
There is lots of excitement this morning about a story in the Financial Times about the European Commission state-aid investigation into Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland. The story first appeared online under the headline “Apple hit by Brussels finding over illegal Irish tax deals”. When put on the front page of today’s print edition the headline was “Apple hit by Brussels findings over Irish backroom tax deals”. The story begins:
Apple will be accused of prospering from illegal tax deals with the Irish government for more than two decades when Brussels this week unveils details of a probe that could leave the iPhone maker with a record fine of as much as several billions of euros.
Preliminary findings from the European Commission’s investigation into Apple’s tax affairs in Ireland, where it has had a rate of less than 2 per cent, claim the Silicon Valley company benefited from illicit state aid after striking backroom deals with Ireland’s authorities, according to people involved in the case.
The headline and story resulted in widespread opprobrium from the usual sources being directed at Ireland. The reality is that the headline is nonsense and the presentation of the story in the text was misleading (at best). Anyone with even a summary understanding of the issue would immediately see that, but there are plenty who love jumping to and jumping on adverse conclusions about Ireland’s corporation tax regime.
The errors include:
- there are no “fines” in state-aid cases
- the case does not involve “billions of euros”
- there are no “preliminary findings”
- there is no “rate of less than 2 per cent”
And that’s just the first two paragraphs!
At present Apple pays very little corporate income tax on its profit earned on sales made outside the US. These profits will be taxed based on the source-location of the risks, assets and functions from which the profits are derived. The risks, assets and functions that generate Apple’s profits are mainly in the US and under current rules the US is granted the taxing right for the bulk of Apple’s profits. The fact that the US allows Apple to defer the payment of this tax until the profits are transferred to a US-incorporated company is a matter for the US.
Sometimes we tend to use the word “repatriate” when it comes to these profits. But Apple’s non-US profits don’t have to be repatriated to the US; they go there directly and there is no stop-off in Ireland. Yes, Apple’s non-US profits are accumulated in Irish-incorporated companies but almost everything about these companies happens in the US. Using US rules, Apple was able to create this situation and maintain that these companies did not have a taxable presence in the US. The EC investigation will examine none of the headline issues about these companies highlighted in the US Senate Report last May.
The EC can only investigate the taxing of activity that happens in Ireland and decisions that are made in Ireland. In its June announcement, the EC said the Irish element of its investigation relates to:
the individual rulings issued by the Irish tax authorities on the calculation of the taxable profit allocated to the Irish branches of Apple Sales International and of Apple Operations Europe;
It is the profit attributed to just the Irish branches of the companies that is in question not the entire profits of these companies. In his opening statement to the US Senate hearing last May, Sen. Carl Levin (D) said: (more…)
Many readers of Irish Economy are likely to be aware of a project to rethink the teaching of Economics, linked to the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and organised by a committee chaired by Professor Wendy Carlin of UCL. Some people associated with this blog, including Kevin O’Rourke, are also involved in this work.
On my preliminary and (so far) partial reading of ‘The Economy’, it achieves its goal of being strikingly different to the standard first-year textbook. It places at the centre of the story familiar ideas that students and the public expect to feature in Economics and understand better through Economics, including capitalism, technology, living standards, the environment, institutions, and property rights before turning to the more abstract aspects of microeconomics. All the bells and whistles of digital publication are there too including hyperlinks to many of the readings. And of course it’s all freely available. The organisers are seeking user (student and faculty) feedback via a Facebook page and it seems there is supplementary material to follow in due course.
By Seán Ó RiainMonday, May 19th, 2014
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).
Please register for seminar by emailing email@example.com before May 26th, 2014
The economic rationale for the new Insolvency Service of Ireland is well-founded in economic theory. It hinges on the concept of Pareto improving bargains. The idea is that a debtor, with the guidance of a personal insolvency practitioner, can construct a Pareto improving bargain to everyone’s benefit: the debtor, the lender, and society as a whole.
Consider a debtor with unsustainable debt who, to avoid the personal and social costs of bankruptcy, goes to a personal insolvency practitioner (PIP). The PIP objectively examines the debtor’s situation and suggests a payment scheme which offers only part-repayment of loan value. Let the offered proportion of loan value be denoted by OFFER where OFFER < 1. If OFFER = 1 then the debtor is not insolvent since he/she can afford full-value payment and the PIP has no role. The PIP describes the offered repayment plan to the lender (or lenders).
The lender knows that the alternative to a personal insolvency plan is bankruptcy for the borrower, and that bankruptcy entails large financial costs, most of which will be borne by the lender. The uncertain proportion of loan value received by the lender after accounting for bankruptcy costs will be denoted by RECOVER. The debtor will accept the PIP offer if it provides higher expected value of total payments:
OFFER > E[RECOVER], (A)
where E[ ] denotes the expected value.
The economic rationale for this process is that it can make all three interested parties (debtor, lender, and society) better off. The debtor avoids the personal/social costs of bankruptcy; the lender gets a loan recovery amount which is higher than the expected bankruptcy-cost-adjusted amount received otherwise. Society avoids administrative bankruptcy costs and gets the benefits of a debtor freed more quickly from debt distress. Of course the PIP has lots of other duties (counselling the debtor, dealing with multiple lenders, administrative duties) but dealing with equation (A) is very fundamental.
The banks understand equation (A); the politicians understood equation (A) when they set up the enabling legislation. Does anyone in the Insolvency Service of Ireland understand equation (A)? It is fundamental to the Service performing its important task competently.
The Primetime news show recently highlighted a young couple whose PIP offer was rejected. I do not want to focus particularly on the individual case, keeping in mind the adage “hard cases make bad law.” According to the discussion in the show, the couple owed a mortgage-related debt of €276,000 and their PIP constructed an alternative loan repayment of €2,000. That is, relying on the numbers as discussed in the show, they made an offer of:
OFFER = 2,000/276,000 = 0.0072.
It is important for clarity to note that this does not denote a concessionary interest rate of 72 basis points; rather, 72 basis points is the total proportion of repayment including all principal repayment. Unsurprisingly, the PIP offer was rejected by the lender.
One could argue that the bank could just forgive the couple the loan debt as a gift (skip the 0.0072 partial payment which is too miniscule to consitute a meaningful debt settlement arrangement). That is, the insolvency system can be brought in as a useful component of parish pump politics, in the good sense, of parish pump politics as using the political system to create unfunded sources of benefits for local causes. There is certainly a case for doing this, but it was not actually the intention of the legislation. Doing so would greatly increase the effective political power of the ISI as controller of this new source of unfunded social benefits.
A technical feature of equation (A) is a convexifying effect for OFFER proportions close to zero. OFFER is known with certainty whereas RECOVER is a random proportion. Since RECOVER has a lower bound at zero, Jensen’s inequality means that the expected value of RECOVER is much higher than its maximum likelihood value in the region near zero. Is seems extremely difficult to create a scenario where E[RECOVER] could fall as close to zero as 0.0072.
The head of the Insolvency Service of Ireland was on the Primetime show, but he did not seem to be familiar with equation (A), or did not consider it relevant. He did seem to understand that if the ISI had the power to force deals without worrying about (A), then parish pump political considerations would give the agency much greater power. Yet equation (A) was extremely relevant and the absence of any appropriate analysis associated with it detracted considerably from the clarity of the discussion. The staff at the Irish Insolvency Service could benefit from the 30-minute lesson in the economic rationale for their agency’s existence.
[I added a few edits to correct typos, respond to comments (thanks to Sarah Carey and to other commenters who induced me to think more carefully). There may be some time-inconsistencies between the earlier comments below and the later edits.]
Organised jointly by the ESRI, Dublin Economic Workshop, UL, and UCD’s Geary Institute, this year’s policy conference (see previous years here and here) will be on the theme of economic policy after the bailout. This conference brings policy makers, politicians, civil servants and academics together to address this question of national importance. The venue will be the Institute of Bankers in the IFSC. (Click here for a map).
Date: 31st January 2013
Venue: Institute of Bankers, IFSC
9:15 – 10:45: Plenary: The Impact of the Crisis on Industrial Relations
Chair: Aedín Doris (NUI Maynooth)
- Kieran Mulvey (Labour Relations Commission) Prospects for Pay and Industrial Relations in the Irish Economy
- Shay Cody (IMPACT Trade Union) “The impact of the crisis on industrial relations – a public service focus”
- Michelle O’Sullivan/Tom Turner (University of Limerick) “The Crisis and Implications for Precarious Employment’”
10.45-11.15: Coffee Break
11:15 – 12:45: 2A. Migration and the Labour Market
Chair: Philip O’Connell (UCD Geary Institute)
- Piaras MacÉinrí (UCC) ‘Beyond the choice v constraint debate: some key findings from a recent representative survey on emigration’
- Peter Muhlau (TCD) “Social ties and the labour market integration of Polish migrants in Ireland and Germany”
- Alan Barrett (ESRI & TCD) and Irene Mosca (TCD) “The impact of an adult child’s emigration on the mental health of an older parent”
2B. Economics: Teaching and Practice
Chair: Ronan Gallagher (Dept of Public Expenditure and Reform)
- Brian Lucey (TCD): “Finance Education Before and After the Crash”
- Liam Delaney (Stirling): “Graduate Economics Education”
- Jeffrey Egan (McGraw-Hill Education) “The commercial interest in Third Level Education”
12:45 – 1:45: Lunch Break
1:45 – 3:15: 3A. Health and Recovery
Chair: Alex White, TD, Minister of State
- David Madden (UCD) “Health and Wealth on the Roller-Coaster: Ireland 2003-2011”
- Charles Normand TCD) and Anne Nolan (TCD & ESRI) “The impact of the economic crisis on health and the health system in Ireland”
- Paul Gorecki (ESRI) ‘Pricing Pharmaceuticals: Has Public Policy Delivered?”
3B. Fiscal Policy
Chair: Stephen Donnelly TD
- Seamus Coffey (UCC) “The continuing constraints on Irish fiscal policy”
- Diarmuid Smyth (IFAC) ‘IFAC: Formative years and the future’
- Rory O’Farrell, (NERI) “Supplying solutions in demanding times: the effects of various fiscal measures”
3:15 – 3:30: Coffee Break
3:30 – 5:00: Plenary: Debt, Default and Banking System Design
Chair: Fiona Muldoon (Central Bank of Ireland)
- Gregory Connor (NUI Maynooth) “An Economist’s Perspective on the Quality of Irish Bank Assets”
- Kieran McQuinn and Yvonne McCarthy (Central Bank of Ireland) “Credit conditions in a boom and bust property market”
- Colm McCarthy “Designing a Banking System for Economic Recovery”
- Ronan Lyons (TCD) “Household expectations and the housing market: from bust to boom???”
This conference receives no funding, so we have to charge to cover expenses like room hire, tea and coffee. The registration fee is €20, but free for students. Please click here or on the link below to pay the fee, then register by attaching your payment confirmation to an e-mail with your name and affiliation to firstname.lastname@example.org. [Block bookings can be made by purchasing the required number of registrations and then sending the list of names to email@example.com]
UPDATE. The following is probably also relevant here:
Bond Repayments: Motion [Private Members]
“That Dáil Éireann:
calls on the Government:
— to immediately lobby the European Central Bank for a one-off exemption from the rules of monetary financing, to allow the Central Bank of Ireland to destroy the €25 billion in sovereign bonds issued in February of this year, in lieu of the remaining promissory notes, plus the €3.06 billion bond also being held by the Central Bank of Ireland in payment for the 2012 promissory note; and
— to cease any and all interest payments currently being made on those bonds.”
- The first part of the debate on this motion is available here.
- UPDATE 2: The final part of the debate on the above motion is now available here.
The latest report from the FAC is available here.
Fiona Muldoon, Director of Credit Institutions and Insurance Supervision at the Irish Central Bank, gave a speech yesterday in Glenties at the MacGill summer school (h/t John Gallaher). The topic of the speech was “Restoring Confidence in the Irish Financial System.” Ms Muldoon gave a fairly upbeat assessment of progress. I am less sanguine. The problem is not lack of international confidence in Irish banks and businesses, but rather lack of international confidence in Irish financial regulation. It is still not clear if the Irish Central Bank has the backbone for the tough tasks it faces in the current environment.
It is important to remember that the weak regulatory stance of the Irish Central Bank during the credit bubble period was one of the chief causes of the Irish economic crisis. The Irish Central Bank’s soft and timid approach, and its willingness to be swayed by political and business interests, was a major cause of Ireland’s economic disaster (for evidence, see my paper with Brian O’Kelly). Has the Irish Central Bank sufficiently altered its approach?
The Irish Central Bank has reformed enough so that if the challenges of 2002-2008 ever reoccur, it will be ready for them. This new resolve to block credit bubbles is not likely to be tested for many decades. The Irish Central Bank needs to have the strength and fortitude to deal with the very different challenges of 2013.
The Irish Central Bank showed no leadership during the fiasco of the 2009 Land Reform Act/Dunne Judgement. The previous government (perhaps deliberately) slashed a gaping hole in Irish financial contract law when it passed the flawed 2009 Land Reform Act. The flaw was pointed out by Justice Dunne, and the judiciary reasonably expected that such an egregious flaw (called a “lacuna” in legal parlance) would be fixed by amending legislation. However the legal flaw was politically convenient since enforcing mortgage contracts would have been politically painful at the time. Ignoring the Dunne Judgement and leaving the flaw in place was very poor practice in terms of restoring international confidence in the Irish financial system, but it was politically convenient for a domestic audience. The government did nothing at all about this legal flaw, despite the obvious impact on Ireland’s international reputation.
It took outside interference by the Troika to get this legal flaw fixed. The Troika repeatedly noted the unacceptable situation in their quarterly reviews, and when government action was still not taken the Troika demanded that the Irish government act by an imposed deadline or face a cut-off in national debt funding. Throughout this long, confidence-draining saga, the Irish Central Bank stood meekly by and said nothing. A stronger-willed central bank (US, UK, Germany, others) would have been screaming from the rooftops about the need to fix such a gaping hole in the country’s financial contracting law. It is not to the credit of the Irish Central Bank that we needed Troika intervention to get this problem acknowledged and fixed.
The Central Bank’s response, or lack thereof, to the explosive growth in mortgage arrears is another case where its stance was timid. Even by late 2011 it was obvious to hard-headed observers that some substantial fraction of the mortgage arrears explosion could be traced to strategic behaviour by households. Mentioning strategic default is offensive to many people since it means acknowledging that some Irish people are acting dishonestly in their own self-interest against the interests of society. A few people were brave enough to mention the obvious (take a bow, Karl Deeter!) but none at the Irish Central Bank. Up until early 2013, the Irish Central Bank effectively had a ban on any mention of strategic default by any central bank spokesperson. This gave rise to some stilted presentations, where Central Bank senior spokespeople railed about the explosion in mortgage arrears without any mention of one of the key causal factors. This omerta was finally broken by Patrick Honohan in early 2013. That was too late in the process to be an international confidence-booster. A strong imperative by the Irish Central Bank not to cause anyone any offence is not a good foundation for building international confidence in Irish financial regulation.
On the positive side, the Irish Central Bank’s actions against Quinn Insurance were tough and bold. So the bottom line is that in terms of restoring confidence the Irish Central Bank has a mixed record over recent years.
By Frank BarrySaturday, June 15th, 2013
The institutional innovations over the deep crisis of the 1950s gave birth to the modern Irish economy. I analysed the process in this article in the Irish Independent last week. Brendan Keenan re edited it slightly to highlight his interpretation of what I was saying. One of the fascinating things about writing anything is how it takes on a life of its own in readers’ minds. (“And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us”). Edna Longley once destroyed the meaning of something I had written by aggressive editing; fortunately no such problems arise with Brendan. I wrote a similar piece for historyhub.ie, a new site developed by a group of young historians. Though I disagree with much of what Bryce Evans has to say on Lemass, I found his interpretation of what I had written illuminating: “it makes the case very convincingly for expertise offered as a basis for policy-making being more robustly based on both independence and breadth of opinion.”
Paul de Grauwe and Yuemei Ji have an interesting commentary on the causes and effects of austerity here.
The Director of Credit Institutions and Insurance Supervision at the Irish Central Bank, Fiona Muldoon, has been widely praised for her speech to the Irish Banking Federation, calling for faster action by the banks in dealing with the mortgage arrears crisis. The speech makes clear that the damaging nexus of the former Fianna Fail government, linking the politically connected property development industry to the banking industry and an overly compliant bank regulator, is no longer in place. The Irish Central Bank is now able and willing to stand up to the industry that it regulates in order to protect the public interest, and it is supported in this stance by the ruling coalition. This is an important positive outcome.
The speech was a step forward, but it was not an unusually brave speech, despite the impression one gets from the wide praise it received in media coverage. A truly brave speech would not be widely praised, since it would need to unsettle people rather than confirm their existing beliefs. The speech ignores a big part of the reason for the mortgage arrears crisis – the deep-seated Irish political aversion to house repossessions. Without facing up to this big part of the mortgage arrears crisis, there will be no solution. Here is an extra paragraph, offered with proper humility, which might have changed Fiona Muldoon’s partly brave speech into a truly brave speech. I have kept the “teenagers” motif, which was a clever oratorical device in the original speech.
“I cannot come here and give a speech about mortgage resolution without once mentioning repossessions; that would be cowering. The notion that 167,000 mortgages-in-arrears can be resolved without a substantial proportion of repossessions is delusional. We on the senior Central Bank staff could give speeches ignoring this reality, thereby pandering to political sentiment, but we will not do so. Meanwhile, the government’s most recent attempt at reforming Ireland’s repossession laws was a shambles, and virtually the entire law was declared invalid by the Justice Dunne ruling in July 2011. This has left Ireland, and it’s banking system, with virtually no repossession system at all since that date. Rather than fix this urgent legislative cock-up of its own creation, the government has chosen to ignore it and pretend that it will go away. The ruling coalition is acting like a bunch of teenagers; blaming everyone else in the household for their problems while neglecting to do their own homework.”
By Tim CallanWednesday, October 10th, 2012
Further information on Geary Lecture and seminar by Tim Besley below. To reserve a place at either/both event(s) please email firstname.lastname@example.org and state clearly which event(s) you wish to attend.
Geary Lecture: Tim Besley
4pm Friday 19 October at ESRI
Making and Breaking Tax Systems: The Institutional Foundations of Fiscal Capacity
We have become accustomed to governments having the fiscal capacity to support revenue raising of more than 40% of GDP. But such levels of taxation were unheard of before the 20th century. This lecture will review some of the trends in taxation over the past one hundred years and how the tax systems were created which support the needs of modern governments. It will use this historical perspective to reflect on the challenges that need to be confronted in trying to build a centralized fiscal state in Europe.
Research Seminar, 1pm Friday 19 October, at ESRI
The Welfare Cost of Lawlessness: Evidence from Somali Piracy
This paper estimates the effect of piracy attacks on shipping costs using a unique data set on shipping contracts in the dry bulk market. We look at shipping routes whose shortest path exposes them to piracy attacks and find that the increase in attacks in 2008 lead to around a eight to twelve percent increase in shipping costs. We use this estimate to get a sense of the welfare loss imposed by piracy. Depending on what is included, we estimate that generating around 120 USD million of revenue for pirates in the Somalia area led to a welfare loss of anywhere between 0.9 and 3.3 USD billion. Even at the lower bound, therefore, piracy is an expensive way of making transfers.
By Tim CallanWednesday, October 3rd, 2012
This year’s Geary Lecture will be delivered by Tim Besley, Professor of Economics and Political Science, LSE. He will speak on
“Making and Breaking Tax Systems: Institutional Foundations of the Fiscal State”
Date: Friday 19th October
Venue: ESRI, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay
Attendance at the event is free but must be pre-booked. There are a limited number of places available and early booking is encouraged. To book a place, please send details of attendee’s name, organisation and contact telephone number by email to email@example.com
By Aidan KaneThursday, September 13th, 2012
A new issue of the journal Administration is now available. Full details here. Some of the articles are available to non-subscribers:
By Colin ScottMonday, July 9th, 2012
In a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post my colleague Dr Niamh Hardiman makes a plea for better understanding of the roots of our current crisis in weaknesses in governance institutions. Such an understanding is a precondition for effective reform. She addresses weaknesses in parliamentary scrutiny, the capacity of the civil service for appropriate engagement over policy making, and the effectiveness of the public service itself. She highlights institutional explanations for tendencies for public policy to favour sectional interests, but argues that understanding the institutional weaknesses is the key to addressing them. The article is behind a paywall, but a fuller, multi-author examination of the issues is available in a book arising from a UCD project on governance, Irish Governance in Crisis, edited by Niamh Hardiman (Manchester University Press, 2012).
By Aidan KaneWednesday, May 23rd, 2012
A new issue of the journal Administration is out today.
To mark the journal’s ‘re-launch’, this issue is available in full for free online here.
As many readers will know, Administration is published by the Institute of Public Administration, and has been a key locus for research-led debate on economic development, and of course on wider developments in the public sector and society, since 1953.
The current issue includes prefatory articles from the incoming editor Muiris MacCarthaigh, who `sets out his stall’, and from Tony McNamara, who has edited Administration since 1989. These will be of interest no doubt to a wide readership and to various contributor bases, (e.g., from academic, practitioner and civil society perspectives).
As the contents indicate, the focus of this issue is on public sector reform, with an opening piece by Brendan Howlin TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I guess that Ministers historically have been uneven in how or whether they contribute to debate at this level; perhaps this is a good cue to them, and to politicians more generally, to get their quills out.
Notes from the Editors:
- “Renewing public administration research and practice” by Muiris MacCarthaigh
- “A final word” by Tony McNamara
- “Reform of the public service” by Brendan Howlin, TD
- “Progress and pitfalls in public service reform and performance management in Ireland” by Mary Lee Rhodes & Richard Boyle
- “Regulating everything: From mega- to meta-regulation” by Colin Scott
- “Trust and public administration” by Geert Bouckaert
- “The reform of public administration in Northern Ireland: a squandered opportunity?” by Colin Knox
- Third report of the Organisational Review Programme
- The challenge of change: Putting patients before providers
By Colin ScottFriday, May 18th, 2012
My opinion piece in today’s Irish Times points out that the disbanding of the Better Regulation Unit in the Department of the Taoiseach risks reducing the capacity for effective oversight of regulatory institutions and strategies and for learning about and acting on regulatory successes and failures elsewhere in the OECD member states. A fuller policy brief on the topic, “W(h)ither Better Regulation?” is available here.
I hope there is no problem about my linking to the article I wrote.
By Frank BarryMonday, March 5th, 2012
By Aidan KaneFriday, March 2nd, 2012
According to an Irish Times story by Dick Ahlstrom and Fiona Reddan the government has approved the report of the Research Prioritisation Steering Group in identifying 14 priority areas for state-funded research. The report itself is here.
One might hope (though probably in vain) that this would prompt some wider debate. For example, might at least some policy makers be even slightly concerned to question:
- the merits or otherwise of an increasingly centralised model of state planning for innovation,
- the continued privileging of scientific and technological knowledge which current policy advances,
- the extent to which the relentless shift towards commercialisable state-funded research is in conflict with a core original rationale for this policy: namely the provision of public goods—those which are by definition not commercialisable (current policy can look a lot like socialising the costs, while privatising the benefits), and:
- the further opportunities for rent-seeking, by both industry and academics, this sort of exercise creates and embeds, and relatedly, the high political value thereby assigned to demonstrating (by innovators, no less!) compliance with hierarchy, obedience to instructions and the uncritical acceptance of a consensus policy, aka ‘groupthink’?
Back in 2010, as the world turned austerian, people like Adam Posen started to worry about the political consequences. Indeed, so did I. Alan de Bromhead, Barry Eichengreen and I have a new working paper which looks at the political consequences of economic hard times in the 1920s and 1930s, which you can read here.
Eoin Reeves and Dónal Palcic write in today’s Irish Times on the issue of privatisation, and they don’t pull their punches. From the piece:
Not only is there a lack of clarity about the companies to be sold and the timing of any sales, but it has also emerged that there are significant differences between the Government and the troika on the role privatisation should play in contributing to any economic recovery. These differences do not bode well in terms of making the best decisions about the future ownership of critical infrastructure industries.
At this stage, two key points of difference between the Government and the troika can be discerned. First, the drip-feed of information provided during the latest visit indicates that the troika views privatisation as a structural reform issue that should be implemented to improve the overall competitiveness of the economy. The Government, meanwhile, appears to be focused on privatisation as a means of raising exchequer revenues.
The second point of difference concerns how the proceeds from privatisation should be used. Whereas the Government wants to direct revenues towards job creation, the troika views proceeds as a means of paying down the national debt.
The troika’s view of privatisation as a tool for reducing costs and improving competitiveness is an orthodox proposition that is traditionally associated with multilateral organisations such as the International Monetary Fund but it is one that can be readily challenged.
Palcic and Reeves finish by making an important point about the dangers of short term political thinking applied to long term strategic assets. This problem is rarely discussed, as far as I can see, in Irish public policy. Hopefully we’ll see some more discussion in the comments about this problem.
The concept of “fire sale prices” is a useful one in many contexts – some examples are the October 19th 1987 US stock market crash, the LTCM crisis of 1998, and the 2007-8 US credit-liquidity crisis. In all three of these cases, security prices crashed in a particular sub-market, policymakers stepped in providing extraordinary credit-liquidity support, and eventually (quickly in the first two cases, slowly in the last) the capital market situation normalized. Unfortunately, “fire sale prices” is a useless or even harmful analytical tool for understanding the current Irish financial predicament. A better term for current conditions in Irish asset markets is stagnation prices rather than fire sale prices. Policymakers should look to Japan circa 1991 and the following two decades, rather than the USA, for a useful historical precedent. The fire sale concept gives the wrong policy guidance in the Irish situation; it is metaphorically like trying to use a fire hose to drain a swamp.
Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny have a series of papers exploring the use of the fire sale concept in modelling financial markets. There has been a large outpouring of papers by other authors with similar or related models, but the Shleifer and Vishny model is clear and simple and their survey is particularly good. They provide a definition:
“A fire sale is essentially a forced sale of an asset at a dislocated price…. Assets sold in fire sales can trade at prices far below value in best use, causing severe losses to sellers.”
They discuss how fire sales can cause financial and macroeconomic instability via credit and liquidity channels. In a related paper they laud US policymakers for their prompt and correct response in 2007-9 in injecting massive credit and liquidity into the markets for mortgage-related and credit-related securities caught up in the fire sale environment of 2007-9.
Fire sale mitigation policies are unusual as economic policies in that, as a rule, they should result in a net profit for the policymaker. This follows from the theory of the limits to arbitrage. This certainly seems to apply in the US case – the Federal Reserve made a trading profit of $79.3 billion in 2010 and $76.9 billion in 2011. The Fed vastly outperformed the best-performing hedge fund both years, at U.S. civil service pay rates, and without actually trying to make a profit. TARP was also profitable or near profitable, after an adjustment for the expensive but necessary bail-out of the US automobile industry. This is the nature of fire sale mitigation policies – they are about buying securities slightly below fair value and holding them temporarily on government account while injecting liquidity and credit.
The bad news is that this has near-zero relevance for Ireland. Irish asset markets are not suffering from a fire sale problem but rather from a long-horizon stagnation problem. The appropriate comparison case is not from the USA but rather Japan circa 1990. Japanese policymakers and financial institutions worked endlessly to slow the pace of adjustment, leading to an almost twenty year period of stagnation, suppressing growth and business innovation, and leaving a massive overhang of government debt. Irish asset markets need to be forced to adjust quickly and reach their new (much lower) equilibrium values with un-frozen free trading and clear, public pricing. This applies to banks, collateralized pools of debt, commercial leases, and commercial and residential property. Preventing this from happening is not preventing a “fire sale” rather it is guaranteeing a long stagnation. It could even last twenty years, as in Japan.
Another question – what is it about the US environment that gives rise to fire-sale-induced financial crises of typically short duration? Part of the answer lies in the USA lead in financial innovation. New financial innovations were key to all three fire-sale market crashes mentioned in the first paragraph of this post (portfolio insurance, statistical arbitrage, and numerous CDO innovations, respectively). High-frequency trading (the most recent big innovation) will be the likely cause of the next fire-sale-related crash, if one comes in the USA.* Ireland seems to avoid these fire-sale crashes, but is plagued instead by long-lasting periods of stagnation. Let us hope the current one is not dragged out for a decade.
*A post-script on HFT and the Tobin tax. After my last blogpost, Frank Barry asked me to give more details about Tobin’s use of the term “sand in the wheels” and its application in old-fashioned engineering. I do not know that much about the engineering use of sand in the wheels – I only heard Tobin discussing it in an interview. I now know that historically the sand in the wheels technique was used in the case of a metal (steel or iron) wheel aligned on a track and needing better grip, such as an old-fashioned railway wheel on a wet track. It is used for wheel-type mechanisms and not for gears with teeth. See Wikipedia for some details for those with an interest. I remember Tobin saying he was annoyed that many commentators mistook him as suggesting sabotage, and I remembered that key idea correctly. Sand in the wheels is a technique to improve, not hinder, performance.
By Aidan KaneWednesday, January 18th, 2012
The Minister for Transport, Mr Varadkar, in commenting on whether a referendum will be necessary for Ireland to sign up to the fiscal compact is reported to have made the commonplace point that
There’s only one reason why you have a referendum and that’s where there is a requirement to change the constitution.
Em, not quite.
Apart from a political view that a referendum might be desirable in any event, there is a particular mechanism in the Constitution of Ireland for holding a referendum, even when a measure does not require constitutional amendment. This is set out in Articles 27 and 47, whereby one-third of the Dáil and a majority of the Seanad could petition the President to decline to sign and promulgate a Bill “on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.”
The detailed provisions of Article 27 envisage that if such a petition were successful, the will of the people could be ascertained either by referendum (in which at least one-third of those on the register would have to vote “no” in order to veto, by virtue of Article 47) or, in effect, by a general election.
I guess the fiscal compact itself may not in fact be a Bill, but presumably the detailed fiscal provisions of the agreement will have at least that legal form. Apart from whether the required numbers of TDs and Senators would line-up for the petition which Article 27 envisages, whether or not this mechanism will be applicable seems to me, as a non-lawyer, to turn on whether the Bill in question is a “Money Bill”. Money Bills appear to me to exempt from Article 27 (reading back to Articles 23 and 22) but I may be mis-reading that, so perhaps we might get some legally informed views in comments.