Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category

Irish Economic Policy Conference 2014: Economic Policy after the Bailout

By Stephen Kinsella

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

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

Programme

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 emma.barron@ucd.ie. [Block bookings can be made by purchasing the required number of registrations and then sending the list of names to emma.barron@ucd.ie]

Please click here to pay the registration fee.

Collins -v- The Minister for Finance & Ors

By Seamus Coffey

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Judgment here.

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.

Fiscal Assessment Report

By Seamus Coffey

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

The latest report from the FAC is available here.

Restoring Confidence in the Financial System

By Gregory Connor

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

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.

Lessons from the 1950s?

By Frank Barry

Saturday, 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.”

‘Panic Driven Austerity’

By Brendan Walsh

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Paul de Grauwe and Yuemei Ji have an interesting commentary on the causes and effects of austerity here.

Coase versus Pigou and Eurozone Bank Resolution Policy

By Gregory Connor

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Brian O’Kelly and I have a new policy paper on Eurozone bank resolution; it is in the Special Papers series produced by the Financial Markets Group at LSE.

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A Brave Speech from the Irish Central Bank – The Missing Paragraph

By Gregory Connor

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

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.”

ESRI Geary Lecture…and Seminar by Tim Besley

By Tim Callan

Wednesday, 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 geary@esri.ie 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.

ESRI Geary Lecture - Tim Besley, LSE

By Tim Callan

Wednesday, 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

Time: 4pm

Venue: ESRI, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay

Booking
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 geary@esri.ie

New issue of Administration

By Aidan Kane

Thursday, 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:

Irish Governance in Crisis

By Colin Scott

Monday, 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).

New issue/re-launch of journal Administration available

By Aidan Kane

Wednesday, 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.

Contents
Notes from the Editors:

  • “Renewing public administration research and practice” by Muiris MacCarthaigh
  • “A final word” by Tony McNamara

Articles:


  • “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

Reviews:

  • Third report of the Organisational Review Programme
  • The challenge of change: Putting patients before providers

www.ipa.ie/administration

Failure to Regulate Regulation Could Prove Costly

By Colin Scott

Friday, 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.

Yet more on water meters

By Edgar Morgenroth

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Prime Time last night showed a few clips of me commenting on the establishment of Irish Water. As is usual (given the time constraints) a lot of my interview was not included. There are a few points worth making:

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Slow Road to a Federal Europe

By Frank Barry

Monday, March 5th, 2012

The Sunday Business Post published an opinion piece of mine on the eurozone crisis yesterday under this title. As its content seems to have disappeared behind a paywall, I attach the piece here

Angela Merkel’s recent reflections on the future of Europe to which I refer are here.

Research Prioritisation Report

By Aidan Kane

Friday, 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’?

Politics in hard times

By Kevin O’Rourke

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Back in 2010, as the world turned austerian, people like Adam Posen started to worry about the political consequences. 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.

Incoherent privatisation policy a cause for concern

By Stephen Kinsella

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

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.

Fire sale prices versus stagnation prices

By Gregory Connor

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

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.

The fiscal compact and referendum mechanisms in Ireland

By Aidan Kane

Wednesday, 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.

Ireland’s Policy Stance on a Tobin Tax

By Gregory Connor

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The most recent Final Conference to Save the Euro ended in disarray when the UK refused to sign up to a proposed set of EU treaty changes. The UK’s veto was due to the inclusion of an EU-wide Tobin Tax on security transactions in the set of proposals. The justification for an international Tobin Tax is quite strong. Hypercompetitive securities markets with excessively-large trading volumes and hyper-fast price changes are a serious danger to global financial stability. A Tobin Tax would eliminate these dangerous trading excesses without impinging much on underlying market efficiency. On other hand, the UK government’s refusal to sign up to an EU-only Tobin Tax, imposed on the City of London while the US and Asian global financial centres remain outside the tax net, was an obvious and sensible policy decision for the UK.

After the proposed EU treaty changes were restricted to a coalition of the willing, the Irish government fretted that a Tobin Tax might particularly disadvantage the Irish financial services industry, given that the UK will be outside the tax net.

What should be Ireland’s policy stance toward an international Tobin Tax? Should Ireland do the right thing as a global citizen by supporting such a tax within the Eurozone, or should it protect its international financial services industry from UK (and non-EU) predation and therefore veto any such tax proposal? It would be much better for all concerned if the Tobin Tax could be imposed at a global rather than EU level.

Sometime in the future, May 6th 2010 might rank with August 9th 2007 as a “warning date” for a subsequent financial market disaster. Recall that starting on August 9th 2007, quant-trading hedge funds experienced an extremely turbulent, credit-market-related meltdown. Although the quant-trading markets calmed down after about two weeks, many analysts now recognize this as an early warning signal of the subsequent global credit crisis. In an interesting parallel, on May 6th 2010, high-frequency trading systems generated a “flash crash” of US equity markets, causing a 9% fall and 9% rise of the US stock market within a 20 minute period. Some individual stock prices went bananas; completed trades at crazy prices during this short “flash crash” period were annulled that evening by the NYSE board. Since the markets righted themselves within a day or two, many analysts have forgotten about this incident. But could this “flash crash” be an early warning sign of a subsequent “permo-crash”? High frequency trading (HFT), using entirely computerized systems to trade at hyper-second frequency, now constitutes 70% of US equity and equity-related (equity baskets, futures, options) trading volume, and 30% in the UK. If HFT generates a flash-crash at the end of the trading day, rather than mid-day as on May 6th, and something else goes wrong at the same time, it could lead to an enormous disaster.

Tobin originally proposed his tax for the foreign exchange market, which was the first financial market to have hyper-competitive trading costs. He saw that most of the trading volume in forex markets provided very little economic value. A small tax would have a big influence on trading volume, rendering purely speculative and potentially destabilizing trading strategies unprofitable, while having little or no impact on the real economic value of these markets. Tobin called it “throwing sand in the wheels” of securities market trading. Nowadays, Tobin’s “sand in the wheels” metaphor is widely misunderstood. Tobin was a World War Two naval officer and throwing sand in the wheels was an accepted way to improve machine performance in his day. For mid-twentieth century machinery a little sand in the wheels would slow down the mechanism (think of something like a navy ship’s water pumps) and make for more reliable performance with less chance of overheating. With modern precision engineering the notion of “sand in the wheels” as a repair method seems ridiculous, so commentators assume Tobin is advocating sabotage of securities markets. That was not what he meant – “sand in the wheels” is an old-fashioned procedure to slow down machinery so that performance improves, not a means of sabotage. Oddly, the tax is designed to generate minimum revenue – it relies on the elasticity of trading volume to net costs, and tries to drive out destabilizing short-term trading strategies while collecting minimal tax revenue.

Now, after decades of hard-fought liberalization, US and UK equity markets have the same hyper-competitive trading costs as forex markets. HFT has hijacked this and feeds off this market cost improvement (and by earning net profits from “normal” market traders) with trading systems that add little real efficiency improvement for markets. Eliminating their net profits with a small tax would do little harm, and make markets safer. The very bright computer scientists who run these HFT firms could go back to socially useful activities like designing better software.

There is another interesting parallel to the global credit crisis. US housing regulators worked for thirty years to increase access to owner-occupied housing for lower and middle income households and this was a big success. Then, they took that policy too far, and the policy was hijacked by self-interested actors in the US property lending and securities trading sectors. There was too much of a good thing in terms of the too-low-credit-quality US residential property lending market. The same applies now with securities market trading costs and trading access. Regulators have succeeded in driving out bad securities trading practices and greatly lowering trading costs, but this process has gone too far. It has been hijacked by HFT. I call this the Too Much of a Good Thing (TMGT) theory of regulatory capture.

During the credit bubble, Ireland enthusiastically joined the dumb-down contest to impose the minimal possible regulation on the financial services sector. Perhaps now Irish policy leaders could make amends by joining the push for a Tobin Tax.

How would a Tobin tax impact the competitive draw of Dublin for its brand of “off shore” financial services? Perhaps it would be the death knell for the Irish stock exchange since all trading volume might migrate to London. Ireland policymakers should encourage a global solution, bringing the US and UK in particular into the plan. Asian markets (which are not yet competitive for HFT) might be willing to cooperate as well, since there is no great cost for them.

‘Tis the Season to be ….

By Brendan Walsh

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

… happy!

So I thought I would share my thoughts on how the Irish are faring on this front.

Kevin O’Rourke on the eurozone crisis

By Frank Barry

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Kevin O’Rourke delivered a hugely insightful talk on the crisis and the global situation at a conference in Dublin last week. His presentation is here.

Economic Foundations of Irish Foreign Policy

By Frank Barry

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I was asked to write this chapter for a forthcoming RIA volume on Irish foreign policy. A summary:

A country’s foreign policy is largely driven by what it perceives to be in its economic interests. That this does not provide a complete picture is evidenced by the fact that Irish development assistance has never taken the form of tied aid. Nor can the influence of powerful vested interests be discounted. A case can be made that Ireland turned protectionist again once membership of the European Union had been achieved. Agricultural and sheltered-sector interests have sought to stymie the liberalisation efforts of the WTO and the European Commission respectively. A further complicating factor is that a society’s own economic interests can occasionally be miscalculated. Joseph Lee has noted that “while the ‘political’ skills of Irish representatives in negotiating positions are widely acknowledged… there seems to be no comparable criterion for assessing the calibre of conceptualisation of the Irish case.” Irish foreign policy through the years has nevertheless recorded many successes in defending the economic interests of the citizens of the state.

The paper considers the political and economic determinants of Irish trade policy, the evolution of its inward foreign direct investment strategy, and the country’s position on international migration and on the broadening and deepening of European integration. A separate case study focuses on how successive governments have sought to defend and exploit the advantages of Ireland’s low corporation-tax regime in international negotiations.

Constitutional changes

By Kevin O’Rourke

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Karl is quoted here as saying that the Franco-German proposal that we insert borrowing limits into the Irish constitution will not solve our current debt problems. This is obviously correct, as is the point that such an amendment would not have made a blind bit of difference during the bubble years.

There is also the point that a constitutional amendment is a much bigger deal in Ireland than in some other countries, since it can only be changed by means of a new referendum.

Here are two questions:

As per Derek Scally in the Irish Times, is this a taste of things to come, or much ado about nothing?

What are the chances of the Irish government winning such a referendum?

Democracy, the euro, and the nation state

By Kevin O’Rourke

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

This report from the Guardian is consistent with Thomas Klau’s argument that current eurozone governance arrangements are pushing “democratic debate and voters’ choices to the margins”. It also suggests that in the long run the present way of doing things will prove politically unsustainable, in a union of democratic states. Whether Klau’s preferred solution is likely to come about is another question entirely.

Austerity and social unrest since World War I

By Kevin O’Rourke

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth have just published a CEPR Discussion Paper looking at the relationship between austerity and social unrest in Europe between 1919 and 2009.

Real conservatives have always worried about social cohesion..

By Kevin O’Rourke

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

..which is why it makes sense that this article should have appeared in the Telegraph rather than the Guardian (HT FT Alphaville).

A Tale of Two Trilemmas

By Kevin O’Rourke

Friday, April 15th, 2011

I have a column today over at Eurointelligence which uses Dani Rodrik’s political trilemma as a framework within which to discuss the political economy of EMU and the EU more generally.