David McWilliams and Aidan Regan on using low interest rates

From Saturday’s The Irish Times, David McWilliams writes:

Luckily for us, there is no financial constraint for a craic bailout. The ECB has set interest rates to zero. The NTMA borrowed billions this week at negative interest rates. This means that money is free.

The State needs to spend when the private sector is saving, which is what is happening now. The country should issue a perpetual bond, as George Soros is advising the EU to do, or a 100-year bond as Austria did two weeks ago, to cover spending.

At zero interest rates and with the ECB ready to buy whatever the government issues, fiscal policy becomes monetary policy. This means the Government just issues IOUs, gets the money and can spend the money whatever way it chooses. A craic bailout should be first on the list.

And in the Sunday Business Post, Aidan Regan proposes:

Here’s how it works. The government issues a 20 year fixed interest rate bond that amounts to the equivalent of 10 per cent of gross national income. This equals around €30 billion. The Irish state could issue this type of long term bond tomorrow at effectively zero per cent. If you adjust for inflation, it would mean that the markets will pay the government to do it.

Taking this sum of money, the government would create a rigorously independent body to oversee the creation of a new national wealth fund. The board of the fund would employ various asset management experts to invest the money on behalf of the state. They would be mandated to generate a capital return of anything between 4-8 per cent per annum.

Basic mathematics would suggest that the probability of the Irish state generating a return greater than 0 is high. And anything above 0 means the state can pay off the debt while creating wealth and value for its citizens. If the compound interest return to the people’s wealth fund was 5 per cent, the Irish state could repay the debt issued to create the fund in less than 15 years. After this point, all capital returns go back to Irish society.

But more importantly, the state now owns the capital assets that it bought to generate the return. The Irish state has gone from being a debtor to a wealth owner. It has created value. If Apple or Amazon stocks go up, then so does the wealth of Irish citizens. This is because they now own a part of these profitable tech firms through their national wealth fund.


CSO assessment of Occupations with Potential Exposure to COVID-19

Guest post by Reamonn Lydon (Central Bank).

[Disclaimer: this blog post represents my personal views and not those of the Central Bank of Ireland or the European System of Central Banks]

The CSO has just released an experimental analysis of Occupations with Potential Exposure to COVID-19. This is useful data for anyone who wants to understand how the Covid-19 shock interacts with the structure and composition of employment.  It provides important information on which sorts of occupations and workers have been most directly affected by the restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.

Using O*NET data on the task-related content of four-digit occupations, the CSO construct an Proximity index and an Exposure to diseases index.  Here, I focus on the proximity index, although a similar analysis of the Exposure index would also be of interest.

Quoting from the background notes:

In the O*NET data “Respondents score their job on a scale of one to five where, for proximity, one indicates that the respondent does not work near other people (beyond 100 feet) while five indicates that they are very close to others (near touching) … The data is harmonised on a scale ranging from 0 to 100 by using the following equation: S = ((O-L)/(H-L)) * 100 where S is the standardised score, O the original rating score between one and five, L the lowest possible score (one) and H the highest possible score (five). Under this new classification, the standardised physical proximity measure is defined by:

0 –     I do not work near other people (beyond 100 ft.)

25 –   I work with others but not closely (for example, private office)

50 –   Slightly close (for example, shared office)

75 –   Moderately close (at arm’s length)

100 – Very close (near touching)”

The CSO has constructed a proximity score for 296 four-digit SOC10 occupations. Crucially, it then maps these to total employment, percentage female, over-55 and non-Irish using Census 2016.

Using employment weights, the median proximity score for all workers is 57.6; the mean is 61.8. The four digit occupation at the median is Sales related occupations not elsewhere classified. The lowest scoring occupation (least proximate) is Artists (21.5); the highest scoring is Paramedics (97).

The chart below shows the cumulative share of employment (y-axis) by proximity score (x-axis) for the characteristics provided by the CSO. The variation across charactistics is striking: female workers are more likely to be in ‘lower proximity jobs’, almost 60 per cent are below the median score for all workers. It is hard to pin-point a single occupation that contributes to this result for females, but a relatively higher concentration in occupations like Chartered and certified accountants, Cleaners and domestics and Administrative Occupations do stand out.  By contrast, male, younger and non-Irish workers are all more likely to be in high-proximity jobs, with just 40 per cent below the median.  The relatively higher share of younger workers on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) – 41 per cent of under-25s are on PUP currently, compared with 21 per cent of over-25s – tallies with the observation that more of these workers tend to be in higher proximity occupations, and therefore more impacted by the Covid-related restrictions.


Chart 1: Cumulative share of employment by proximity score.
Source: Own calculations using CSO 2020.

For those groups with a greater concentration in high-proximity jobs – that is, male, younger and non-Irish – there is a step-jump around 70. In terms of the occupations arround this jump, for males it includes sports and leisure activities, skilled trades, constrction and protective services. For non-Irish nationals, who make up around 15% of employment (in the 2016 data, it is closer to 20% now) it is a broadly similar set of jobs, but also including a range of food services occupations.  

Finally, the CSO has also published the median annual earnings by occupation. Chart 2 shows the average of median annual earnings by occupation for each quartile of the proximty score distribution (weighted by employment). Higher proximity occupations tend to lower paid.  For example, in the top 25 per cent of jobs by proximity score (which also happens to be a score at 75 or above), the average of earnings per occupation is around €33,500 (in 2016). The average for the bottom 25 per cent occupations (a proximity score of around 49) is €42,300.  When we control for all characteristics such as female, share of over-55s and non-Irish by population, we find that going from the least proximate quartile score (49) to the most proximate quartile score (75) is associated with earnings being around 20 per cent lower on average.

Chart 2: Earnings by proximity score
Source: Own calculations using CSO 2020.

Conclusions

Information on the task-related content of occupation is vital for understanding which sort of jobs are affected by the social distancing restrictions put in place to fight the Covid pandemic.  Similar work in Adrjan and Lydon (2020) shows how countries with a higher concentration of ‘high-proximty’ employment experienced a larger negative shock to labour demand when the crisis first hit. This includes Ireland. Analysing the occupational breakdown from the CSO highlights that younger, male and non-Irish workers are more concentrated in ‘high proximity roles’. These roles are also lower paid on average. This provides crucial insight into who is most affected by the Covid shock, and what sort of policies might be put in place to help certain groups of workers.

Fiscal Council Webinar

The Fiscal Council’s latest Fiscal Assessment Report, May 2020: “The Fiscal Impact of Covid-19” is out today. This is the Council’s 18th Fiscal Assessment Report, and it comes at a time when the economy is experiencing an unprecedented shock due to the pandemic and very high uncertainty. The Report assesses the economic and fiscal consequences, including a range of possible scenarios to 2025 and an assessment of the policy consequences.

The Council will be hosting a live webinar on the findings of the report on Thursday, 28 May 2020 @ 2pm Dublin time. The Council’s Acting Chairperson, Sebastian Barnes, will give a presentation followed by a Q&A session. The presentation is expected to last 30 minutes.

You can register at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_qDJrpmjcQQ2Aus7BJbK_Wg

Travel and Tourism in a Post Covid Society – TRiSS Summer Series

Trinity Research in Social Science (TRiSS), in partnership with its member schools and disciplines, is organising a weekly series of online events, over the summer, on how covid19 will change society. Each week, experts from Trinity and other leading institutions around the world will be bringing their insights on how covid19 is likely to change our lives – from corporate power and climate change to civil liberties and the future of tourism & travel.

The second event – “Travel and Tourism in a Post Covid Society” – takes place on May 26th at 11am (Irish Standard Time) and is co-hosted with the Trinity Business School. As one of the world’s biggest industries, the tourism sector is facing massive repercussions from the Covid health crisis and the associated lockdown measures. Not only is it one of the hardest hit sectors, it could be the one slowest to recover from the upcoming economic recession. This timely discussion features a range of international experts.

Attendance is free but requires registration via Eventbrite. The webinar will last 75 minutes, with three 15-minute presentations and a moderated discussion afterwards. Participants include:

  • Brian Lucey from Trinity College
  • Denise O’Leary from Technological University Dublin
  • Brent Ritchie from the University of Queensland
  • Jane Ali-Knight from Edinburgh Napier University

Denise O’Leary is Assistant Head of School of Hospitality Management and Tourism in Technological University Dublin. She has extensive experience as a manager, lecturer and researcher in third level institutions in Ireland and the US and over 10 years of experience as a consultant in the private sector. One focus of her academic research is on collaboration at both an organisational and inter-organisational level and she explores collaboration in networks, including food tourism networks. She is also interested in tourism skills development. She is currently involved in the Next Tourism Generation Alliance project, an EU funded project which includes education, training and industry partners from across Europe and is tasked with developing a Blueprint for addressing skills needs in the European tourism sector.

Ritchie Brent has coordinated several research projects including Sustainable Tourism CRC and consultancy work for a number of tourism organisations in the public and private sector in Australia, England, Vietnam and New Zealand. His research interests are associated with tourism risk management. His research has focused on understanding risk from an individual and organisational perspective. His work on organisations explores risk attitudes and response strategies to effectively respond and recover from crises and disasters. He also explores tourist attitudes to risk and their risk reduction behaviour, including beach goers, Australian outbound travellers and potential travellers to the Middle East and in Indonesia.

Jane Ali-Knight is currently leading and developing the festival and event subject group as well as lecturing at Universities internationally and facilitating training and development in the field. She is Course Director of the highly successful ‘Destination Leaders Programme’ delivered with Scottish Enterprise. Her core activities fall into three main areas: event and festival related programmes; research and publications and conferences and professional events. She is currently a board member of BAFA (British Arts and Festivals Association); Without Walls; Women in Tourism; Hidden Door Festival and is a Fellow of the HEA and Royal Society of the Arts.

Chairing the session will be Brian Lucey. He is Professor of Finance at the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin. A graduate of TCD with a First Class degree in Economics in 1984, Professor Lucey has worked as a statistician in the Department of Health and as an Economist in the Central Bank, prior to joining TCD. He has studied at graduate level in Canada, Ireland and Scotland, and holds a PhD from University of Stirling.

Covid19 and a Changing Society – TRiSS summer series

Trinity Research in Social Science (TRiSS), in partnership with its member schools and disciplines, is organising a weekly series of online events, over the summer, on how covid19 will change society. Each week, experts from Trinity and other leading institutions around the world will be bringing their insights on how covid19 is likely to change our lives – from corporate power and climate change to civil liberties and the future of tourism & travel.

The first event – “COVID-19 and the Future of Cities” – takes place on May 18th at 3pm Irish Standard Time and is co-hosted with the Department of Economics at Trinity College Dublin. Attendance is free but requires registration via Eventbrite. The webinar will last 75 minutes, with three 15-minute presentations and a moderated discussion afterwards. Participants include:

  • Prof. Edward Glaeser, Harvard University
  • Prof. Jessie Handbury, University of Pennsylvania
  • Prof. Diego Puga, CEMFI
  • Prof. Martina Kirchberger, Trinity College Dublin, as chair

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1992. He has published dozens of papers on cities economic growth, law, and economics. In particular, his work has focused on the determinants of city growth and the role of cities as centers of idea transmission. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1992. Some of his recent work examines how COVID-19 has affected small businesses.

Jessie Handbury is an Assistant Professor of Real Estate at the Wharton School in the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her BA and PhD at Columbia University and was selected as a NBER Faculty Research Fellow, International Trade and Investment. Her research interests lie at the intersection of urban economics, trade, and industrial organization. She has developed an exposure index based on smartphone app location data to help analysis during the current pandemic.

Martina Kirchberger is an Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin. She is a development economist with a particular interest in urbanization, infrastructure, the construction sector, labor markets, and spatial mobility. Previously, she was an Earth Institute Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Columbia University. She received her DPhil in Economics from the University of Oxford in 2014. Some of her ongoing research examines the labor market effects of COVID-19 on low-skilled urban workers.

Diego Puga is Professor of Economics at CEMFI, in Madrid, Spain. His research interests include urban economics, economic geography and international trade. Born in Spain, where he completed his undergraduate degree in Economics, he obtained his Ph.D. in Economics from the London School of Economics in 1997. He is member of the Multidisciplinary Workgroup advising the Spanish government on scientific issues related to COVID-19 and its future consequences.