Four Cheers for Conor Skehan

On Wednesday, Conor Skehan, outgoing head of the Government’s Housing Agency, was grilled by the Oireachtas Housing Committee for the mortal sin of noticing things and speaking honestly about them. Mr. Skehan claimed that some individuals in Ireland were gaming the public housing system, in order to become eligible for public housing ahead of others. Members of the Committee, devout in their observance of the Holy Laws of political correctness,  castigated Mr. Skehan for his public remarks and the evidence he presented to justify them. They noted that it is not possible that a housing-eligible person could game the system – as PC dogma clearly states, lower income individuals are gifted with Immaculate Conception (born without sin) and can do no wrong. So the evidence that Mr. Skehan presented had to be false, and his presentation of it before the committee was proof of his fall from a PC state of grace.

On the plus side, there was at least one honest person in the Oireachtas on Wednesday.

Central Bank SME Market Report 2017 H2

The Bank’s SME Market Report for the second half of 2017 was released this week. The report can be found here.

Key results from the report include:

  • Annual gross new lending to non-financial, non-real estate SMEs in Q3 2017 is 24 per cent higher than a year ago.
  • The SME lending market has become more concentrated in the last six months, with fewer banks holding an ever larger market share.

  • The share of SMEs in Ireland reporting they did not apply for bank loans because of sufficient internal funding was 50.4 per cent in September 2017.

  • SME loan rejection rates in Ireland have increased to 13.9 per cent in September 2017 from 8.2 per cent in March 2017.

  • Interest rates for SME loans stood at 5 per cent in July 2017, high in a European context.
  • When scaled relative to domestic demand, new loan issuance to SMEs in Ireland is very low compared to European comparator economies.
  • The share of SMEs transitioning into default between the period December 2016 and June 2017 is 2.4 per cent. The highest transition rates reported in the Wholesale/Retail sector (2.9 per cent) and the South-east (3.4 per cent).

We have published the data behind each chart for the first time. The spreadsheet can be found here.

Call for Papers: Fintech and financial risk management: evolution or revolution?

A joint academic-practitioner conference on the theme Fintech and financial risk management: evolution or revolution? will be held in at the Institute of Bankers, Dublin, Ireland on Monday September 10th, 2018. The conference is organized by the Valuation and Risk Cluster (VAR), the Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University, the Smurfit School of Business at University College Dublin, and the Central Bank of Ireland.

New financial technologies are producing widespread changes to financial markets and financial systems. The effects of the fintech revolution on risk measurement, analysis and control are not yet clear. How does fintech change the risk profile of financial markets? Can existing risk management systems cope with the new environment? What changes are required to existing financial risk management methods and systems? Will innovative applications of fintech improve risk measurement and management

Potential topics include:

• Flash crashes

• Risk measurement and control of black-box trading algorithms

• The impact of high speed trading on dynamic rebalancing and hedging

• Natural Language Processing (NLP)-based artificial intelligence and its trading impact

• High speed trading networks and systemic risk

• Information and noise cascading in networks

• Stability and liquidity of blockchain protocols

• Portfolio risk management with automated advisor systems

• Credit risk in fintech lending systems

• Fintech’s impact on the business models of existing financial institutions

• Applications of machine learning in risk management systems

Please send papers or detailed proposals by May 31st, 2018 at the latest to Na.Li@ucd.ie; all papers must be submitted electronically in adobe pdf format. There will be both main conference sessions and poster sessions. The academic coordinators for the conference are Gregory Connor, John Cotter and Trevor Fitzpatrick, who can be contacted at Gregory.connor@mu.ie,  John.cotter@ucd.ie,  and Trevor.Fitzpatrick@centralbank.ie. The administrative manager for the conference is Na Li who can be contacted at Na.Li@ucd.ie. 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 Valuation and Risk Cluster (VAR) is a collaboration between University College Dublin, Maynooth University, Dublin City University and industry partners, with support from the Science Foundation of Ireland.

New SSISI journal (170th!) published

The proceedings of the 170th session of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland can now be accessed online. Links to the articles are listed below. The hard copy of the publication will be available from Spring 2018.

·         Dublin House Prices: A History of Booms and Busts from 1708-1949

Deeter, Karl; Quinn, Frank; Duffy, David (SSISI, 2017)

·         Towards an Irish Recorded Crime Index

Linehan, Timothy (SSISI, 2017)

·         Barrington Lecture – Seventy Years of Personal Disposable Income and Consumption in Ireland

Stuart, Rebecca (SSISI, 2017)

·         The Irish Single-Currency Debate of the 1990s in Retrospect

Barry, Frank (SSISI, 2017)

·         Income-Tested Health Entitlements: Microsimulation Modelling Using SILC

Callan, T.; Colgan, B.; Keane, C.; Logue, C.; Walsh, J.R.(SSISI, 2017)

·         Symposium – Globalisation, Inequality and Populism

Nolan, Brian (SSISI, 2017)

·         Symposium – Who is the Populist Irish Voter?

Reidy, Theresa; Suiter, Jane (SSISI, 2017)

·         Symposium – Globalisation, Inequality and Populism

Layte, Richard; Landy, David (SSISI, 2017)

·         The Recovery in the Public Finances in Ireland following the Financial Crisis

Smyth, Diarmaid (SSISI, 2017)

·         Using Administrative Data to Change Perception about Caregiving and Improve the Evidence Base Related to Volunteering

O’Reilly, Dermot; Rosato, Michael (SSISI, 2017)

·         Memoriam: Thomas Kenneth Whitaker

·         Proceedings of the Statistical and Social Inquiry of Ireland One Hundred and Seventieth Session: 2016/2017

 

Local Property Tax: Change for better or worse?

Local Property Tax: Change for better or worse?

 

Introduction.

Local Property Tax (LPT) was introduced in 2013 using valuations for May of that year as a base. The tax is due for re-basing on 2019 property values, and this is likely to produce a mixture of political opportunism and panic which may well lead to “reforms” which fundamentally undermine the tax.

 

Residential property taxation is part of the local or municipal tax base in most countries[1]. The traditional Irish property tax (domestic rates) was so archaic and badly-designed that it easily fell prey to political opportunism and was abolished in 1977. Rates on Commercial and Industrial property remain, and are probably in need of reform, but that is an issue for another day.

 

The malaise of property taxation is closely linked to the decay of local government in Ireland. Local Authorities have very little truly independent taxing power; the residential LPT operates under national rules and collection is done by a central government agency – the Revenue Commissioners. Local Authorities have lost many of their responsibilities: for water services, many road services, garbage collection, and so forth. Such powers that they have are often tightly circumscribed by central government directives and rules. No wonder local politicians, who have so little real power over local policy issues get involved in the politics of Palestine, Catalonia or Myanmar. Worthy causes maybe, but not local ones.

 

If we are to have local government which actually works and which is worthwhile and has some real policy discretion, then it will have to have some degree effective control over its tax revenues. This is essential: local government which is almost totally dependent on central government for its revenue, will forever be rattling the begging bowl and will never have to ask how to pay for the local public goods which citizens want. Just pass the buck to central government.

 

Local Government is often quite rightly regarded as inefficient and ineffective. The LPT provides a good example: the local authorities’ collection of the LPT’s predecessor (the Household Charge) resulted in much lower compliance than that subsequently achieved by Revenue. Local Authorities have also been ineffective in collecting water charges for commercial users, and have had chronic problems with rent and mortgage arrears. The latter problems are undoubtedly explained in part by social factors, but overall the operational efficiency of local authorities has not been impressive, which may explain why they have been stripped of so many functions.

 

Putting this right will not be easy. The culture of local politics has been degraded by its unhealthy relationship with the centre. Local councillors become adept at rattling the begging bowl. Given that getting elected to a local council is the main route to an eventual career in national politics, this is the worst possible apprenticeship for national politicians, who often tend to have the same attitude to financing national public expenditure: a total disconnect between spending money on something and having to solve the problem of how to pay for it.

 

A report[2] by Dr Don Thornhill prepared as part of the 2016 Budget documentation contains many proposals aimed at preventing the tax from being degraded in various respects and also at improving its structure. Dr Thornhill estimated that substituting 2016 for 2013 property valuations would produce a revenue increase of about 29%, so we could say that making a “big bang” change and using 2019 valuations would probably produce an increase in LPT charges of at least 50%. I do not intend to look at details of yield estimates or how this might vary from area to area. For the purposes of a very general discussion I will take a 50% increase as a reasonable first approximation if there were to be a “big bang” in 2019. Clearly this sort of increase is what scares politicians to death, and scared politicians are liable to propose measures which are both unfair and inefficient.

 

Looking at Don Thornhill’s proposals for changes to LPT, I quickly became aware of the similarities between his ideas and mine. Maybe this is not surprising: familiarity with the same fundamental concepts in public finance and the political economy of taxation might be expected to lead to a convergence of views. Don Thornhill’s proposals are worked out in much greater detail than anything I attempt to outline here, but getting the big picture right seems to me to be an essential first step.

 

Some proposals:

(i) Have a full property revaluation in 2019. The impact of this can be drastically reduced, but allowing valuations to become hopelessly out of date runs the danger of LPT valuations becoming like the old rateable valuations: works of fiction bearing no relation to reality. Ultimately doing nothing would undermine the LPT completely (something that some politicians[3] want, of course).

(ii) Avoid a “revaluation shock”by adjusting the tax rates (at present 0.18% up to €1m and 0.25% for that part of values in excess of €1m) so that the yield increase is relatively modest (say 10%). On a simple back-of-the envelope calculation, rates of 0.12% and 0.20% with a threshold of €1.5m might come close to achieving this.

(iii) At present, some of the LPT revenues arising in a local authority area are redistributed from high to low income areas via a centrally-administered fund. This has the effect of weakening the net local revenue effect of any decision the local authority makes (such as the discount or premium to apply in any year), Effectively any increase in revenue may be diluted by having to pay some into a central fund. The solution (also recommended by Don Thornhill) is to leave local authorities with 100% of the LPT revenues from their area and thus 100% of the revenue consequences of any decisions they take. This implies a separate central government grant mechanism to give local authorities an acceptable degree of resource equalisation, It is essential however that this is based on relevant structural factors such as demography, population density, estimates of local income levels etc.

(iv) Consider adjusting the amount of discretion available to a local authority to something in excess of the present ” 15%. This might slowly educate local authorities and councillors in exercising greater fiscal responsibilities[4].

(v) As Don Thornhill recommends, re-title the tax as a Local Council Tax. A minor point maybe, but in an era of spin getting the title right and emphasising the responsibilities of the local council would be worthwhile.

 

Mistakes to avoid.

In any discussion of reform it is important to avoid making things worse, especially as some really bad ideas have been aired.

 

  • Earlier this month (Jan 15th, 2018) the Sunday Times in an editorial seemed to favour the idea of basing the LPT on house size[5]. Why should someone in 4-bedroom semi in Dublin 4 pay several times what a person in a similar house in Leitrim or Roscommon pays? Consider a household with a total income of, say, €60.000. A four-bedroom house in Dublin 4 will probably cost over €800,000 and will be way beyond the what is affordable to buy for most €60,000 income households. The house of similar size in Leitrim or Roscommon might be bought for €200,000 to €300,000, and be within the budget and borrowing power of a €60,000 income household. So for this reason alone (there are others), it is a fair bet that the incomes of people living in similar-sized houses will be higher in areas with higher property values. Sure, high property values may imply high mortgage debt, but in the long term when retirement beckons the Dublin 4 household will have much better options for downsizing and equity-release than the someone with an asset worth less than €300,000. High value areas have in general residents with higher income and wealth.

 

  • Landlords would no doubt argue that it is inequitable that their tenants do not have to pay LPT whereas owner-occupiers do. (They really mean that it is unfair that they have to pay, but leave that aside). This raises interesting questions about the incidence of LPT. One might argue that in the long-term rentals have to cover the full economic cost to landlords, and that otherwise they will exit the market. In that case (barring distortions such as rent controls) the long-run incidence of LPT would be on tenants. However in the current state of the housing market, landlords as owners of a relatively fixed-supply of properties are likely to be making economic rents[6] and the incidence of the tax would be on them. Also in the long run we would expect LPT to capitalised into (slightly lower) house valuations so its incidence would be on property owners in general, whether owner-occupiers or landlords[7]. Overall I see little merit in changing the current arrangement for landlords – and fortunately unlike other not-so-good ideas there is little political momentum behind such a proposal.

 

Some more general conclusions.

  • There is a real need to reform local government and to gradually give it more real powers. This is now a well-worn cliche, but one seldom hears any substantive discussion of the issues involved.
  • I say gradually give local authorities more powers because the present culture of local politics does not lend itself to fiscally responsible behaviour, so local councillors face a steep learning curve. Fiscal responsibility is an essential part of political and policy responsibility. Giving local authorities power without (fiscal) responsibility reminds me of Stanley Baldwin’s remark on the subject. A properly adjusted LPT is an obvious route to greater local fiscal responsibility.
  • We should not get too hung up on questions of progressivity or fairness. Overall the LPT may not be quite as progressive[8] as Don Thornhill suggests, but it only accounts for about 1% of all tax revenues and there are other larger taxes in the system which are decidedly more regressive. In any event it is the overall progressivity of the combined tax and benefit system which really matters and in this respect Ireland scores very highly.
  • It has been argued that higher LPT could be traded off against lower income tax rates. While this is in principle a valid proposition, especially as property taxes are held to be less distortionary, in practice it is a difficult argument to sustain. A doubling of LPT revenues would fund a very small cut in Income Tax or USC rates. LPT reform should be done on its own merits as a mainly a local authority issue. While a relatively minor tax in relation to the total national tax take, LPT could and should be central to the operation of effective and responsible local government.

 

[1] The obvious reason being that taxation specific to a local area which is part of a single national economy is best based on relatively immobile assets.

[2] Review of the Local Property Tax (LPT): http://www.budget.gov.ie/Budgets/2016/Documents/Review_of_Local_Property_Tax_pub.pdf

 

[3] Somewhat bizarrely, politicians on the extreme left.

[4] Don Thornhill advocates authorities being able to vary the rate of tax and perhaps the size of the bands. This seems to me an un-necessary complication. One can achieve much the same effect on tax bills by using the ” 15% instrument. Keep it simple should be the watchword.

[5] Quite predictably, that reservoir of bad economic ideas (the Irish Times letters page) recently published a plea for a floor area-based tax. Also quite predictably, it was from that well-known deprived area, Dublin 6.

[6] i.e. rents in the classic economic definition considered as a surplus over and above the supply price.

[7] The question of incidence can get quite complicated. If I own a house I have to pay LPT whether I occupy it or rent it out. In that case how does it enter into my decision? If I sell it, and if LPT is capitalised into the price, how does that effect my decision?

[8] While LPT may take absolutely more money from those with higher incomes, it does not follow that it takes a greater proportion of income from those with higher incomes, which is the classical definition of the concept of progressivity.

Boris Builds a Bridge

In a competitive field yesterday’s bridge across the English Channel, proposed in a solo run by foreign secretary Boris Johnson, must rank as the zaniest piece of headline-hunting since the Brexit referendum. The occasion was the visit to Britain of French president Emmanuel Macron, to meet Theresa May rather than Boris. May and Macron agreed an Anglo-French committee to consider future, but unspecified, collaborative projects, just the ticket to fill out an otherwise thin official communique from the two leaders. How to upstage?

The Boris Bridge worked a treat, reported deadpan as a news story by the BBC, prominent in the Daily Mail and the front-page lead in the Telegraph. The Express was able to offer a real scoop:

‘Emmanuel Macron has jumped at the chance of building a giant bridge linking the UK and the EU after Boris Johnson floated the idea during meetings yesterday, it has been revealed.’

Revealed to the Express only. Denials that the bridge is on any official agenda were duly issued on both sides of the channel and the wretched FT, read mainly by foreigners, did not mention the story at all.

A day later the BBC and the newspaper websites finally got round to phoning a few engineers, some of whom were unsporting enough to mention the last two great Anglo-French collaborations, Concorde, cost over-run 450%, and the channel tunnel, a snip at just 80% over budget.

The British media, including the BBC, have done an appalling job in covering the continuing Brexit circus.

Call for Papers – 6th Annual NERI Labour Market Conference – 22 May 2018

The sixth annual NERI Labour Market Conference will be held on Tuesday 22 May 2018 in association with NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change. The conference will run from 10:00am -16.15pm (followed by a reception until 16.45pm) and will include research papers on various aspects of the Irish labour market and Irish labour market policy. The NERI Labour Market Conference is intended to provide a forum for the presentation of research papers on labour market issues (North and South) and is held in May each year. Presentations from researchers, academics, policy makers and labour market practitioners are invited for this forthcoming conference. Those interested should submit a title and brief abstract (max 400 words) to tom.mcdonnell@nerinstitute.net Possible topics include but are not limited to any part of the following thematic areas:

  1. Employment, Unemployment and Labour Market Transitions (Migration, Age, Gender)
  2. Earnings, Labour Costs and Affordability
  3. Productivity, Growth and Human Capital
  4. Precariousness, Low Pay, Working Conditions and Job Quality
  5. Labour Market Participation and Activation, Demographics and Labour Supply
  6. Labour Market Institutions: Minimum/Living Wages, Collective Bargaining, Workplace Regimes
  7. Distribution and Labour Market Inequalities, Fiscal Policy and the Labour Market
  8. Pensions and Pensions Policy

Registration The conference is open to all who are interested and is free to attend. However, you must register your intention to attend the conference by contacting info@nerinstitute.net

Key Dates

Submission Deadline: 13 April 2018 (Friday)

Notification of Acceptance: 24 April 2018 (Tuesday)

Registration Deadline: 18 May 2018 (Friday)

Conference Date: 22 May 2018 (Tuesday)

Contact: tom.mcdonnell@nerinstitute.net

Call for Papers: Irish Economics Postgraduate and Early Career Conference 2018

Call for Papers: Irish Economics Postgraduate and Early Career Conference 2018

The Irish Society for New Economists (ISNE) workshop for postgraduate and early career researchers will take place in University College Dublin Geary Institute for Public Policy on Friday May 4th. The event is aimed at PhD students and early career researchers across the Irish universities. It will take the form of thematic sessions with faculty discussant input at each session, along with keynote talks, and engagement with policy and industry. We welcome submissions of papers from PhD students and early career researchers in institutions on the island of Ireland.

The ISNE was formed to encourage research, information and social links among economists at the early stages of their careers in Ireland. From 2001 to 2013, the Irish Society for New Economists (ISNE) held eleven workshops in Ireland for postgraduate and early career researchers. The events were run mostly by PhD students in the Universities, including events hosted by UCD, TCD, Limerick, Maynooth, Cork, and Galway. The conference is intended for advanced Masters students, PhD students, and young professionals in the early stages of research working in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We strongly encourage those working on economics-related research to submit. Eligibility to present is not related to age. The meeting will feature the work and findings of scholars in economics and related fields, and will provide an excellent opportunity to present your own research results and work in progress.

As the conference is free to attend, no financial assistance for travel or accommodation can be provided. Researchers wishing to submit their work for consideration are advised to submit an extended abstract (300-500 words) at this link. Applicants are asked to include their name, institute or affiliation, current academic status (PhD, Young Professional, Masters) and JEL code(s) for their research on submitting an abstract. All of the above information should be attached in a /single PDF or Word File/. The deadline for the abstract submission is 15th April 2018. Applicants will receive notification shortly afterwards. The organising committee consists of Dr. Lisa Ryan, Dr. Benjamin Elsner, and Professor Liam Delaney at UCD, and Dr. Michelle Queally at NUI Galway. Please direct inquiries to liam.delaney@ucd.ie

Latest Issue of the Economic and Social Review

The Economic and Social Review has just published its latest issue (Vol 48, No 4, Winter 2017)

Articles
Introduction: 50 Years of Social Research at the ESRI
Helen Russell, Emer Smyth

Non-Monetary Indicators and Multiple Dimensions: The ESRI Approach to Poverty Measurement
Dorothy Watson, Christopher T. Whelan, Bertrand Maître, James Williams

Gender Equality in the Irish Labour Market 1966-2016: Unfinished Business?
Helen Russell, Frances McGinnity, Philip J. O’Connell

Out-of-School Social Activities among Immigrant-Origin Children Living in Ireland
Merike Darmody, Emer Smyth

An Irish Solution…? Questioning the Expansion of Special Classes in an Era of Inclusive Education
Joanne Banks, Selina McCoy

Policy Section Articles
Atypical Work and Ireland’s Labour Market Collapse and Recovery
Elish Kelly, Alan Barrett

Supporting Pension Contributions Through the Tax System: Outcomes, Costs and Examining Reform
Micheál L. Collins, Gerard Hughes

A Portfolio Approach to Assessing an Auto-Enrolment Pension Scheme for Ireland
Liam A. Gallagher, Fionnuala Ryan

Irish Economic Association 2018 Conference

Irish Economic Association Annual Conference 2018

https://iea2018.exordo.com

http://www.iea.ie/

The 32nd Annual Irish Economic Association Conference will be held at the Central Bank of Ireland, New Wapping Street, North Wall Quay, Dublin 1 on Thursday May 10th and Friday May 11th, 2018. Gerard O’Reilly (Central Bank of Ireland) is the local organiser (gerard.oreilly@centralbank.ie).

The ESR guest lecture will be given by Professor Wendy Carlin (University College London and the CORE project) and the Edgeworth Lecture by Professor Olivier Blanchard (MIT and PIIE).

The Association invites submissions of papers to be considered for the conference programme. Papers may be on any area in Economics, Finance and Econometrics.

The deadline for submitted articles is the 11thof February 2018 and submissions can be made through this site.

Honest thoughts on educational inequality in Ireland

In discussing the sources of variation in academic achievement across students, there is a yawning chasm between the contemporary research literature (particularly in the emerging field of geno-economics) and the mainstream media. The mainstream media sticks religiously to the traditional blank slate theory, claiming that variation in student achievement is caused entirely by differing home and school environments. Tuesday’s Education Supplement of the Irish Times is a classic example. The main headline of the supplement is “Privately-educated elite have greater access to education” and the first paragraph reads as follows:

“Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are denied the same opportunities as their wealthier peers, while parents with money can afford a better education for their children despite Ireland’s so-called free education system, an analysis of the 2017 Irish Times feeder school list shows.”

The article repeatedly relies on the assumption that children of wealthier parents in Ireland perform better in school for only one reason, their parents purchase better educational outcomes through fee-paying schools, tutors, and grind courses. The current scientific literature has an entirely different flavour. A recent paper by Plomin, et al., entitled “The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence,” is typical. Synopsizing their findings, they state:

“Differences among children in educational achievement are highly heritable from the early school years until the end of compulsory education at age 16, when UK students are assessed nationwide with standard achievement tests [General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)]. Genetic research has shown that intelligence makes a major contribution to the heritability of educational achievement. However, we
show that other broad domains of behavior such as personality and psychopathology also account for genetic influence on GCSE scores beyond that predicted by intelligence. Together with intelligence, these domains account for 75% of the heritability of GCSE scores. These results underline the importance of genetics in educational achievement and its correlates.”

To be fair to the Irish Times, an inside piece by Brian Mooney in the Supplement brings a gentle hint of realism into the blank-slate-inspired tirade of the Supplement’s lead article. Mooney hints that there might possibly be other factors explaining why households with two graduate parents grab the university places rightfully going to other households.

“For schools where both parents of many students were graduates, and where they have been supported throughout their education, getting a college place is no great reflection on the success of their school. Alternatively, we are keenly aware that for schools in disadvantaged communities, securing third-level progression for even a small proportion of students is a reflection of highly motivated teachers, and is a fantastic achievement.”

Brian Mooney does not state it explicitly, but scientists have shown definitively that the most powerful “support” that two-graduate-parent households gift to their children is their two tightly packed strands of DNA, which split and recombine, creating a new human infant in the most complex and beautiful physical process in the known universe. This new human infant is not a blank slate; he/she inherits a block-random collection of genomic traits from the maternal and paternal genomes. That genetic process, not fee-paying schools or tutor expenses, is a major source of inequality in educational outcomes in Ireland.

NB: In response to thoughtful comments from colleagues, I changed “the main source” to “a major source” in the last sentence above. That is perhaps more accurate, although it does mess with the rhythm of the final sentence. This edit was made after comments below.

Brexit and Ireland – North and South

The US journal, World Politics Review, carried a one-page interview with me last week, focusing initially on why the border is such a sensitive issue, but broadening out to cover some less obvious angles.

As the interview is behind a firewall, here’s a pre-publication draft:

WPR: The Irish border issue, specifically the prospect of a hard customs and immigration border going up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, looks increasingly like the biggest snag in Brexit talks so far. What solutions or proposals are the different sides—in Belfast, Dublin, London and Brussels—offering?

Frank Barry: The substantive issue here is rarely spelt out explicitly. It is, as political scientists in Belfast have informed me, that if uniformed customs or immigration officers are placed on the Northern side of the border, they will have to be protected by armed police, who will in turn require the protection of the British army. This is because the border areas are the stronghold of dissident republican factions that have consistently rejected the peace agreement of the 1990s that achieved a high degree of consensus across these islands. Stationing troops in the border areas will inevitably lead to clashes, which raises the specter of a return to conflict in Northern Ireland.

The economic problems associated with Brexit are also substantial. Agribusiness, which is of major significance to both the Northern and Southern Irish economies, is the sector likely to suffer most damage from Brexit. Supply chains are highly integrated across the border, so Brexit of any form will be hugely disruptive.  Businesses on both sides of the border have been restructuring vigorously in advance of Brexit, but restructuring is costly and there are some problems that cannot be surmounted by cross-border tariff-jumping investments.

The Irish government and the European Union have advocated what essentially amounts to moving the international frontier into the Irish Sea between Britain and the island of Ireland. This proposal is anathema to both Northern unionists and the British Conservative party as it affects the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the Conservative government in the United Kingdom is dependent on the parliamentary support of Northern unionist parliamentarians for retaining its majority—giving it strong reason not to upset this part of its coalition. The British side has suggested that the problem can be resolved by technology to monitor the cross-border flow of goods. At least some customs officers and random checks would continue to be required however, and it is difficult to see how Britain can regain control over immigration without a heavy presence of immigration officials. I can see no solution to the danger of a return to civil strife other than the one being advocated by the Irish government and the EU. The constitutional issue lay at the heart of the Northern conflict however, and unionists are prepared to risk a lot rather than see their constitutional position within the United Kingdom jeopardised.

WPR: How likely is a “hard Brexit” as a result of these negotiating hangups?

Barry: Either the British deny the unionist community in Northern Ireland a veto or the EU and the Irish government accept a land border on the island of Ireland. If this circle cannot be squared, the UK will exit the EU without a deal. This is the ‘hardest’ of the ‘hard Brexit’ possibilities. A hard Brexit typically entails defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules, involving a very significant deterioration in the  trade relationship between the UK and the EU. But the bad blood engendered if the UK would to leave the EU without a deal being struck would spill over into other areas. Nor is Northern Ireland the only stumbling block in the negotiations of course.

WPR: Does Brexit pose a bigger economic threat or political threat to Ireland and Northern Ireland, given the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement?

Barry: The political threat is the one that frightens the Irish side the most, because of the danger of a return to civil strife on the island. The economic threat is substantial, particularly for, though not confined to, agribusiness. In the past, one might have hoped for EU structural funding to offset some of the damage to businesses and the economy. The UK however is a major contributor to the EU budget, and competition between remaining EU countries over the reduced budget will be intensified. Irelandwhich is by now one of the richer EU member stateswill face an uphill battle in accessing adequate compensation to alleviate the damage.

A further problem is that up to two-thirds of Irish exporters use Britain as a bridge to their continental European markets. For users of this route, Brexit will entail higher transport costs and significant time delays. Two new sets of customs frontiers will have to be crossed, as goods enter the U.K. and then re-enter the EU.

On the economic front, there are some offsetting benefits, though these pale in comparison to the costs. Britain will become less attractive to firms from the U.S. and other non-EU countries selling into the EU market, and Ireland will attract a share of the foreign investment diverted away from the U.K. British firms, too, are likely to establish in Ireland to retain free access to the EU market. Paradoxically, the harder the Brexit the stronger this effect will be. Loss of access to the Single European Market will be particularly significant for financial services firms. A large number of London-based firms are currently exploring the option of establishing operations in Dublin as a way to retain market access, though Frankfurt, Luxembourg and other locations are also competing vigorously for this business.

To the extent that Ireland is successful in attracting a share of financial services firms, however, another dilemma arises. The financial services sector in Ireland is almost entirely Dublin-based, while agribusiness is largely based outside Dublin. Regional disparities are thought to have played a role in the Brexit vote, and in the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. A widening of regional disparities could lead to a similar anti-globalization backlash in Ireland.

Brexit has not, so far, resulted in any significant weakening of Ireland’s commitment to full EU membership. But the U.K. has played a strong role in resisting the centralizing instincts of some powerful EU member states. An EU minus the UK is likely to be more strongly committed to some form of corporation tax harmonization. Yet Ireland is highly dependent on the foreign-owned multinationals, for which it serves as an export platform. These account for over 80 percent of Irish exports and have been a major factor in the rapidity of Ireland’s recovery from the financial and eurozone crises of the late 2000s. If Ireland’s attractiveness to multinational investment was to be severely diminished, its integration into the EU economy, and its ongoing commitment to the EU, could be substantially weakened.

 

On Dividing Large Numbers by Other Large Numbers

Conservative backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, welcoming today’s Economists for Free Trade report predicting a bright post-Brexit future for the UK economy, remarked that the loss of the UK’s £9 billion per annum net contribution to the budget would render the EU ‘effectively insolvent’, according to the Guardian.

They should therefore be threatened with immediate suspension of the UK’s payments, forcing the EU to do a deal. Nine billion divided by the EU-27 population of 450 million works out at £20 per capita per annum.

Mr. Rees-Mogg has been described as a possible future leader of the Conservative party and has performed strongly in straw polls of party activists.

Is it OK if I lie down for a while?

Household Credit Market Report 2017 H2

The Bank published the 2017 H2 edition of the Household Credit Market Report last week. The report collates information from a wide range of internal Central Bank and external sources into one document to give an up-to-date picture of developments in the household credit market in Ireland.  It covers both mortgage and consumer credit. Among the highlights in this edition, mortgage credit grew at an annual rate of 1.4 per cent for private dwelling homes in Q2 2017 but remains negative for Buy-to-Let purposes (-8.6 per cent).  New mortgage approvals and drawdowns continued to increase in Q2 2017, with First Time Buyers continuing to account for roughly half of all approvals and drawdowns.  For the period January to June 2017, the average originating loan-to-value (OLTV) ratio on new lending for FTBs was 79.4 per cent and the average originating loan-to-income (OLTI) ratio was 3.0. The corresponding figures for Second and Subsequent Borrowers (SSBs) were 67.6 per cent and 2.5 respectively. These ratios increased slightly in comparison to the second half of 2016. On average, FTBs and SSBs borrowed €199,414 and €229,332 respectively during the period January to June 2017. In terms of consumer credit, growth remains positive at 5.4 per cent year-on-year in August 2017, reflecting growth in loans of a maturity of between 1 and 5 years.  More details from the Report can be found here.

Teagasc PhD Walsh Fellowship Opportunity

Economic Modelling of Agricultural Land Markets

The objective of this project is two-fold. Newly available data on agricultural land structure and tenure in Ireland will be exploited to assess (i) the impact of new taxation measures on land mobility between farmers and (ii) the impact of land tenure and mobility on the economic performance of farm businesses. Specifically, economic modelling techniques will be used to examine the relationship between land fragmentation, tenure and farm productivity and efficiency. The effectiveness of recent tax incentives around long-term leasing of land will be explored and the impact of long-term leases on farm performance will be measured. Overall this project will contribute to a greater understanding of how the agricultural land market in Ireland operates, how policy measures can influence mobility and how land tenure impacts on the performance of the agricultural sector.

Requirements
The successful candidate should be highly self-motivated with an ability to work independently and be willing to undertake recommended coursework where necessary. Strong quantitative skills and good communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential requirements. Applicants should have a good primary degree (First or Second Class Honours) or M.Sc. in an appropriate discipline (Economics, statistics or related).

Award
The Ph.D. Fellowship is a joint research project between Teagasc, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Athenry Co. Galway and the Cork University Business School, University College Cork. The student will be work under the supervision of Prof. Thia Hennessy (UCC), Dr Robbie Butler (UCC) and Dr Emma Dillon (Teagasc).
The fellowship provides a stipend of €22,000 per year. University fees are paid by the student from the stipend which is tenable for 4 years.

Further Information/Applications
Prof. Thia Hennessy, Dean, Cork University Business, University College Cork. Phone +353 (0)21 490 2868 Email: thia.hennessy@ucc.ie
Dr. Emma Dillon, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway. Phone +353 (0)91 845 294 Email: emma.dillon@teagasc.ie
Dr. Robbie Butler, Cork University Business, University College Cork.
Phone +353 (0)21 490 2434 Email: r.butler@ucc.ie

Application Procedure
Submit an electronic copy of Curriculum Vitae and a letter of interest simultaneously to: Prof. Thia Hennessy (thia.hennessy@ucc.ie) and Dr. Emma Dillon (emma.dillon@teagasc.ie).

Closing date 5pm Friday 17th of November 2017.

Muiris MacCarthaigh on Budget 2018

Guest post below from Muiris MacCarthaigh from Queen’s University Belfast:

Budget 2018 and a tale of two Departments

The budget to be published this Tuesday will be the first since 2010 to be prepared and delivered by a single Minister, Paschal Donohoe T.D., who holds both Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform portfolios.

As will be widely remembered by readers of this blog, following the 2011 general election the Department of Finance was essentially split in two, with that Department retaining control over taxation and reform of the financial services sector. (Indeed for a while consideration was given to renaming it the Department of Finance and Taxation). The ‘spending’ side of the Department was removed and combined with public service reform and industrial relations into the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).  As well as providing for a significant reallocation of central government functions, and an organizational focus for administrative reform, DPER served the useful political purpose of allowing the Labour Party hold another central government portfolio.  This also gave it co-equal status with Fine Gael at the Economic Management Council or ‘War Cabinet’.

What is not widely appreciated is the enormity of the task faced by officials in the Department of Finance over the pre and post-election period to prepare for and then execute the process of creating the new Deparment, all in a matter of weeks. When beginning the research for my recently published book on DPER over the 2011-16 period, the sheer scale of this undertaking quickly stood out.  Led by a small group of officials, it involved trawling the Irish statute book for all primary and secondary legislation concerning the responsibilities of the Minister for Finance in law from 1922 onwards (as well as some pre-1922 treasury-related functions), before that Department could be disaggregated into two.

The range of responsibilities for which the Minister for Finance had a legal responsibility included such diverse issues as provisions for compensation applications arising from property damage during the 1921-23 Independence and Civil War period, to consenting on borrowings for capital investment for commercial state enterprises. All told, it resulted in a process involving the transfer of over 4000 specific legal functions originally assigned to the Minister of Finance.

In respect of Budgets, a number of interviewees for my study identified how the institutional split between revenue-raising and expenditure functions had created a useful ‘buffering’ effect on demands for increased expenditure by line Departments. Prior to DPER’s existence, the relevant section in the Department of Finance assessed new expenditure proposals from a line Department, and the merits of raising taxation or other forms of revenue to support the measure were also considered in that same Department. With the decoupling, appeals to DPER for extra resources fell largely on deaf ears as the Department and its Minister had no say in taxation matters.

The quality of engagements between DPER and other Departments were also deemed to have taken a step change by virtue of the economic evaluations provided for them by the IGEES.  Additionally, the strong relationship between Ministers Howlin and Noonan were consistently referred to as being vital to the Irish crisis response, including budgetary coherence, and by proxy to the stability of the government as a whole.

At the launch of my book, Minister Donohoe identified that the Taoiseach had been keen to maintain the two Departments when announcing his Cabinet following his election in June. Whether this was to preserve the integrity of DPER’s reform agenda, to place coordination of fiscal and budgetary policy in one Minister, or to avoid accusations of a return to pre-crisis arrangements for government departments is hard to say. As is how long DPER will continue to operate as a separate Deparment .The economic crisis may be a decade old, but its effects on budgetary policy and the organisation of Irish government continue to be felt.

Dr Muiris MacCarthaigh is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Administration at Queen’s University Belfast. His new book, Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis, has just been published by Palgrave.

What could the UK say on the border before getting to the second stage?

You sometimes hear the British say that they can’t make progress on the border before getting to the second stage of talks. While superficially plausible, the claim strikes me as disingenuous: there are surely several things that they could say right now that would make a lot of difference. For example, they could pledge that

  1. The United Kingdom will remain in an equivalent of the customs union and the single market, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border
  2. Northern Ireland will remain in an equivalent of the customs union and the single market, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border
  3. They will change their red lines regarding the nature of their exit from the EU and their future relationship with it, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border

As I think about it though, perhaps the key thing they should say is that (a) they accept that a customs union is defined as a group of countries surrounded by a common external tariff barrier and border; (b) that in addition, the European Single Market has always been and needs to be protected by an external border of some sort in order to maintain its product standards and so forth; (c) that they accept that Ireland will remain a full member of the EU, and hence of its customs union and single market; and (d) that there will therefore continue to be a border between Ireland and all third countries or regions not belonging to the European Single Market and a customs union with the EU.

None of these points is a matter of opinion, or subject to negotiation. (1) to (3) are a matter of fact or definition, and (4) is a logical consequence of (1)-(3). And it is very difficult to accept that you are negotiating with someone in good faith if they refuse to accept that black is not white and that 2 + 2 = 4. Right now the UK seems to most outsiders to be talking out of both corners of its mouth, claiming it doesn’t want an Irish border, while preparing to do things that will require one. How can you negotiate seriously with such a country?

If the UK were to accept (1) through (4), publicly, then its claim to want to avoid a hard border in Ireland — including any physical infrastructure, something that Mrs May very helpfully added in Florence — would sound rather different. (Right now, it sounds like hypocritical posturing.) Publicly accepting (1) through (4), and saying that they were willing to do whatever it takes to avoid a hard border, involving any sort of physical infrastructure, would mark a big step forward in my opinion. And it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for.

 

Conference on Exchange Traded Funds

The Central Bank of Ireland will be hosting a Conference entitled “ETFs – Stability and Growth” on 29 November 2017 in the Convention Centre Dublin.

Are ETFs still the safe, simple, transparent product they are understood to be? Is the ETF structure appropriate for any type of product? Should there be limits? What impact do ETFs have on their underlying market and what liquidity concerns are relevant and valid in an ETF context?

Participation is free of charge and you can register your interest in attending by emailing ETF@centralbank.ie

Final details will be available on our website.

We look forward to seeing you and to engaging in a frank and open discussion on ETFs!

Europe, Ireland, and taxes

The recent German election reminded us that we should never get too excited when a European Commission President, or even a French President, makes a speech about the future of Europe. Ultimately, that future will depend on the decisions of 27 democratically elected governments, including our own, and that will probably continue to slow moves towards deeper integration.

Nonetheless, here are some scattered thoughts on the tax issue, since it is in the news these days. The good news is that Ireland doesn’t have to do anything on taxes that it doesn’t want to. On the other hand, it might be prudent for us to have more to say on the issue than “No, no, no”. If we don’t get pro-actively involved in these (and other) debates, we can hardly blame others for setting the political agenda.

I take it that the core Irish interest is maintaining the right to set our own corporate profits tax rate (and other internal taxes, perhaps, such as labour taxes). If so, then as others have said, it surely makes sense to focus on that core interest and not facilitate schemes that help companies pay less than that — and the good news is that we have been moving in this direction in recent years, notably via the OECD, something that is not sufficiently appreciated by the foreign press. But we and the rest of the world clearly need to do a lot more.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about, since others have done so. Here are some further scattered thoughts on taxes, in the hope of sparking debate.

  1. If a US firm sets up an Irish branch and makes something physical which is sold abroad, we wouldn’t object, and nor should we, if that something were hypothetically to be subjected to local sales taxes in France (say). What matters to us, and the firm, is that the profits arising from this sale are taxed in Ireland. Does it not follow that we should be relaxed about, and probably even actively encourage, a situation where if (say) Amazon.fr sells something in France that would (hypothetically speaking) normally be subject to French sales tax, that transaction is taxed accordingly? There were moves in that direction in 2015, but if more is needed to ensure a level playing field as between the online giants and local retailers, why would we object? In the US, Amazon customers are now paying state sales taxes in several states. The two key principles ought to be that (1) there be no discrimination between online and high street retailers, and no discrimination against US online companies; and (2) that we keep clear the distinctions between sales or revenue taxes, on the one hand, and profits taxes on the other. If Amazon and the rest paid taxes on their French sales revenues, in France, similar to what was paid by French online and high street retailers, might this not defuse a huge amount of political tension? And would that not be good for Ireland?
  2. Now, that previous paragraph used the US language of sales taxes since I think that the US is a good point of reference in these debates. But in Europe we don’t have sales taxes: we have VAT. The current VAT regime is unfit for purpose: it leads directly to tens of billions of euros worth of fraud every year, perpetrated by organised crime (real criminals, not fancy lawyers and accountants). The sums involved are very large, even relative to the moneys lost to multinational tax avoidance strategies. The Irish government agrees that the VAT regime should be overhauled, and so do other governments, such as the French one. This is a first order important issue for the EU. Might it not make sense to consider whether and how to reform the taxation of cross-border e-commerce, within the context of such a broader reform? I don’t see that why Ireland would object to that, and once again, anything that emerged from such reforms that reduced the impression that the online giants are not paying their fair share would lessen the pressure on Ireland to increase the 12.5% tax rate.
  3. Some Europe-wide taxes would surely be in Ireland’s interest. In particular: I’m not a fan of EMU, but since we’re in it we have an interest in making it work as well as possible. We would have saved many billions of euros during the crash if EMU had been a proper monetary union, involving a proper banking union — so anything that moves EMU in a US-style-monetary-union direction, with a common bank deposit guarantee, and a common fiscal backstop, should be welcomed by us. Especially if our financial sector is going to grow because of Brexit. But bank deposit guarantees and fiscal backstops will require common financing, presumably by the Eurozone taxing the financial sector somehow. That would be good for us, not bad for us.
  4. More speculatively: I and many others more eminent than myself have argued that if you really want a monetary union, some sort of fiscal smoothing mechanism would help it function better. If we hadn’t had to impose quite so much fiscal austerity on the economy at the worst possible point in the economic cycle, that would surely have been a good thing for us. Now, I don’t think that such a fiscal smoothing mechanism is on the cards at all, but if it were, it would require some sort of common tax base that would then finance transfers of some sort to countries in difficulty (by reinsuring their unemployment benefit systems, or whatever). Perhaps a common corporate tax might form one part of that common tax base. (I would be keen on an energy tax, since we need it for environmental reasons anyway, its revenues would be pro-cyclical, and it could finance infrastructural projects related to the energy transition that are badly needed.)  But that common corporate tax wouldn’t mean that state corporate taxes would have to be harmonized, any more than the federal corporate profits tax rate in the US means that state corporate taxes there are harmonized. Indeed, I guess that once a common “federal” tax was in place, political pressure to harmonize state taxes would be difficult to sustain.
  5. As I said before, that last argument is extremely hypothetical, since I don’t think we have any hope of achieving a fiscal union in the Eurozone. (Nor do I think that the Euro is inevitably going to last forever.) But let me make a further point in that regard. There is indeed a logical argument to the effect that monetary union means that you need some sort of Eurozone-wide tax base (but only in the context of a proper US-style fiscal system for smoothing regional shocks). But there is no logical argument that I can think of that says that monetary union requires that state-level taxes be harmonized. This is an important distinction which policy-makers in France, Ireland, and elsewhere should remember.

In conclusion, my suggestion is that by making such logical distinctions, and by being clear about what are our core interests, versus those that are merely peripheral, we may be able to avoid being perceived as the DUP of European fiscal policy.

The Rotten Apple: Tax Avoidance in Ireland

Readers might be interested in this article.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08853908.2017.1356250?scroll=top&needAccess=true

It’s a descriptive overview of the legal/ethical issues involved in Ireland’s role in faciliating Apple’s corporate tax avoidance strategies.

The conclusion is as follows:

In light of the European Commission’s investigation into state aid, Apple has generated the largest bill in unpaid taxes, as compared to Starbucks, Google, and Amazon, which were also investigated. The Commission has ordered Ireland to recover these taxes plus interest, but Ireland has refused and has appealed the Commission’s order in the EU General Court and, if necessary, will appeal to the European Court of Justice. Apple has also decided to appeal. The issues here are whether tax avoidance is ethical and whether Apple should pay the $14.5 billion plus interest that the Commission is demanding. In both of these issues, the conclusion is no. While Apple’s tax avoidance is legal, it is clearly unethical in its use of tax havens, mainly Ireland, and shell companies like Apple Sales International. Through these schemes, Apple has avoided paying taxes in any country, although it technically should have been taxed in the U.S. However, Apple should not have to pay the $14.5 billion plus interest because the repercussions outweigh the possible benefits, and the Commission should not have sought recovery of past transfer pricing rulings under its new approach. Instead, the U.S. and the EU should work together to close the loopholes, and Apple should be sanctioned by the U.S. because, ultimately, the U.S. is the country that should have received those taxes. This would also help reduce other corporations’ tax avoidance, both in the U.S. and by U.S. companies in Europe.

Is no deal better than a bad deal (Irish edition)?

Of all the vacuous platitudes regularly trotted out by Brexiteers, one of the most irritating is the mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. What, exactly, would such a bad deal look like? We are never informed, making the claim “not even wrong”.

In contrast, it is pretty easy to define what a bad deal would look like, from an Irish perspective. First, and most obviously, and most importantly, it would be a deal that restored a visible border in Ireland, whether involving border guards of one sort or another, or physical border infrastructure, or both. This would undermine one of the fundamental premises of the Good Friday Agreement: that given the freedom to choose your citizenship, and without a meaningful border, it should no longer matter, very much, on which side of that border you live. The restoration of a border would therefore threaten the security of this island. A deal that allowed this would be a pretty dreadful one, by any reasonable standard.

Second, a bad deal would expose Irish agribusiness to competition from cheap overseas suppliers in the UK market. Such Anglospheric competition would severely reduce Irish exports to Britain, irrespective of whether Irish exporters faced WTO tariffs or not.

It’s pretty easy, therefore, to define what a bad deal for Ireland would look like in principle. Unfortunately, if the UK follows through on its threat to leave the EU’s Single Market, and refuses to become a member of a new EU27-UK customs union replicating the current EU28 customs union, then any deal that the EU will strike with the UK will necessarily be a bad one, thus defined. Most importantly, there will have to be a border on this island. And, since the UK will then do a variety of trade deals with the US and other countries, on the basis of an exceptionally weak bargaining position, it is highly likely that Ireland agribusiness will lose valuable markets there, even if they don’t face WTO tariffs.

So, in the Irish case, we have a meaningful definition of a bad deal, and we can therefore meaningfully pose the question of whether a bad deal would be better than no deal.

No deal would also mean a border in Ireland, and the loss of export markets consequent on the imposition of WTO tariffs. And it would involve additional economic costs, over and beyond those implied by a bad deal, of which more later. But I don’t think that you can automatically conclude that no deal would be worse for Ireland than a bad deal, mostly for political reasons.

As things stand, we have convinced our EU partners that a border in Ireland is unacceptable. The language from Barnier, Verhofstadt, Macron, and many others on the issue is exactly what we have been looking for. By signing on to a bad deal, we would be conceding the principle that a border is, in fact, acceptable. We would be saying to the EU26: “yes, we have been trying hard to convince you that a border is simply unthinkable and must never be allowed to happen, but actually, we didn’t really mean it. If push comes to shove, we’ll accept a border if that is the price that has to be paid for a deal with the UK.” If we were to take such an attitude, we could hardly expect our European partners to take the opposite one!

Once the point of principle regarding the border has been conceded, it becomes likely that the border will prove to be a permanent fixture on the island. The Brexiteers will be happy: they will be able to import as much chlorinated chicken as they want from wherever they want, and the Irish border issue will no longer be on the table to complicate matters for them. There will be no reason for the UK to ever get rid of the border, and we will have lost all leverage on the issue.

By contrast, if there is no deal, because of insufficient progress on the border issue, the point of principle will not have been conceded. Yes, there will still be a border, but there will be a border anyway under a bad deal. And the UK will know that, if it ever wants a trade deal with the largest market in the world, and its nearest neighbour, it will have to erase that border.

And I think that it is almost inevitable that the UK will, eventually, decide that it needs to have such a trade deal.** In which case the border will only have been reintroduced temporarily.

No deal will involve more economic costs for Ireland than a bad deal, and as I said in a previous post, I would like to see those additional costs quantified, taking into account the negative impact upon Ireland of the trade deals that Liam Fox is likely to sign. And it is therefore intellectually respectable to claim that a bad deal is better than no deal. But it is also intellectually respectable to argue that for Ireland, no deal is in fact better than a bad deal.

To an extent, it comes down to what our preferences are. If they are lexicographic, with the absence of a border dominating other Irish interests, then no deal is surely better than a bad deal. If, on the other hand, we are willing to accept a higher risk of the resumption of violence, in order to mitigate economic costs elsewhere on the island, then a bad deal might well be better than no deal. I think that these are issues that we need to debate, honestly, as a society.

My own view is that when things can go badly wrong, they often do, and that we should never take peace and stability for granted. I also think that the primary duty of a state is to provide security. And like everyone my age, I remember the Troubles. And so I tend to the view that we should not concede on the fundamental point of principle that has been forcefully articulated by our government and diplomatic service: a border in Ireland is simply unacceptable.

And what that means in practice, I think, is that in the months ahead — through December and if necessary beyond — we should hold our nerve, stick to our principles, and continue to insist that we need a solution to the Irish border question before the UK withdrawal talks proceed to the second stage.

** It may take time.

CCCTB – Bye, Bye Irish Veto?

Corporate tax avoidance is a high salient political issue in Brussels.

This is largely a response to demands from citizens across the EU to ensure that large MNC’s, particularly from the US, pay their fair share of taxes when operating in the EU single market.

Ireland, as we all know, has been called out, and challenged on this issue.

The companies that the EU have in mind are large Silicon Valley firms, and finance firms operating in the shadow banking sector.

The Commission have recently called for the introduction of a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCTB), to be introduced over two stages. They are also keen to introduce a financial transaction tax (FTT).

These are directly aimed at tackling corporate tax avoidance.

Ireland has said it would veto any attempt to introduce either of these at the EU level. But it was Britain that was most vocal about it.

It’s therefore worth noting that Jean Claude Juncker stated in his state of the union address this morning that he is in favour of moving toward qualified majority voting (QMV) on decisions related to the CCCTB and the FTT.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 12.06.12

A post-Brexit EU is going to be a very different terrain for Ireland.

QMV will be used more often. This empowers German and French interests in the European Council, and the numbers stack up to ensure they get what they want.

Is the writing on the wall for Ireland’s veto against the CCCTB?

Full speech: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-3165_en.htm

 

 

Latest issue of the Economic and Social Review

The Economic and Social Review has just published its latest issue at (Vol 48, No 3, Autumn 2017)

Articles

Taxation, Debt and Relative Prices in the Long Run: The Irish Experience
Vahagn Galstyan, Adnan Velic

An Irish Welcome? Changing Irish Attitudes to Immigrants
and Immigration: The Role of Recession and Immigration
Frances McGinnity, Gillian Kingston

Does the Month of Birth Affect Educational and Health Outcomes? A Population-Based Analysis Using the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study
Stefanie Doebler, Ian Shuttleworth, Myles Gould

Policy Section Articles

Modelling the Medium- to Long-Term Potential Macroeconomic Impact of Brexit on Ireland
Adele Bergin, Abian Garcia-Rodriguez, Edgar L. W. Morgenroth, Donal Smith

How Sensitive is Irish Income Tax Revenue to Underlying Economic Activity?
Yota Deli, Derek Lambert, Martina Lawless, Kieran McQuinn, Edgar L. W. Morgenroth

Valuing Informal Care in Ireland: Beyond the Traditional Production Boundary
Paul Hanly, Corina Sheerin

Could Ireland credibly threaten to veto an EU-UK trade deal?

For years now, Ireland and the UK have been the best of friends. Very sadly, Brexit is placing the relationship under strain. The positions of the two governments on the Irish border could not be further apart. Ireland is very clear: no trade deal that involves a physical border is acceptable. That obviously implies that the United Kingdom should seek to remain within the European Economic Area, and form a new customs union with the EU.  This would replicate its existing trade ties with the bloc, while respecting the vote to leave the EU, and avoid the need for a border within Ireland. The United Kingdom, on its part, is adamant that it must leave the customs union in order to strike separate trade deals with the United States and other countries overseas.  To be sure, it pays lip service to the importance of avoiding a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but this appears to be nothing more than a cynical manoeuvre. On the one hand, the magical unrealist tendency within the British government appears to think that by talking up the border issue, they can undermine the EU customs union, which has been defined by a common external tariff barrier since the 1950s. This would allow the UK to have its cake and eat it. On the other hand, the lip service will, they hope, allow the UK to place the blame for the consequences of its own decisions on Ireland and the rest of the EU.

What, if anything, can Ireland do?  As has been noted recently, the country is not powerless. While the withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU will be decided by qualified majority vote, Ireland does have a potential veto in at least two possibly relevant circumstances. First, it would have a veto should the UK seek to extend the two-year deadline for exit following its Article 50 notification.  Second, and probably more to the point, if as seems likely the UK ultimately seeks an ambitious, “mixed” trade deal with the EU that includes provisions on, for example, investment, Ireland will have a veto on that as well.

The UK therefore has the power to give Ireland something that we want: the maintenance of a border-free Ireland. There are encouraging signs that some in Britain may now be moving in that direction, but they are not currently the ones driving British policy. And down the line, Ireland will have the power to deny the UK something that it wants: a trade deal with the EU that goes beyond tariff-free trade in goods, and includes the kinds of provisions on portfolio investment that would be of interest to the City. The question therefore is: can Ireland credibly threaten to use this power in an attempt to prevent the reimposition of a border on our island? Continue reading “Could Ireland credibly threaten to veto an EU-UK trade deal?”