There is a consensus that the practitioners and discipline of economics have been key beneficiaries of the financial and fiscal crises. The views of leading economists as to where we are and what we should do are widely sought across the media and within government. A conference organised at TCD earlier this week on the issue of political reform was part of a deliberate effort by political scientists to demonstrate the relevance of their discipline and the Irish Times has been publishing opinion pieces and articles drawing on the conference . Earlier in the week UCD’s John Coakley argued that informal institutions (in the form of political culture) have significantly shaped (and restricted) the state’s capacities. Today’s piece by Neil Collins of UCC argues that there has been a striking neglect of the potential of formal institutions in shaping effective governance. He concludes that ‘It is time for a rebalancing of academic attention from the economic to the political agenda.’
As an outsider to both disciplines it is striking that both have a good deal to say about the way that institutions matter in shaping both expectations and capacity for action. I am led to think that if a rebalancing is required then it might be towards thinking more about the way that formal and informal institutions limit what can be achieved (and deliver unintended consquences), but that a better understanding of those limits might support modest reform proposals which more effectively link the specification of desirable outcomes to the mechanisms through such outcomes might be reasonably be expected to be achieved.