Monthly Archives: April 2012

Jobs, education and industrial inertia

This is a hyperlinked version of a column published in the Irish Examiner on Saturday 28 April 2012

Recent research for the USA suggests that not only are many recoveries from crashes etc jobless for a long time, but that they also see the destruction of large numbers of ‘middle class’ jobs. When recoveries happen jobs do come back but these are typically at lower skill and wage levels than before or at very high end. Middle jobs tend to get squeezed. This trend has been noted not just in US and UK research but is also an increasing feature of growth patterns in developing countries. This is not to deny the massive growth in middle jobs in emerging countries but to suggest rather that the creation of jobs tends to uneven not just in geographical but in distributional terms. While growth is expected to return to the Irish economy, at least by measured GDP figures, the jobless total will fall very very slowly. The historic experience of Ireland is that respectable growth levels can be combined with high unemployment and that it takes a very long time for jobs to follow growth. In that context it is nice to see that there now appears to be a move to include in the European policy mix a growth and jobs agenda.

The difficulty we face is that regardless of the fiscal treaty we are running a worryingly high current budget deficit. While it is undoubtedly the case that the treaty will lead to us having to run decades of surplus budgets, the immediate problem is that some degree of austerity is a given to balance the books. Working off the debt will take much more. To some austerity is in and of itself a good thing, believing as they do that there is such a creature as an expansionary fiscal contraction. That such even existed is doubtful. Recent BIS work suggests that the external environment is essential to restoring growth. This centrality of the external environment is all the more important for Ireland, as the entirety of Irish growth in 2012 and 2013 is forecast by the EU to be driven by net exports. Austerity, at least until such time as we are able to return to normal borrowing structures, will continue to drag on the Irish domestic prospects. Thus we face a dilemma – we need to restructure our domestic finances and to do so in an environment where there is little evidence that such restructuring in and of itself drives growth. PaulKrugman has suggested that the linkage between reduced deficits and austerity is one that is weak and lagging. Debt does act as a drag on growth but it is also important to note as does recent research that slow growth also leads to debt.

All of this leads us to see an Irish economy that is likely to struggle to create jobs. We have failed over the decades to create an economic system that can drive jobs and opportunity for our population. There are over 500,000 Irish born people in the UK, the largest part of them undoubtedly there as a consequence of economic migration. It is often suggested that governments cannot create jobs, but can create the environment for jobs. In the modern globalized economy that environment all agree is one where people are skilled in languages, math, science as well as interpersonal skills. And yet we are not investing in these – we have dropped language skills from the lowest level of school where children are most receptive, our relative achievement levels in math are poor, there is no coherent IT teaching in second level schools etc.

Government plans for dealing with these issues often tend to chase ideas and attempt to predict what the markets think will be required in a number of years time. But all the evidence is that industries change and can change rapidly. Take two examples in Ireland – canals and communications. The south west of Kerry was in the late 19th century a hub of high tech communication with transatlantic cables coming ashore and sustaining a significant infrastructure of highly skilled workers at the cutting edge of technology. And yet, with the advent of satellites this disappeared very rapidly. In the 18th century canals were the technological innovation that transformed transport. A visit to Belmont mills in offaly gives a good insight into the scale of goods and services associated with these. Again, canals enjoyed a relatively short life. The key lesson from this is that planning for industries is always going to be fraught but provision of skills to people will always repay.

Restrictive Practices in Higher Education in Ireland

The Chairman of the Higher education Authority is no stranger to controversy. His most recent interesting comment came when he commented against the “restrictive work practices” of the third level, stating “There are very restrictive HR practices imposed on our higher education institutions by the fact that they are regarded as part of the public service, not much different from a government department or a local authority.” He also complained that Irish universities were not attracting enough foreign students, which seemed to be an issue caused by a lack of  “Greater collaboration and alignment between institutions”

I emailed, on Saturday afternoon, the HEA and inquired for specifics on these restrictive work practices. My contract, and I think every other academic, states that I will, in effect, do what I am told to do by the head of school. My duties are not specified beyond engaging in teaching as directed, carrying out research and doing such administrative duties as are assigned. It would be hard to find a more open contract than one that says “do what, where, when, for how long as, and in what manner as your boss shall dictate. End of”.  I imagine Ericcson, from whence Mr Boland hails, would be ad idem with every other company in welcoming such an open-ended specification of duties.

The HEA contacted me on Monday, with a copy of the speech (HECA J Hennessy Key Note Speech 20 April 2012 (2) (1)) and then on Wednesday kindly followed up with details of the “restrictive work practices”. I was interested to read these as I was worried that my work practices were in some way restrictive… I need not have. For the most part these are legislative, HEA driven or organizational, rather than actions carried out or not by academics.

Workload management

The Higher Education Strategy calls for a comprehensive review of existing employment contracts. It looks for contracts that are transparent and deliver accountability for appropriate workload allocation models to ensure that priorities around teaching and learning, research and administration can be managed and delivered. In relation to institutes of technology, it says that contracts should specify a minimum number of hours to be delivered on an annualised basis. Currently, the contracts in institutes of technology provide the delivery of 630 hours by assistant lecturers (560 by lecturers) over 35 weeks with a norm of 18 (16) hours per week. Because of circulars restricting the length of the academic year as well as developments such as semesterisation, the 35 weeks are never delivered. Recent agreements under Croke Park have focussed on increasing the amount of delivery per week, a less optimal approach than adopting a broader concept of the academic year.

Consideration could be given to the adoption of an annualised credit-based contract based around the current 630/560 requirements. An hour of lecturing would remain equivalent to one credit under this system but credit could then be given for other academic activities such as research, supervision of PhDs, engagement with business etc. Such a flexible approach would allow Institute management to determine credits for various activities across the differing demands across teaching Levels 6-10 as well as across the differing demands in terms of research and other academic activity. Any new contract arrangements should also provide for a level of academic and other duties – administration, management, course development, promotion of the Institute, engagement with stakeholders etc. – that form part of the normal duties of a lecturer and do not attract credits. Finally, it will be important that the contracts also state clearly what is expected in terms of attendance and the entitlements of staff in relation to annual leave.

This is strange. Lets leave aside the emphasis on institutes of technology and the equating of these with the entirety of the higher education space. As I have noted, my contract doesn’t say anything about hours or whatever. It says “do your job”. The problem with overspecifing what knowledge workers will and will not do is that they are generally smart people and will easily game the system. There is a substantial body of academic and practical research on how to ensure work gets done. Universities are not machine bureaucracies, which work by the enforcement of control. They, like all adhocracies or matrix organizations, work best when coordination and control is by the adherence to professional norms. It might be best for the HEA to contemplate how they could best set these, rather than ever-incremental micromanagement. We have a first year university course that discusses these issues and I am happy to forward the notes. They are perhaps adhocracies or As we know Irish academics work approx. 50h per week on average. Over say 48 weeks (I know its shocking that public servants will take holidays…you cant get good staff these days) that amounts to 2400h per annum.  CSO data suggest that the average weekly paid hours across the economy is approx. 32h per week. That’s just over 1500h. Restrictive work practices seem to have resulted in this sector providing a premium in terms of output of some 50%. But that’s not the real issue. The real problem is the equation of hours spent in the classroom with hours worked. That such arrant nonsense could come from the head of the government body charged with the management of higher education should be a cause of huge concern. Despite the many real issues in Irish higher education we still manage to have substantial impact on the world stage with several world class universities. By all means let me work 32h instead of 50 plus….


While in the sector, HEIs have considerable freedom to hire staff (subject to ECF), their capacity to make staff redundant, even where there is manifestly no work for them, does not exist.  In the institutes of technology, for instance, if staff cannot be usefully deployed due to the collapse in apprenticeship, they cannot be made redundant.  Any effort to improve efficiency by reducing unnecessary duplication of programmes across the HE sector will be rendered pointless unless a capacity for targeted redundancy is provided.  The same goes for efficiencies that could arise due to mergers of HEIs.  A capacity for targeted redundancy schemes is required.

Hire staff subject to the ECF …apart from that Mrs Lincoln, how was the play…

Again we see the IoT = all fallacy. Lets leave aside the issue of whether the government body charged with overseeing higher education might better serve society by ensuring that it works to see that apprenticeships are strengthened (Germany anyone?) rather than destroying the seed corn of future such. Today apprenticeships, tomorrow…? What market demand is there for Latin, or poetry, or for philosophy or for sociology? The higher education sector is not and cannot be simply a tool for the creation of what the HEA or industry think might be employable in three or five years time.  Since at least Newman we have known this. There is an ongoing and lively debate on how to recast this ideal but that universities play more than just a training role is surely something that the HEA might acknowledge. There is also a strange sense of competition being bad. I always thought competition, for students and ideas no less than for bread rolls, ensured that the customer or person to whom the service was provided got a better outcome. The locgical conclusion of the drive to reduce choice is silod universities, where for example UCD teaches economics and say TCD philosophy while Maynooth does Sociology. The concept of students and researchers crossing what are at best arbitrary intellectual boundaries seems anathema to the HEA. It reflects a desire for monopoly provision of education – economics 101 tells us that monopolies are always inefficient, even if they are natural monopolies, which is not at all obvious for the provision of educational programs.

Contractual matters

Particular problems are created by the way in which Ireland has transposed EU employment Directives.  Under current legislation part-time employees or those on temporary contracts can too easily acquire rights akin to permanent staff, including contracts of indefinite duration (CID).  This is particularly dangerous in a situation where HEIs are forced to rely on part time and short term contract staff. It is accepted that the HEIs have a responsibility here to ensure that contractual terms are appropriate, but in the IoT sector there is a view that they are precluded from issuing the kind of contract that would avoid a CID situation, since the form of contracts has to be agreed with unions who in turn agree these with the Department of Education and Skills.  A review of the inflexibilities generated by employment legislation, followed by legislative amendment,  is urgently needed.

Again the equation of IoT’s with the entirety of higher education…..While this may well be the case the use of the phrase “too easily acquire rights” is unfortunate to say the least. This seems to be a drive towards casualization and a backdoor abolition of not just tenure but permanency. I guess in the brave new world the HEA sees the provision of higher education as a purely market driven force, where they determine the course to be offered and organizations bid to provide same with staff hired only as and when needed. Perhaps we could organize hiring fairs or maybe the old concept of An Spailpín Fánach can be reinvigorated where gangs of underemployed Python coders and French romantic poetry specialists can hang around outside universities waving their credentials? There are of course situations where contracts are a good idea. But to create a university system where this is the norm is self defeating.  Like it or not we are in a globalized market and the market for academic talent is no different. We are now in a situation where even if a post is created it is probably going to be offered at the lowest point of the scale, which is generally now below that of comparable scales in other countries. Combine this with a total lack of job security and we will find it impossible to compete, which is in the end going to result in a poorer society in every way.


At present pay is set by government and, except in the case of the Departures Framework for universities, all HEIs must comply with pay terms nationally negotiated.  Currently, the Department of Finance, through the Department Education and Skills, plays a direct role in the establishment of salary scales, terms and conditions, appointment points on the scales, numbers of staff etc.   In the past, when time has allowed, it has been usual that negotiations have four players viz DoES, DoF, unions and ‘the employers’.  At the best of times these arrangements have been unsatisfactory in that the negotiations have been centralised and agreements are centralised, consequently much time, particularly in the IoT sector, has been spent fighting cases at local level.  In recent times, as a direct result of the economic crisis agreements have been entered into without understanding the impact that these agreements have on the functioning education (see further below).

While the HEIs do not seek complete freedom in this matter, flexibility is required to enable them to manage their workforce and their performance more effectively. HE needs a much more sophisticated architecture that is linked to both the strategic needs of institutions and their evolving structures. That architecture has to have greater flexibility and with that a series of checks and balances to underpin the flexibility.   An approach which involved freedom to pay staff within bands combined with a requirement of balance between grades (as in the current ECF) would meet many of the difficulties here.

Again the IoT seems to be driving the debate. It might be useful if the HEA clarified that they are even aware that there are two higher education systems and that no more than one size fits all the same issues do not nescessarily arise in both. The issue if there is one with Irish university pay is that it has a high mean but a low variance.  It is good to see that the HEA are beginning to suggest that this be addressed. But it is limited – why not allow managers in universities to manage? Why not let them determine, within the resources available, the pay of people. There is a market for academic labor and this should be used to signal the wages.  I would much rather we paid the most productive more than the least.

General – Management Capacity to Manage New Contractual Arrangements

 It is generally agreed that managing change in the Irish public sector is challenging.  If, as proposed above, new contractual arrangements are entered into then there will be significant challenges to middle managers in Irish HEI’s to manage those changes.  In order to do this successfully will require a much strengthened approach to PMDS, the recruitment and appointment of heads of department, deans, etc who have both academic and managerial competence.  While some institutions have developed or are developing robust systems of appointment and leadership and development to ensure management competence, anecdotally the HE system seems only patchily prepared for these changes.

This is hard to argue with in one way, stating that managers should be competent to manage. But they must also be free to manage. At present there is a widespread perception that the HEA are micro managerial zealots, desirous of interference at the lowest operational levels rather than confining themselves to policy. This may be unfair but it does exist. There is nothing wrong in principle with professional managers in universities but again there is absent from this statement an acknowledgement that knowledge workers in public or private sectors require a different style of management to other workers. Such is neither good nor bad but a fact of organizational life. There is a reason that Facebook, Google etc provide beer, Ping-Pong tables and so on and its not because the flinty eyed billionaires that run them are necessarily inherently nice people, although they may well be. Its because that approach works in that organizational space.

A week in higher education

This is an expanded and linked version of the column “My Education Week” which appears each Tuesday in the Irish Times.

This week is Trinity Week, culminating in the Trinity Ball, which means teaching semester is over. Which, if one believes everything one reads in the papers means that I and every other third level academic is off work until the autumn…would that this were so, but it remains a pleasant fantasy. No scheduled teaching means one can catch up further on the Sisyphean tasks of administration, research and student management! The perception of lazy academics is one that is all too common, but recent research suggests an average working week of 50h, above that of the european norm. Its a sad commentary on irish public discourse when research, carried out by a highly prolific academic in her area, is dismissed and all but called academic fraud by commentators simply because it doesnt conform to expectations. That coarsening of debate is something about which as academics we should be most concerned.

Sunday evening is generally when both I and Mrs Prof, a primary school teacher, organize our work week. She plans the weeks lessons, I outline my ‘to do’ lists and deal with any weekend issues. As a college tutor in TCD one finds oneself dealing with all sorts of odd requests above and beyond the norm. This Sunday the fire to be fought is a student who has that weekend been given a chance to go on an internship in Singapore, very relevant to her degree, but this would entail missing examinations and a decision is needed fast. I email her, she rings me, we talk and plot out a route to be tried on Monday morning.

Monday morning I stop off in Kildare FM en route to work, and talk for half hour on both my new book “what if Ireland defaults” and on general economic issues. Local radio is a powerful force in Ireland, and too often ignored by commentators. Part of the job of all professors is to profess and what better way than to discuss ones works with the public who after all pay a large chunk of my salary! The remainder of the morning is taken up with finalising my thoughts on paper for my appearance on Wednesday at the Oireachtas Subcommittee on European Affairs, regarding the Fiscal Compact. Monday is Trinity Monday and as always there’s a great buzz in Front square when the names of new scholars and fellows are announced. Its hard to think that its nearly 10 years since I was made fellow. Time flies when your having fun! This year there are 103 scholars, a record, reflecting the exceptional quality of students we are privileged to have. The afternoon is taken up with finalising and submitting a paper, a meta analysis of research on the linkage between property values and aggregate stock/bond market returns, to a US journal. Submission costs €125 and I decide to pay that myself rather than dip into my research funds (where I divert my media earnings) which I use for travel for myself and for postgraduates and for things like launching books….

Tuesday The MSc in Finance in TCD is unique Ireland in its range of professional partnerships, with linkages established with Bloomberg, PRMIA, CFA and CIMA (the signing ceremony of which is shown here). I set aside time to talk to MSc Finance students, but some exam issues mean that a number cant make it. We talk anyhow to those that can make it and reschedule the rest. These are students who are to be under my supervisory wing throughout the summer as they undertake their dissertation which accounts for 1/3 of their degree. I have 10 to manage but am also the general ‘go to’ person in the supervisory group for issues around data and statistical analyses beyond the norm so I usually get to see most of the 50 plus students at some stage. The students will work on these projects for the summer and hand up the work in late august. Some projects are industry linked, others are pure research, others expanding on previous work. Of the ten students I am supervising 3 are Irish. The projects range from analyses of option pricing, through dividend policies, to work on the determinants of personal financial risk taking. Its hugely challenging and enormously rewarding each summer to work with the masters students on their projects. We get an update from the head of school on the fundraising for the new Business School Building (going surprisingly well given the times that are in it) and news that a new colleague has accepted (at lecturer level) the position in strategic management which was created when Professor John Murray died, 18 months ago. The norm now in irish academia is that no matter how senior, experienced and internationally well qualified and recognized is a person, if they depart and are replaced at all that will be at the lower end of the scale. It takes time, and experience to mature as an academic as for any post. We are eroding academia from the top down. I talk to a Finnish newspaper on the Irish banking collapse, and they keep asking the same question as all overseas commentators do : why on earth did we do the bank guarantee. I have no printable answer…

Wednesday the Dean of Students Honor Roll is announced, recognizing students for non-academic involvement in college life, such as volunteering and tutoring/mentoring second level students in the inner city. Of the 400 honoured 38 are business students. College is of course much more than simply classes and the creation of rounded socially aware business graduates cannot be but a good thing for the future. The morning is taken up with attendance at the Oireachtas Subcommittee, in the company of several others, namely Jimmy Kelly and Michael Taft of UNITE and Megan Greene. Presentations are here (me, Greene, Kelly, Taft, and here is a link to the transcript of the debate). While one might decry the antics of the Oireachtas at times, it is our sovereign parliament and it both is and should be an honour to be asked to present ones views to it for consideration. I certainly take that perspective. We present our views on the fiscal compact; I concentrate on the effect of same on the financial markets, while the others concentrate on the macroeconomics. We have a good round of questioning.

Afterwards I have lunch with Megan, who is senior economist with Roubini Global Economics, who also attended the committee. Over lunch we have a lively exchange with some parliamentary researchers about the future of the Euro. In the afternoon i catch up on some emails about the UK and Ireland Chapter of the Academy of International Business , on whose executive i sit, and attend to my role as Editor of a journal (Research in International Business and Finance) I divert a query from a Sunday newspaper to someone who knows more about it than me. and get pleasant news with a paper accepted to a reasonably decent US based journal, subject to some minor (mainly editorial) changes.


Thursday involves sorting out the sessions for a large conference I run every year, with over 150 papers in all areas of finance. As usual in excess of 95% of the papers are from overseas, and we expect about 200 delegates. Having run this for 10 years in Ireland, it’s probable that the conference will go overseas from 2013, as the lack of sponsorship from domestic financial institutions makes running it here increasingly difficult. Despite having attracted Nobel laureates, having attained significant international credibility, being linked with one of the top international journals in finance and having had present each year the leading finance researchers there is worryingly little commercial interest in pure knowledge. This is in stark contrast to France and Italy where the conference is bound for the next decade and where financial institutions are more than willing to interact from the very start with academia I also catch up with some PhD students, and we discuss how they will overcome some issues, publicise the research and discuss how to interact with an overseas financial institution which is funding one study. I talk to a Norwegian academic who is researching the Irish banking crisis, and try not to be embarrassed when they note that not only did they not get anywhere in getting an interview with official sources they didn’t even get a reply. We have a long way to go yet before we realise that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We seem to have not only zombie banks but vampire-like openness in the permanent government.Later in the afternoon I meet with the people from Orpen press, and we discuss a series of talks to be held in bookshops to push the debate which we have opened with the book “what if Ireland default”

I spend working from home, as I try to do each week for at least a day. Knowledge work requires a brain and a pc. The physical location is of minor relevance, and research requires for me at least uninterrupted time to think and muse. While the work of science academics typically requires them to be at their benches etc to do experiments, for arts, humanities and social science research this is not the case. There is a recent push towards trying to tie academics to their desks : this not only flies in the face of government policies on teleworking it is wholly misguided. So, the attic it is, where I work to finish a paper on small firm finance I am doing with a colleague in DCU and another collaborative project on gold prices which involves researchers in the USA and Australia. While none of these will generate patents they should I hope advance human knowledge a little bit.
What Im listening to : I generally stream baroque or early church choral music when im doing writing or research, and for walking/commuting 1970’s and 80’s rock such as Led Zeppelin, Lizzy, Guns n Roses….

What Im reading : In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland and Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds.

What Im watching : The Good Wife and Homeland, two top notch US series. Also Game of Thrones and Alcatraz

17% of NAMA sold to un-named private investors

so : 17% NAMA sold to unknown investors at an unknown price. Hmm….

NAMA Wine Lake

You’d think buyers would be queuing up around the block of Upper Merrion Street following the decision of the Government to sell the 17% of NAMA currently owned by Irish Life Investment Managers. Well, too late, the stake has already been sold!

Although we all regard NAMA as a government agency, back in 2009 the Government was careful to structure NAMA so that its debts would stay off the national balance sheet. So the Government enticed/strong-armed three “third party independent investors” to take majority ownership of NAMA, the three being Irish Life Investment Managers (part of Irish Life and Permanent), New Ireland Assurance (part of Bank of Ireland) and Allied Irish Banks Investment Managers (part of AIB originally but sold in November 2011 to a South African investment group). Each of these three investors handed over €17m apiece for a 17% stake in NAMA and the Government put in the…

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Minister says NAMA can continue to operate even if balance sheet-insolvent

Bankruptcy is no bar to NAMA it seems, as the minister suggests that solvency = liquidity. Hmmm… that sounds awfully like what we heard re banks in 2008…

NAMA Wine Lake

It seems to be a moot point for the time being given that NAMA is saying it will make a profit of €200m in 2011, but Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan last week said in a reply to a parliamentary question that NAMA does not have any minimum capital requirements and can accordingly continue to operate even if balance sheet-insolvent.

So what is “balance sheet-insolvent”? This is where a company’s assets are worth less than its liabilities. For example, Independent News and Media – the loss-making media group that Denis O’Brien and the O’Reilly family are scrapping over – recently reported its preliminary 2011 financial results and said that its assets came to €573.7m, its liabilities to €596.5m and the company therefore had €22.8m of net liabilities. It is balance sheet-insolvent. Now this is not to suggest that IN&M can’t pay its bills as they fall due, it seems to…

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Bahrain – whats so special about its F1 Race

There is an awful lot of debate still ongoing about the running of the F1 in Bahrain. The pretty odious Bernie Eccelstone , whos hobbies include comparing women to domestic appliances and praising hitler has said that the raging battles for democracy in the state are nothing to do with him. There has been an ongoing uprising in Bahrain for a year, with a particular irish interest in the relationship the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has had with the country. The evidence of torture by police and security is so overwhelming that even a state sponsored commission admitted it was there.


Why the fuss however over Bahrain? This year the F1 races will take place in a large number of states with pretty ropy human rights records. I don’t recall a huge fuss about running F1 races in

  • malaysia, where judicial caning is a punishment and where press freedom is severely curtailed
  • china, well where does one start
  • singapore, where again press freedom (see world press freedom Index) is low
  • abu dhabi, where as with many countries homosexuality is illegal.
  • the usa, a country with the highest percentage imprisonment rate in the world, where the death penalty still is used and where children as young as 14 can be tried as adults
  • brazil one might note has persistent problems with its record on prisoners and indigenous peoples rights and one might even suggest Hungary is emerging as possessing new Secret police modelled on the old style

I have never been of the view that sport and politics are separate. Nor should sports organisations pretend that in bringing events to countries they will not in some way be or be see to be endorsing at best the legitimacy and at worst the policies therein. The sporting boycott on the apartheid regime in South Africa played a small but honourable role in first highlighting then pressurising and finally ending that system. Maybe it’s time to consider such again.

The Fiscal Compact and Ireland

I was asked to address the Oireachtas Subcommittee on European Affairs on the issue of the Fiscal Compact, and did so this morning (18 May 2012). Below is the briefing note which I forwarded to the members. We were asked to be succinct and to talk for 5 minutes prior to questioning, hence the rather stripped down nature of the material.

I have previously expressed my concerns on the fiscal compact in a number of fora, including my blog and my fortnightly column in the Irish Examiner. We are in effect being asked to incorporate into our constitution an econometric concept in order to become more Germanic. It is as Davy Stockbrokers put it in February “an abstract theoretical economic concept that cannot be observed with certainty.” We are therefore asked to support the immeasurable in pursuit of the unattainable. The only rational argument to support the compact is one of utter expediency : as we will require access to ESM funds from 2013 onward, whether we call it a ludicrous word such as “bailout” or a mere technical extension of the present “bailout”, and as such funds are as of now contingent on the fiscal compact, we need to think long and hard before rejecting it.In the context of the committee today, I have a number of points.

  1. Ireland as a state is broke. This is not an ideological but an arithmetic matter. We are forecast to have a net exchequer balance of -€21b in 2012, which is in the largest part made up of current expenditure running at €51b while current revenue reaches only €38b. Thus any proposal that can hold out a prospect of reducing this towards zero, especially on the current side, is to be carefully examined. That is not to say that I welcome the Fiscal Compact unreservedly- I do not. It has many issues which I would like to see modified, changed, dropped or better phrased. As the focus here is on the effect of the treaty were it to be adopted let me concentrate on that.
  2. Trajectory of debt. The fiscal compact states a maximum permissible deficit of 0.5% of GDP. It is easy to work out that with modest growth of nominal GDP the deficit rule will result in a long-term debt to GDP ratio of extremely low levels. The stable steady state debt/gdp ratio converges to d/g, where d is the average nominal deficit as a % GDP and g is the average nominal GDP growth. Since 1980 the average deficit has been 4.1% with average GDP growth at 8.2%. The figures since 2000 are 2.8% and 4.8%. We will if we wish to achieve the 60% debt to GDP figures have to achieve a nominal growth rate of at least 2% while keeping deficits at 1% or less. We are forecast to have a structural deficit of 5.5% in 2012. To move to a 0.5% deficit therefore is a massive multibillion-euro demand shock. To move from the forecast 2015 115% debt/GDP ratio to the 60% permissible is to remove some 90b in debt from the stock of Irish government debt, or the equivalent of the entire national debt as of 2010. To do this will require that we run structural surpluses (or find somehow that austerity does in fact lead to growth in nominal GDP). Demand effects aside, one has to wonder if this is within the capacity of the state to achieve such a massive transformation?
  3. An area of the treaty that has received scant analysis, surprisingly so, is the effect which it will have on bond markets and Europe.As noted we can amend the ratio of government debt to national income by decreasing debt and/or by increasing wealth. The focus of the compact is on the former. Europe as a whole is significantly over the 60% limit. As of 2011 eurostat figures the majority of individual countries are also over. Thus the adoption of the compact suggests a prolonged massive de leveraging of the European sovereign bond market. The euro 17 countries as a whole need to reduce debt/GDP ratios from 85% to 60%. At present terms that is a reduction of some 2.3 trillion euro. That is a massive fiscal drag to pose on Europe and compact is that if it succeeds it will gravely damage the sovereign bond market. Even well run countries such as Netherlands ( 2012 debt/GDP forecast 65%, 2012 GDP growth 1%, Unemployment 4.5%) and Austria ( 2012 forecasts Debt/GDP 73%, , Unemployment 4%, GDP growth 1%) will be required to retrench. This is not a recipe for growth in Europe, and given that exports are forecast to be the entire contribution to any GDP growth we may see will see the stifling of demand in one of our major markets. This point has been reiterated in the Financial Times which stated on Tuesday 17th in its editorial “A fiscal compact worth its name would have matched belt-tightening in deficit countries with expansion in surplus countries. Universal austerity will instead erode the gains from fiscal discipline by stunting the economic output from which public and private debt can be serviced” It has also been critiqued by a wide variety of other market and academic economists (see this Reuters article for a synopsis of the argument) . Swabia housewives alone cannot reinvigorate Europe. Nouriel Roubin has statedWithout a much easier monetary policy and a less front-loaded mode of fiscal austerity, the euro will not weaken, external competitiveness will not be restored, and the recession will deepen. And, without resumption of growth – not years down the line, but in 2012 – the stock and flow imbalances will become even more unsustainable. More Eurozone countries will be forced to restructure their debts, and eventually some will decide to exit the monetary union.” Such policies are the direct opposite of what we now see, with strict money and frontloading of austerity. He further stated The trouble is that the Eurozone has an austerity strategy but no growth strategy. And, without that, all it has is a recession strategy that makes austerity and reform self-defeating, because, if output continues to contract, deficit and debt ratios will continue to rise to unsustainable levels. Moreover, the social and political backlash eventually will become overwhelming. A large (but not overwhelming) stock and flow of relatively low risk assets are required to support pension and investment funds. A shrunken market will be less able to fulfill that role. The fiscal compact therefore requires that over time trillions of euro of assets are removed from consideration of investors. The consequence of this will be an intensified move to safe haven assets such as the (to be radically shrunken) German bund market, driving down further German interest rates. Investors will have to accept radically lower long-term returns. Alternative investment classes seen as safe havens such as gold, or denominated in currencies such as the Norwegian kroner or Swiss franc will also attract investors, with knock-on consequences. The effect on Europe of a perpetual low cost of capital in the core and higher costs in the periphery cannot but exacerbate the existing core-periphery problems. In addition, low nominal rates lead ro negative real rates, a form of “financial repression” . Faced with a growing pension timebomb the shrinking of the pool of safe assets seems not sensible. Mercers 2011 Asset allocation survey indicates that most pension funds including Irish desired to increase not decrease their absolute and relative investment in domestic government bonds. There are plans to market up to 2b in domestic bonds to pension funds for annuity purposes. How these will be squared with decreases in the asset pool is unclear
  4. The fiscal treaty contains not just a set of macroeconomic thresholds but also under the Alert Mechanism Report looks at a series of more detailed ‘warning signs’. (See below). The first of these came out in mid February and as one might expect these show Ireland (as well as Greece and Spain) as being problematic. The warning indicators are shown below (courtesy of a CitiBank report). In the February report Ireland was shown to be in breach of 6 of these ( also shown below). What is interesting in the recent Citibank report (see ) is that while the Irish economy in the boom years would have shown relatively good adherence to the headline fiscal treaty requirements, there is some evidence that the indicators below would have triggered concern. Ireland began to exhibit significant numbers of breaches in 2004 onwards, mainly due to house prices, private sector debt, labor costs and real effective exchange rates. However, these were all a consequence of the credit boom. While a procedure now is available to fine countries that, having been found to be severely imbalance do not take steps to adjust towards balance, this fine is only up to 0.1% GDP . We are all now painfully aware of the political reaction that was evident (and voted for enthusiastically) when people were ‘cribbing and moaning’ as one Taoiseach so memorably put it. One can easily imagine the same Taoiseach cheerfully explaining how a fine of ‘eh, a few hunnered million’ was a small price to pay for the continuation of our unique way of achieving economic success. In other words, the flaw in the fiscal treaty is that it concentrates on trying to achieve political economy aims by exclusively economic means. Is there now and will there be in future the political will in Ireland to face down domestic calls for the ignoring of warnings?
  5. There are a host of other issues with the compact that bear on domestic competency. First, we will need to ensure that we have domestic capacity to estimate independent credible (from a technical sense) structural budget estimates, in an economic environment where there are no set rules on how this is to be done. To do otherwise will be to force us to rely entirely on the commission. This will be a net additional resource requirement for universities, the fiscal council, ESRI or a new body. Below we see (courtesy of Davys and Dr Constantin Gurdgiv how IMF and EU commission estimates of the structural deficit can differ wildly, and in the context of a strict limit this mattera. Is there willingness and resource to spend on this? Second, and following on from this, is there sufficient technical knowledge in both economic and negotiation skills in the government to argue the case where as is inevitable there will be divergence between the commission and the domestic estimates? Third, there is no mechanism that I can see whereby on re-estimation of the models countries that were previously deemed in deficit are now deemed in surplus (or vice versa) are ‘reimbursed’ for the mis-estimation de jure, and again will there be sufficient skill sets for such an argument? The experience of Ireland with regard to the promissory note saga suggests to me that we have demonstrated neither the technical nor the negotiation skills that would be required under either of the last two questions. Fourth, the present fiscal compact is one leg of a stool, and as such while it can work it will be a precarious balancing act. The interaction of government with society in the economic space consists of fiscal and monetary policy. We do not have government control at a European level over monetary policy, and again one can see the way in which this leads to direct countervailing of purposes where increased austerity over and above the domestic requirement is imposed in pursuit of a flawed monetary vision. This treaty will provide a (Germanic ordoliberal) common spending policy. What is missing is a common tax policy and a common policy on transfers. Is there domestic will or competence to open up the latter two as a European aim, with the certain knowledge that for compromise on one (transfers) compromise on the other (tax) will be demanded?

Macroeconomic Imbalance Indicators

Estimates of Structural Deficit