Globalisation for Slow Learners

The IMF recently published its updated outlook for the global economy. The good news is that recovery from the crisis seems to be finally picking up some momentum after a decade of sub-par growth. The bad news, as they see it, is that this momentum could be stopped in its tracks if the sword of Damocles that is the threat of protectionism – whether emanating from Trump’s White House, May’s Westminister or elsewhere – falls. This could throw the process of globalisation into reverse, they worry, and slow growth in the size of the economic pie.

Alongside their biannual economic forecasts, the IMF also publishes its latest thinking on various themes. In light of increased focus on the issue of inequality since the global financial crisis, to which the recent rise in political populism has been attributed, the IMF provides a timely chapter on “Understanding the downward trend in labour income shares”. It explores the reasons why the share of wages in GDP has declined markedly – in advanced, emerging and developing economies alike – in recent decades. Between the mid-1970s and its 2006 low, the labour share has declined from around 55% of GDP to around 50% in advanced economies, before recovering only slightly since the financial crisis, while income inequality has increased significantly over the same period.

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The Leprechauns are at it again

New numbers from the boffins in the CSO again make a mockery of how we measure economic activity. Sure, on the face of it, last year’s 5.2% GDP growth sounds more reasonable than the make-believe 26.3% recorded in 2015. Remember that prompted Nobel prize-winner Paul Krugman to call out Ireland’s ‘Leprechaun economics’?

Over the years, many economists in Ireland have argued that GNP – which strips out the repatriated earnings of multinationals – is a better measure of our economic progress. According to this measure, growth halved from 18.7% in 2015 to a still-stellar 9% in 2016.

But, even the most sunny-sided economists would struggle to claim with a straight face that this is a good indicator of Ireland’s true rate of economic growth.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 10 March, 2017 ***

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Basic Income: an idea whose time has finally come?

As far back as 1516, Thomas More first suggested a guaranteed income as a way to reduce theft. In 1797, enlightenment thinker Thomas Paine proposed a set of radical reforms in his seminal pamphlet on Agrarian Justice.Among these proposals was the idea of a universal basic income that would be paid to everyone, unconditionally. In the intervening 220 years, polemicists and policymakers have toyed with the idea, without it ever really catching on.

What has changed?

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Unemployment is down again but we shouldn’t be complacent

THE IRISH ECONOMY continued to create jobs at a rate of more than 1,000 per week in the three months immediately following June’s shock Brexit vote, defying some of the most pessimistic predictions about the short-term impact.

According to Tuesday’s figures from the Central Statistics Office, 57,500 jobs were created this year to the end of September, signalling robust annual job growth of 2.9%.

The pace of job growth moderated slightly to a seasonally adjusted 13,500 during the most recent three month period, down from 18,900 and 16,100 in each of the first two quarters of the year, respectively. This brought the total number employed to 2,040,500, the highest since the end of 2008, although still 6% below the all-time high of 2,169,600, reached in Q3 2007.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 23 November, 2016 *** Continue reading

Something went Br-ump in the night

First it was Brexit. Then it was Trump. Twice in recent months, we have awoken to news from across the water that shook us to our core. Something has gone ‘Br-ump’ in the night.

For Ireland, the biggest impact of Brexit and Trump’s ascendancy are likely to be economic. Even if recent decades have seen Ireland Inc. diversify its economic ties, the UK and US are still by far our most important trade and foreign direct investment partners. Directly or indirectly, hundreds of thousands of Irish jobs depend on these countries’ fortunes and policies. The temptation will be for Irish policymakers to adopt a reactive stance, but this needs to be complemented by a proactive and comprehensive approach.

As a tiny, very open economy, Ireland has surfed the wave of neoliberal globalisation more deftly than most, making the most of our geographic and cultural proximity to the US and the UK, in particular. For decades, for better or worse, we have been ‘all in’ on an economic strategy aimed at grabbing a slice of the global economic pie. As a result, there is perhaps no other country as uniquely exposed to the twin ‘Br-ump’ challenges.

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Latest Exchequer Returns Flatter to Deceive

The latest Exchequer returns, released yesterday evening, show total tax receipts were €36.7 billion for the first ten months of the year, 1.7% ahead of target, and 4.7% ahead of the same period in 2015. Overall, the deficit between day-to-day tax and spending continued to narrow, falling from €2.9 billion for the first ten months of 2015 to €1.9 billion for the same period this year.

Corporation tax was €177 million ahead of target in October alone, and is now €821 million ahead for the year, more than one-fifth higher than Department of Finance officials had estimated earlier this year. At €4,778 million, corporate tax receipts for the year to date are on a par with the same period in 2015, being only marginally (€30m) ahead.

These numbers suggest continued strong profitability in the multinational sector, not least due to the large number of big firms relocating to Ireland for tax reasons in recent years. These are the so-called corporate tax inversions, which not only boost the state’s coffers but make it more difficult to accurately forecast this increasingly important revenue source. While these extra revenues are a boon to the Exchequer, their long-term sustainability is questionable in light of ongoing and future changes to national, European and global tax regimes for corporate profits.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 3 November, 2016 ***

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Let’s have a budget that makes Ireland more equal

The Irish people deserve better.

This is the not unreasonable thrust of ICTU’s pre-budget submission for 2017.

People deserve better than the five-in-a-row inequality-increasing budgets they were subjected under the previous Fine Gael-led government.

People deserve more investment in the health, education and welfare services on which they depend: more hospital beds, more special needs assistants, more home care packages. These can make a real and positive improvement in people’s immediate living standards, while reducing reliance on the sort of spending that becomes necessary when such early interventions have been in short supply. Home care packages are a prime example. For a relatively small outlay, people can be helped to live a full life in their homes and in their communities, as they grow older, rather than being carted off to a more expensive hospital or nursing home.

The country also urgently needs to ramp up its capital spending programme to address the housing crisis and plug the most critical infrastructure gaps that are holding our economy back. The Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is clearly welcome, but it’s a case of too little too late. The housing crisis has been brewing for years as the dysfunctional rental and owner-occupier property markets have been allowed to fester. The Plan’s social housing target of 5,000 new builds per year by 2021 – from next to zero currently – lacks ambition in the face of the scale of the emergency. More generally, capital spending has been cut to the bone since 2008. Under-investment in public transport, rural broadband, flood defence, waste management and water infrastructure reduce living standards today while imposing constraints on future economic growth.
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