Category Archives: institutions

23/4/21: There are no ‘social’ winners amidst this pandemic


No one is left unscarred by the #covid19 pandemic when it comes to public approval trends for the major social stakeholders in Ireland: 

Source: Core Research. 

Broadly-speaking, the above is expected, although Core Research report contains one glaring omission: it does not survey public attitudes to media/press. Worse, the three improving stakeholder groups are also the three least impacted: own employer, citizens and large companies. Meanwhile, approval of the government is still nosediving. 

Covid pandemic is certainly testing Irish (and other countries') key institutional frameworks. The fallout from these tests is going to be long-lasting and deep. We went into the pandemic with huge deficits of trust in key institutions of our societies. And we are becoming more polarized and less enthusiastic in our support for these institutions since then.

30/7/18: Corruption Perceptions: Tax Havens vs U.S. and Ireland

Transparency International recently released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, a measure of the degree of public concerns with corruption, covering 180 countries. 

The Index is quite revealing. Not a single large economy is represented in the top 10 countries in terms of low perceptions of corruption. Worse, for a whole range of the much ‘talked about’ tax havens and tax optimising states, corruption seems to be not a problem. Switzerland ranks 3rd in the world in public perceptions of corruption, Luxembourg ranks 8th, along with the Netherlands, and the world’s leading ‘financial secrecy’ jurisdictions, the UK. Hong Kong is ranked 13th. Ireland is in a relatively poor spot at 19th place. 

American exceptionalism, meanwhile, continues to shine. The U.S. occupies a mediocre (for its anti-corruption rhetoric and the chest-thumping pursuits of corrupt regimes around the world) 16th place in the Corruption Perception Index, just one place above Ireland, and in the same place as Belgium and Austria (the former being a well-known centre for business corruption, while the latter sports highly secretive and creative, when it comes to attracting foreign cash, financial system). UAE (21st), Uruguay (23rd), Barbados (25th), Bhutan (26th) and more, are within the statistical confidence interval of the U.S. score. 

And consider Europe. While most of the Nordic and ‘Germanic’ Europe, plus the UK and Ireland, are  in top 20, the rest of the EU rank below the U.S. All non-EU Western European countries, meanwhile, are in the top 15. 

Now, in terms of dynamics, using TI’s data that traces comparable indices back to 2012:
- The U.S. performance in terms of corruption remains effectively poor. The country scored 73 on CPI in 2012-2013, and since then, the score roughy remained bounded between 74 and 75. Ireland, however, managed to improve significantly, relative to the past. In 2012, Irish CPI score was 69. Since then, it rose to a peak of 75 in 2015 and is currently standing at 74. So in terms of both 2012 to peak, and peak to 2017 dynamics, Ireland is doing reasonably well, even though we are still suffering from the low starting base. 

Hey, anyone heard of any corruption convictions at the Four Courts recently?

21/5/16: Voters selection biases and political outcomes

A recent study based on data from Austria looked at the impact of compulsory voting laws on voter quality.

Based on state and national elections data from 1949-2010, the authors “show that compulsory voting laws with weakly enforced fines increase turnout by roughly 10 percentage points. However, we find no evidence that this change in turnout affected government spending patterns (in levels or composition) or electoral outcomes. Individual-level data on turnout and political preferences suggest these results occur because individuals swayed to vote due to compulsory voting are more likely to be non-partisan, have low interest in politics, and be uninformed.”

In other words, it looks like there is a selection bias being triggered by compulsory voting: lower quality of voters enter the process, but due to their lower quality, these voters do not induce a bias away from state quo. Whatever the merit of increasing voter turnouts via compulsory voting requirements may be, it does not appear to bring about more enlightened choices in policies.

Full study is available here: Hoffman, Mitchell and León, Gianmarco and Lombardi, María, “Compulsory Voting, Turnout, and Government Spending: Evidence from Austria” (May 2016, NBER Working Paper No. w22221:

So can you 'vote out' stupidity?..

18/2/15: A Tale of Two Capitalisms & Economics Education

A recent paper by Bennett, Daniel L., titled "A Tale of Two Capitalisms: Perilous Misperceptions About Capitalism, Entrepreneurship, Government, and Inequality" (December 11, 2014, examined "two widely held perceptions about capitalism, challenging the popular view that capitalism is a villainous perpetuator and government a saintly corrector of cronyism and inequality".

Much of this erroneous view has been driven by the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis, the Great Recession and the Euro Debt Crisis, although those of us who lived through it face-to-face would note the obvious error in this paradigm when it comes to expectations about the Government role.

As authors note, "this characterization is largely driven by misperceptions. Capitalism is viewed as a system that favors the elite at the expense of everyone else (crony capitalism), rather than one that promotes economic liberty and opportunity for all (free market capitalism). The state is meanwhile viewed as a benevolent and omniscient corrector of market failures and provider of public goods (romantic view of politics), rather than a political system operated by agents whose actions may reflect their own self-interest and not the welfare of the general public (public choice view). These misperceptions result in not only a distorted understanding of the institutional structure that underlies capitalism and the mechanism in which income is distributed, but also lead to perilous reform prescriptions that undermine free market capitalism and generate unintended consequences that act to reduce individual and societal well-being."

The paper shows how "institutions that constrain the discretionary authority of government incentivize productive entrepreneurship and facilitate free market capitalism, giving rise to a natural or market determined income distribution and opportunity for economic mobility." In other words, markets do work, when markets are allowed to work. On the other hand, "institutions that do not sufficiently constrain the authority of government incentivize unproductive entrepreneurship and facilitate the development of crony capitalism, resulting in structural inequality and little opportunity for economic mobility." In other words, markets don't work when they are prevented from working.

As per empirical evidence, the author concludes that:

"This tale of two capitalisms provides insights about the connection between institutions, entrepreneurship, and the desirability of income inequality. Empirical evidence suggests that sound monetary institutions and legal institutions that protect private property rights and enforce the rule of law provide an environment favorable for free market capitalism and productive entrepreneurship, as well as promote greater economic development and less income inequality. This tends to support
Milton Friedman’s (1980) famous proclamation: ““A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”"

"A growing body of evidence and the theory advanced here suggests that the development and preservation of institutions supportive of free market capitalism is the best way to facilitate productive entrepreneurship, economic development, economic mobility, and a distribution of income that, while unequal, is determined by merit rather than political ties, and is lower than that which exists in less capitalistic economies."

As per sources of the public misconceptions about capitalism in its various forms, "The scarcity of public choice and institutional analysis in mainstream economics education has contributes to widely held misperceptions about capitalism, entrepreneurship, government, and inequality. An analysis by FIke and Gwartney (2014) finds that only half of the 23 most common economic principles textbooks provide any coverage of public choice topics and that the coverage of market failure is sextuple that of government failure. The economics profession must do a better job of educating students and the public about the nuanced but vital distinction between the varieties of capitalism, and the important role of institutions in constraining the Hobbesian propensity of man to “rape, pillage, and plunder” and enabling the Smithian proclivity of man to “truck, barter, and exchange”
(Boettke, 2013)."