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Notes on the margins of the Dublin Economics Workshop

Posted on September 25, 2017 by Tom Healy

Tom Healy, Director NERI
Tom Healy, Director NERI

Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the Dublin Economics Workshop.  The annual event – usually held in the Autumn – is a significant one as it attracts a considerable number of professional economists: academic, sectoral, financial, civil service and freelance. The event is, also, open to others and the conference is typically well covered in the Irish media.  In recent years, the keynote address (The William Petty Lecture) is given by the Minister of Finance of the day and his speech last Saturday is available here.

A very welcome aspect of the annual workshop (which, in spite of its title is held far away from Dublin) over the decades is that it provides a forum for serious economists to discuss serious issues in a public policy context. This is not just another dry economics conference with lots of maths-heavy papers and no direct bearing on matters of acute economic and social concern. Credit is due to those who thought of, organised and kept organising the event year after year.  Not every economist actively engages with policymakers and politicians. But, this is what happens at the annual workshop. Moreover, papers presented or views expressed gain widespread public attention and coverage. This was especially the case during the years of crisis from 2008 to 2013 when many attending and presenting at the event were not shy about advising the Government what to do. A particularly welcome aspect of this year’s conference was the presence of a very significant number of new professional economists employed in the civil service as part of the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES). It must be acknowledged by this blogger that the Dublin Economics Workshop in the course of the period since the establishment of the Nevin Economic Research Institute in 2012 and up to last year has accepted proposals from this Institute for papers at the workshop. Various papers on various topics were presented by NERI staff up to 2016.

There endeth the eulogy!

Readers of this Blog can judge for themselves as to whether the list of speakers or presenters adequately reflected the diversity of views across the profession by referring to the programme of the workshop held last week here? A list of presentations and downloads are available here.

It would be accurate to say that, in the course of recent decades, ideas and values generally favourable to deregulation, greater competition, lower tax, lower public spending, ‘structural reform’ in the labour and other markets, prevailed both in terms of the choice of themes as well as the final make-up of speakers (and attendees). There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. After all, Dublin Chamber is a key sponsor of the event and its logo appears prominently at the event.

What is troubling, however, is the following:

  • No call for papers was issued this year – for the first time in many years.
  • Given the very significant presence of media and ministry of Finance personnel at the event there must, surely, be a case for greater balance and comprehensiveness in range of evidence, analysis and discussion that takes place there.

One looks forward to a fresh approach in 2018 and later years. Otherwise, serious questions are raised about whether an alternative event could be organised by anyone prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel.

 PS

Might there be a possibility of having more people and presentations from Northern Ireland at the DEW?

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