Quarterly Economic Observer, Autumn 2015
This edition of the NERI’s Quarterly Economic Observer (QEO) outlines our latest expectations for the economic outlook in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (Section 3) and discusses a strategic approach to fiscal policy in the Republic of Ireland (Section 4).
Outlook for the Republic
The Republic was the fastest growing economy in the EU in the first half of 2015 and the main survey indicators of economic performance are suggestive of strong growth for the rest of the year. Based on existing data and our medium-term forecasts we now project that real GDP will grow by close to 6 per cent in 2015. Growth will remain strong in 2016 (circa 4.1 per cent), albeit moderating somewhat from the 2015 rate. The economy is benefiting from a number of tailwinds including the depreciation of the Euro against the US dollar and UK Sterling, the boost to private consumption and investment from the fall in oil prices, loose monetary policy, the mild stimulus announced in Budget 2015, pent up demand and improving confidence translating into consumption and investment after years of weak domestic demand and, finally, the closing of the output gap as employment continues to fall. The weaker Euro is particularly important for a small open economy like the Republic, while lower energy prices are boosting real disposable income. Total employment will exceed 2,000,000 sometime around the middle of 2016. We forecast the unemployment rate averaging 9.5 per cent in 2015, 8.6 per cent in 2016 and 8.3 per cent in 2017. Unemployment should fall below 200,000 sometime in early 2016 or perhaps very late in 2015. The scarring effect of the recession and the high-rate of long-term unemployment suggest the structural rate of unemployment is higher now than it was before the recession. This implies a need for innovative labour market policies in the years ahead. In light of our projections for economic output and the labour market, we are projecting that the government’s general budget deficit will fall to 1.7 per cent of GDP in 2015 and 1.1 per cent in 2016. We project that the gross debt to GDP ratio will fall to 91.3 per cent of GDP in 2017. This is still a high level and the Republic will remain vulnerable to an adverse interest rate shock.
Outlook for Northern Ireland
There are tentative signs of economic recovery in Northern Ireland but the outlook has weakened as a consequence of the Conservative’s victory in the General Election and the implications for public spending and aggregate demand in Northern Ireland. The potential collapse of the Stormont executive and the upcoming referendum on EU membership are generating instability and undermining the attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a location for foreign direct investment.
Policies for long-run growth
Section 4 discusses policies for long-run economic growth in the Republic of Ireland:
- — The economy’s potential to grow depends on its ability to generate productivity gains year-on-year. The Republic’s productivity growth has been falling since the 1980s.
- — The best way to sustain growth in productivity over the long-term is to invest in education and skills, in productivity enhancing infrastructure, and in the production and diffusion of new technologies.
- — We propose a set of policies designed to increase the economy’s future potential output. For example, we propose the establishment of an infrastructure bank, increased funding for research and development and early years learning, increased support to prevent child poverty, and a phasing out of most though not all government subsidies and tax breaks.
- — Growth in per capita output also depends on growth in employment and the number of hours worked across the economy. We propose a number of reforms to reduce barriers to labour market entry. Examples include subsidies for childcare and the gradual tapering of family supports along with income.
- — Budgetary projections suggest the primary government expenditure share of economic output will, by the end of the decade, be at a very low level by modern historical standards. While acknowledging the need for reform of the tax system, we urge the government to reconsider its plans to cut the overall level of taxes in Budget 2016 and to take a more strategic and long-term approach to growing the economy.
Selected Policy Reforms to increase Potential Output
Barriers to labour market entry
Provide substantial state subsidies for childcare
Gradually taper down housing and welfare supports with increases in income instead of making supports conditional on employment status
Remove barriers to inward migration and migrants working legally in the economy
Spend more on independently evaluated public infrastructure projects (circa 3% to 4% of GDP)
Establish an infrastructure bank to facilitate the provision of stable, long-term finance for infrastructure and to engage in counter cyclical investment
Establish an expert group to independently evaluate infrastructure needs and co-ordinate evaluation of specific projects
Increase teacher autonomy and accountability and reduce classroom sizes
Increase education budget for early years learning
Use fiscal policy to reduce economic inequality (income and wealth) and promote social and economic inclusion
Protect childcare, family and housing supports and healthcare services at sufficient levels to avert child poverty
Annually review the efficacy of activation programmes and training schemes and reallocate resources to well-performing programmes and schemes
Spend more on basic and applied research as % of GDP as well as on seed funding for high potential start-ups
Incentivise (subsidise) take-up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels
Reform the patent system to promote innovation and the use of new technologies
Establish a state investment bank to raise affordable funding for innovating enterprises
Provide grants to SMEs for adoption of new technology
Increase support for horizontal links between the state, higher level institutes and enterprises
Reform bankruptcy law to not overly penalise failure
Phase out the system of tax expenditures (simplify the tax code) and ensure horizontal equity of tax treatment across all asset classes to the greatest extent possible (though see no.23 below)
Phase out most subsidies for home ownership, business and agriculture (though see no.1, no.13 and no.16)
Guarantee independence for all existing regulators including the Central Bank. This includes powers to break-up dominant market operators and enforce macro prudential policies as appropriate
Establish independent regulators with enforcement powers for all professional bodies
Rebalance the tax system with increased taxes on land, property, wealth, inheritances, passive income and gifts