I contributed to a debate on RTE's Primetime on Tuesday night. My contribution was in relation to the Cypriot bailout.
This was followed by a debate on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in which Moore McDowell challenged the continued payment of subsidies to farmers.
What was striking was the nature of the debate around subsidies. The farming lobby seem to think subsidies are needed to protect farmers' incomes. The obvious (and clinching in my view) objection is that other commercial sectors are not subsidised but must pay the deadweight loss from taxes needed to keep farmers in business.
There is a justification for subsidies to agriculture but not to protect incomes. Farming brings some positive externalities - these are benefits to others for which no compensation is paid. For example, farmers, in producing food, also contribute to environmental protection (in many cases), to tourism benefits and to rural communities. It's worth considering what the countrysides in Ireland and the rest of the EU would look like without its maintenance by farmers. When an American tourist comes to Ireland to be awestruck by the rolling green fields and forty shades of green, it has to be realised that this doesn't happen by accident.
And the farmer, whose income is derived from production, is not compensated for the provision of benefits to other sectors like tourism. Basic economics suggests that where there is a positive externality, the product which has that externality is under-produced relative to the socially optimal level.
It is very unlikely that the externality argument would justify the scale of current subsidies (a contributor to Primetime suggested that 70% of farm incomes comprised of subsidies) but this approach provides a useful way to think of the problem that moves it on from the 'one sector versus another' that has typified and polarised the debate so far.
I'm an economist so many of these posts will be about economic issues. But since everyone is allowed a view on economics I am inclined to go beyond my profession to throw my tuppence ha'penny into other issues.