Here's a link to a post of mine on the Irish Business Blog about dentists' strange objections to taxes that should reduce consumption of sugary drinks causing dental problems.
There as been debate recently about the likely discrepancy between the amount of property tax paid by urban and rural dwellers. This arises from the decision to base the tax on the property market value rather than the site value.
Sunday's Independent took a typically restrained approach (sarcasm alert) in this article saying that it has "emerged Dubliners on the lowest rung of the property ladder will pay higher property tax than the owners of large four-bedroom homes across rural Ireland".
publicpolicy.ie, an independent think tank (I should declare I was involved in a recent report they commissioned on a different topic), have argued that Dubliners should pay more in property tax than their counterparts beyond the pale - because they:
have manifold advantages over the latter, including easy access to tax-payer subsidised infrastructure and services in:
Certainly it's the case that there a lot of benefits from city-living. And it would seem that the additional costs from living in the city are less than the benefits people get from it, otherwise we'd see a widespread move away from the city to outlying regions.
But wait, that is what we saw in the last decade as families located further from the capital and commuted into the city to work because they couldn't afford the cost of purchasing or renting in the city or because they perceived the cost of purchasing/renting was higher than the benefits they got from living in the city.
The publicpolicy piece in my view also misses a key point which could argue for a lower charge on city dwellers. This is the effect of economies of scale. While city-dwellers have more facilities available (and provided) to them, these could be provided at a lower cost per person or per household because of the economies of scale. It is cheaper per household to maintain a road to housing estate than it is to maintain a road that leads to one or two one-off houses.
The property tax is intended to fund the provision of local services so it would be useful to examine local authority spending by area to see if there is lower expenditure per capita in different areas.
The table above shows the budgeted spending by local authorities for 2012. The second table includes the spending by town and borough councils for the local authority area in which the relevant town is located.
It can be seen that the cities top the list of spending per capita - suggesting there may not be economies of scale in this expenditure. This provides further support to the argument that city dwellers should pay more for the services provided to them.
There is of course one important aspect that I can't get at in this data which is the use of services in Dublin and other cities by those who live elsewhere. Dublin City Council provides, for example, road maintenance for those who commute to Dublin but who live in other areas. It is noticeable for example that Kildare, Meath, Fingal, Laois and the counties which have cities locate din them (Cork, Galway and Limerick) are located towards the foot of the table. It may be that residents in these areas are benefiting from the larger spending in the cities.
My final declaration of interest - I live in a suburb of Cork city.
David McWilliams vents against universities here - but it is difficult to see what point he's making at all. he seems to suggest that Irish universities are failing because thousands of their graduates are unemployed. And then indicates that because millions are registering for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in the US that the Irish universities are set to go the way of HMV.
McWilliams refers to the "deal as understood for years" that graduates struggled through the Leaving Cert and university to give them a much better chance of a much better job. The implication is that this deal has been broken and presumably by the universities. Notwithstanding that the universities would ever be in a position to guarantee employment, the argument is unconvincing since it would imply that our universities were not failing during the Celtic Tiger period. Since there was full employment and graduates went easily into jobs does this mean something has broken in our universities only since 2007 or so?
A cursory look at the data however would show that the deal is actually still in place. Figures from the last Census on unemployment among young people showed that graduates had a much better chance of a job (I'm not aware of data on whether these are much better jobs). This report in the Irish Times summarises the data:
Almost 70,000 of the young people who were out of work had finished their education. There was significant variation in unemployment levels depending on the level of education completed.
So it seems graduating from college is a good idea for increasing your chances of employment.
Whether the emergence of MOOCs is as great a threat to traditional modes of university teaching and learning will need to be seen and this far from decided (my own view is that on-line delivery may end being as much a complement as a substitute for university programmes). The issue of certification still needs to be sorted out. I wonder would Irish employers be indifferent to the education claims of a graduate of a third level institute or an on-line programme.
I've written before about the reintroduction of third level fees in Ireland, which I favour. One of the most convincing arguments in my view is that third level graduates gain a significant private benefit from their third level education. While there are public benefits from third level education, these public benefits are much greater in early years. That means society benefits more if we support children in the first years of their formal education and individuals benefit more from education in the letter years.
There is new evidence that the private returns to third level education are significantly higher in Ireland than they are in other OECD countries. Here is a visual representation of the private and public returns and the private and public costs of different levels of education across the OECD. It's possible to look at different country data by clicking on the country names on the horizontal axis. (I came across this is a tweet by the impressive Diane Coyle).
The data behind that site is contained n the OECD's latest Education at a Glance 2012 publication. It's a treasure trove of data I've just started to explore. The figures below are taken from the highlights report.
The figures above show the earnings differential for those in employment with a third level degree, those with upper secondary school education and those with lower than secondary education.
It's striking that Ireland is in third place for men and second place for women for the earnings differential between those with university-level education and those with upper secondary level education. When you drill into the data it can be seen that this differential is most pronounced for both genders in the 25-34 age cohort.
Irrespective of the state of the economy, but especially at a time of severe fiscal pressures, government must spend money wisely and invest where the return to society is greatest. Where it is clear that the majority of the benefit from a third level education accrues to the individual it must be questionable whether the state should continue to heavily subsidise third level education.
A reintroduction of fees would at least allow government to redirect investment in education to where it matters most to society - early supports at pre-school and primary level.
This is a video of my Irish Innovation Policy lecture as part of the UCC Science Public Lecture Series in 2012. This has been tweeted before but I'm putting here to have a link on my homepage.
The front page story on yesterday's Irish Times referred to the expected increase in CAO points for popular course in Irish third level institutions.
There are two notable things for me in this story. First, that we now seem to be worried that the points for science are too high - putting potential students off. This contrasts with annual warnings for the last number of years about the lack of interest in maths and science among students. It's now clear enough that students were not put off science or maths but that, like any other smart consumer, were making decisions based on the best return to their investment in education.
Second, I wonder why the increase in points is any surprise. The headline could just as easily read "The price of things go up when more people want them". A basic knowledge of supply and demand would lead one to conclude that more popular courses at third level will see an increase in the price of getting in.
And CAO points operate in exactly the same way as prices in a market. The points are the currency which students and institutions use to exchange for limited places on programmes.
There is growing pressure on third level institutions to reform their entry processes to take the heat out of the points race. It seems to me this pressure has increased in recent years relative to the Celtic Tiger years. Although third level participation increased during that time more people had opportunities to go directly to the labour market. As unemployment remains high (especially among young people) there is greater demand to postpone entry to the labour market among leaving cert students and the government would also be anxious to accommodate as many of those students as possible at third level.
Further, both government and students want to achieve this with less resources going to third level and without charging students the cost of their education.
Also, the question has to be asked whether we should continue to increase participation at all third level institutions. While nobody who is capable should be unable to attend third level for financial reasons (the SUSI debacle doesn't exactly help), we do have to ask whether going to university or an IT is appropriate for everyone - or even for a majority.
As long as we expect higher participation at third level - especially at a time when there are resource constraints - expect the points race to stay just as hot as it is now.
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.