Corruption, Trumponomics and Brexit: Trinity Economics Forum

The Trinity Economic Forum’s speakers dealt with a number of controversial topics over the course of this weekend, piquing the interest of an animated and engaged audience


Day 1: Structural Change, Brexit and FDI

Trinity Economics Forum, which first began in 2012, is Ireland’s first and largest student-run economic forum. The aim of the forum is to “open discourse on a national level, to share with students the knowledge, insight and expertise of professionals and most importantly to bridge the gap between student leaders and those in office.”

The first day of the event, held in the GMB, included prominent speakers such as Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Economics Professor Deirdre McCloskey and Executive Director of the IDA Mary Buckley.

“Europe’s greatest advocate for free trade is now the first to leave the world’s biggest experiment of the four freedoms”. 

Bruton began the weekend with an opening speech on the structural changes taking place in our local, national and international communities. He commented on how we now face “depleted social capital”, as the glue of our society and community has changed. Values such as religion and trust have waned and we have not succeeded in finding “alternative glues”.

Bruton furthered this idea of structural change as he talked about it on a national level. We see people retiring younger and leaving school older, with the dependency ratio is steadily increasing. The Minister also raised the issue of Brexit, saying “Europe’s greatest advocate for free trade is now the first to leave the world’s biggest experiment of the four freedoms”. 

Following Minister Bruton’s speech, Ronan Mac Giolla Rua, auditor of The Hist, introduced himself as MC for the evening. He went on to welcome Deirdre McCloskey Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of 16 books and over 350 articles.

During her speech, McCloskey outlined her own economic beliefs as “humane liberalism”. She recommended a politics of mutual agreement; of free transaction, trade, press and people – a “politics of rhetorical agreement.” Her humane economics shone through as she stated that “exploitation is not how countries get rich; it is productivity change, it is novelties, it is human creativity.”

“40% of [Irish] exports for small businesses goes to Britain.”

A Brexit Panel discussion was up next, with Patrick Smyth of the Irish Times chairing the discussion. This was one of the most stimulating events of the evening, with the effect Brexit will have on Ireland discussed in great depth. Patricia Callan, director of the Small Firms Association (SFA), spoke of the challenges facing small Irish businesses as a result of the British departure from the EU.  For her, concerns included fluctuating exchange rates, and an increased physical cost of exporting as well as pricing. According to Callan, “40% of exports for small businesses goes to Britain”. However, while there was a generally unsure and pessimistic air surrounding exports, the panel’s expectations for imports and foreign direct investment (FDI) was notably more positive.

Speaking about her expectations for Ireland in a post-Brexit era, Mary Buckley, executive director of the IDA, explained that as Britain leaves the EU, Ireland will be in a strong position to welcome multinational companies looking to relocate as the only natively English-speaking EU country remaining. Mark Kennedy of Mazars reinforced the possibility of increased FDI as he acknowledged the application of many international financial service companies to relocate to Ireland. However, the panelists all agreed that this opportunity cannot let us become complacent: Ireland will only be in a position to take advantage of future opportunities if it manages to remain stable, reliable, and holds on to its current rate of corporation tax.

Following a brief coffee break, and a quick ‘Behavioural Economics Experiment’, economist Jim Power took to the stage to make an address on policy making. Power discussed everything from the Trump effect and FDI to water taxes, stating: “I am unapologetically pro-water charges.” As an economist, his policy-making stance is simple: go against the cycle. During a recession, cut taxes and increase spending. During a time of economic growth, do the opposite.

With an air of inspiration and positivity, the first day of TEF drew to a close.

Reporting by Mary Hartnett

Day 2: Corruption, Trumponomics and third level funding

The second day of the Trinity Economic Forum (TEF) took place at Science Gallery. Professionalism from the well-organised TEF team continued into day two as students were treated to an experience that facilitated learning, engagement, and most importantly, enjoyment.

The keynote address was given by the eminent William K. Black, an American academic whose work focuses on the issue of white collar crime and whose 2005 book “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One” gained international acclaim. Professor Black also recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and testified in the Irish Banking Inquiry in February 2015. His speech focused on the issue of economic models and their failure to include the risk of fraud.

A question by Mark Hennessy, a SF Economics student, asked if there had been any progress in relation to the integration of criminology into modern economic modelling. Professor Black’s response was frank; he highlighted the US government’s active refusal to find blame in white collar crime and those that commit it, as in the Lincoln Savings & Loans scandal. The financial institution engaged in highly fraudulent activities despite being previously vetted by the private economist, Alan Greenspan. Instead of having his career annihilated, Greenspan was appointed as Chair of the Federal Reserve.

“The battle of ideologies had truly commenced and spread quickly to the floor.”

The second event was a panel on “Trumponomics”,  which included Irish Independent Journalist Ian O’Doherty, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, John Whelan (Former CEO of the Irish Exporters Association), and Dr. Steve Keen (Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London).

The panel itself was moderated by Professor Louis Brennan from Trinity Business School whose role became that of a referee in the boxing match between the right (Ian O’Doherty) and the left (Senator Ó Ríordáin). Much of the discussion focused on Trump’s implausible plan to reintroduce jobs into America which could no longer exist due to technological advances. Senator Ó Ríordáin even admitted to his horror to agreeing with Ian O’ Doherty on this point. This was, to the great amusement of the audience, where their agreement ended.

Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke of Stephen Bannon whom he aptly renamed the “Bean an Tí” of the White House and the goal of Trump to create a white Christian America that blamed other groups for its economic downfalls. O’Doherty responded sharply with a claim that Ireland must support Trump in order to succeed and attendance at his St. Patrick’s Day celebrations was essential. O’Doherty further controversially stated that we should follow Trump’s clamp-down on immigration and not allow male refugees of “fighting age” into our country. The battle of ideologies had truly commenced and spread quickly to the floor.

Responding to criticism from the floor, in which a student argued men of “fighting age” are merely of working age and are looking to do so, Ó Ríordáin stated that people like Ian O’Doherty typically blame the most vulnerable groups who do not have a voice to defend themselves. He added quite provocatively that Mr. O’Doherty would “happily have all drug users killed”. He further questioned why O’Doherty never attacked people such as Denis O’Brien who actually required vilification. O’Doherty defended his position by denying any such middle class privilege, stating that he did actually believe in the legalisation of drugs and would only kill “junkies”, a “very offensive term” in the eyes of Ó Ríordáin.

Two workshops were then held; one on the funding of third-level education, run by Kieran McNulty (SU President) and Professor Kevin J. Denny of UCD, and one which was a continuation of the behavioural economics experiment of the previous day. I chose to attend the education funding workshop which discussed the idea of income contingent loans (ICLs) whereby students would be given long-term loans that would only have to be paid back if they earned above a certain income threshold.

The SU has mandated to advocate for free fees and McNulty was certainly well-versed in the issues that ICLs do not resolve such as the accommodation crisis and the grant system (the maximum amount granted from SUSI is €3000/year but the expected maintenance costs for a student living away from home in Dublin is €11,000/year, according to McNulty). The workshop allowed for intensive debate between students, McNulty, and Professor Denny. The general consensus was that ICLs may be necessary into the future but that there were many considerations to be had.

The day concluded with three excellent speakers; Dr. Stephen Kinsella (Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick), Joan O’Connor (International Tax Partner with Deloitte), and Jean Acheson (Economist – Worked at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Rwanda).

“The world is actually yours; formulate the plan, enjoy the journey.”

Dr. Kinsella engaged the student audience with jokes, impressions, and hilarious analogies. His talk focused on the issues small states such as Ireland would face in the Trump era. In particular, he highlighted that our nation’s main economic strategy of foreign direct investment would not be viable in a world that was beginning to reject globalisation and becoming more protectionist.

Joan O’Connor was an inspiring woman whose speech concluded with career advice that was particularly directed to the women in the audience. She asked us to consider what motivated us and emphasized the importance of networking, especially at university-level. She also commended the modern working environment which was ever-changing to better support women and allowing them to take sabbatical leave without actually leaving the workforce. Her concluding words left a positive ring in the air: “The world is actually yours; formulate the plan, enjoy the journey.”

Finally, Jean Acheson piqued the interest of those with an eye towards development economics and brought a very forward-looking view to close the conference. She delighted the audience with her description of modern day Rwanda, the specific challenges it faces, and their innovative policy responses. In light of the world’s rejection of experts, Acheson emphasized the Rwandan government’s interest in working with the private sector and international institutions such as the IMF. She amusingly added that the Rwandan President is, in fact, the second most followed African President on Twitter, a nod to his superior international networking abilities.

“Alternative facts are the problem, engagement is the solution.”

As the conference drew to a close, I had the opportunity to share a few words with the TEF Deputy Co-ordinator, James Green, and asked him about his thoughts on the weekend. He highlighted the importance of students consciously learning from experts, particularly in a world now dominated by click-bait news and alternative facts.

Green further spoke about the forum’s important emphasis on student engagement; the panellists and speakers were clearly interested to hear what students had to offer and the question portion of each talk was highly active as well as the active debate within the workshops.

For anyone wishing to get involved in TEF, Green recommended volunteering and submitting articles to the TEF magazine. He believed that economics students, in particular, should prioritise attending TEF and as a fellow economics student, I must heartily agree. TEF brought together some of the leading figures in both Ireland’s and the world’s economic and political spheres, and really provided Trinity students with an amazing opportunity to interact and learn from these prominent figures.

Alternative facts are the problem, engagement is the solution.

Reporting by Annabel O’Rourke.