Municipal bonds can help Ireland recover

Problem: Cash strapped local authorities, inadequate pension provision within an aging society, and reduced infrastructural development. Solution: Municipal bonds.

(Co-written with Karl Deeter, and also posted on the TASC Blog. Please head there to leave a comment.)

Municipal bonds are debt instruments issued by local authorities to finance investment projects. Yesterday’s announcement by government of a Recovery bond is a variant of the municipal bond idea, but on a national level. We have written about municipal bonds before, several times. We are interested in recapitalizing local authorities and regional authorities using these bonds, and we’d like to use this blog post to sound out possible issues with the idea, and compose a plan of action for implementing the idea if people think it is feasible.

Cash-strapped local authorities can use funds generated by municipal bond issues on a yearly basis to reduce their infrastructural deficits in transport, water provision, port equipment, broadband provision, and community initiatives. Ireland’s regions can compete on the quality of our infrastructure, rather than on direct wage competition.

Dealing locally but funded centrally to deal with extremely poor infrastructural provision with broadband, hospitals-both public and private, roads, amenities, playgrounds, local housing, homeless initiatives, and regeneration projects. Individuals can use municipal bonds in order to save and invest, or to fund their pensions, ensuring a guaranteed rate of return on their savings. Local authorities can respond to the needs of citizens directly using these bond issuances.

Ireland's recent flooding has exposed three painful facts. First, increased flooding as a result of climate change is inevitable. This 1 in 800-year event will be probably be seen again inside a decade. It should be remembered the flooding of 2008 broke all previous records in Dublin and Cork. Second, public services were not equipped to stop the flooding from occurring or to deal with the floods once they had occurred. Third, the government cannot pay for the cleanup operation, which may cost a half a billion Euros. In simple terms we need the infrastructure, we cannot go forward with the risk of recurrence unmitigated, and yet we equally can’t afford to pay for the improvements, it is a considerably difficult position to find oneself in nationally.

Continue reading "Municipal bonds can help Ireland recover"

Budget 2009 Redux?

Image of Gerard O'Neill from Twitter
Image of Gerard O'Neill

Gerard thinks there will be another budget in early-to-mid 2009 to cope with the worsening economic downturn. I've got to agree with him, and I've got to say he's mostly right. Essentially the pension provisions for public sector workers are very high and represent a significant premium over those benefits enjoyed by workers in the private sector. Gerard makes three recommendations for the Minister:


  • Freeze the pensions of all public sector retirees so that we no longer have the insane situation of pensioners getting 'productivity' rises because they've been paid to those now doing the jobs they used to do.
  • For those public sector workers over 50 announce that their pension will be tied to their income upon retirement, but not rise thereafter (still a form of defined benefit pension).
  • For all public sector workers under 50 announce that their pensions will be defined contribution pensions, tied to the performance of the national pensions reserve fund.
  • Ensure that the pension contributions of all public sector workers are adequate to meet projected requirements.


I have to agree with the first two suggestions, nod slightly for the third, and disagree with the fourth---the contributions are already adequate from individual workers. What is not adequate is the provision from the government. 

I think Gerard is getting the cart before the horse here a little bit.

First, the `Public Sector' doesn't exist: you can't say a clerical worker in the Department of Transport faces the same economic choices or incentives as a Consultant Pediatrician, and you can't say either of them faces the same economic reality. Both will retire on nice pensions, yes, but really, we're talking chalk and cheese. 'The Public Sector' is a rhetorical device to slam workers with state-protected jobs on relatively fixed incomes with good pension entitlements. But we never disaggregate just who the 'Sector' actually encompasses, and who might deserve those provisions and who might not (academics probably do deserve this tenure, academic administrators don't. Hospital administrators do, hospital consultants don't. I might explain that in a later post). Gerard is right that stripping some of these workers of their permanency would result in a riot, as it would take away the main benefit the job has---the guarantee of its existence in ten years' time. No private sector worker can have that assurance. There are many workers in the Public Sector whose productivity is abysmally low. There are also workers whose productivity dwarfs that of their private sector counterparts, with no corresponding increase in salary as compensation. So we must be careful when attempting to make a distinction. 

Second, why shouldn't every worker in the State automatically have a defined pension provision the moment they begin work at 22? The pension could be managed in any number of ways, some of which Gerard suggest, but the point would be these workers would save for their future selves in retirements. Set the benefits according to the market conditions, and work off the assumption that every worker will retire at 70 or 75 rather than 65. Why endure a `race to the bottom' between stripping the public sector of their pension entitlements and disabusing the private sector of taking more out? In a time of increasing personal and governmental fiscal austerity, surely we should be saving more, not less, and surely we should be providing for the old ages of both the private and public sector worker equally?