The euro is on the brink, the words ‘Greece’ and ‘default’ are increasingly heard in the same sentence, and the 2012 Budget is quickly approaching – it must be time for Kilkenomics.
The second annual festival merging the worlds of comedy and economics returns to Kilkenny from today (Wednesday) to Sunday, bringing experts from around the world to try to make sense of it all.
On the bill are those who have lived through the infamous default in Argentina, the present crisis in Greece and others who have studied the developments with an expert eye. And then there are the comedians who will be there to help break it down into understandable, bite-size chunks.
And just think how much has changed since the festival made its debut 12 months ago.
“Last year we went out on the eve of the IMF coming in here. Last year the entire Irish establishment was saying, ‘No, the IMF won’t come in, it won’t happen – blah blah blah’,” says festival organiser and economist David McWilliams.
“This year I think people will get some proper expertise as to what is happening in Europe with the euro, with the bailouts, etc, because what you’ve seen thus far is that if you don’t speak to the best and brightest, you don’t have a clue.”
Some of those “best and brightest” in the festival lineup include Jeffrey Sachs (“if you want an economist who has been at the epicentre of decision-making in the last 20 years, Sachs is the man,” Mr McWilliams says) and Heiner Flassbeck, who worked in the German finance ministry – “because it’s very important to know what the Germans think”.
Former Argentian finance minister Martín Lousteau will “give the view from Latin America”, particularly as Argentina went through the experience of defaulting.
“I think we will be comepletely on the money in terms of issues that are really affecting things,” Mr McWilliams says.
The goal is to present an “alternative” view and to present it in a way that can be easily understood.
“The key here is to have an alternative to the mainstream view,” he says. “The mainstream Irish economic view has been wrong about everything. It was wrong in the boom, it’s been wrong in the bust and people need to hear other views, because the interesting thing is that the mainstream Irish establishment is now implementing what would be regarded as radical policy and those who have an opposing view are completely orthodox. ... If you look at how economics should work, we should be doing precisely the opposite.”
The days leading up to Kilkenomics have coincided with emergency meetings in the Euro zone and announcements from the recently dubbed ‘Merkozy’ (German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy).
But is anyone listening? Does it really matter?
“Of course it matters, because education always matters and knowledge always matters,” Mr McWilliams says. “What is more important now is for people to equip themselves with their own knowledge ... rather than wait for the high priests like Merkozy – because Merkozy have different interests.”
Helping to extract that knowledge will be the comedians as MCs at the Kilkenomics events, through not being afraid to ask the tough questions – and the obvious ones, if need be.
“The stand-ups actually give the average person the permission to ask the questions,” Mr McWilliams says. “If you see Des bishop asking questions or Neil Delamere, you think, ‘Hold on a second, I can ask questions too’.”
The questions, and hopefully some answers, will all be revealed over the next five days.
For the full Kilkenomics lineup, see kilkenomics.com; tickets are available online and at the festival box office at 26 Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny; 056 7763837.