The running joke of this year’s Kilkenomics festival is: Did you hear the one about the bust country that paid over €700,000 to unsecured bondholders in a bank that no longer exists?
It was the punch line for many a comedian and economist at Thursday night’s session ‘What the Hell Is Happening Right Now?’ as they explained to a sold-out audience that it’s a case of Ireland giving its people’s money to private professional investors who gambled on something they knew was high risk.
And the sad thing is that the joke’s on us.
Ironically, it helped make for a good night’s entertainment, including a role play in which Keith Farnan starred as a bookie who took a €700,000 bet from Neil Delamere on a horse named Anglo Lad. Announcing the horse’s fate was commentator Karl Spain – “Anglo Lad is down, he’s not getting up, he’s been shot in the head!” – as punter Des Bishop stepped in to buy the bet for €350,000. It was a crushing blow, until the bookie paid Des the original €700,000, twice what the gambler had bet in the first place.
As the bookie said: “We’re going to give you €700,000 because that’s the kind of people we are – *&^%$ eejits.”
And yet despite so many people feeling that the money should not have been paid out, the Government decided to pay it anyway. So what, if anything, can people do about it?
The first thing, said economist Peter Antonioni was to “not allow the crisis to be a crackdown on all of us” and instead to see “the value of reaching out to people” and joining together.
Referring to the movement started in the US urging the 99% of the population to take a stand against the 1% top earners, he said: “The 1% will band together, and they rely on the fact that the 99% will not.”
The answer, he said, is eternal vigilance. “Get up. Get out of the chair. Go to the window and shout, ‘I am mad as hell!’ Then work out what you are going to do afterwards.”
Max Keiser, a former trader who said he left Wall Street because “it was so easy to steal money, it became boring”, said the answer was to fight fire with fire.
“You have to understand that you are in this fight. You have to recognise there is a crime going on here,” he said.
His advice was to “use capitalism against capitalism”, to create an orchestrated campaign of boycotting a selected company – he used the example of Coca-Cola – until its share price drops to zero, and with it its power and influence.
The idea shared by all of the speakers was that the current way of dealing with Ireland’s economic problems is not working. In the words of Des Bishop, who cited a reference to Ireland as a model of austerity: “Models look great, but they have to starve themselves.”