It was like an intensive class on where Ireland and the world stand economically – a crash course, if you’ll excuse the pun – as the second annual Kilkenomics festival came to town this weekend.
From how Ireland compares to Greece, to whether Europe still matters in the context of a Chinese and Indian growth spurt, and the future of the euro and the banks, the five-day festival examined how we got here, where exactly we are, and where we might go from here.
And although numbers occasionally came into the mix, the focus was on what it all means for people’s lives. Events looked at how economic policies affect society by causing more or less equality, how they determine whether people have access to health and education and how, if possible, to hold politicians accountable.
That was the point of the festival, in fact: to educate people on the facts and possibilities, because these issues do affect people’s lives and livelihoods. Even economist Constantin Gurdgiev, self-professed as “probably the most right-wing person in this country” was calling on the Irish Government to stop putting money into insolvent banks because of the loss of money that could go to health and education to the benefit of all of society.
Economics with a dash of comedy might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but the appeal was more than obvious as most events were sold out or close to it. Even an event at 10pm on Saturday in Langton’s Set Theatre was at capacity with a crowd of many people in their 30s and 40s – and it wasn’t the nightclub they had come for.
There were plenty of laughs, not just from the comedians but also from some of the experts brought in from around the world (“a langerload of economists”, as Colm O’Regan described one panel), but mostly there was a sense that the way things have gone in recent years has not worked, even if there isn’t a consensus on how to change it.
Asked where they thought Ireland and its economy would be in two years’ time, many of the panellists were optimistic, even if they thought the country would go through more tough times to get there.
“My biggest fear is that we will be exactly where we are today,” Constantin Gurdgiev said in a video created by the Kilkenny People.
“If things go according to the script ... Ireland will probably be back on its own currency,” predicted UK economist Peter Antonioni, while broadcaster and former Wall Street broker Max Keiser said an Irish default was inevitable.
Argentina’s former finance minister Martín Lousteau said he expected Ireland in two years would be “rebounding from the bottom”, and banking expert Vikas Nath predicted that it would be “better than where it is now”.
Those in the audience had their say as well, with some posting opinions and a joke or two on Twitter. Here are some favourites:
PayNow_Payroll (Ben Daly): Rumour has it that George Papandreou is to join David Mc Williams at Kilkenomics to say it was all a joke or was that at Cat Laughs?
namawinelake (NAMAwinelake): Kilkenomics 2011 is on; comedy and economics; did you hear the one about GR offered 10yrs of austerity for 120% debtGDP
jimelliott5000 (Jim Elliott): Can’t read the paper today. I’m just sick of all the drachma. #kilkenomics
KeithFarnan (Keith Farnan): #Kilkenomics is over for another year, but some amazing people coming up with amazing ideas, and that was just the audience!:-)
NoelMcCarron (Noel McCarron): @garethfox #Kilkenomics raises awareness. Message to default on Anglo debt was consistent. Thing is, what to do to get Govt to see sense.
AbiePB (Abie Philbin Bowman): Quote of the Day goes to Neil Delamere: Ireland’s new motto “is failure linn”. #Kilkenomics
tweetnsourpork (Daniel Foley): I wonder are the Greeks paying €20 an hour to hear about how screwed they are #kilkenomics
ruthkennedy1 (Ruth Kennedy): *A Recession is when your neighbour loses his job, a Depression is when you lose yours.* John Maudlin #kilkenomics #austerity
cathydalton (Cathy Dalton): At #kilkenomics. This is actually better than Twitter! @MargaretEWard and @GTCost onstage now.
FoleysTweets (Peter Foley): Universal call for NAMA transparency. ‘put it on Ebay!’ #kilkenomics