Global Agenda: Murphy was Irish

The process of financial collapse is far advanced in Ireland, as it is across the PIIGS group of countries and in Europe generally.

November 18, 2010 23:47
3 minute read.
Global Agenda: Murphy was Irish

global agenda 88. (photo credit: )

An “Economics Festival,” mixing economics and comedy, serious debate and wisecracking jokes, should be an oxymoron in theory and impossible to organize in practice. But in Ireland, virtually no cultural event is impossible, and the Kilkenomics Festival, which I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in last weekend, proved it.

Kilkenny is a beautiful little town in central Ireland.

Richard Cooper is an Irish impresario who has made an event called “The Cat Laughs” into an internationally known comedy festival held annually in Kilkenny. David McWilliams is an economist and Irish media personality whose best-selling books predicted the implosion of the Irish property bubble and then suggested original ideas as to how the country could recover. Together with a broad selection of economists drawn from near and far, and a slew of brilliant comedians and stand-up artists from the rich pool of local talent, they produced Kilkenomics.

As for Ireland, the country is a total shambles. It has succeeded in marrying the worst aspects of the American economic disaster (a property mania in which vast wealth was squandered on futile “investments” in absurdly overpriced real estate, with the lemming-like general public egged on by rapacious but stupid bankers and short-sighted, selfseeking politicians) with the worst aspects of the European economies – namely, a bloated and largely useless public sector that manages an excessively generous welfare system, all wrapped in an ill-fitting currency union (the euro).

Not surprisingly, the Irish people are now enraged. Naturally, they don’t see themselves as being to blame for their own idiotic behavior. Instead they pour their wrath and derision on the fat-cat bankers and their politico friends and accomplices. But, being Irish, the general public is both educated and creative.

That’s why Kilkenomics could only be conceived of and delivered in Ireland. Nowhere else would thousands of people willingly spend time during the weekend attending sessions in small halls, listening to the cut-and-thrust of high-powered intellectual debate, posing sharp and intelligent questions of their own – but also laughing at themselves, via the comedians and stand-up artists, and dousing their sorrows at the bar.

Murphy must have been busy in Dublin, because the timing of the festival could hardly have been bettered. The worsening crisis in Ireland and the fate of the country’s banking system dominated the front pages of the global financial press in the week prior to the event, so that the discussions were not only current but sizzlingly hot.

But the debates, the criticism and the undertone of fury all merely served to highlight how wide the gulf is between the Irish middle class and the country’s political and bureaucratic elite. The latter are determined to keep Ireland in the euro framework, whereas on the street, the growing ranks of the unemployed and the dispossessed are being squeezed out of an economy in which everything is priced in euros and hence far too expensive for them to afford.

The traditional Irish answer to economic hardship is emigration, and, indeed, members of the young generation are falling back on this potential solution, although the traditional emigrant goals – the UK and US – are neither welcoming nor particularly attractive at present. But for the bulk of middle-aged, middle-class Irish, tied down by mortgages, parents, kids and their whole social framework, emigration is not a practical option. That, however, does not mean that they will docilely swallow the repeated doses of austerity being imposed on them by their government.

On the contrary. Behind the talk and laughs in Kilkenny, the whiff of incipient revolution was in the air. The process of financial collapse is far advanced in Ireland, as it is across the PIIGS group of countries and in Europe generally.

Economic austerity is intensifying steadily, although the public sector has been largely spared so far.

Social dislocation is the inevitable consequence, and, as the pressure mounts, the demand for sweeping, fundamental political change is spreading and deepening. Unfortunately for it and its citizens, Ireland looks set to remain the pathfinder for other European countries, as they continue their collective descent into collapse and chaos.

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