Monday 20 November 2017

Unlikely bedfellows, but comedy and economics prove to be a perfect match

A big draw: Dan Ariely says bankers are not to blame for the crisis
A big draw: Dan Ariely says bankers are not to blame for the crisis
Diverse line-up: Economist David McWilliams

Graham Clifford

They believe in green shoots. For the gaggle of economists gathered this weekend in Kilkenny for the fourth Kilkenomics festival, it's all about the future.

The shoots are minuscule and barely visible but many of those in the marble city believe the country's fortunes are looking up.

Secondly, and there's no doubt about this one, the Kilkenomics festival will enjoy its largest crowds this year – up almost 60pc on 2012 with more than 5,000 patrons expected to pay in and enjoy the unique cocktail of economic analysis and comedy – unlikely bedfellows snuggling up to each other on stage. Part of the reason for the jump in attendances this year is down to the line-up – which includes Dan Ariely, the American professor of psychology and behavioural economics who's tipped to take a Nobel Prize in the coming years, and Professor Deirdre McCloskey, who is a hugely respected economist and historian, and who transitioned from male to female in 1995.

Economist and broadcaster David McWilliams has contributed annually since the festival began in 2010.

The list of comedians chipping in with their quips and views is equally impressive with Dermot Whelan, of the RTÉ's Republic of Telly fame, and stand-ups Karl Spain and Colm O'Regan set to quiz the number crunchers and lift the mood if the going gets heavy.

Co-founder of the festival (with Richard Cook) and programme director Naoise Nunn admits the schedule of discussions and performances for this year's Kilkenomics are laced with more optimism than usual, but he told the Irish Independent that's not the theme of the four-day festival.

"Perhaps that more 'hopeful' economic outlook is a sub-plot rather than a central vibe running throughout everything this week.

"We looked at the changing environment out there when putting the programme together and could see those tentative signs of recovery so we decided to mirror that somewhat. Also we've dialled up the entertainment aspect this year and we believe that will go down really well with our growing audience."

It's all so different to just three years ago when Kilkenomics first took place amid a haze of confusion and shock within Irish society.

"It was almost on the eve of the troika arriving here when we held our first festival. People were confused and looking for answers. One of our discussions in that first week was entitled 'What the hell just happened?'."

In the week that the troika pack up their stuff and bid Dublin adieu you can be sure their departure will be celebrated by many – the thought of them riding off into the sunset makes them cannon-fodder for quick-thinking comics.

As the first economics festival in Europe, Nunn believes its continued success is due, in part, to audiences that year-on-year come armed with more knowledge about economics and its impact on their situation.

"People aren't brow-beaten anymore, they now understand what's happening in terms of the economy and have their own well-developed opinions. So for us at Kilkenomics there are three main aims to this week – inform, entertain and inflame."

Tonight in the Set Theatre a quintet of speakers, which includes columnist Fintan O'Toole and economists Constantin Gurdgiev and Colm McCarthy, will try to answer the intriguing question – 'The hangover – after the troika, what next?'.

Will we return to paying through the nose for a two-bed granny flat in Ballygobackwards or will the policies of austerity stay with us forever in our personal lives?

Over in 'the hole in wall', the Irish Independent's Maeve Dineen will be joined by economist Ciaran Fitzgerald to host a show entitled 'How Green is Our Valley? Ireland's incredible Agri-food economy'.

The diversity in line-up is matched by a programme of events which cover niche economic models (such as the industry of sport) to domestic matters and the wider global economy.

One of the highlights of this year's festival is set to be a discussion on Sunday featuring Ariely, McCloskey, McWilliams and author, playwright and director Gerry Stembridge.

'Animal Spirits: Behavioural economics – from grocery shopping to organ donation' will look at why we behave in a certain way, purchase the brands we do. . . even ask why we back a certain horse in a race.

Ariely, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Upside of Irrationality and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty believes that governments have an obligation to try to change the public's behaviour.

In a recent interview he also claimed that bankers themselves were not to blame for the onset of our economic ill-health – "it's important to separate the person from the act so that when we say it's a dishonest act we are not having a judgment about the person.

"If you think of the financial crisis, you don't want to point the finger and say that these were bad people. You want to understand in a deeper way why they did what they did. It's a wishful blindness".

To find out more about Kilkenomics or to book tickets visit

Irish Independent

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