It's The Economy That's Stupid

Abie Philbin Bowman made a good point at the gig yesterday. Once, people believed in a mysterious, invisible force. They didn’t understand it, they could hardly even describe it, but they credited it with vast power, claimed it controlled just about every aspect of the world, and declared that whatever it wanted to happen was what must happen. They called it “God”.

Now, they call it “the economy”.

It’s so true. Nobody really understands the economy. We can’t even define it – is it the sum total of human transactions, or just the sum total of human transactions that involve things you can count? But nevertheless we positively invite it to take control of our lives. As someone else said, the problem with calling economics the “dismal science” is not that people think it’s dismal, but that people think it’s science. At best, it might aspire to being a branch of psychology. Yet people actually try to run the world according to its self-defeating prophecies.

A concept tossed around a lot in current economics is “competitiveness”, which sounds like it has to be a simple, positive good. Got to be lean and fit to make it in this world, don’tcha? It seems almost synonymous with efficiency. But when you look at it more closely you realise that there are a lot of assumptions involved here. “Competitive” is sometimes used as a synonym for “cheap”. When it comes to wage costs, it seems competitive always means cheap.

Competitiveness is at heart a sports metaphor, so let us imagine economic activity as a game like soccer or rugby. We – as a country – have to get out there and be competitive. Cool. Let’s go get ’em! We’ll show them who… costs less. We’ll give it 110% all the way through the first half, and right through the second, and on through the third, and… Hold on, three halves? When does this game end actually?

It doesn’t. We’ve taken the concept of competitiveness from sport, but overlooked the fact that a game is a brief interlude of peak performance. You can’t live your whole life like that. That would be, well, a desperate struggle. If democracy and civilisation exist for any reason at all, surely it is to free us from desperate struggle. And yet struggle is precisely what they’re telling us we need.

So it turns out that, like a lot of words used in economics, “competitiveness” translates most accurately as “whatever makes most money for the people who already have most money”.

Free Comedy Gigs Versus The Banking Industry!

In or near Galway? Doing anything on Sunday afternoon? Like free entertainment? Enjoy comedy?

Good. Those are all nice things.

Wait, yeah. There’s a free comedy gig in Kelly’s Bar in Bridge Street at 3:00pm Sunday. Comics Abie Philbin Bowman and Aidan Killian are touring the country in protest against the bank bailout. You’ve got to do something.

Stand Up Against the Bankers is a show fuelled not by profit but goodwill; no accommodation has been booked in advance and tour dates are determined in large part by the willingness of a community to host the pair. The audience is invited to attend free of charge and get into the meitheal spirit by supporting however they can. Some will cook them dinner after the show, someone else will put them up in their spare room. Some will throw a few quid into the hat and some will help to publicise the next leg of the tour. Aidan Killian explains:

Touring like this creates a different kind of relationship with the audience. We’re not asking them to buy a ticket in advance. And we better make sure our jokes are damn funny. Otherwise, we’ll end up sleeping in the car, eating nettle soup.

Aidan Killian, a former banker with the once prestigious (now disgraced) Bear Stearns, saw the writing on the wall in 2007 and decided to do something he believed in. He left the job, still carrying a huge mortgage for a house in Florida he has never seen. With his understanding of how banks had cheated the system, Aidan turned the tables and forced the bank to accept their liability for the property. This story forms a key part of his comedy set.

Abie Philbin Bowman took the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe by storm with his debut, Jesus: The Guantanamo Years”. His one-man comedies have since toured from London’s West End to Hollywood LA to Lahore Pakistan (during a State of Emergency). His jokes have been taken seriously by everyone from the Ku Klux Klan to Al Qaeda.

Abie spent the Celtic Tiger era pursuing his comedy dreams. He couldn’t afford to buy or rent a house, so remained living at home with his parents. He recalls the day the financial crisis broke.

It was awful: people were in negative equity, losing their jobs, facing repossession… At some point, I realised: ‘Hang on. I don’t own a house. So I’m not in negative equity and nobody can outsource my job to China.’ Somehow, I had gone to bed, a textbook loser… and woken up, an economic genius.

The two stand-ups travelled to last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival with solo shows on Ireland’s financial crisis and won rave reviews. They wanted to tour Ireland, but realised the country was broke. Explains Abie:

The financial crisis makes us all feel powerless. Every time we spend money, we’re paying tax, which is used to bail out the banks and pay off the Troika. But the Troika can’t tax barter, or generosity, or laughter.

Admission is free as they say, but please give them some money anyway. Otherwise they may eat all my food.

 

The Galway dates in full:

  • Campbells Tavern, Cloughanover, Headford on Friday June 22nd at 8:30pm
  • The Hop Inn, Athenry on Saturday June 23rd at 8:30pm
  • Kelly’s Bar, Bridge St, Galway on Sunday June 24th at 3pm.