Kilkenomics 2015

A couple of weeks ago Ireland’s annual “Economics and Comedy” festival took place in Kilkenny. But despite its tagline, Kilkenomics is very much an economics festival, with the comedy provided by the MCs of the in-depth panel discussions. The festival was the brainchild of economist David McWilliams and in this, its sixth year, it ran over four days.

Kilkenomics hosted some leading economic thinkers from around Europe, including former Greek finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and UK academic Richard Murphy, economic advisor to recently-elected UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The latter featured in a debate on Friday night of the festival on “The Economics of Radical Politics”, with fellow participants Stephanie Kelton, a US academic, FT journalist Liam Halligan and consultant and entrepreneur Vikas Nath. The panel was divided roughly into “right” and “left” (ideologically, not sides of the stage..) with Murphy and Kelton on the left and Halligan and Nath broadly on the right.

Kelton and Murphy were both speaking in their capacities as political advisors; Kelton is an advisor to US senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Murphy began by pointing out that Sanders and Corbyn are not actually “radical” politicians. He argued that their views (and his own), now considered left-wing, would have been “centre-right”, when he first became politicised in the early 1970s. He spoke of “absurd reactions to sensible suggestions” in the political arena and stressed the need for higher taxation for large companies. At the very end of the session, Murphy highlighted this point in an Irish context, saying that “the 12.5% [corporation tax] has to go”.

Murphy’s prescription for the economy revolves around “people’s quantitative easing”, which would basically require the central bank to “print money” and invest it in infrastructure. These links offer a more eloquent explanation:

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/14/is-jeremy-corbyns-policy-of-quantitative-easing-for-people-feasible

On the right of the panel, Liam Halligan suggested a seperation between investment and commercial banking, while Vikas Nath was keen on tax breaks for entrepreneurs. Based on their combative interaction, he probably wouldn’t like Murphy’s recent book:

http://www.transworldbooks.co.uk/editions/the-joy-of-tax/9780593075173

Moving on, a debate on “Capitalism v. Climate Change” was held on Saturday, again featuring Kelton, along with Constantin Gurdgiev of TCD, business journalist and consultant George Cooper and Larry Elliot from the Guardian. After briefly incurring the wrath of the audience with a protracted debate on the definition and very existence of climate change, the panel concentrated on the role of technology in adaptation and mitigation. Gurdgiev stressed that the conversation in Kilkenny was “taking place among the filthy rich” and that inequality is the key issue. He identified paying for renewable energy in developing countries as a crucial problem.

The session closed with a discussion on overconsumption, with the panel agreeing that this was an issue in the developed world. Perhaps with a desire to end on a positive note, Gurdgiev and Cooper suggested that younger people have a different attitude to consumption, fuelled by the internet, with Gurdgiev referring to people who want more from their job than money, and Cooper citing children’s requests for Christmas presents with an ostensibly smaller carbon footprint, such as smartphones or tablets, rather than bulky toys. Not sure that the latter argument holds, however, when a new device is purchased twice a year…

Ultimately, the message was that we must consume differently, less but of a higher quality, spend less on goods and more on experiences. While not revolutionary (e.g. see Natural Capitalism – Hawken et al), this was at least a slight step away from “growth is good”.

 

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