November 13, 2011

Financial Times on Kilkenomics

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The Diary: Alan Beattie
Countries where the IMF is an everyday topic are rarely at peace with themselves but gallows humour provides some relief

. . .
From London to Kilkenny in southern Ireland, to appear at Kilkenomics, a festival of stand-up comedy mixed with economics, now in its second year. The creative genius behind it is David McWilliams, an Irish journalist and economist and sometime central bank analyst and investment banker. Countries where the International Monetary Fund is an everyday topic of discourse are rarely at peace with themselves but gallows humour provides some relief. Most of the Kilkenomics sessions — discussion panels of economists chaired by professional comedians — are packed out.

The thing about appearing on stage with people who are funny for a living, as multiple friends kindly warn me beforehand, is not to try to compete. So no shouting out, “Good evening, Kilkenny!”; no attempting to shoehorn in my favourite gags about economists, which not even most other economists find funny; and most certainly no ending the evening by jamming a mic back in its stand, informing the audience,“You’ve been surprisingly patient, and I’ve been Alan Beattie”, and striding off stage expecting roars of applause.

As it happens, the combination of the dismal science and the comic muse is unexpectedly touching — and I still get to fulfill a long-held ambition by sitting in a green room and having someone poke his head round the door to say, “Five minutes, please.”

The comedians, wearing suits, appear slightly nervous at having to moderate conversations about economics. We panellists, told to appear in casual dress — though the leisure garments of most economists are not things of beauty — are most certainly intimidated by sharing a stage with professional performers. The audience seems to enjoy the interaction, and the fusion of the two professions is cemented in rambling Guinness-fuelled conversations in the after-hours festival club — after which I reportedly stumble into bed claiming I now understand Irish politics and hoping I will remember it all in the morning. It’s a gain from trade, just like the economics textbooks say.
. . .
Phrase of the weekend at Kilkenomics is “porcine solidarity”, given the plight of the troubled PIIGS nations (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain). Fintan O’Toole, a distinguished columnist for the Irish Times, makes an impassioned plea for the troubled countries to form a united front to fight back against the harsh terms of the rescues, his bete noire the cordially-loathed European Central Bank (ECB). But the best-received comic line is a heckle, of which I am the target. Taking part in a panel advising people on where to put their savings, I hazard the helpful observation that the vast global economic volatility makes almost any investment apart from cash highly uncertain, so your choice is equivalent to either keeping your money in the bank or putting it on a horse.

This less-than-piercing aperçu gets a ripple of laughter but what brings the house down is a perfectly-timed intervention from the back demanding to know the horse’s name.
. . .
Kilkenny itself, overlooked by an impressive three-sided castle, is a pretty little medieval city that, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, has issues with mythical cats. “To fight like Kilkenny cats” is a metaphor for ferocity, rancour and mutual destruction that might well describe the current state of the eurozone.

Ask locals for an explanation of the cat association, though, and you get one of five or six cogent, plausible, entertaining and entirely different answers. The most colourful stories involve Oliver Cromwell, still not forgiven in these parts for his brutal crushing of Irish resistance, who besieged and captured Kilkenny in 1650, his cannon flattening the missing wall in the process.

Cromwell’s soldiers supposedly cemented their reputation for cruelty by forcing local cats to fight to the death for their entertainment. Then again, as someone wryly notes, Cromwell gets the blame for more or less anything that went wrong in this part of the world. He would have flopped badly at Kilkenomics, but could have been right at home in the ECB.

Alan Beattie is the FT’s international economy editor
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. You m


  1. ….and that was all the FT had to report on? Perhaps they should have tuned into the Interview with Constantin to add a bit more substance.

    THE FRANKFURT GROUP: AN EIGHT-HEADED-JACK-IN-THE-BOX POLITBURO – The objective of German reunification was a to build a European Germany, certainly not a German Europe!

    What is missing in the pictures that the citizens of Europe are presented through the chosen media outlets? Transparency is missing! It is unacceptable and highly undemocratic to continue these closed door, behind the curtain discussions, but it gets even better and out comes a Jack-in-the-Box with another grotesque set of suggestions and rules.

    Have you ever studied the quality of politicians crowding what are Europe’s three major institutions, Council, Parliament and Commission? If you even spent five minutes looking a little bit deeper you will find out that the EU is the dumping ground for nationally rather unwanted, less popular and certainly not the brightest buttons in the box politicians. The examples on such personalities are endless, and as tempting as it is to pick a few and put a spotlight on the characters who are governing Absurdistan, I refrain from it here and leave it up to your own good judgement to come to conclusions on the outstanding qualities of the average EU politico these days. Just so much perhaps, they are very easy prey for a Lobbyist, and Brussels in particular is the Lobbyist’s paradise.

    So let’s stay at home for a moment and see what our elected leaders, I am sorry, I got that wrong, I meant to say the Prefects of the EPP, the European Peoples Party, are putting on the dinner table.

    Prefect Kenny is to address the nation and I wonder whether ‘Professor’ Terry Prone is already working around the clock in her communications clinic to fine tune the performance of this public perception exercise, just kidding.

    It might have slipped under your Radar, but besides the perhaps most remarkable ‘achievement’ of the G20 meeting, the abandonment of DOHA talks, something else happened on the side lines and another, now eight headed Jack-in-the-box emerged from a by chance meeting on October 19th at the Frankfurt Opera House to celebrate the end of Trichet’s ECB function, well, you know what I mean.

    We now have The Frankfurt Group, a high caliber political-economic lobby, de facto a shadow government, a Soviet style Politburo that is composed of:

    Angela Merkel
    Nicolas Sarkozy
    Jean-Claude Juncker
    IMF’s Christine Lagarde (of course!)
    José Manuel Barroso
    Herman van Rompuy
    Mario Draghi
    Olli Rehn

    Well, that 8-headed JITB is a scary one in deed!

    This shadow government has no democratic legitimacy whatsoever, but they are about to force feed Europe with their political goals, and the first results of the new Politburo are already on the table, L-Pap and Mario Monti, two strategically placed technocrats and this is just the beginning.

    I dare to predict that perfect ‘Prefect’ Kenny’s speech will ooze of green Jersey ‘Hang in there!’ positivism, a mixture of Sledgehammer philosophy, ‘We know what we are doing!’ and Politburo waffle.

    It is Sunday, November 13th, and David McWilliams announced an article, just in time of course, about the two speed Europe proposal, stating ‘We have all to play for!’ in his announcement of this article. I said ‘Just in time’ because the papers all over Europe are already flooded with articles on the EuroMark, a two speed Europe, and so on.

    It was back in 1994 that the then leader of the CDU fraction Wolfgang Schaeuble together with his conservative sidekick Lamers proposed his core Euro ideas, a strong center of Eu countries, with Germany being by far the economically strongest. Later Schaeuble became Minister for Finance. Germany also developed a major debt problem exceeding 80% of GDP, what is commonly seen as the critical threshold. City and communes are heavily indebted, some are insolvent.

    Take Berlin as an example! In 2001 already, even before the great Euro Lie was enforced on our citizens, Berlin turned of the water fountains in public places, it had accumulated debts of 80 Billion DM. Germany’s 10th largest bank, which was 57% owned by the city of Berlin was at the center of a political scandal and this debt accumulation. By 2005, Berlin’s debt was at Euro 56 billion and they paid around 12% of Berlin’s annual budget for interest payments. The latest scandal from Berlin is the Bankruptcy of Teldafax a German wide operating energy provider who operated a Ponzi scheme, damaging ten thousands of people.

    Germany bailed out the German HRE Bank, just like Ireland coughs up for our Zombie Banks, and as a result these debts socialized by force cause the communes to become insolvent, which means that social services are cut, by now, everyone knows the drill.

    Apply Austerity and raise stealth taxes and fees as the same time, or in other words hang the citizens and shoot them at the same time. In Germany a severe amount of poverty of the elderly becomes a reality and they did nothing to prevent it, and everyone could see it coming, since decades! The same pension Lies were applied in Ireland, and a recent Prime Time report highlighted this.

    In 2010 alone the finance deficit across all German communes climaxed at 9.8 billion Euro, most communes are insolvent by now.

    More than 8 million people in Germany are working in low paid jobs, millions of people are getting unemployment benefits subsidies although they are working full time, on top of their wages, because their full time slavish job does not provide them with enough money to make ends meet, with no security, no Union representation, the canon food of a second labor market, a slave labor market. Eat that the next time you are told about the low German unemployment statistics.

    Oh and btw. just as expected, the magic wand of a triple AAA EFSF already has turned into a dead stick they bought their own bonds in the 3bn auction!

    You have to ask yourself whether you agree to this German-Franco centric Jack-in-the-box Politburo and their totalitarian ways to mould a new Europe that is designed to bail out financial Taliban’s and slaughter their own citizens, I certainly do not! - Send the Troika home! -

    • bonbon

      Very good, almost none of this is reported in the obedient transatlantic press. There are a few points to hammer home :
      1)no German voter was ever asked on any of the EU Treaties (Eire got even 2 tries on one). Typical response “We have a democratic government, we do not need to vote!”
      2)The Euro is the price of Re-Unification, very well documented by Kanzler Kohl, proposed first in 1989, then 1992 by Britain and Mitterand’s France to limit Germany’s new-found optimism. Kohl’s best friend, Deutsche Bank chief Herrhausen was murdered by long incarcerated RAF – guess whom in reality. He had a Reconstruction Program to present in NY, based on the 1948 German Reconstruction, but for the entire Comecon. With his murder this was not done. Instead solidarity taxes.
      3)From this it is obvious the Euro cannot and was never intended to work. The result, which for example London DT’s AEP frets over, was guaranteed, as AEP well knows.
      4)Because of pure stupidity, and very likely the Herrhausen case, Berlin is pursuing policies which are damaging Germany in the eyes of all countries.
      Schaeuble may think this is hardball, but in a glass-house?
      5)Many in Dublin knew some of this and played the Euro game with London – geopolitics, overriding any economic or financial sense. Sir Conor Cruise is a good example. Disgusting to see Irish grovelling to the Empire – 19th century all over again.
      6)The geopolitical cement is the Inter-Alpha banking group of Lord Rothschild (privvy council). Guess which “Irish” bank belongs and is bailed out? Unnamed bondholders anyone?
      7)That Group started modern derivative trading in 1972 after Nixon broke Bretton Woods, and especially in 2000 after Glass-Steagall’s repeal.
      8)The German Greens almost without exception led the financial liberalization until 2000 when the 80+ split-banking laws were repealed.
      9)The very same Greens have changed the Occupy agenda from split-banking to a harmless Transaction tax.
      10)Parallel to this is the total destruction of German infrastructure, the Atomic exit by the greener-than-green Merkel CDU. Ireland has no conception whatsoever what this means.
      11)Fukoshima and Euro hysteria is beyond belief, and used to subvert democracy a. la. Carl Schmitt – rule by exception, used by Dublin, Berlin and especially Obama. Who was Carl Schmitt? – you will not like what you find.

  2. corkie

    Meanwhile its a laugh a minute as Italy’s government bonds are being stolen off the pension funds and delivered into the hands of the market manipulators at a fraction of their true value. Governments topple and voters are upset but the money continues to flow into the hands of the unidentified.

  3. Dorothy Jones

    Well done David and to all who made Kilkenomics possible this year and last.

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