Wednesday, November 10, 2010


When Comics Do Economics...

This was in today's Irish Times and is all about humour and economics.

Economists and comedians come together tomorrow for Kilkenomics, Ireland’s ‘first economics festival’. We ask some participating economists for their best jokes – and the comedians for their economic theories


David McWilliams, economist and author

My joke : Irish government’s latest policy response to the banking, economic and financial crisis – “Quantitative Cheesing”.

My pet economic theory : When your rugby tickets are too expensive, your spanking new stadium will be half-full. The first lesson we learn about economics is that when the price of something goes up, the demand for it goes down. By extension, when your cost structure is so out of kilter you feel you have to charge over the odds for tickets, you have two choices: cut your costs and prices or suffer empty stadiums.

Nothing encapsulates the state of the Irish economy more than the empty seats at the Aviva Stadium. Here is our best national team in years and fans can’t afford to see them. We are not playing some Mickey Mouse outfit; we are hosting the World Champions.

The economic truth is simple: set your prices to suit demand. There is always a price, despite the recession, where the market clears. As we try to compete and export our way out of this crisis, the Aviva Lesson is one that should not be forgotten.

John Lanchester, author of ‘Whoops!: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay’

My jokes : A sandwich goes into a pub and says to the barman: “I’ll have a pickled egg, please.” Barman says: “I’m sorry sir, we don’t serve food.” Badoom-tish.

What’s the difference between a stoat and a weasel? One’s weasily recognisable, the other’s stotally different.

Why are there no aspirin in the jungle? Parrots eat ’em all.

My pet economic theory: There are quite a few to choose from – though perhaps not as many as there are half-truths and outright falsehoods. My favourite is a piece of advice my father used to quote. I’ve seen it come true society-wide several times. “It’s easy to be an investment genius. All you need is a short memory and a rising market.”

Ha-Joon, author of ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’

My joke : Three castaways on a desert island find a crate of canned food. The first, a theoretical physicist, comes up with a model of a machine that can open cans with astonishing efficiency, then realises there is no material to build the machine. The second, an engineer, tries to open the cans with everything available – stone, stick, coconut – but all in vain. The last one, an economist, steps in and starts: “Let’s assume that we have a can opener . . . ”

My pet economic theory: Economists are known for assuming all sorts of things. When some argued that Ireland should deregulate finance, they assumed giving maximal freedom to the private sector was the best way to maximise wealth. When some argued that there was nothing to worry about the property bubble, they assumed market actors are always rational. When they later said the Irish Government should cut spending, they assumed there is a repressed private sector gearing up to rush in to fill the resulting demand gap. If only economists stopped assuming there to be can openers, we may be living in a better world.


Colin Murphy, comedian

My pet economic theory : Who knew stock markets had emotions? Every financial report on every news bulletin insists on telling me how the stock markets are feeling – most days I don’t know how I’m feeling. They seem to have very simplistic emotions too, for such a complex system. “Depressed” is mentioned often, as is “nervous”. I’ve seen Facebook status updates with more in-depth emotions.

Why are the markets being given emotions anyway? Is it an attempt to get us to look after the markets, like a moody goth at a house party? And even when there is positive news, the best you will get from Mr Moody Market, is “buoyant”, not “happy” or “ecstatic” or “delighted” or “over the moon”, but “buoyant”. What the hell kind of emotion is that? With the financial news as bad as it is, a few more detailed emotions might be called for. The markets could, “be sobbing” or “have taken to drink” or “sitting on the stairs and staring into space” or if things get really bad “be standing in your front garden, crying, singing Westlife songs at the top of its voice”. Remember, the stock markets have feelings too. Apparently.

Colm O’Regan, comedian

My pet economic theory : If this is a global village, then Ireland is standing in the garden watching all the neighbours talk about us. Every so often, we have to endure a visit from one of the local worthies dispensing advice. Telling us how to run our house. We’d love to tell them all to feck off but we can’t. We still have to go to the shops for bread on tick.

There’s one group of neighbours that annoys us more than anyone else – the credit rating agencies. There wasn’t a peep out of them during the boom. Now they’re leaning over the hedge, watching us try to fix a lawnmower, while asking for their strimmer back. Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s, Fitch. Who are they anyway? (I’ve heard of Fitch. All the same, I’d like to know what Abercrombie thinks.)

We’ve been downgraded from AAA+ to AA-. What does that even mean? Before, we were a battery for the remote control; now we’re only good for a Walkman?

It’s time for a new ratings agency one that understands how the Irish people feel and reflects that. It’s time for Moody and Poor.

Neil Delamere, comedian

My pet economic theory : We face financial Armageddon. Selling the Book of Kells on the Antiques Roadshow should be a last resort. There is one more thing to try.

We get the Irish Secret Service to scan the population for women good-looking enough to be supermodels. Then – like the KGB did – experts train them in the art of seduction. Every day they get closer to the perfect seductress. They learn the offside rule. They are taught to despise foreplay. They master control of the circulation in their hands and feet so they’re not freezing when they get into the bed. From that group the ultimate temptress is chosen.

Now consider: Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim is worth around $60 billion. And pre-nuptial agreements are not legal in Ireland.

Our agent seduces her target, marries and divorces him here and gives the money to the State. Boom. We’ve just paid for Anglo.

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