The town of Kilkenny in Ireland has just hosted the sixth annual Kilkenomics festival (Nov 5–8) where economics and comedy meet. The festival brought together comedians and economists to take a look at some of the most pressing economic and social issues, such as the refugee crisis, economic recovery, banking and finance, the growth in inequality, the future of the EU, economic power, the environment and personal behaviour.
With stand-up comedians taking a sideways look at economic issues and top economists having their ideas lampooned, or lampooning them themselves, the festival provided a fun, but useful, reality check for the discipline of economics.
The festival attracted some major names in the field of comedy, economics, journalism and politics. Perhaps the biggest draw was the former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis (see also), who opened the festival with a withering attack on the economic model being pursued by Greece’s creditors (the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB).
Much of the comedy was really aimed, not so much at economics and economists, but more at how politicians pursue economic policies and interpret economic models in ways that suit their own political agenda. But still there was no escape for economists. Much of the humour was directed at unrealistic assumptions and unrealistic visions of how economies function.
Thanks to JokEc for the following:
||Economics is the only field in which two people can get a Nobel Prize for saying exactly the opposite thing.
||If you rearrange the letters in “ECONOMICS”, you get “COMIC NOSE”.
||Economics has got so rigorous we’ve all got rigor mortis.
||How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?
I’ll leave you to work out the best answer to that last one – there could be many depending on the school of thought.
Videos and podcasts
Kilkenomics Promo – 2015 Kilkenomics on YouTube (23/10/15)
Kilkenomics: Highlights 1 Kilkenomics on YouTube (27/10/15)
Kilkenomics: Highlights 2 Kilkenomics on YouTube (30/10/15)
Kilkenomics 2014 BBC ‘In the Balance’ (9/11/14)
Kilkenomics launches biggest programme to date Meath Chronicle (1/10/15)
The subversive wonders of Kilkenomics – where economics meets stand-up The Spectator, Liam Halligan (15/11/14)
Guilty as charged: Irish standup festival puts economics in the dock The Guardian, Larry Elliott (8/11/15)
Ireland no paradigm of successful austerity – Varoufakis The Irish Times, Eoin Burke Kennedy (5/11/15)
Economy of sex … how much are your orgasms costing you? Irish Independent, Niamh Horan (8/11/15)
- What is it about economics that gives so much material to comedians?
- ‘The worse it gets the funnier it seems because comedy exists with tragedy.’ To what extent is this true of economics as a discipline or simply of the state of the world economists are studying at any one time?
- Should assumptions in economics always be realistic? Explain why or why not.
- For what types of reason might economists disagree?
- Make up an economics joke and test it on your fellow students. Perhaps there ought to be a vote for the funniest and a prize for the winner. What was it about the winning joke that made it the funniest?
Here’s an excellent article (the first link below) for giving an overview of macroeconomic thinking and policy since the start of the financial crisis in 2007. It looks at how a Keynesian consensus emerged in 2008–9, culminating in policies of fiscal and monetary stimulus being adopted in most major economies.
It also looks at how this consensus broke down from 2010 with the subsequent problem of rising public-sector deficits and debt, and was replaced by a new, although less widespread, consensus of fiscal restraint.
The article is not just about economic theory and policy, but also about the process and politics of how consensus and ‘dissensus’ emerge. It looks at the spread of ideas as a process of ‘contagion’ and how dissent may reflect the view of different defined groups, such as political parties or schools of economic thought.
Consensus, Dissensus and Economic Ideas: The Rise and Fall of Keynesianism During the Economic Crisis, Henry Farrell (George Washington University) and John Quiggin (University of Queensland) (9/3/12)
Keynesianism in the Great Recession Out of the Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell (9/3/12)
Economics in the Crisis (see also) The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman (5/3/12)
- What were the features of the Keynesian consensus in 2008–9?
- To what extent can the consensus of that period be described as the result of ‘contagion’?
- Why did consensus break down in 2010?
- How do economic experts play a political role in economic crises?
- To what extent does a lack of consensus benefit politicians?
- Why may the appearance of a consensus be more important in driving policy than actual consensus?
The debate about how much and how fast to cut the deficit has often been presented as a replaying of the debates of the 1920s and 30s between Keynes and the Treasury.
The justification for fiscal expansion to tackle the recession in 2008/9 was portrayed as classic Keynesianism. The problem was seen as a short-term one of a lack of spending. The solution was seen as one of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. There was relatively little resistance to such stimulus packages at the time, although some warned against the inevitable growth in public-sector debt.
But now that the world economy is in recovery mode – albeit a highly faltering one in many countries – and given the huge overhang of government deficits and debts, what would Keynes advocate now? Here there is considerable disagreement.
Vince Cable, the UK Business Secretary, argues that Keynes would have supported the deficit reduction plans of the Coalition government. He would still have stressed the importance of aggregate demand, but would have argued that investor and consumer confidence, which are vital preconditions for maintaining private-sector demand, are best maintained by a credible plan to reduce the deficit. What is more, inflows of capital are again best encouraged by fiscal rectitude. As he argued in the New Statesman article below
One plausible explanation, from Olivier Blanchard of the IMF, is that the Keynesian model of fiscal policy works well enough in most conditions, but not when there is a fiscal crisis. In those circumstances, households and businesses react to increased deficits by saving more, because they expect spending cuts and tax increases in the future. At a time like this, fiscal multipliers decline and turn negative. Conversely, firm action to reduce deficits provides reassurance to spend and invest. Such arguments are sometimes described as “Ricardian equivalence” – that deficits cannot stimulate demand because of expected future tax increases.
Those on the other side are not arguing against a long-term reduction in government deficits, but rather that the speed and magnitude of cuts should depend on the state of the economy. Too much cutting and too fast would cause a reduction in aggregate demand and a consequent reduction in output. This would undermine confidence, not strengthen it. Critics of the Coalition government’s policy point to the fragile nature of the recovery and the historically low levels of consumer confidence
The following articles provide some of the more recent contributions to the debate.
Keynes would be on our side New Statesman, Vince Cable (12/1/11)
Cable’s attempt to claim Keynes is well argued — but unconvincing New Statesman, David Blanchflower and Robert Skidelsky (27/1/11)
Growth or cuts? Keynes would not back the coalition – especially over jobs Guardian, Larry Elliott (17/1/11)
People do not understand how bad the economy is Guardian, Vince Cable (20/5/11)
The Budget Battle: WWHD? (What Would Hayek Do?) AK? (And Keynes?) PBS Newshour, Paul Solman (29/4/11)
Keynes vs. Hayek, the Rematch: Keynes Responds PBS Newshour, Paul Solman (2/5/11)
On Not Reading Keynes New York Times, Paul Krugman (1/5/11)
Would a More Expansionary Fiscal Policy Be Effective Right Now? Yes: On the Invisible Bond Market and Inflation Vigilantes Once Again Blog: Grasping Reality with a Prehensile Tail, Brad DeLong (12/5/11)
Keynes, Crisis and Monopoly Capitalism The Real News, Robert Skidelsky and Paul Jay (29/4/11)
- What factors in the current economic environment affect the level of consumer confidence?
- What are the most important factors that will determine whether or not a policy of fiscal consolidation will drive the economy back into recession?
- How expansionary is monetary policy at the moment? Is it enough simply to answer this question by reference to central bank repo rates?
- What degree of crowding out would be likely to result from an expansionary fiscal policy in the current economic environment? If confidence is adversely affected by expansionary fiscal policy, would this represent a form of crowding out?
- Why may fiscal multipliers have ‘turned negative’?
- For what reasons might a tight fiscal policy lead to an increase in aggregate demand?
- Your turn: what would Keynes have done in the current macroeconomic environment?
Until the credit crunch and crash of 2008/9, there appeared to be a degree of consensus amongst economists about how economies worked. Agents were generally assumed to be rational and markets generally worked to balance demand and supply at both a micro and a macro level. Although economies were subject to fluctuations associated with the business cycle, these had become relatively mild given the role of central banks in targeting inflation and the general belief that we had seen the end of boom and bust.
True, markets were not perfect. There were problems of monopoly power and externalities. Also information was not perfect. But asymmetries of information were generally felt to be relatively unimportant in the information age with easy access to market data through the internet.
Then it all went wrong. With the exception of a few economists, people were caught unawares by the credit crunch. There was too little understanding of the complexities of securitisation and the leveraged risk in these pyramids of debt built on small foundations. And there was too little regard paid to the potentially destructive power of speculation and herd behaviour.
So how should economists model what has been happening over the past three years? Do we simply need to go back to Keynesian economics, which emphasised the importance of aggregate demand and the ability of economies to settle at a high unemployment equilibrium? Can the persistence of high unemployment in the USA and elsewhere be put down to a lack of demand or is the explanation to be found in hysteresis: the persistence of a problem after the initial cause has disappeared? Can failures of markets be incorporated into standard microeconomics?
Or do we need a new paradigm: one that emphasises the behaviour of economic agents and examines how people act when there are information asymmetries? These are the questions that are examined in the podcast below. It is an interview with Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz.
Joseph Stiglitz: ‘Building blocks’ of a new economics BBC Today Programme (25/8/10)
Needed: a new economic paradigm Financial Times, Joseph Stiglitz (19/8/10)
Obama should get rid of Geithner, Summers Market Watch, Wall Street Journal, Darrell Delamaide (25/8/10)
This rebel’s heresy is not so earth-shaking Fund Strategy, Daniel Ben-Ami (23/8/10)
- What are Stiglitz’s criticisms of the economics profession in recent years?
- What, according to Stiglitz, should be the features of a new economic paradigm?
- Is such a paradigm new?
- Provide a critique of Stiglitz’s analysis.
- What do you understand by ‘behavioural economics’? Would a greater understanding of human behaviour by economists have helped avert the credit crunch and subsequent recession?
Whilst some economists predicted the banking crisis of 2007/8 and the subsequent global recession, many did not. Was this a failure of macroeconomics, or at least of certain macroeconomic schools of thought, such as New Classical economics? Or was it a failure to apply the subject with sufficient wisdom? Should the subject be radically rethought, or can it simply be amended to take into account aspects of behavioural economics and a better understanding of systemic risk?
The four linked articles below from The Economist look at the debate and at the whole state of macroeconomics. The other articles pick up some of the issues.
Will the ‘crisis in macroeconomics’ lead to a stronger subject, more able to explain economies in crisis and not just when they are working well? Will a new consensus emerge or will economists remain divided, not only about the correct analysis of how economies work at a macro level, but also about how to tackle crises such as the present recession?
What went wrong with economics The Economist (16/7/09)
The other-worldly philosophers The Economist (16/7/09)
Efficiency and beyond The Economist (16/7/09)
In defence of the dismal science The Economist (6/8/09)
How to rebuild a shamed subject Financial Times (5/8/09)
What is the point of economists? Financial Times – Arena (28/7/09)
Macroeconomic Models Wall Street Pit (23/7/09)
Macroeconomics: Economics is in crisis – it is time for a profound revamp Business Day (27/7/09)
- Distinguish between ‘freshwater’, ‘saltwater’ and ‘brackish’ macroeconomics.
- Explain why economists differ over the efficacy of fiscal policy in times of recession. To what extent does the debate hinge on the size of the multiplier?
- Why is the potential for macroeconomics higher now than prior to the recession?
- What is meant by the ‘efficient market hypothesis’? How did inefficiencies in financial markets contribute to the banking crisis and recession?
- Should economists predict the future, or should they confine themselves to explaining the present and past?