Bristol Festival of Ideas – Tony Hawk: Make Billionaires History, Wednesday 18th June

Tony - BCU “Our culture is fucked!” despondently states comedian and Radio 4 favourite Tony Hawk as he and his band of pseudo-economists attempt to pick apart the carcass of the current economic system. So why, you may ask, are we here if the outlook is so bleak? Well, there are alternatives and over the 2 hours of this informative and stimulating lecture we learn what some of them are.
 “that’s the problem with an economy that creates billionaires – we just cant afford them” – David Boyle, fellow of the New Economics Foundation
Following the now tried and tested Ted-Talk style format we are treated to 6 well-informed  talkers, each armed with statistics, slides and 10 minutes to try and inspire and cajole us out of our collective apathy/malaise.
 “Economists treat money like physicists treated time before Einstein – they don’t understand it” – Bruce Davis, Abundance
Hawks is joined by Fran Boait of Positive Money; David Boyle, fellow of the New Economics Foundation; Mira Luna of Shareable via live video link from San Francisco; Mark Burton of the Bristol Pound; and Bruce Davis of Abundance. Each favours varying techniques, both in terms of presentation/style and also in what they believe is fundamentally at the root of the economic crisis but there is certainly a collective agreement that the system is rotten and needs shaking up.
 “community is our strongest weapon” – Mira Luna, Shareable
Starting with Boatit we learn how financial systems that favour wealth-accumulating wealth are “on a big scale getting things seriously wrong” and how “97% of all money is now electronic [in mortgages/debts]” and as such we are “beholden to the banks and institutions that control them”. The underlying theme in Boatit’s talk is one that runs throughout much of the nights discussion – the desperate need for a more open discussion throughout society about money/banking and how this “man made creation”  should work for society as a whole and not against it.
 “80% of every £1 spent in Bristol leaks out of our city ” – Mark Burton, Bristol Pound
Whilst the overarching topic of the evening is that the rich elite are isolating an increasingly unbalanced monopoly of the worlds finances (they somewhat surprisingly do go lightly on them: “it’s the only game in town and they have just done very well from it”) each talk has a very different focus. Boyle covers the sinking middle classes, being consumed by the exponential growth of house prices; Bruce Davis (peer to peer lending) Mark Burton (local based currency) and Mira Luna (community based exchange of resources/skills) discuss varying ideas of replacing institutions with community based collectives (Abundance, Bristol Pound, Shareable); whilst the headlining Hawk goes onto a larger scale, investigating the outstripping of resources by consumption (“by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet and we will need 2.3 planets…we’ve only got one”) and also the potential of “social equality” through the capping of all incomes by a democratic vote.
“The English still think that Mr Mannering is sitting behind his desk sipping sherry when the reality is that he has long since been replaced by a risk managing software at head office” – David Boyle, fellow of the New Economics Foundation
Although the night is billed as a light hearted look at economics the laughs are not as free flowing as one might have hoped – a result no doubt of many of the talkers not being natural comedians – but this does not detract too much from a fabulous event. House Prices through the years:
  • 1937 – £750
  • 2014 – £350,000
  • 2044 – £2.7million??
At the close of the night the biggest take away is the realistaion of just how apathetic and uninvolved in the discussion we all are (“we’re handing over decision making to others…this is about taking control of our money” / “the most common way people lose their power is thinking they have none”) but how to move forward is a little murkier. As Hawk concludes in the Q&A: “I do think we have far more ‘stuff’ than we actually need….but aren’t washing machines marvelous things”. This event is part of BIG Green Week 2014. See the other events in the Bristol Festival of Ideas programme linked to BIG Green Week here. BGW World Logo Artwork 2013 For more on the wonderful Festival of Ideas click here.