Economics is for Everyone: BoomBust – Towards A Post-Crash Economics

‘Economics is for Everyone’ is a timely slogan, and one that underpinned the

programming of the three day Boom Bust Boom Bust PCES Conference in Manchester

this week. Offering an important intervention in a profoundly dialogic project of forging

alternative narratives about the financial crisis and its aftermath, panels considered the

necessity of transparent approaches to the discipline of Economics on both the

academic page and lived stage of twenty-first century society. The need of discussion,

improved financial literacy and linguistic awareness, as well as open plutocratic

debates about the manifold methods for approaching the new financial era united

debates across the first day.

 

Major highlights from the first twenty-four hours – and events that attracted literally

hundreds of participants – included a public lecture by Paul Mason, and the premiere of

Terry Jones’ new docu-film BoomBust. Acting as ‘unofficial’ keynote for the first day of

this ‘unconference’, Channel 4 News Economics Editor Paul Mason offered a preview of

his forthcoming book Post-Capitalism (Penguin, Autumn 2015). Via a wide-ranging and

intellectually ambitious survey of ways forward from the failure of the neoliberal

economic model, Mason interrogated the rise of technology, the hyper-networked

individual and critical responses to the conditions of a fifth supercycle in which the dying

outweigh the buying, and ‘work’ becomes an unstable concept.

 

Paul popped up again later in the day as part of the premiere of BoomBust at Z Arts in

Hulme. Presented by Python Terry Jones and produced and directed by Bill and Ben,

the film shares the PCES aim of forging an Economics that is open for all. The film itself

is a brave and ambitious under-taking, an attempt to illuminate a range of issues within

contemporary economics that continue to perplex the average person. Jones is an

engaged and enthusiastic host, one that tackles the complexities of the crisis in the tone

of an excited child, discovering previously hidden histories for the first time. The key

revelation of his journey of discovery – that contemporary Economics curricula remain

largely resistant to the reality that crashes and crisis happen with alarming regularity – is

perhaps the most significant, and tragic, part of the film.

 

However, much like the concept of a post-crash economics itself, the film suffers in part

from the tensions inherent to its subject matter. As my forthcoming book Crunch Lit

(Bloomsbury, Autumn 2015) argues, crashes bubbles and crunches are crises of

representation and, as a result, we cannot divorce our understanding of such events

from wider social and cultural contexts. Only two women emerge at brief points during

BoomBust to discuss the crash, while the supporting cast of puppets that bring to life this

fantastical re-telling are exclusively male. In a q&a following the premiere, the film’s

producers highlighted this problem of diversity in casting, explaining that their

representations were an accurate – albeit concerning – reflection of an economic field

that continues to suffer from widespread under-representation of key social groups – a

point later underlined in discussion by student representatives from Post-Crash, many of

whom have never encountered a non-white male Economics lecturer in their degrees to

date.

 

As a production designed to generate awareness, debates and engagement rather than

simply profit, BoomBust is a valuable and exemplary intervention in an ongoing project

to re-write popular conceptions of the 2007-8 financial crisis. In its confident analysis of

the routes to, events during and consequences of the crisis, BoomBust does not swerve

from difficult material – puppets regular appear on screen to recite economic theory

verbatim, alongside song, slapstick and animated shorts. This clever weaving of fact and

funny creates that rarest of things – a humanised economics. Quite simply, BoomBust is

an utter joy – an educational, inspirational, head-in-hands unbelievable, romp through a

shared history of bubbles and crashes and the ultimate failure of neoclassical economics

to acknowledge tensions inherent to its own systems.

 

The first day of the conference then proved an important platform for discussion and

debates about teaching and learning, philosophy and politics, economics and the social.

The cross section of participants was astonishingly varied while critical mass for midday

talks about economic modelling were impressive (280+ crammed in to see Paul Mason

alone).We need more occasions like this, more collectives like PCES, more stages on

which to debate the future of finance. From the role of financial literacy and education, to

the networked society of the present and the reality of a post-crash culture, the inaugural

PCES conference offers a significant reminder that value does not begin, and end, with

the economic.

 

Dr Katy Shaw/@drkatyshaw

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