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Five things we learned at the Festival of Economics

This month, Triodos Bank sponsored Bristol’s unique Festival of Economics. The extensive programme aims to bring economic debate and discourse into everyday life and featured Nobel Prize-winners and well-known figures alongside journalists and academics. Here are five things we learned during the week-long festival.

If economics is so important, why is it so hard to understand? The mandate of Bristol’s Festival of Economics is to demystify economic jargon and make economics entertaining. In its sixth year, the 2017 festival focussed on themes like health care, inequality and the gig economy.

Here are a few things we discovered.

People will get out of bed on a Saturday morning for an economics lecture

Drizzly Saturday mornings aren’t the easiest times to attract people to debates on the economy, but the programmers at the Festival of Economics defied expectation. Scheduling an engaging panel discussion entitled Robots and Gigs for 11am did not trouble them—a full audience braved the damp to hear the likes of Sarah O’Connor of the Financial Times, Matthew Taylor of the RSA and Debra Howcroft from Manchester Business School discuss the future of employment. Topics ranged from tech automation to skill-sets of the future to universal basic income.

Nobel prize-winning economists are talking up the common good

On winning the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics, French economist Jean Tirole completed a transition from academic to public intellectual. As a result, he recognised the importance of economists joining a public debate and engaging with challenges faced by society. The finance industry, Tirole asserts, must prioritise the common good over short-term rewards.

Economist jokes can make the national press

As reported in The Sunday Times, Stephanie Flanders’ keynote address offered a tongue-in-cheek definition of economists as “people who are good with numbers but didn’t have the personality to become accountants.” Since she is a Harvard-trained economist and experienced BBC presenter, we’ll take her word for it.

Capitalism can be about co-operation

Recently, capitalism has had a bit of a PR problem. But that hasn’t deterred some innovative thinkers about how markets can be reformed to help, not hinder. During his talk on Prosperity, the Future of Capitalism and What this Means for our Politics, Eric Beinhocker claimed that capitalism can be a way for people to co-operate to solve the challenges facing society.

One critical development is to understand that humans are moral creatures. “Moral norms play a big role in our decision-making,” says Eric. “Understanding our moral behaviours is critical to understanding economic behaviours, and actually harnessing our moral instincts in the economy is something that we should seek to do.”

It’s possible to get excited about banking (we knew this one already…)

Like education and social services, banking should serve the interests of everyone in the community. Liz Zeidler, Chief Executive of Happy City, says it should be a means to a fairer society that safeguards the future for the broader population.

Read more about how the festival started in our interview with co-founder Diane Coyle.

Header image: Bhagesh Sachania Photography


The Festival of Economics, programmed by Diane Coyle (University of Manchester) brings economists and other experts from around the world to debate each other – and their audiences – on some of the key economic questions of our time. The Festival will return in autumn 2018.

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Frances Alexander 3 years ago

I’d love a Festival of economics in High Wycombe.

Joe Stoner 3 years ago

I don’t want to watch a video to discover these elusive 5 things! JUST TELL ME!!!

F M HARRISON 3 years ago


F M HARRISON 3 years ago


John 3 years ago

Thought provoking

Alan 3 years ago

Very interesting. We (use the public) need to change the whole of banking, after the 2008 banking crash not many people have confidence with them. We need to know where our money is going and is being used for good like green energy. Banks are having to change as they see more green banks on the market.