The Great Goat Bubble

Well now it’s a stage play. I just saw it, it’s lovely. The Great Goat Bubble, as this incarnation is called, concerns a meeting in a lonely railway station between Irish innocent Jude and economics PhD Ibrahim Bihi, who recounts how he became unimaginably rich through exploiting a price inefficiency in the Somali goat market.

It is of course a satire on our recent boom and how it inevitably bust – though written before the bust actually happened. It is also a lesson in economics, delivered by a character with an economics doctorate, and it works brilliantly on that level, as good a grounding in market inefficiencies, asset price bubbles, futures, derivatives, and all the other shit that hit the global fan as you could hope to get in eighty minutes. And yet you forget this because it is a story about a man on a financial adventure, discovering for himself the flaws in supposedly perfect markets and exploiting them joyfully. And because it involves a heck of a lot of goats.

It expands on previous versions, in part to make it relate more to the particular bubble we knew in Ireland, where a decade of rapid but largely real economic development was squandered on worthless property. Also to go deeper into the intriguing character of Bihi and his feelings about the boom that made him both a billionaire and a pauper again. He has no regrets, seeing himself merely as an avatar of the Smithian Invisible Hand, and argues convincingly that to attempt to curb the free market is to fight human nature and so must lead inevitably to disaster. No critique is offered; only our perspective reminds us that there must be something wrong with Bihi’s seductive philosophy. We are left, I guess, to find the solution to economic instability ourselves.

Performances were note-perfect. Wil Johnson had me utterly convinced he was a Somali economist, Ciarán O’Brien made the outlandish character of Jude real. Mikel Murfi‘s direction was immensely subtle, turning a conversation into gripping theatre. A play for our times. I hope it comes to a town near you.

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