The Feel-good Euro29. September 2011 by Christin Stock
I heard comedian’s live show on the radio the other day. The theme was the financial crisis.
“Once, I could take my money to the bank and invest it for the interest. Now inflation takes my money and the vested interests run the bank.”
His radio audience roared with laughter and broke into applause. I was lost; I did not get the joke at all. For me the crisis, the scandals, the austerity measures, the joblessness, the plummeting markets, all are part of a hard and sad reality, not something that is going to split my sides. When a newspaper reports depressing economic figures and the politicians take the podium to propose yet another ‘solution’, people don’t laugh, they curse.
Maybe I am being too hard on him. Maybe I‘ve lost my sense of humour. Maybe it’s just his style that irritates me. After all, the comic manages to sell his show. The audience happily pays to hear him tell jokes about what would otherwise be the depressing topic of financial woe. And it works; he makes them laugh about it.
Why can’t politicians take a leaf from his book? Obviously, EU officials have made a complete hash of their crisis communication. Nobody is going to willingly come to listen to them speak about the crisis – the opposite is the case. As a result, any solidarity the citizens of the core eurozone states once had with their beleaguered peripheral cousins has evaporated. Euro-scepticism is sharply on the rise. However, this communication cannot be just about informing people about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis or about why the euro is worth saving. It must also impart a good feeling. This is because when we make judgements, the brain doesn’t rely only on past experiences; it also relies on the emotions that accompanied these experiences (affect heuristic). When it comes to evaluating risk, for example, we consider not just the hard statistics and probabilities, but also how we feel about it.
This doesn’t mean that politicians have to sit down with a stand-up comedian or hire a clown as a spokesperson, in order to get people in a good mood. However, they can spare us the bad mood by avoiding the kind of displays that are associated with negative emotion, for instance, public disputes partisan disunity. We can do without bleak scenarios of economic and social collapse and the threats of domino effects if we do not act. Instead, we want to know what we will get when we act to secure our joint futures. Europe is not a blighted continent; it is time to show its sunnier side.