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Money Is Weird: Changing how we think about finance

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Laurence as Jeremy Corbyn in Boris the Musical

A current ad campaign for Lloyds calls money "Britain's biggest taboo". Some may note the irony of this, coming from a bank who've been forced to pay out millions for mis-selling PPI. If the 'M' word really is unmentionable, it may be down to a deliberate effort by Britain's banks to mystify money for ordinary people.

As part of this year's Festival of Debate, Laurence Peacock's show 'Money is Weird' aims to tackle some of the myths about money. It will also explain how money is a lot stranger than politicians will have you believe, with their disingenuous analogies about running the Treasury like a household. We asked him about the show.

Tell us a bit about Money is Weird.

Money is Weird is all about how money is really, well, weird. Most of the time when we think about it, it's questions like, 'Why haven't I got enough?' or 'Can I get some more?', and that's fair enough. We usually don't think about where it comes from, what it does, or what it actually is.

Turns out, the answers to those questions are very strange. So this is a show all about how I've tried to discover what money is and why that's important. Full disclaimer: I still don't know. It's complicated. But I learnt a lot of cool stuff along the way.

How did the show come about?

I left university in 2008 with an arts degree and vague sense that 'the economy' was a) important and b) not in a good way. I've since deepened these profound insights (slightly) and one of the important bits of this was learning about money.

It's difficult to answer questions like, 'Where does all the money go in a recession?' or 'Where did the billions come from to save the banks?' if you don't know what money is. The show, an info-tainment, performance-lecture type thing, is me sharing what I've learnt along the way. And when I say 'share', I do of course mean 'monetise'. The irony is not lost on me.

What is the most common thing people misunderstand about money?

That most of it is cash and coins and they all sit around somewhere (in a bank vault?) doing something (collecting dust or being shuffled around?). And there's only so much of it (in the government's piggy bank) and when it's gone it's gone, and debt is bad, like really bad, and isn't it all just gold or something? Basically, most of us, most of the time, think about money like it's a finite natural resource over which we have little control and which we need to be careful not to run out of.

On a personal level, that's bang on. But when it comes to governments, currencies and banking, it's actually way off. Like, seriously, they're playing a whole different ball game. You know they just make it out of nothing, right? And the government can't run out of pounds because, to simplify for a moment, they can just make more pounds.

And the national debt is important but it's not like it's going to creep into your house and eat your children if we don't pay it back. Not that "paying it back" makes much sense in this context. In short, money isn't real. Well, not in the way we usually think it is.

What do you hope people will take away from the show?

A signed copy of my new book, 'How to Get (and Stay) Rich Quick!' (£79.99 RRP). Only joking. I didn't meet the publisher's deadline. Instead, I'd like people to leave with the notion that money isn't a natural phenomenon we can neither change nor improve. It's a super handy tool which exists in a political system which helps some people more than others and if we wanted to, we could change that. Also the fun etymology of 'bankrupt', from the Italian for 'broken bench', as the first Italian bankers used to set out their stall with a ledger on a bench. Damn, I've given away my best fact for free...

Money is Weird takes place on 24 May at Regather. Tickets are £7 from Tickets For Good.

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