Bank Holiday Special: Should the West put Wogan in Charge of Economic Diplomacy?

Ah, that's more like it. It's a UK bank holiday, and the weather's more fitting for the Grand Banks in late November than for a late spring day. The puzzling sunshine of the first May bank holiday is now but a distant memory...

This weekend saw the passage of the annual Eurovision Song Contest. For those non-Europeans fortunate enough to live in ignorance of this monument to bad music, allow Macro Man to enlighten you. Every year, each European country submits an act to this contest, which is hosted by the previous year's winner. All of the acts perform live, and are voted on by the citizens of Europe. Each country can award points to the acts on the basis of a national vote, though voting for one's own national champion is prohibited. Although the contest's winning alumni include the like of Abba in the early 70's, in recent years the artistic quality of the contest has been such that American Idol/X Factor type programs seem like Verdi operas in comparison.

Now, it wasn't that long ago that countries like the UK and Ireland fared well in this annual monument to cheese. Indeed, such was Ireland's success rate that the cost of staging the annual event began to burden the country's finances. This in turn led the country to "tank" it for a few years, as parodied by Father Ted:



But then a funny thing happened. The UK and Ireland not only quit winning, but started to fare rather badly. To be sure, the artistic quality of the entrants wasn't the best, but when you finish well behind entrants like this year's Bosnian effort-



-you've gotta wonder what time it is. In point of fact, the Eurovision has become plagued by a phenomenon known as "tactical voting"- in other words, all sorts of countries, notably Slavic ones, vote for their mates, regardless of quality. And thus emerged a rather sneaky suspicion that the UK (and its perceived buddy, Ireland) were faring so poorly because a lot of other European countries don't like them very much.

Now, if each country contributed equally to the staging of the event, even the doughtiest of British Europhobes would have little cause for concern. In fact, the four rich countries- the UK, France, Germany, and Italy, foot the bill for the whole thing. Heck, the BBC stumps up 40% of the cash every year, only to have new Europe's ingratitude thrown back in its face.

While Macro Man doesn't watch or care about Eurovision, he couldn't help but observe a similarity to a more familiar sphere, that of global finance. In his world, new entrants have emerged that don't play by the established rules....much like the tactical voters in Eurovision.

To date, developed market policymakers have opted for what might be termed the "Irish Eurovision route"; namely, making a protest that falls on deaf ears (or, in the case of Dustin the Turkey, is actually booed.)




And until recently, the "big four" have retained a stiff upper lip in the face of rejection from its European partners. However, the times, they are a changin'. Some countries, such as France, have had enough of rejection: this year's Gallic entry featured a Neanderthal looking chap singing in- wait for it- English. Sacrebleu!

As for the UK, enough is evidently enough. The British entrant finished joint last, nearly 100 points behind the Bosnian monstrosity linked above. As a result, the doyen of Eurovision, the BBC's Terry Wogan, wants to call time on the whole debacle. Refreshingly forthright commentary of a type rarely heard in the financial sphere. Perhaps the West should put Terry in charge of its next "strategic dialogue" with serial interveners in global currency markets.

Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without linking to the victor, Russia's Dima Bilan. Enjoy, if you can:


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mOOm
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May 26, 2008 at 11:30 AM ×

Couldn't stop laughing at those Bosnians with their chicken. There always was tactical voting in Eurovision. Especially, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus were especially blatant.

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Anonymous
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May 26, 2008 at 12:48 PM ×

The parallels with the three axioms of globalization are there, but you missed the parallel with the EU, whereby taxpayers unwittingly fund monstrous European vanity projects...(cf. the BBC coughing up 40% of the funding). ; )

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shtove
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May 26, 2008 at 3:15 PM ×

Did Ireland's entry have more french in it than the French entry?

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Anonymous
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May 26, 2008 at 8:04 PM ×

Eurovision is a joke.Best case scenario is that it's full of Idol-rejects trying desperately to cling on to the "fame" the show has generated them. Next!

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Anonymous
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May 26, 2008 at 9:04 PM ×

Blaming tactical voting is a bit of a canard in that the winner actually grabs the juicy points from all over Europe. The term tactical voting would also imply there is an agreement to vote on each other, when it's more likely common language (Slavic languages are about as close as Swedish to Norwegian), large minorities (There are Russians in every former country of the Soviet Union), fame in the region (winners nowadays are frequently established artists), number of bordering countries (you can cross a border to phone in a vote for your country) etc that favors certain countries. Britain could easily do better if there was a good artist with a good song. Unfortunately British entries seem stuck in the 80s and the ESC is considered so naff that no self-respecting British artist would waste a potential hit song on the competition.

That said, I absolutely hate this year's winner. The artist seems to embody all the worst qualities of boy bands, which sadly makes him very appealing to young girls (finding a pan-European niche is really helpful, just ask Lordi).

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Anonymous
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May 27, 2008 at 1:04 AM ×

I liked the song about the horse.
So why didn't Ireland compete with that one?

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Anonymous
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May 27, 2008 at 9:54 AM ×

I might not know much about finance, but I do know a lot about Eurovision. :)

The Bosnian song is actually very good. The artist has a reputation for quirkiness, and given that it practically takes a circus act to stand out among all of the entries, giving a performance with a strong visual component seems absolutely essential.

They used a completely different performance at Eurovision, by the way:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=V_tspk1ifFI

For truly pathetic entries look at France (although he did provide some entertainment by doing two things I have never seen at Eurovision before - driving a golf cart onto the stage, and inhaling helium in the middle of a performance) and Germany (not a bad song, but simply a Jemini type live performance).

Anonymous at 2004:

The west treats Eurovision like that, but the east sends their biggest stars period. The Russian entrant had won MTV's "Artist of the Year" the last three years, and "Song of the Year" the last two years. That explains much of the reason the east does better than the west now.

Anonymous at 2104:

Russia finished 8th/9th among the televoting western European countries this year, but it racked up such big scores in the east (8.75 points per country average), that it needed virtually no points from the west to win the contest.

I agree with you about disliking this year's winner, mostly because the song seemed quite week. In my opinion, Russia has sent better songs in at least for of the last eight years. Nevertheless, when you add the Olympic figure skating gold medalist (skating on fake ice) and a world famous violinist (playing a centuries old Stradivarius) to your presentation, you have the kind of circus act that wins nowadays.

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Anonymous
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May 27, 2008 at 9:57 AM ×

Oops. That should read:

I agree with you about disliking this year's winner, mostly because the song seemed quite weak. In my opinion, Russia has sent better songs in at least four of the last eight years.

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Macro Man
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May 27, 2008 at 10:37 AM ×

I thought Dustin the Turkey merited at least a place in the finals...

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Anonymous
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May 27, 2008 at 4:11 PM ×

I didn't think so, and I'm Irish. :)

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