Have you ever been in a cafe or restaurant next to a young couple who, when their food arrives, pull out their phones to photograph the dinner from different angles? Whatever happened to just enjoying eating your food?
This week, while teaching economics at Trinity College Dublin – one of the great things about my year – I chatted with the students about generational differences. We came to the conclusion that a deep division, an obvious marker, was the dinner photo op. For many people of my generation, photographing food by young people is a bizarre ritual. Still, it is a good example of the dream economy.
The dream economy is the commercialization of emotions, the monetization of feelings and identity. The Instagrammer tells everyone, when capturing his or her Dublin Bay scallops artistically arranged on the plate, that this is the kind of person I am. They don’t say something as lame as “I like this”, but rather “I am like this”. This is my tribe. I am a member of the “fresh scallop tribe”, a sophisticated subset of carnivore, possibly pescatarian, which, as everyone knows, comes with its own implicit erudition.
Three decades ago, Rolf Jensen wrote The Dream Society, in which he predicted that people’s spending patterns were changing. He predicted that people would buy stories, legends, emotion and lifestyle. He was perfect, and the advent of social media has accelerated that trend. As societies get richer, people move from necessities to spending on experiences. In the past, this kind of behavior was largely limited to sports. For example, people paid to watch their favorite team. Today, lifestyle publishing extends to bands, chefs, writers, thinkers, and even podcasters.
Anyone who has been to a festival can confirm that when you are at a festival money is lavishly spent and, unlike other forms of spending, this money is spent on local services
In Ireland, and all the richer countries, the dream economy is huge, involving tourism, humanities, arts, music and festivals of all kinds, appealing to a range of tastes from the broadest to the most niche of foodies. As we head into festival season, hundreds of events will be staged across the country, involving thousands of artists, musicians, writers, producers, researchers, audiovisual engineers, editors, security, travel agents, tent fitters and a host of creative professionals.
This is relatively new, but it is growing at a phenomenal rate as the dream economy becomes a major item. Some call it the creative economy, others the infotainment industry, where entertainment and information meet during a grand day out. Whatever you call it, as society gets richer, more and more people’s spending goes towards unique experiences rather than simple commodities.
The result of this shift in personal spending is an extremely vibrant and important sector of the economy. The arts sector directly supports nearly 55,000 jobs, of which about two-thirds (67 per cent) are outside Dublin. According to Fáilte Ireland, the number of foreign visitors coming to Ireland to attend a festival is expected to reach 300,000 this year. According to a 2020 EY report, the arts sector contributed more than €1.16 billion in GVA to the economy.
In Galway alone, the Galway Advertiser estimates that the city’s three major summer festivals – the Galway Film Fleadh, the Galway International Arts Festival and the Galway Races – attract 375,000 people to the city and generate around €90 million for the local economy. The arts festival alone attracts 200,000 visitors.
An independent study, commissioned by people in the promotions industry alongside Fáilte Ireland and Imro, indicates that four million people attended a Ticketmaster event in Ireland from 2015 to 2016, with more than 250,000 of them traveling from abroad. Live entertainment contributed €1.7 billion in net additional income, €669 million in net additional income and some 11,000 additional jobs to the Irish economy during this period.
The domino impact for merchants, hotels, pubs and the like is huge. For every €1 spent on a ticket, an estimated €6.06 in additional revenue is generated in the rest of the economy. Anyone who has ever been to a festival can attest that when you are at a festival, money is generously spent and, unlike other forms of spending, this money is spent on local services.
Music events make up the bulk of these numbers, attracting about 2.2 million visitors to the Republic, while arts, literature, theater and comedy attract another 860,000. In terms of gross value added, music events lead the way with €376 million, followed by art, theater and comedy (€114 million).
Despite the large figures, art and culture in general is an expensive affair. At the heart of the dream economy are the artists themselves and those who take the risk of organizing festivals.
This government has dramatically increased government funding for the arts. The Arts Council now receives a €130 million grant, representing a significant increase of more than 60 percent in arts funding in less than three years, after receiving only €80 million in the 2020 budget. background noise to this increase was the pandemic, which wiped out all revenue from festivals.
Recognizing that most artists struggle to make ends meet, the state also launched a pilot project last year to provide artists with a universal basic income. The scheme ensures that 2,000 artists and creatives receive a benefit of € 325 per week, which amounts to just under € 17,000 per year, far below the average wage.
The 21st century economy is a complex organism, a sensitive ecosystem and a central part of the dream economy, fueled by the dreamer – the artists, poets, musicians, actors, writers, those whose contribution to society is enormous, but few can make money their impact.