Sir Bob Geldof tells off economists at Invest ASEAN 2016 conference

Musician and humanitarian calls for change in economic growth models at conference

Bob Geldof painted a bleak picture of the world that is run on the current economic development model at the Invest Asean 2016 conference.
Bob Geldof painted a bleak picture of the world that is run on the current economic development model at the Invest Asean 2016 conference.PHOTO: MAYBANK KIM ENG

Bob Geldof, the Irish music veteran and humanitarian, had a blunt message for a roomful of finance executives he was speaking to yesterday noon: all their data is irrelevant.

Giving a keynote speech at the Invest Asean 2016 conference, an investor conference organised by Maybank at The Ritz-Carlton, the 64-year-old said: "We live, bizarrely, in a world of surplus and yet, people die of want. That is economically ridiculous. It is intellectually absurd and it is morally repulsive."

Geldof, the man behind the groundbreaking Live Aid (1985) and Live 8 (2005) charity concerts, later said "nothing about what you are talking about in this whole conference works".

"We need to have different models. We can still make money, that's not a problem, but having reduced the idea of human progress to the economic model of growth, we are now just using growth as a euphemism for more of everything.

"You see, more is just a euphemism for greed. That's because what we don't understand about ourselves is that we are insatiable. The more we have, the more we seem to want."

Singapore is very different today, comparing the country to the first time he was here in the 1970s, said the three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

"This incredible, massive growth for which you and the rest of us are beneficiaries. But is it possible to continue not just on the local level in Singapore, but on a global scale? The answer is simple. No, it's not possible.

"All those charts from that last guy don't mean anything anymore," he said, referring to the economic data from Asean countries presented in the preceding talk by Maybank Kim Eng's global investment strategist Sadiq Currimbhoy.

He painted a bleak picture of the world that is run on the current economic development model.

"If we continue down the economic path and model of today using everything the world has to provide us with - a model of growth which we can't sustain - then we are going down a path of utter hopelessness and despair, and that's the way most of the world lives.

"And for the rest of us, we will, as a species, as human beings, face total extinction," he said, paraphrasing a famous quote by American film icon Woody Allen.

"To do the change, we really need forums like this to have the commitment and will to change," added the man who was knighted at age 34 for his famine relief works.

"The only way we can survive is to compromise between each other to arrive at a consensus and cooperate."

A Maybank Kim Eng spokesman said: "Our conference is about provocative conversations. We believe that Sir Bob Geldof's views were meant to galvanise the business and investment community into action."

Despite Geldof's forceful statements, his initial speech got off to a light, albeit awkward, start when the in-house DJ played The Beatles' song Day Tripper instead of any of the Irish rocker's songs.

"Why did you play The Beatles?" Geldof asked, as the audience laughed. The DJ got it right at the end of the speech when he played Geldof's 1979 No. 1 hit, I Don't Like Mondays by his new wave/punk band The Boomtown Rats.

Several members in the audience gave Geldof a standing ovation when he ended his talk.

He gave a second speech later in the afternoon about how men have a part to play in championing women's rights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Bob Geldof disses economic data'. Subscribe