January 2012

No love, no, sorry, but you\’re not poor

She added: \”We\’re stuck in this position. Whoever is making these decisions has obviously never been in the position of being poor.\”

My word, what is happening? The dripping\’d crust that is the only meal of the day being torn from her toddler\’s fingers? The teenage daughter being sent out to make pennies on corners from strangers?

Louise Ryan, 41, who lives with her husband and two children in Islington, north London, will see the £438-a-week benefit, which covers the rent, reduced to £340 under the changes to housing benefit introduced this month.

No, sorry, but this really isn\’t poverty. One benefit, recall, just one benefit that this family receives, is to be cut from a little under median full time wages to a little under median full time wages after tax. From £23,000 a year to £18,000 a year.

This one benefit is to be cut, and recall that this benefit is receivwed free of all taxation, to median pre-tax individual income. They\’re getting more in one benefit alone than the average person going out to work in the country sees in their paycheque. After this cut.

There are all sorts of ways one could describe this situation but fucking poverty ain\’t one of them.

That housing benefit alone, after the cut, yes, even with family size of four, puts them in the top 17% of the world\’s income distribution.

Being slightly more temperate about Ms. Penny\’s latest

Sexism is the stock in trade of the tabloid press. Challenging it strikes at the very core of the business model, and that is what feminists and our allies must remain brave and clear-headed enough to do.

No, it isn\’t. It just isn\’t.

For a basic fact about the media world that Ms. Penny needs to understand.

Newspapers, TV shows, magazines, they do not tell us our prejudices, do not force those of the journalists or proprietor or business model upon us.

They chase those that are already extant.

That\’s what the business model is. Yes, I\’m sure it\’s a shock to find out that there are millions who think the way the Mail does. Millions who take the Sun because they are interested in a bit of gung ho nationalism, bad puns, bare tits and three letter crossword answers. That the paid circulation of Tribune shows that there\’s some four people in the entire country interested in the internal machinations of Left Labour.

But that is what the actual situation is. The problem is in us, if problem it be, not in our newspapers.

I object to Laurie Penny\’s abuse of the English language

Well, I often object to her abuse of it but this really will not stand:

Now a collection of liberal feminist groups has come forward

There is nothing fucking liberal about these unshaven harridans determining how others should live their lives.

The essence of liberalism is that consenting adults get to do as they wish as long as it is indeed consenting adults and they don\’t frighten the horses out in the streets.

Attempting to censor the press so that 19 year olds can\’t display their iced nipples, 50 years olds drool over them, is not liberal. It is authoritarian, puritan, it is many things but all of the things that it is are not liberal.

If you wish to use the American perversions of our language then please only do so when writing in America for Americans.

Excellent Olympics News!

While spectators are being urged to abandon their cars and embrace public transport, 4,000 brand new BMWs have been ordered to escort dignitaries and officials to events.

The fleet of the German cars will include more than 3,000 BMW 3 and 5 Series saloons, which will be permitted to beat the traffic by using specially reserved games lanes across the capital.

Brits tend to not take kindly to such special rules. Grandees having privileges that the rest of us aren\’t allowed to share.

We do make exceptions for those actively at risk of assassination but other than that, everyone obeys the same rules of the road, we\’ve even got the upcoming possibility of a Cabinet Minister being pursued for perverting the course of justice over a speeding ticket.

So, knowing that they\’re all brand new BMW 3 and 5 Series meas that we know which cars to throw the paint bombs at, which cars to block off, which to key accidentally, which to stall accidentally in front of.

Isn\’t that good news then?

Telegraph subs in new blunder!

David Hockney appointed Order of Merit member
David Hockney, John Howard, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Tom Stoppard among new memebers to be appointed by the Queen, Buckingham Palace announced today.

Err, no.

The article itself has it right.

Hockney has been an internationally renowned painter since he burst on to the scene in the early 1960s as one of the leaders of British pop art.

Over the decades he has cemented his position as an important artistic figure and extended his talents to work as a photographer, draughtsman, printmaker and stage designer.

Former Australian prime minister John Howard, who served in office from 1996 to 2007, has also been appointed a member of the Order of Merit.

The honour is a special award presented to individuals of great achievement in the fields of the arts, learning, literature, science and other areas like public service.

Members of the Order include playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, former House of Commons speaker Baroness Betty Boothroyd and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

Hockney and Howard are the new members. Stoppard and Berners-Lee have been in for some years.

Subs on newspapers are those who correct errors and also write headlines. It\’s rather bad form to introduce new errors when writing the headline: especially when the actual article you\’re reading to tell you how to write the headline actually gets it right.

Must do better Telegraph, must do better.

In which @richardjmurphy shows he doesn\’t understand Keynes. Or budget deficits. Or macroeconomics

So, the evil right wing neo-liberal bastards that control the European Union (no, don\’t laugh, he\’s serious here) are going to make Keynesian economics, leftism, all that is good an holy in democracy, illegal.

It’s hard to say what the biggest threat of 2012 is but I’ll nominate one all the same.

Andrew Rawnsley celebrates democracy in the Observer this morning but democracy counts for nothing if there is no choice on offer. That is the goal of neoliberalism, which has long seen democracy as a market impediment. But now neoliberals are seeking to enshrine their thinking in EU law by outlawing Keynesian intervention in the economy. That is the aim of the December 2011 agreement on the future economic management of Europe which effectively bans deficit funding even though this is the only known and proven mechanism for ending recessions. In effect the neoliberal leadership of Europe is as a result seeking to end democratic choice and the role of government in the management of the economy henceforth – guaranteed by international law that will over-write local choice. The only option that will legally be offered to electorates henceforth will be a right wing one. No other option will be allowed, by law.

I call that the biggest threat of 2012.

And it’s happening on our doorstep and with the implicit consent of our government – which has removed itself from the debate so that progress can be made on this measure designed to reward the 1% at cost to the 99% without the UK ever being heard to even make comment, let alone objection.

If you want some idea of the size of the mountain the left has to climb then this is it. In effect a totalitarian neoliberal regime is being built across Europe and the press isn’t even raising comment or objection.

Perhaps that’s the most worrying bit. It certainly proves that Rawnsley has entirely missed the point. Having democracy when there’s nothing to choose from is not democracy at all.

His proof of all of this is this announcement from the Federasts. The claimed outlawing of Keynesian intervention in the economy is this:

 4. We commit to establishing a new fiscal rule, containing the following elements:
• General government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus; this principle shall be deemed
respected if, as a rule, the annual structural deficit does not exceed 0.5% of nominal GDP.

Which doesn\’t outlaw Keynesian demand management, Keynesian intervention in the economy at all. In fact, it\’s entirely silent upon the subject. Further, that they\’ve defined the deficit in one particular manner rather leaves open the possibility of such Keynesian intervention.

For, the bit that Ritchie\’s missed is \”structural\”.

Identifying exactly which bit is which can be, in empirical terms, a tad difficult, true, but the basic logical distinction is between structural deficits and cyclical ones. A cyclical deficit is one that varies with the economic cycle. When aggregate demand is down then the deficit goes up. This is what Keynes was arguing should in fact happen: and quite a lot of our economy is in fact now the sort of automatic stabilisers which make this happen. Tax receipts decline in a recession, benefits, unemployment pay etc go up, this increases the deficit. Similarly, in the boom times taxes rise and benefits fall leading to, one would hope (as Keynes would have hoped, as \”hard\” Keynesianism now hopes) to a budget surplus and thus a trimming of the national debt.

A structural deficit is one that doesn\’t disappear in the boom times. The permanent overspending of government if you like, permanent overspending that doesn\’t go away with the ebbs and flows of the business cycle.

Whether what the EU is proposing is a good idea or not is an entirely different question from the point that needs to be made here. Outlawing structural deficits does not hamper Keynesian responses to falls in aggregate demand, does not outlaw fiscal stimulus, does not outlaw Keynesian demand management.

Ritchie only thinks it does because he\’s ignorant of Keynes, deficits and macroeconomics.

What worries of course is that there will be the usual idiots who will believe him on this point.

Don\’t change the assisted suicide law

Writing in today\’s Observer, Baroness Warnock, a leading expert in medical ethics, backs a change to the law, which currently leaves someone who assists in the suicide of a friend or loved one liable to up to 14 years in prison.

Yes, this is true, it does.

Although the current law is clear that assisting someone to die is illegal, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has produced guidelines to clarify when an individual might not face prosecution. These suggest that relatives acting on compassionate grounds are unlikely to go to jail, but those acting in a professional capacity, such as doctors or nurses, are much more likely to face charges.

Quite, and we have a system that deals with this problem.

For we do in fact want a system that sorts through the various cases. At one end of the spectrum there\’s someone topping Granny for the house and the inheritance. At the other end there\’s that bolus of morphine that shortens a horribly painful life by a day or two.

We\’d like then first to go to jail and the second to face an investigation and then to let it lie.

After his death his parents contacted police to admit that they had helped him achieve his wish to end \”a second-class existence\” by taking him abroad – despite praying to the last, and urging him to change his mind. The police had to investigate and the Jameses underwent three hour-long interviews each by officers days after their son\’s funeral. The case against them was eventually dropped.

Quite. Talking to coppers for three hours isn\’t everyone\’s cup of tea but it seems a fair enough price to pay having taken that momentous decision to aid another in taking their life.

You know, so that we can sort through the Type A cases and the Type B?

Another way of putting this is that we\’ve a system in place already. Police investigation, decision of DPP on whether to prosecute or not, trial by a jury of peers.

Why do we need to change the law?


Paul Ruddock, a hedge fund manager and Tory donor who profited from the collapse of Northern Rock.

The Observer, getting all het up about the Honours List.

I\’m afraid I don\’t understand. Why are they getting all het up about making money out of Northern Rock\’s collapse?

We want capital to be allocated efficiently. Whatever economic system we have we really do still want that to be done by someone, somewhere. And a vital part of that, in fact the part that capitalism (even, if you prefer, late financial capitalism) does really well is close down the failures. Clears the shite out of the system.

Reallocates capital from unproductive to productive uses.

This is a good thing so why are they getting indignant about it?

I can imagine being upset if a financier drive a perfectly good business into the ground. But recognising that something is shite, selling stock in shite, making apparent to everyone that it is shite as it does in fact turn out to be, shite, that\’s a plus to the economy, not a minus.

Or, in this case, I can imagine getting angry at Applegarth but why Ruddock? Ruddock, by his actions, helped to uncover the stupidity that Applegarth was perpetrating.

Today\’s issue beamed in from the sociology department

I was pleased to see the Observer highlighting struggles many households face in putting food on the table without falling further into debt (\”Plight of the families who must rely on food parcels\”, Cash). However, the good work done by food banks to help meet immediate needs cannot pass without comment.

Charitable food handouts have a long history, but it seems they are now an acceptable remedy for households both in and out of work in contemporary Britain.

As your article also notes, such systems are being institutionalised: potential clients are referred by professionals; funding for new food banks and volunteer training is sought; your readers are encouraged to donate money and food.

The Trussel Trust (highlighted in the article) emphasises the role of individuals and communities in supporting local families, rather than looking to food sector cast-offs. But the article fails to ask why this should be necessary and what such efficient charitable response obscures.

People resort to food banks when their income (wages or welfare) is too low or when state systems fail (benefits are wrong or delayed). Consistent academic evidence and people\’s experience show the minimum wage and state benefits are insufficient to live decently and eat healthily for more than a few months, however skilfully people budget, shop and cook.

The costs of bureaucratic errors should not fall on those already burdened and struggling. Food banks, despite their apparent \”win-win\” structure, conceal realities of poverty and hunger. They let the state off the hook from their obligation to ensure all have the means to live and from showing political leadership to grapple creatively with poverty.

We need sustainable livelihoods rather than insecure, poorly paid work and social welfare benefits that offer dignity and sufficiency rather than penalties and indebtedness.

Growing hunger is too big for charitable food banks to solve.

Elizabeth Dowler

Professor of food and social policy,

Department of Sociology

University of Warwick

Yup, that\’s right. Private charity, self-organising networks, citizens doing it for themselves.

These are bad things.

Because they stop the State from doing things.


Whatever will they think of next?

Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, aims to clamp down on abuse of the council and housing association sectors which is estimated to cost taxpayers between £5 billion and £10 billion a year.

Last night he said the current system was a “scandal” which the coalition was determined to end. Ministers are expected to launch two new consultations within weeks ahead of possible legislation – with money saved going toward building new social housing.

Currently it is not an offence to sublet a council house – a loophole which allows some tenants who have moved out and live in private homes to make thousands of pounds in rent above the figure they are charged by local authorities.

So, currently the maximum penalty for being found out is to lose the council tenancy. In future it\’ll some form of fraud.

There\’s also to be the \”Bob Crow clause\” whereby those with high incomes will have to pay market rents.

They both seem to be blitheringly obvious things to do (indeed, I have long argued that all \”social\” tenancies should be at market rent. People who can\’t afford them get HB for exactly as long as they can\’t afford them and no more).

But what interests is, well, obviously there are going to be people who will argue against this. I mean, obviously there will be, this is a Tory Government after all.

The thing is, will any of them be able to find arguments that don\’t have us all bursting out laughing at their absurdity?