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How Shorism might win Australia’s federal election

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/04/2022 - 11:26am in

Looking at Australian politics right now, one thing stands out: the federal ALP has become a little Shorist. I don’t know how long it will last, or whether it’s even a conscious strategy. But it’s definitely happening. 

What does “Shorist” mean? Well, David Shor (pictured in that YouTube video above) is a US electoral analyst. In 2020 he was somewhat famously fired by his Democrat-aligned consulting firm. His offence? Pointing, during the Black Lives Matter protests, to research showing that the violent protests of 1968 lost Democrats votes, while non-violent protests gained them votes.

The ensuing publicity underlined that Shor had something pretty distinctive to say, particularly for a self-confessed Sanders-voting socialist. He had a whole critique of US left-wing politics that went beyond just rejecting violence as a political strategy. It also translates pretty well outside the US.

Shor’s critique was that a lot of the left’s preferred policies are really unpopular, and so leftists should stop talking so loudly about them.

Note that Shor didn’t even argue that the Democrats should abandon all their unpopular policies. He just insisted that if you spend most of your time yakking about things people don’t want you to do, you are less likely to get elected.

The Shorist political strategy seems almost insanely simple: talk about issues where people are likely to agree with you, and shut the f**k up about issues where most people disagree with you. 

The less educated desert the Dems

Shor starts any discussion of the US electoral scene by pointing out that people with less education (especially in former manufacturing and mining areas) have been abandoning the US Democrats. Shor points to Stark County in Illinois, which voted 54 per cent for Obama in 2008 but just 12 per cent for Biden 12 years later. Conservative Hispanic voters, in particular, have moved towards the Republican Party; Obama won them by 10 points, he says, yet Trump won them by 40 points. People with high education, meanwhile, have moved towards the Democrats. (It’s education, not income, which really differentiates today’s US voters, Shor argues.)

Shor wants to arrest this drift, and he thinks the easiest way to do it is for Democrats to spend more time talking about the things they want to do that the electorate wants them to do too. “Contrary to what a lot of people would think,” he says, “talking about [popular] issues and tying your party to popular issues is the single most persuasive thing that a candidate can do in order to get people to vote for them.” And this effect is increasingly determining people’s votes, he claims, while political campaigns grow less and less important.

Shor also points to a huge problem for the US Democrats, which seems likely to be duplicated in other left-wing parties: the people who run it are far younger, more educated and more left-wing than the part members, let alone the electorate. They are, in fact, like David Shor. Then – and here’s the surprise twist – he advises left parties to guard against letting such people (people like him) dictate policy. In the past, Labor has seemed to suffer from this. Remember Kevin Rudd’s office, which sometimes seemed full of people just out of their teens? 

Albanese embraces the Shor strategy

Now, it could be just coincidence; I have no inside sources. But accidentally or intentionally, Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese has been running a strategy that looks almost as if Shor was advising him. It’s popularist in the Shor sense of the word – which means it’s centred on left-wing policies that people really like. Albanese may put forward some of the less popular stuff later on, but right now he seems to be homing in on things that people will nod along with. 

And so far at least, he’s avoiding issues which people seemed to dislike at the 2019 election. He’s not promising to abolish negative gearing or impose carbon taxes; he won’t even engage in discussion about whether they would be effective.

Instead, Albanese is homing in on aged care. He’s been relentlessly pushing the aged care issue ever since the Budget. And the strategy behind that push seems kind of perfect. This sort of policy pops up in Shor’s US analysis as some of the best ground for a left-wing party. 

I’m not sure whether Shor has tested aged care, but he has certainly tested health care in general. In Shor’s testing, telling voters that Democrats want to make health care cheaper polls very well indeed. (Telling people that Donald Trump is a terrible person, in contrast,  doesn’t work at all.) There’s every reason to think health care works for the left in Australia, too, for similar reasons. And aged care is a particularly compelling issue. 

Ticking all the boxes

For Labor right now, aged care ticks an insane number of boxes. It responds to a real and pressing labour shortage. It addresses some of the deep problems outlined by the very high-profile Aged Care Royal Commission just last year. It raises wages for some of the least well-off. It shrinks the gender pay gap, since aged care workers are disproportionately female. It reinforces Labor’s brand as the champion of downtrodden workers, and probably helps it with older voters who might otherwise be tempted to vote against Labor. It’s real and substantial policy, giving Labor useful protection against the claim that it’s not making enough policy commitments. Not a single major lobby group is raising their voice against it. And it has left the government stuck in no-man’s-land, supporting a wage rise but not promising to fund it – that is, agreeing with the policy without neutralising it as a weapon.

Perhaps most important of all, this is an issue that touches a heck of a lot of Australians, since most of use know or have known someone in aged care, and many of us know workers or ex-workers in the sector as well – and almost no-one thinks “yeah, those people get a fair deal”.

True, an aged care wage rise will cost the government real money. But the Liberal and National Parties are struggling to make that much of after the spendathon of the past two years.

It’s not just aged care. Albanese is also stressing “cleaner energy”, “stronger Medicare” and “higher TAFE funding”, all classic Shor issues. The TAFE funding, in particular, speaks both to left-wing credibility on education and to Labor’s traditional base, which Shor’s analysis suggests it needs to work at keeping. It has the additional benefit that policy analysis actually suggests that done right, more TAFE funding will be great both for lower-income people and for the country as a whole.

All these ideas also benefit from the government’s sudden ineffectuality in claiming that a given Labor program will cost billions we don’t have. That’s an effect that can’t be underestimated. (I simply don’t know whether Shor has any data on supporting childcare or propping up manufacturing industry, other frequent Albanese themes.)

Shorism in the ALP

Something very like Shorism has history in the ALP. The idea that Labor can do plenty of popular things was Bob Carr’s big theme back in the 1980s, when he was the Labor Right’s leading ideas man. (Carr was also successfully urging Labor to really embrace such ideas as “communism has been terrible for working people”.) And it was behind much of Kevin Rudd’s appeal too. So it’s either a natural fit for Labor, or perhaps Not That Big An Idea After All, at least in Australia.

Nevertheless, you might not expect Albanese to run the Shor strategy. It’s unpopular with much of the US far left, and from what I can see, the Australian far left doesn’t like it much either. And Albanese is a former Labor Left firebrand who as recently as 2012 declared “fighting Tories” was “what I do”. But then, Shor is an avowed Sanders socialist; he simply seems to have collided with reality. For Albanese, the collision with reality might have been the 2019 federal election.

It may be that Albanese, too, has been in politics long enough to notice that his job is not to enact every single last left-wing idea in legislation. Albanese may indeed have decided that it’s enough to just get a lot of stuff done, without getting everything done – and to actually get elected to do it.

Note: In writing this, one other possible Labor advantage occurred to me: compared to the US Democrats, Labor may benefit from having the Greens to its left.
The Greens are not quite a pure left-wing party at this stage, but they are pretty close; they’re certainly further left than the old Australian Democrats were. They syphon off some activists who would otherwise be pulling Labor further left. Yet in Australia’s voting system, Green voters’ preferences flow pretty strongly to Labor. One result of this is that Labor, unlike the Democrats, gets most of the far-left votes without being saddled with the need to talk about too many unpopular far-left policies.
The downside for Labor is that it attracts a smaller flow of idealistic young people who would slowly drift towards the centre as they age. Shorism seems sadly unattractive to most politically-engaged younger people. Indeed, it seems even less attractive than losing a lot of elections.

The Voldemort Index

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 12:16am in

A few days ago, I received the attached essay, sent to me in error by a Dr. Tom Riddle. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the elite worldview.

(Cover image: Elodie Tihange, altered)

There is no good and evil.
There is only power and those too weak to seek it.

Lord Voldemort

For centuries, philosophers have sought to understand concepts such as ‘equity’, ‘fairness’, and ‘justice’. The result has been widespread confusion. Fortunately, Lord Voldemort has rescued us from this moral daze by uncovering the truth. There is only one ethic — the pursuit of power. This is the ‘Voldemort principle’.

Although it seems hard to believe (for the modern reader), the rulers of old spoke openly of following the Voldemort principle. For instance, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser bragged of imposing a ‘heavy yoke of empire’ onto his enemies. Sadly, in the centuries that followed, tyrants grew more timid. During the Middle Ages, the masses began to demand ‘rights’ and sought to ‘limit’ the power of elites. Rulers responded by concealing talk of power inside a code called ‘Latin’. It’s a trick that the privileged have used ever since.

Today, elites prefer to speak in a code called ‘economics’.1 Although it has the appearance of English, ‘economics’ redefines key words to aid the accumulation of power. Specifically, the word ‘power’ is coded into the word ‘free’. Thus, when economists speak of a ‘free market’, they mean a place where the rich get what they want.2

Regrettably, after articulating this utopia, economists tend to get lost within it. They forget that the real world can be quite different from the one they envision. The purpose of this essay is to explore the real world — to see how close it comes to the Voldemort principle.

The key question is this: to what degree do the rich get their way? To answer this question, I construct a metric that I call the ‘Voldemort index’. The index measures the degree to which income buys access to resources.

When we apply this index to the real world, the results are alarming. Far from getting their way, it seems that the rich are increasingly left wanting. Although the evidence that follows is disturbing, it should not be ignored. For it is only by understanding the world that we can once again rule it.

The Voldemort index

As I alluded to above, the purpose of ‘economics’ is to ensure that the rich get what they want. Here’s how it works.

We begin with some distribution of income that is highly unequal. Next, we declare (with a straight face) that this distribution arises from a ‘natural law’. Finally, we proclaim that any attempt to fetter the power of the rich constitutes a ‘distortion’.3 If all goes well, resources will chase dollars, not people. In other words, if Alice earns 100 times more than Bob, she will receive 100 times more of whatever she desires (be it cars, food, or insulin).

That’s the ideal, anyway. In the real world, things like the ‘rule of law’ can impede the rich, depriving them of their wants and whims. Since few ‘scientists’ are interested in this elite hardship, we must take matters into our own hands. To that end, I have developed a tool for measuring the privation of the wealthy. In honor of the esteemed philosopher, I call it the ‘Voldemort index’.

The Voldemort index, V, measures the degree to which the command of resources scales with income:

\displaystyle \text{command of resources} \sim (\text{income} )^V

In general, the higher the value of V, the less the rich are deprived. A value of V = 1 is optimal, indicating that the rich get what they want in exact proportion to their income. Conversely, the value V = 0 is the worst-case scenario. It corresponds to a world in which resources are ‘rationed’ equally, irrespective of one’s income. This ‘rationing’ is the ultimate form of elite privation.

In what follows, I apply the Voldemort index to the international distribution of various commodities, including vaccines, lifespan, energy and pollution. The facts (which are rather depressing) speak for themselves.

That said, I know that some readers will greet this research with skepticism, as they are accustomed to ‘making their own facts’. If you are among the (many) powerful people who struggle with quantitative measurement (of the real world), perhaps the following decree will help you interpret the data:

Voldemort’s Decree

When V = 1, Voldemort is glad,
the rich hoard resources
with grip ironclad.

When V = 0, Voldemort is sad,
resources flow to the many,
in a world gone mad.

With the Voldemort index in hand, let’s look at some recent history.

COVID de-exploited

For the past two years, the world has been locked in a global pandemic. Such moments of crisis are rare opportunities. With the laity distracted, resources can be returned to their rightful owners — the rich and powerful.

Throughout the pandemic, many elites have acted admirably, using the crisis to enrich themselves. On that front, CEOs get most of the attention. But the award for profiteering surely goes to Big Pharma.

Even during normal times, the pharmaceutical business involves an ingenious form of parasitism. Unable to survive on their own, pharmaceutical firms act like parasites, or what I will call ‘pharmasites’. Pharmasite attach themselves to a public-sector host where they feast on a steady stream of basic research. Once the public funds have been sucked dry, the pharmasite lays its egg: a privatized final product. From this egg hatches drugs that only the rich can afford, leading to vast profits for the pharmasite owners.4

During the pandemic, the pharmasite business faced immense pressure to alter its parasitic playbook by releasing COVID vaccines in the ‘public domain’. But to its credit, Big Pharma stuck to its ideals and profited from the crisis. It seized research that had been in the publicly-funded pipeline for decades, and surrounded it by a steep paywall.

Unfortunately, not everyone acted so honorably. Early in the pandemic, researchers at the University of Oxford developed a COVID vaccine and signaled that they would make it ‘public’.5 Thankfully, disaster was averted when Bill Gates convinced Oxford to give its technology to AstraZeneca for proper profiteering.

By avoiding the public domain, the vaccine roll out proceeded in the usual manner. Big Pharma earned big profits, and vaccines chased dollars, not people. Figure 1 gives you a sense for how this vaccine distribution played out. I’ve plotted here the international COVID vaccination rate as a function of income per capita (observed on April 1, 2021). Clearly, earning more income bought you more vaccines.

Figure 1: COVID vaccines chasing dollars. This figure shows how the COVID vaccination rate (on April 1, 2021) relates to income per capita. Each point represents a country. The slope of the best-fit line indicates the Voldemort index, which is 1.2. [Sources]

We can use the data in Figure 1 to measure the Voldemort index for COVID vaccines. The Voldemort index corresponds to the slope of the best-fit line (on the log-log scale). Here, the slope is 1.2. This value tells us that doubling your per capita income buys you, on average, about 2.3 times the number of COVID vaccines ( 2^{1.2} \approx 2.3 ). Or at least it did on April 1, 2021.

Unfortunately, when we widen the Voldemort lens, the picture becomes less rosy. Figure 2 tells the story. Here I have plotted the Voldemort index for COVID vaccines, measured throughout all of 2021. We can see now that the snapshot in April represented a brief moment of respite during which the rich got their way. From May 2021 onward, however, wealthy countries became increasingly deprived, as indicated by the rapid decline in the Voldemort index.

Figure 2: The Voldemort index for international COVID vaccinations. The Voldemort index measures the degree to which vaccination rates scale with income per capita (across countries). When the index is 1, doubling your income buys you twice the number of vaccines. When the index is 0, income has no affect on the vaccination rate. [Sources]

After the high point of the early vaccine roll out, something went wrong. Here are some likely culprits.

First, it’s well known that vaccine property rights are incomplete. Yes, Big Pharma can paywall its ‘own’ vaccines (which have been parasitized from the public sector). But it cannot privatize the basic knowledge on which the vaccines depend. Absent this much-needed stick, anyone can use the same basic knowledge to make a competing vaccine. That is no way to run a monopoly.

Second, it seems we cannot count on fellow monopolists to defend the sanctity of intellectual property. Even the IP stalwart Bill Gates has lost his way. In a recent statement, the Gates Foundation caved to public pressure and advocated for open-access vaccines. Of all people, Gates should understand the virtue of parasitizing public research. Yet it seems that no elite is safe from the meme of ‘people over profits’.

Lastly, there is a real threat that vaccine researchers will bypass the pharmasite business, depriving it of a lucrative food source. For instance, scientists Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi recently created a ‘patent-free’ COVID vaccine called CORBEVAX. With no licensing fee, CORBEVAX can be manufactured cheaply by anyone. Should other researchers follow this example, pharmasite profits may run dry.

Although it sounds like an exaggeration, we could soon face a world in which COVID vaccines are rationed ‘equitably’ amongst the world’s population.

Containing the knowledge virus

Although Big Pharma cultivates an air of invincibility, the reality is that its pharmasite model has a critical vulnerability: scientific knowledge. Despite valiant efforts, the pharmaceutical business has been unable to enclose the web of knowledge on which it preys. And so it is constantly on the defensive, muzzling upstart scientists who think that publicly-funded research should be ‘kept public’.

One such upstart was the virologist Jonas Salk who, in the 1950s, developed the first effective polio vaccine. When asked who owned the patent, Salk replied:

Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?6

I call this attitude the ‘Salk stance’. It’s a perpetual threat to Big Pharma’s profits, and to the inequitable distribution of medicine.

If you do not believe me, have a look at Figure 3. Here I have plotted the Voldemort index for three common vaccines. Unlike most COVID jabs, these vaccines have been around for decades, and their core technology is largely in the public domain. They can be made cheaply by anyone. Unsurprisingly, the Voldemort index for all three vaccines has collapsed towards zero.

Figure 3: The Voldemort index for three common vaccines. The Voldemort index measures the degree to which vaccination rates scale with income per capita across countries. When the index is 1, doubling your income buys you twice the vaccines. When the Voldemort index is 0, income has no affect on the vaccination rate. [Sources]

Although the picture in Figure 3 looks grim, Big Pharma has been able to survive by avoiding this type of ‘proven medicine’ in favor of more lucrative new drugs. Still, without the power to privatize basic science, one wonders how long the game can continue.

Buying time

Leaving behind our colleagues in the pharmaceutical racket, let’s turn to more general concerns. Everyone knows that ‘time is money’. For elites, however, money is also time. It’s an essential tool for extending your life.

Before we get to the real-world ability to buy time, let’s start with the ideal. In his film In Time, director Andrew Niccol imagines a world in which the human body is immortal, yet has been programmed to die unless fed a constant supply of ‘time’. With lifetime literally commodified, the poor struggle to survive the day, while the rich bask in effective immortality.7

In Niccol’s utopia, the Voldemort index for human lifespan would be 1. (If you doubled your income, you would double your lifetime.) In the real world, the lifespan returns to wealth are far more meagre, and grow worse each year.

Figure 4 shows the trend. Here I have plotted the Voldemort index for life expectancy across countries. As you can see, the Voldemort index is collapsing towards 0. We are fast approaching a world in which life expectancy is rationed ‘equally’, regardless of income.

Figure 4: The Voldemort index for human lifespan. The Voldemort index measures the degree to which life expectancy scales with income per capita across countries. When the index is 1, doubling your (per capita) income buys you a life that is twice as long. When the Voldemort index is 0, money becomes useless for hoarding life. [Sources]

Who is to blame for depriving the global elite of their life-extending power? A quick look at history shows that the main culprit is government.8

Despite our best efforts, governments continue to spend money on projects such as ‘basic sanitation’, ‘public health’, and ‘education’. The effect of these projects is to extend everyone’s life. (The job of bankrolling expensive, elite-only cures is left to the world’s billionaires.) Because of government spending, elites are being deprived of their right to outlive the poor. It is a tragedy of the commons.

Controlling the master resource

Speaking of tragedy, let’s look at another disaster in the making. But first, some theory.

Throughout history, people have convinced themselves that they have a ‘right’ to use the resources that ‘surround’ them. Thus, hunter gatherers claimed the ‘right’ to harvest ‘regional wildlife’. And farmers claimed the ‘right’ to exploit ‘nearby lands’. For elites, these ‘rights’ pose a problem. If the locals consume a resource, then the distant elite cannot. I call this problem the ‘tyranny of proximity’. If the wealthy are to flourish, this tyranny must be solved.

As with other Promethean events like the mastery of fire or the invention of the wheel, we will never know who first solved the proximity problem. All we can say is that elites everywhere have hit upon the same solution: plunder. The logic is simple: if you confiscate distant resources first, the locals cannot consume them.

Of course, the most important resource to take is energy. That’s because energy is the ‘master resource’ — the panacea that makes all other exploitation possible. So when it comes to energy, you can never have too much.

Back to the tyranny of proximity. Pick any history book and you will find innumerable tales of elite enrichment through armed plunder. Curiously, where you will not find such stories is in modern textbooks on economics. Thankfully, that’s not because the power to loot has waned. It’s because economists speak about pillage using a code. They call it ‘exchange’.

Let’s illustrate the ruse.

Suppose you are the ruler of a large army, which you use to conquer a distant land. After the takeover, you install a puppet regime which controls most of the resources. In return for a modest fee (and some arms shipments), the local elites send you the resources you want. Notice how the end result is the same as if you simply took the resources directly: the booty flows to you not the locals. So why bother with the market rigmarole?

The answer is that it’s good PR.

By laundering the resources through a monetary transaction, you get to call it an ‘exchange’. And once you have an ‘exchange’, economists come to your aid. Economists wipe from the books your army, your conquest, your puppet regime, your arms shipments, and your backdoor dealings. On paper, all that remains is a ‘reciprocal exchange’. You gave money and got resources in return. Fair is fair.

Because it makes good PR, market plunder has become more popular than the more brazen pillage of old. Thankfully, the results are largely the same: energy resources flow to those who need them the most … the global elite.

We can see this fact by calculating the Voldemort index of energy consumption — the degree to which greater income per capita buys access to more energy. Figure 5 shows the trend over the last 50 years. Throughout this period, the Voldemort index has remained roughly constant, averaging 0.65. Of course, we could hope for the index to be higher. Still, the world is closer to the Voldemort principle (V = 1) than to the ‘rationing ethos’ (V = 0).

Figure 5: The Voldemort index of energy use per capita. The Voldemort index measures the degree to which increasing per capita income buys access to more energy (across countries). When the index is 1, doubling your income buys you twice the amount of energy. When the index is 0, income has no effect on per capita energy consumption. [Sources]

If you look closely at Figure 5, you can see that the line has a slight downward tilt: the Voldemort index of energy consumption is slowly decreasing with time. While disconcerting, the decline is so shallow that it poses no imminent threat to the world order. Still, there are reasons to worry.

Current global inequality depends heavily on ‘petrostates’. These are despotic regimes which send their fossil-fuel riches to the world’s elite (and crucially, not to the local population). In return for this energy shipment, global elites pay a modest fee to the petro oligarchs, and of course, keep them well supplied with armaments. The system works because petrostates are easy to run. All it takes is a ‘hole in the ground surrounded by guns’.

In quantitative terms, the petrostate system works because fossil fuels have a high energy-to-gun ratio: they return copious energy for every gun invested. For example, if you place a few well-armed soldiers around an oil pumpjack, you can extract enough energy to power a small city. This, my friends, is the recipe for a successful petrostate. Lots of energy from a few guns.

The problem with this recipe is that fossil fuels won’t last forever. When they are gone, we will be forced to use energy sources that are more difficult to confiscate. For instance, suppose that when our Saudi colleagues drain their last petro-hole, they turn to solar energy. In a bid to maintain their massive energy exports, the Saudi’s pave the dessert with solar panels.

This idea sounds great … until you think about the number of guns needed to defend the solar farm. The installation would cover thousands of square kilometers. And every single one of them must be guarded by guns, lest the locals keep some of the energy for themselves. So we can be sure that compared to the current oil regime, this ‘solar Saudi Arabia’ would have a dismal energy-to-gun ratio.

Fortunately, the transition to 100% renewable energy seems a distant problem. Still, we should consider a future in which locals use their energy, leaving nothing for the global elite to confiscate.

The polluter preys

Keeping energy in mind, let’s discuss the related issue of pollution. In an ideal world, the global economy would be circular: from the poor, the rich would take energy; and to the poor, the rich would send pollution. Among waste-management experts, this cycle is called the ‘polluter preys principle’.

The theory behind the polluter preys principle is well known to economists, but is usually stated obliquely. To decode the message, know that when economists say ‘free’, they mean ‘power’. Hence the term ‘free market’ is code for (among other things) the power to offload pollution onto the lowest bidder.

That’s the code fed to the laity. Amongst themselves, economists speak more openly. Thus, when World Bank chief economist Larry Summers sent a memo to his colleagues, he didn’t bother to code the polluter preys principle. Instead, he quipped:

I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

While we should commend Summers for his clarity, in hindsight, he probably should have coded his message. Shortly after it was sent, the memo was leaked to the media, causing widespread outrage. Fortunately, Summers was firmly entrenched among the global elite, so his career was unharmed. (The lesson: being powerful always pays off.)

Sent during the early 1990s, the Summers memo reflects a sensible concern for localized pollutants — things like nuclear waste that are harmful to elite health, and should be offloaded to the lowest bidder. Today, however, ‘concern’ has switched to a different form of pollution: carbon emissions.

I use scare quotes here because among elites, the ‘concern’ is largely a ruse. That’s because unlike toxic waste, carbon emissions have no obvious health impact on the rich. Sure, the Earth’s climate may be irreparably altered.9 But elites are confident that they can buy their way out of any harm.

Indeed, the biggest threat to elite lifestyles isn’t climate change … it’s cutting carbon emissions. For instance, if Bill Gates was forced to lower his carbon footprint (rather than fraudulently ‘offset’ it), he would be deprived of his 350-flight-per-year lifestyle. While the laity have adapted to such hardship, elites are accustomed to learjet living. And so they rightly balk at lowering their emissions.

On that front, it is with carbon emissions that we find the purest application of the Voldemort principle. To a striking degree, higher per capita income buys a greater ability to belch carbon. Figure 6 runs the numbers. Here I have plotted the Voldemort index for international carbon emissions — the degree to which carbon emissions scale with per capita income across countries.

Figure 6: The Voldemort index for international carbon emissions. The Voldemort index measures the rate at which per capita carbon emissions scale with income per capita (across countries). When the index is 1, doubling your income buys you twice the emissions. When the Voldemort index is 0, greater income is useless for buying the right to pollute. [Sources]

Interestingly, prior to the 1980s, the Voldemort index for carbon emissions actually exceeded 1. In other words, doubling your per capita income bought you more than twice the carbon pollution. This carbon super-scaling likely has a simple explanation. While the rich were burning carbon-intensive fossil fuels, the poor were incinerating their carbon-neutral forests.

By the 1990s, however, the forests were mostly gone, and so the poor joined the fossil-fuel game. While this could have spelled disaster for global inequality, the high energy-to-gun ratio of fossil fuels allowed global elites to confiscate the lion’s share of carbon. And so the Voldemort index for carbon emissions remained close to 1.

While we should celebrate this victory of the polluter preys principle, I worry about the future. It seems likely that the current circular economy cannot survive a transition to renewable energy. Not only is renewable energy difficult to confiscate (from the poor), it creates no pollution to return to them. In short, renewable energy is inadequate for the game of world domination.

Musk ex machina

Although it pains me to admit, the evidence all points in the wrong direction. Everywhere we look, the Voldemort index is decreasing. Without drastic action, what awaits us is a future in which wealth and power become useless for hoarding the Earth’s bounty.

The root of the problem is a failure of property rights. At present, corporate enclosure is simply too porous to contain the spread of knowledge, and the ‘equality’ that comes with it.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Great minds like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and (especially) Elon Musk have recognized that the future of the global elite lies in the fortress of space. There amidst the stars, the rich will find a haven — a place where they can live in comfort while exploiting the Earthbound. To put this dream in place, all we need is a ‘Musk ex machina’. Let us pray that it arrives soon.

Yours in confidence,

Dr. Tom Riddle

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. You can use/share it anyway you want, provided you attribute it to the author (Blair Fix Tom Riddle) and link to Economics from the Top Down.

Notes from Dr. Riddle:


As is proper for an illustrious academic, I have not sullied my hands with ‘data’. The evidence reported here was gathered and analyzed by a duly exploited graduate student. Any errors should be blamed on said student. All credit for novel findings should be given to me.

Data for COVID vaccination rates comes from Our World in Data. All other data is from the World Bank, as summarized in the table below. I regret that these datasets are open access. Paywalled data was unavailable.


GDP per capita (current US$)

Measles vaccination rate

Hepatitis B vaccination rate

Diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine

Life expectancy at birth

Energy use per capita

CO2 emissions per capita


  1. It seems that once trained in the economics code, some economists become renegades and reveal the ruse to the masses. The heretic Steve Keen is a good example. A decade ago, Keen wrote a popular book in which he revealed to the laity the many flaws in economics ideology. Despite rebukes from eminent economists, Keen’s blasphemy has spread widely.

    More recently, a book called Capital as Power has gained attention. At first glance, the book simply documents how modern rulers use property rights to accumulate power. The problem is that the code of economics requires that this power stay hidden. If the laity understand how property rights actually work, the free-market ruse will be ruined.↩

  2. In his popular textbook Economics of the Public Sector, Joseph Stiglitz lucidly translates the Voldemort principle into economics code:

    Because of the price system, markets result in an efficient allocation of resources. Prices ration private goods. Those consumers who are willing and able to pay the requisite price obtain the good.

    Decoded message: markets are ‘efficient’ at giving the rich what they want.↩

  3. For a master lesson in how to find ‘distortions’ everywhere, see Gregory Mankiw’s textbook Principles of Economics.↩
  4. In a recent paper Gordon Douglas (Chairman of Novadigm Therapeutics) and Vijay Samant (CEO of Vical Incorporated) outline the requirements for a thriving pharmaceutical racket:

    A vigorous large-company vaccine industry is dependent upon several factors:

    1. A rich research environment sponsored largely by the NIH and mostly carried out in academia, as the source for new creative ideas.
    2. Strong patent laws and protection of intellectual property.
    3. Freedom to price products at fair levels related to value of product to society.

    Here is the plainspoken translation:

    A monopolistic vaccine industry requires:

    1. A steady stream of free knowledge to exploit.
    2. A steep paywall.
    3. The power to set prices.


  5. One need only read the language of Oxford’s COVID memorandum to recognize its cynicism:

    The default approach of the University and OUI regarding [vaccine IP] will be to offer non-exclusive, royalty-free licences to support free of charge, at-cost or cost + limited margin supply as appropriate, and only for the duration of the pandemic, as defined by the WHO.


  6. To answer Salk’s question, we can and should patent the sun. Such bold sabotage represents a monumental source of untapped profit.↩
  7. Imaginary technology aside, Niccol’s film tells us why commodifying lifespan would be difficult. It comes down to a weakness of property rights. In an ideal world, the poor would welcome their impending death, as decreed by the market. Niccol warns us, however, that such obedience is unlikely. Rather than accept their shortened lives, the poor will try to steal time. And so to secure the right to immortality, the rich must build a police state.

    Here, then, is the problem. As much as we might love a military junta, we must admit that such regimes are unstable. Hence, at the end of Niccol’s film, the ‘time regime’ comes crashing down. The film’s lesson is clear: the more cherished the commodity, the more difficult it is to enforce an unequal distribution.↩

  8. Democratic governments are a constant threat to elite interests. To mitigate this threat, economists have tried to convince the laity that governments ‘distort the free market’. The goal is to persuade the masses to abandon the democratic ethos (one person, one vote) in favor of the Voldemort principle (one dollar, one vote). Although research suggests that economics propaganda is effective when administered in a large dose, a significant portion of the population remains uninoculated. And so ‘responsive’ government continues to spread.↩
  9. A warning to the elite readers: do not read the climate change literature. By engaging with the ‘science’, you may become convinced that for the sake of the Earth, you should burn less fossil fuel, and so exit the game of power.↩

The post The Voldemort Index appeared first on Economics from the Top Down.

Out-of-touch Chancellor’s Spring Statement fails to help those most in need

“Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of an accountant’s profit, we have begun to change our civilisation.”
John Maynard Keynes  

This week, amidst continuing global economic uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic and the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered his Spring Budget. Unsurprisingly, it did little to help the very poorest of households, as the Resolution Foundation reported in its analysis that followed:

“Taking into account the measures announced by the Chancellor, the typical working-age household faces an income fall of 4 per cent, or £1,100, in 2022-23. But the greatest falls will be felt by the poorest quarter of households who are set to see their incomes fall by 6 per cent. This will see a further 1.3 million people fall into absolute poverty next year, including 500,000 children – the first time Britain has seen such a rise in poverty outside of recessions.


Incomes are on course to be lower at the next election (2024-25) than they were at the last (2019-20), with typical non-pensioner income projected to be 2 per cent lower. Such an outcome would make this the worst parliament on record for living standards growth.


The Chancellor pre-announced a 1p cut in the basic rate of Income Tax for April 2024, saving an average earner £243 a year. But the gains of this and the lasting impact of a higher National Insurance threshold are wiped out by previously announced tax rises.  In 2024-25, when the income tax cut comes into effect, 27 million out of the 31 million people in work will pay more Income Tax and NI as a result of personal tax changes announced by Rishi Sunak.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak filling a red car with petrol at a petrol stationImage by HM Treasury on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

While the Chancellor continues to count the tax beans and make his calculations, those who have already suffered the consequences of the last 12 years of Conservative policies will now be expected to take further pain in the form of a resurrection of harmful austerity dressed up in the concept of possible ‘jam tomorrow’. Cynically speaking, just before the next election.

In the light of a sustained round of higher government spending and the myth that we have borrowed heavily to sustain an economy hit by a global pandemic (even if much of that went into corporate pockets), some economically uneducated politicians are now appealing to the nation yet again to sacrifice their well-being on the altar of balanced budgets. We should be willing victims, according to this false logic. Despite the huge spending over the past two years, the household budget myths were never far away from the public gaze as the media pounded their messages about how there would be a price to pay, eventually.

At the same time as the Resolution Foundation lays it on the line as to the significance of the Chancellor’s budget, which yet again divides rich and poor, it then goes on to reinforce the myths about how the UK government spends. Tax receipts, it said, had come in much stronger in 2021/22 than expected, which would give the Chancellor ‘headroom against his fiscal rules’. The Independent claimed however that Sunak was keeping some of that tax bonanza back for a rainy day or to cover his planned tax cut in 2024. Whilst the Foundation’s analysis is stark on the consequences of this week’s budget, it is clearly still in the dark ages when it comes to describing how currency-issuing governments spend, as are so many think tanks and organisations on both the left and the right, not to mention a myopic media.

Charles Dicken’s character Micawber has been resurrected (if he ever went away) by a Chancellor who, after an astonishing fiscal response to the pandemic, is now re-donning Thatcher’s mantle, reinforcing the lie that taxes fund spending, or that government needs to borrow to fund itself over and above its revenue.

The suggestion by Torsten Bell at the Resolution Foundation, that these unexpected tax receipts would allow the Chancellor to consolidate the Treasury’s fiscal position and deliver his promises is just more shoring up of a myth that governments spend like our own households. And a bit of a joke because by any standards what the Chancellor, with his great wealth and extensive property portfolio, has done, is punish those who can least afford it and who do have to live within their financial means or face the prospect of debt because they are currency users, not currency issuers. The rising use of food banks and increasing homelessness can only get worse as his budget decisions begin to bite in April and our public services will continue to deteriorate without adequate funding.

Holding forth from his ivory tower, Sunak has not an ounce of understanding about the impact of government spending policies on the lives of working people, not to mention the economy. His decisions are directed by a desire to show himself fiscally prudent, not by public health and economic security.

When Rishi Sunak says, as he did earlier this week, that ‘we can’t help everyone because it’s too expensive’ or proposes an efficiency drive to cut £5.5bn of claimed government waste with a view to those savings being used to fund vital public services, it is quite simply a distortion of the facts to serve a political agenda.

Whether it is the Chancellor reciting the usual mantra about it being ‘vital that every single penny of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash is […] spent well,’ or the Shadow Chancellor and other uninformed left-wing politicians suggesting that they would fund public services via a windfall tax on energy companies, the public is being led by the nose in its ignorance of how government spends. An ignorance perpetuated by the daily narratives in both left- and right-wing quarters and by a compliant media singing from the same hymnbook. The economic orthodoxy rules the roost. And yet increasingly we are seeing the true cost of such narratives. They are not financial, they are the threats to human life, biodiversity, and a functioning planet.

Given the challenges we face from an increasingly forgotten climate crisis (and incidentally scarcely mentioned in the Spring budget), the ongoing exploitation of the global south, which has bled countries dry to sustain the lifestyle of the west and which is coupled with rising poverty and inequality affecting citizens across the world, it is time to challenge these myths which have served a political agenda and a toxic ideology. Keeping the myths alive for the purposes of social control and the profits rolling into private pockets with government serving its corporate masters.

Nothing is too expensive in monetary terms; government doesn’t have a finite pot of money with which to provide public and social infrastructure and neither does it have to doff its cap to the wealthy or large corporations to provide it. Contrary to the usual household budget narrative, when the government spends, it does so based on a political agenda, not the state of the public coffers. It just doesn’t want the public to know that, because it is a lie that can be used to justify its spending policies and who gets the money, or indeed yet another round of austerity when it suits. A harmful ideology that feeds government policies and spending decisions.

The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that when it serves that agenda there is always money to fund a government’s own political priorities such as war or defence spending, or public contracts divvied out to its mates with no accountability. Only this week, Sunak revealed that the UK had given Ukraine £100 million worth of weaponry. And yet at the same time, he tells us that savings in government departments must be found by rooting out waste which can in turn, according to the household budget narrative, be used to fund public services, as if a government that issues its own currency has no money of its own and has to tax or borrow or make ‘savings’ by robbing Peter to pay Paul to fund its agenda.

While the Telegraph talks this week about the parlous state of the public finances and running out of road, suggesting that excessive government spending was crowding out investment in the private sector by discouraging ‘innovation and competition in crucial sectors such as health and education’ (which tells us a lot about the priorities of those on the conservative right), it claimed also that government spending levels were ‘indefensible.’  These statements are predicated on the lie that money is a finite and scarce resource and that the State and its public infrastructure is wasteful of hard-earned taxpayers’ money!

While the Telegraph talks tough by suggesting that spending needs to be cut even further, the Spring Budget is already a kick in the teeth for those who are currently struggling to make ends meet and will mean even more hardship and poverty as energy, food and other costs continue to rise. The Chancellor has made a political choice to create further difficulties for already beleaguered citizens on the promise of ‘jam tomorrow.’ Fiscal discipline over national economic well-being. What a cruel way to view the lives of millions of people, who it seems have become expendable in some people’s eyes where government finances are concerned. Better a balanced budget than a happier, healthier more productive nation.

Let us ask what is the role of government? To balance the budget, keep the wealthy happy and the profits rolling? Or something else? What we should be discussing is not the state of the government finances, whether it has balanced its budget or gilded its reputation as being fiscally prudent, but how it has managed the real but finite resources it can, if it chooses, access through its tax and other policies to create a sustainable and functioning economy which benefits everyone, not just a small section of it.

Thus, a healthy economy depends primarily, not on a private sector paying its taxes to provide vital public infrastructure, for too long the public has been misled on this issue. It depends instead on the spending and legislative decisions taken by a currency-issuing government to create the publicly paid for and preferably managed national and local infrastructure upon which we all depend as individuals and businesses, from health to education, welfare, public transport networks, and employment. Government in service to its electorate, not the corporate body. That should be the starting point for a discussion about where we go from here and involves creating a better public understanding of how government really spends.

In short, the current economic problems and inflationary pressures are not caused by too much government spending as some would have it, but by supply chain disruptions resulting from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the growing effects of climate change on the world economy including food production. This is a moment not for fiscal retrenchment but thinking best how to support working people in these difficult days and planning for a sustainable and fairer future for all.




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The post Out-of-touch Chancellor’s Spring Statement fails to help those most in need appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Rishi Sunak’s Russian Hypocrisy Shows Who he is Really Protecting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/03/2022 - 12:45am in

The Chancellor told UK firms to cut ties with Russia – while his own family has kept hundreds of millions of pounds of shares in a company still operating in Moscow


"While I recognise that it may be challenging to wind down existing investments, I believe there is no argument for new investment in the Russian economy," said Rishi Sunak earlier this month, as he urged British businesses to think “very carefully” before doing business in the country.

What the Chancellor didn't say is that, while he was publicly telling other companies not to put their money into Russia and sanctioning those with ties to Putin's regime, his own family continued to profit from its links to the country.

Sunak is married to Akshata Murty, daughter of the Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy who founded the technology company Infosys.

Infosys has strong historic links to Russia and continues to maintains a presence in Moscow, despite Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Infosys has also previously worked with Alfa Bank, which was this week sanctioned by the UK Government for its ties to the Russian President's regime.

Sunak's father-in-law has come into close contact with Putin himself. In 2004, he made a personal visit to Infosys' headquarters in Bangalore where he was photographed shaking hands with him.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy. Photo: Ian West/PA Images

The Kremlin reported at the time that Putin was given a tour of the company buildings and asked to sign the "guest of honour book", in which he wrote: "I congratulate you on your achievements and wish you all future success."

NR Narayana Murthy retired from his position at the company in 2014. However, according to Infosys' latest annual accounts, his daughter continues to own 0.91% of the company – worth hundreds of millions of pounds – while he himself retains a further 0.39%.

Asked about his family's ties to the company, Rishi Sunak told Sky News: "I'm an elected politician, and I'm here to talk to you about what I'm responsible for. My wife is not."

He added that he has "absolutely no idea" about the company's current activities.

A spokesperson for the Chancellor added that Infosys "is a public company and neither [the Chancellor's wife] nor any member of her family have any involvement in the operational decisions of the company".

A spokesperson for Infosys said that it has a "small team of employees based out of Russia" that "services some of our global clients, locally".

Yet, while Sunak is not personally "responsible" for Infosys, he clearly does continue to benefit from the wealth it has produced for his family.

At the very least, we should ask whether it is right for the Chancellor to publicly call on other companies to cut their ties with Russia, while his own family's company refuses to do so.

N R Narayana Murthy with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the corporate headquarters of Infosys in Bangalore in December 2004. Photo: Jagadeesh Nv/Reuters

These questions become even more pertinent when the broader economic picture we are now in is considered.

This week, the Chancellor made his Spring Statement setting out his economic plans for the coming year. It came amid economic forecasts suggesting the UK is heading for the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s.

Analysis by the Resolution Foundation think tank this week found that Sunak's failure to take steps to protect the poorest people in the country means that 1.3 million more people will be forced into absolute poverty next year.

Asked why he wasn't doing more to help those on Universal Credit, whose benefits will now fall in real-terms, Sunak said that it was simply not possible to "fully compensate" everybody suffering in this crisis.

However, he justified this by echoing the words of his predecessors David Cameron and George Osborne and saying that "we will get through these challenges together".

While we clearly are all in this crisis together, some of us are more in it than others.

Rishi Sunak is one of the richest people ever to have been Chancellor. His immense personal and familial wealth means that the current crisis will make little to no difference to his daily life.

For this reason, his claims this week to have felt the rise in bread prices, and the soaring price of petrol (while filling up a car he borrowed from a worker at Sainsbury's) have been wholly unconvincing.

None of this would matter if he was also taking every possible step to protect those who do not share his good fortune. However, far from doing so, Sunak appears to find even being questioned about this beyond the pale. According to the Sun, the Chancellor was "particularly annoyed" by the BBC asking about his failure to protect those on Universal Credit.

Until very recently, Sunak looked likely to soon become Prime Minister following the 'Partygate' scandal. Boris Johnson's call for the public to take every possible step to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, while he and his colleagues held illegal parties in Downing Street, caused a wave of anger among the British public. The scandal suggested to the British people that, when it comes to the Prime Minister, there is one rule for him and his staff and another rule for everyone else.

Rishi Sunak's double standards shows that this sort of hypocrisy is not just characteristic of the current Prime Minister, but of his potential successor as well.




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‘Completely Inhumane’: Government’s Relaxed Approach to COVID Represents a Regression for Disabled People’s Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 8:00pm in

By asking people with learning disabilities and their families to live in a 'constant state of lockdown with no support', the Government is following an approach to the vulnerable that should have been consigned to the past, says Saba Salman


The Government’s Coronavirus recovery plan is concealing a regression of basic rights, people with learning disabilities and their families are warning.

While most of the population has lost two years since the first lockdown on 23 March 2020, there are signs that this marginalised group has been set back as much as many decades in independence, visibility and support. 

The decision to scrap mask-wearing, social distancing, free testing and nationwide monitoring of the Coronavirus’ spread means that, instead of emerging from the pandemic in a suspended state, people are less confident and active in their communities.

The situation is worse for those who have yet to regain the regular face-to-face health and care support they lost because of lockdown.

The fresh evidence that people are being overlooked in a post-pandemic society follows clear proof that this community was hardest hit during the Coronavirus. This included an initial failure to vaccinate learning disabled people, despite their greater risk of death from the virus, and support staff going without vital personal protective equipment.

Jenny Robinson, an artist from Leeds, is part of the city’s Pyramid art collective. She has a learning disability and is a wheelchair-user. The 28-year-old recently created a digital artwork entitled 'It’s Scary Being Disabled Right Now', reflecting her anxiety about the 'new normal'.

“For disabled and vulnerable people like myself, we've been stuck in for such a long time," Robinson says. "I didn't see my family for over 10 months at the start, for the risk of my health and theirs, which was the worst time in the world. It’s affected my mental health massively since then.” 

Robinson still wears a mask to help her feel safer, but remains fearful of going out.

“People are scared as it is, and now for you to be at college, school, work or shops with people who have COVID, but you don't know they have it, it’s terrifying," she says. "I know we have to learn to live with it but to scrap isolation and then to stop [lateral flow] tests unless you're elderly or vulnerable. It's just such a scary time.”

Robinson is not alone in feeling this way.

A recent report by charity Learning Disability England, drawing on the year-long Coronavirus and People with Learning Disabilities Study, reflects the pandemic’s lasting, negative impact on this group. 

Based on the views of almost 700 people with learning disabilities and 500 family members, the charity’s paper highlights how less than one-third of people with learning disabilities returned to activities or places they went to before the pandemic. Just half said they got the same social care support as before the Coronavirus crisis and less than half had the annual health checks they were meant to.

Families of people with disabilities are also affected. Research from the charity Sibs, which I chair, reflects how how adult siblings are still either partially shielding or still "living cautiously" to protect their disabled brother or sister.

Sarah Walker moved back into the family home in Cheshire to help care for her brother Dan, who has profound and multiple learning disabilities and is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. 

Given her sibling carer role, Walker does not feel safe returning to the choir she has been a member of for 14 years. She has not had a night out for two years or been inside a friend’s house, used public transport or travelled abroad. Both she and her parents continue to wear masks and carry hand sanitising gel if they go out.

Walker recently launched a petition demanding that the Government continue to provide free lateral flow tests for those most vulnerable to the virus.

“Our family has felt increasingly isolated," she says. "We are used to prioritising someone else’s needs before our own, but it’s incredibly painful to hear the current narrative that the vulnerable should ‘stay at home’ and let everyone else get back to normal.” 

Her brother, who is severely visually impaired, likes to reach out to people and hold their hands. Yet the Walkers have little choice but to continue to socially distance from family and friends, even when this undermines Dan’s ability to communicate.

“It is completely inhumane to ask my family to live in a constant state of lockdown with no support, no ending and none of the community spirit, support and virtual activities that were circulating when everyone was ‘in it together’,” Walker adds.

The lack of inclusion Walker describes is reflected by the fact that politicians investigating the 'do not resuscitate' notices received by learning disabled patients have not fully involved learning disabled people in the inquiry. 

A campaign from charity Inclusion North is challenging this decision. An open letter, backed by more than 260 organisations and individuals, reflects the wider injustice.

It states: “For too long, people with lived experience who are most affected by health inequalities have had little or no influence. The way your group has been set up seem like yet another example of this.” 

The harsh backdrop to these pandemic-related inequalities is that people with learning disabilities also face the potential impact of reforms to the Human Rights Act, the Health and Care Bill reforms, and the disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis on society’s most disadvantaged.

The answer, say campaigners including those at Learning Disability England, is for the Government to fill the support gaps created by the pandemic based on what people and families need now.

Sarah Walker says that, for families like hers, successfully 'living with COVID' means continued access to lateral flow tests and new post-pandemic guidance on how to calculate risk for different activities.

Today, institutions are – officially at least – relics of the past. But the treatment of certain individuals as an afterthought, along with the lack of visibility and restrictions on people’s lives, are reminiscent of an approach that should be consigned to the past.

As Walker says, “we face a very uncertain future in terms of when we might be able to return to a wide selection of activities that still feel unsafe now that restrictions have been removed... There's also a real risk that we will become even more invisible and undervalued when people can’t see us".

Saba Salman is the editor of ‘Made Possible: Stories of Success by People with Learning Disabilities – In their Own Words’. She is the chair of the charity Sibs, which supports the siblings of disabled children and adults. Her sister Raana has a learning disability and Saba has seen how the loss of face-to-face contact, reduced social activities and anxiety over the easing of restrictions have affected her confidence, wellbeing and independence




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Guest editorial: Homelessness in Canada

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 5:01am in

I’ve written the guest editorial for a special edition of the International Journal on Homelessness. The guest editorial provides a general overview of homelessness in Canada (and I believe it serves as a helpful stand-alone reading for practitioners, researchers, students and advocates).

My guest editorial can be found here (in English):

My guest editorial can be found here (in French):

The special edition of the journal can be found here:

Guest editorial: Homelessness in Canada

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 5:01am in

I’ve written the guest editorial for a special edition of the International Journal on Homelessness. The guest editorial provides a general overview of homelessness in Canada (and I believe it serves as a helpful stand-alone reading for practitioners, researchers, students and advocates).

My guest editorial can be found here (in English):

My guest editorial can be found here (in French):

The special edition of the journal can be found here:

All the Bad News Rishi Sunak Buried in his Spring Statement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 2:48am in

Finer details in the Chancellor's budget statement reveal that taxes will rise, incomes will fall, and the young and poor will pay the price

The Chancellor today claimed to be cutting taxes while protecting the living standards of working people.

"This statement puts billions back into the pockets of people across the UK and delivers the biggest net cut to personal taxes in over a quarter of a century,” Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons.

The reality, as figures from the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility show, is quite different.

Sunak has gathered a series of headlines over the past week for his claimed “mission” to cut taxes. The reality is quite different.

Even before today’s statement, he had presided over the largest rise in taxes of any chancellor in almost three decades. 

And while he did announce some tax cuts today – on the basic rate of income tax and the threshold for National Insurance – the overall picture is that he plans to raise taxes even more than he has already.

According to the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Chancellor will raise the overall tax burden in the UK to its highest level since the 1940s.

Office for Budget Responsibility March 2022 economic and fiscal outlook

Even on Sunak’s headline income tax cut, he declined to mention that his decision last year to freeze income tax thresholds means that the Government will actually increase the overall amount it collects in income tax due to so-called fiscal drag pulling more people into higher income tax bands.

Office for Budget Responsibility March 2022 economic and fiscal outlook

Sunak also claimed today to be "rewarding work" while protecting household incomes.

The reality, as the OBR points out, is that overall living standards are set to fall by 2.2% in real terms over the next year – the largest fall on record – and are not set to recover to pre-pandemic levels until two years later.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulates Chancellor Rishi Sunak after his Spring Statement in the House of Commons on 23 March 2022

The Chancellor today boasted of giving "security for working families as we help with the cost of living".

However, in reality, there is little to help those who are at the sharpest end of the growing cost of living crisis. By definition, his cut to basic income tax will not help the poorest families for the simple reason that they do not pay tax on their income in the first place.

Sunak also announced almost no new help for people struggling on benefits, as he continues to refuse to reverse the Government's cuts to Universal Credit. Instead, he has decided to prioritise cuts to income tax and fuel duty – most of which will help middle and higher earners, and only to do so right before the next general election.

As Professor Arnab Bhattacharjee, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said following Sunak's statement: "The announcements in the Spring Statement fail to help the poorest in society who bear the brunt of the cost of living crisis.

"To support low-income households and stop many thousands more from sliding into destitution, the Government should have at least reinstated the Universal Credit uplift to £20 per week, together with targeted financial support for food banks and free school meals."

Buried in the small print of the Chancellor's announcement is the fact that the tax cuts he announced today will mostly be paid by changes the Government has made on student loan repayments.

The Government announced last month that the salary cap at which people start paying back their student loans will be reduced from £27,000 to £25,000. The Government will also extend the loan repayment term from 30 years to 40.

These announcements combined mean that millions of students will have to pay thousands of pounds more towards their student loans.

Treasury Spring Statement March 2022

The small print of the the chancellor's announcement reveals that these changes alone will pay for almost all the increased spending and tax cuts announced today.

Treasury Spring Statement March 2022

So while Rishi Sunak today boasted of doing everything he can to protect living standards and household incomes, the reality is that those most in need of protection from the cost of living crisis will get little help from today's announcements.

Instead, the Chancellor has made a political decision to prioritise a series of headline-grabbing tax cuts to be made right before the next general election, while at the same time raising overall taxes to the highest level for three quarters of a century.

Meanwhile, those struggling with rapidly rising food and energy bills on Universal Credit will have to wait even longer for the help they need from the Chancellor.




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New Stats Show Rich Getting Richer as Cost of Living Crisis Bites for the Rest

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/03/2022 - 2:13am in

New Stats Show Rich Getting Richer as Cost of Living Crisis Bites for the Rest

New data saw the wages of the highest paid payrolled employees soar by just under £3,000 a month since 2014 – while the poorest got a paltry pay rise of £167



The biggest earners in the UK saw their monthly pay increase from £10,891 per calendar month in 2014 to £13,770 per calendar month in December 2021 – a 24% increase, while those on lowest incomes saw their pay increase by a mere £167 per month in the same time period.

Employment data from the Office for National Statistics found that the lowest 10% of payrolled employees were earning £672 a month compared to £505 in 2014. 90% of payrolled employees earn less than £4,797 per month. Only 1% earn more than £10,981 per month.

This means that the highest payrolled employees take home, on average, £13,098 per month more than the lowest paid. 

Those in the second highest (95th) percentile who were earning £5,269 a month in 2014 saw their monthly pay packets increase to £6,559, or by 24%, in December 2021. 

While those in the 25th percentile saw their pay increase by 30%, their wages started lower and have remained low: in 2014 they were on £887 per month and now bring home £1,166 a month. Payrolled employees in the 50th percentile earned £1,600 per month in 2014 and are now on £2,025 per month – more than £10,000 less than the highest earners. 

The data comes as the UK faces a cost of living crisis, with households facing a perfect storm of rising energy costs and increases in food prices.

The OECD found that the UK has the highest rates of income inequality in the European Union

It also follows years of wage stagnation for the ordinary British worker – before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, average wages had only just returned to where they were 12 years before.

The 15 years from 2007 to 2022 are forecast to be the worst on record for household incomes which were up just 9% during that period, compared with a pre-financial crisis average of almost 50% per 15 years.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, UK inflation levels were already concerningly high, with the Bank of England predicting that it could reach 7% by April. Now, the war threatens to exacerbate inflation rises, with some experts warning that it could soon hit 10%

Wealth and Poverty

Rising inequality following more than a decade of austerity has already pushed 1.8 million children into the ‘deepest poverty’, meaning that they live in households that are unable to cover the most basic needs.

This is an increase of half a million over the past decade, with 4.3 million children in total living in poverty. Of these, 49% are in single parent households. 

Around four million households in England are classed as ‘fuel poor’, as are 25% of households in Scotland, 12% in Wales, and 18% in Northern Ireland.

Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused more fuel insecurity, energy costs were set to soar and push a further two million homes into fuel poverty. 

But, while the poorest families struggle to choose between food and fuel, income inequality continues to rise and is higher now than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. The OECD found that the UK has the highest rates of income inequality in the European Union. 

In 2019/20, 42% of all disposable household income in the UK went to the fifth of the population with the highest household incomes. In contrast, only 7% of all disposable household income went to the lowest-income fifth. This figure was based on disposable income before housing costs have been deducted and means that income inequality in 2019/20 was 35% before housing costs and 39% after housing costs.

A couple without children with disposable income below £264 per week before housing costs were in the 10% of people with the lowest household incomes in 2019/20. To be in the highest-income 10%, a household required an income of at least £1,070 per week.

The Politicsof Porridge
Sian Norris

Look beyond income at wealth, the equality gap is even starker.

The wealth gap ballooned during the Coronavirus pandemic, with the richest 10% gaining £50,000 in wealth during the crisis. This dwarfed those with lower incomes and asset wealth: adults in the richest 10% of households now have an average wealth of £1.4 million each thanks to that £50,000 gain, while the poorest 30% of households gained an average of just £86 per adult in additional wealth.

The wealth increase was in part explained by higher earners more likely to be able to work from home, save money due to cancelled holidays, fewer days and evenings out, and rising house prices. Lower-paid workers were more likely to be furloughed and were hit hardest by job losses

Low-paid furloughed workers also didn’t see their pay topped up while on furlough. This means that, although their jobs were protected, because furlough only covered up to 80% of earnings, those on the lowest pay saw their incomes fall below the minimum wage – more than two million people were not being paid the legal minimum wage in April 2020.

People who lost income during the pandemic and were therefore entitled to Universal Credit were given a £20 uplift of the benefit during the height of the pandemic. However, that £20 was cancelled in October last year, putting even greater pressure on deprived households at a time when the cost of living continues to rise… and rise.




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The 2022 Alberta budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/03/2022 - 10:46am in

I’ve written a ‘top 10’ overview of the recent Alberta budget.

My overview can be found here: