Hans Rosling (2018) Factfulness

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Hans Rosling is dead, but his work lives on. Clichéd, I know. But Rosling does something we rarely do, he looks at the facts. And he concludes that the world is so much better than it’s ever been. He’s an optimist, a myth buster and all-round good guy.

I’m none of these things. I’m a bit like Calimero, walking about under rainy skies with an egg-shell head and complaining ‘It’s an injustice. It’s an injustice’.

This is a book I should really re-read, but I won’t, of course. It’s an injustice. It’s an injustice.

Let’s look at the facts in factfulness.

The Gap Instinct is when we create a binary world, black and white, rich and poor, celitc and rangers. In between the two groups we place the valley of death with no river styx and no boatman to help us across. Here’s my prejudices. I think rich, elderly, self-serving, white men are responsible for most of the world’s ills. Shhh, whisper it, here’s the rub. I still believe it after reading Rosling’s book. I guess I could quote John Maynard Keynes, ‘In the long run we’re all dead,’ or ‘when the facts change, I change my mind’.

Rosling argues and gives statistical evidence to buttress his argument that mostly we don’t change our mind much. Our prejudice remain the same. Our world view undisturbed.

Rosling asks what is wrong with this picture of ‘them’ and ‘us’? We shift ourselves to the side of the angels. Rosling concludes that there is no them and us. There is only us, but he’s talking about a bigger picture and no just my prejudices.

Measuring the gap between rich and poor, the developing world and the developed world here is the matrix he uses to measure progress.  He doesn’t, for example, use the Marxist, or indeed Weberian idea of class. Too messy. He’s looking for something more practical. The world’s population, about seven billion people as split into four income levels. Each figure represents a cohort. On Level 1, for example, about 1 billion people live on a $1 per day.   Level 2, about 3 billion people live on $4 per day. Level 3, 2 billion people, live on $16 per day. Here we are on Level 4, a billion people live here, that’s where I live, ‘you are a rich consumer,’ $64 per day. I don’t feel rich. That’s the problem. It’s not about feelings but facts. The world is becoming richer and more people are moving through the levels quicker than at any other time in history.

Rosling reminds us: Beware the comparisons of averages. Beware comparisons of extremes. And reminds us the view from up here (rich man’s territory) skews our vision and understanding.

We get to, ‘The Negativity Instinct’, familiar territory for me and The Mega Misconception that The World Is Getting Worse’. Actually, I got this question right. I did quite well in Rosling’s quiz. I ticked the box that said the world is getting better. Thinking and feeling again. Rosling shows that those living in ‘extreme poverty’ $1 a day, has halved in the last 20 years and has been falling steadily since 1800s (when measurements began). Average life expectancy is on the up and up. Child survival at birth to five years has taken an exponential leap.   Even Hunger is declining. We’re all fat bastards now, but not equally flabby.

Science, Literacy, Democracy, Clean Water, Immunization rates, Number of Girls in school all increasing.

We don’t Trump the good news. We Trump the Trump, whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, it’s a very human trait.

So here’s Rosling’s view of how to think and not feel. Balance negative news with positive news. Trump may be the moron’s moron, but he’s old and he might die soon. ‘Expect bad news’ Trump may get re-elected. ‘Don’t Censor History’. I don’t. I just blame the morons that voted for him.

‘The Straight Line Instinct’ is to be avoided. Here his example is The Mega (he used Mega lots) Misconception That ‘The World Population is Just Increasing and Increasing.  Here Rosling is playing devil’s advocate for us dummies. He concedes that over the next 13 years about a billion people will be added to the population. But the number of children will be about the same. As the world’s population becomes richer we have less children. I can cut in here and say, yeh, I knew that. In South Korea during the 1950s (Korean War) women had on average about seven children. Now, they have one. Yeh, one, it’s causing real problems. As it is in Japan and China.

Rosling’s quick fix here is don’t assume straight lines (question them). Many or most trends are S-bends, slides, humps or doubling lines.

The Fear Instinct is in some ways what makes us human. We think with our heart and not our head. Men in advertising love it. They sell us everyday fear. Your penis is too small. Yes, it is, thanks.  Rosling asks us to ‘be afraid of the Right Thing’.  He gives us a natty equation. Risk = danger x exposure.

The Size Instinct is like the penis risk equation, getting a handle on proportion. Journalists make everything bigger. They direct our limited attention span to how big the disaster they are covering is. Rosling asks us to compare the numbers. In 2016, for example, ‘4.2 million babies died’.  But back in the 1950s it was ‘14.4 million’.

Rosling’s compass. Compare and contrast. 80/20 rule. Look for the largest numbers and deal with them first. They are likely to be more important than the others put together. Divide them. Amounts and rates tell different stories.

The Generalization Instinct is something we’re all good at. It’s a bit of a hybrid. The gap instinct makes us think in terms of us and them. The generalization instinct makes us think them over there are all the same. Think of our old friend the moron’s moron generalizing about ‘shit countries’ – over there.

In general, Rosling’s what to do list is generalizable under the headings. ‘Look for differences within groups. Look for similarities across groups, but also differences across groups. Beware of ‘the majority’ (especially morons that label others ‘enemies of the people’). Beware of vivid examples. Assume people are not idiots (unless they’re the current US President).

The Destiny Instinct. I get that all the time. My destiny is told in the nearest puddle. Someone bigger is going to stand on me. For Rosling the Destiny Instinct is the kind of prejudices that make the white man’s burden sound perfectly reasonable. Rosling puts it in terms of snobbish self-regard. But what he does here is confirm my suspicions that the world economy is moving East to Asia. China is the new United States. Britain is a pimple on the end of United States arse. Rosling tells us Africa, with the poorest countries in the world can catch up. As China did, in a relatively short time, before leaving many nations in the wing mirrors. As South Korea did. As India is doing.

His factfulness checklist has in it Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change can translate into a huge change over decades. I’d need to fling in Thomas Piketty’s Capital here. He shows that those whose incomes (the one-percent) grow faster than the 99% then small changes are massive changes and a worrying trend over time.

Rosling asks us to update our knowledge. Yeh, read books. I like that idea. Think for yourself. Go on try it at home.

Talk to grandpa to see how things have really changed. Talk to me. I remember phone boxes that took two-pence coins.

Collect examples of cultural changes. See above.

The Single Perspective Instinct is a variation on the old chestnut when you’ve got a hammer everything looks like a nail, or when you’re the moron’s moron everybody looks like a terrorist apart from the leader of the terrorist state which invade Ukraine, disembowelled Chechnya and broke so many Geneva Conventions they ran out of condemnations. But as Rosling argues, we find simple ideas attractive, but not as attractive as prostitutes peeing on a bed Mr T? Sorry, I’ll need to be more professional here.

Rosling argues we should trust professionals and experts. Not everyone is equal in what they know, but everybody can have an opinion. Look at the data.  But look at the data critically.

The checklist asks you to test your ideas. Be humble (I like that). Hammers and nails. If you’re good with a tool you’ll want to use it. Number, but only numbers. Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions. Get rid of all immigrants and we’ll all be great in Great Britain again. Make America Great Again.

The Blame Instinct is fishing for a simple reason for complex problems. Playing the Blame Game is easy. Do it at home. I blame elderly rich white men. (I’m with Piketty on that one, but they don’t have to be white, just superwealthy, which qualifies as white).

Rosling looks at how we scapegoat ‘Refugees’, for example. I’ll cut to the chase them away. ‘Our European governments claim to be honouring the Geneva convention that entitles a refugee from a severely war-torn country [like Syria] to apply for and receive asylum. But their immigration policies make a mockery of this claim…’

Here’s the checklist. ‘Look for causes not villains’ [the 1% who own mostly everything] ‘Look for systems, not heroes [expropriation of capital].

‘The Urgency Instinct’ is human nature. Amazon promises to deliver the next day, but that’s not soon enough. We want it now. ‘Tomorrow may be too late’. Rosling tells us to relax. ‘It’s almost never true’. He tells us to put a foot in our mouth and control the urgency instinct. ‘Insist on the Data’.

Now we’re on my territory. Read This Now. Urgent.

Rosling’s checklist of ‘The Five Global Risks We Should Worry About.’

We can exclude Rosling from this list as he’s dead.

  1. Global pandemic
  2. Financial Collapse
  3. World War III
  4. Climate Change
  5. Extreme Poverty.

These are not independent of each other. Climate Change is inevitable. We’ve missed the boat. And World War III isn’t inevitable, but more likely with the moron’s moron in office and financial collapse would be inevitable should a war start. Maybe not. I don’t want to find out.

Here’s the cure. Take a breath Mr President. Insist on the data. Beware of fortune-tellers Mr President don’t appoint them to the highest offices of state. Be wary of drastic action Mr President.

Rosling’s final words really were his final words. ‘I have found fighting ignorance and spreading a fact-based worldview to be sometimes frustrating, but ultimately inspiring and joyful way to spend my life’. Amen to that.

Yep. Factfulness. We’ve been here before, but with the growth in social -media reports and fake news we never needed it more.

Book of the year. Peter Wadhams (2016) A Farewell to Ice. A Report From the Arctic.

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A writer has one imperative, or simple rule – read. Often I have little understanding of what I’m reading. Usually there is a but here. I do not understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but…kinda like a meme from T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding: ‘We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started.’ Or Rumi’s parable of the elephant and six blind men. One holding onto a leg, or trunk, an ear, and explaining to the other what in the world stands true. Wadhams’ A Farewell to Ice is a familiar tale and it is distilled into a line of poetry he quotes from mystic Francis Thompson: ‘Thou canst not stir a flower/Without troubling of a star’.

Like Jonah preaching to the Ninevites and warning them they have forty days, Wadhams is telling us much the same thing about the accelerating effects of Arctic Feedbacks on our once blue planet. He is not giving us forty days, but perhaps forty years and we’re pretty much gubbed, sackcloth and ashes.

The trigger is fossil fuels, measured in parts per million, and what he is saying is mankind has already fired the bullet. I employ a simple rule of thumb, when a pessimist is also a realist, usually he’s right. Think of Thomas Piketty Capital documenting how after the end of the 1970s money flowed at increasing rates from the poor to the rich in the developed world. Like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, I don’t need to know all the details. I can believe it is true, or not, which is an act of faith. But Piketty as an economist showed us how he got to where he is and said, very simply, prove me wrong. Wadham does the same. Here is my data and here is my message: ‘We must not only go to zero emissions, we must actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere’ (italics around text are Wadhams’). He suggests a real danger with hundreds of millions starving, and also  the possibility of nuclear war.

What Wadhams didn’t factor in was the Donald Trump factor and the appointment of former General ‘Mad Dog’ Maddis as United States Defense Secretary, or the President Elect’s provocation with China over the sovereignty of South Korea even before he takes office. We live in interesting times.

But Wadhams is on more familiar ground with his outing of ‘The Black Tide of Denial’ and how fossil fuel interests have taken a hatchet to budgets and attempted to discredit those that support the claims of global warming in the same way that Communists were thought to be under every bed in the McCarthy era. Wadham gives several examples of attacks on himself and other scientists, but perhaps the best example comes from Jamie Doward, The Observer, ‘How the trolling of a tech pioneer reveals a new assault on climate science’: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/04/elon-musk-trolling-us-conservatives-green-tech

Wadham could not have predicted prior to publication this year that the trolls that produced such propaganda would not only try to influence decisions about climate change, but would be appointed as judges of what was right and wrong. All that ‘green crap’ referred to by David Cameron is dead in the water. An analogy would be fifty years ago appointing directors of the big five tobacco companies as independent advisors of whether there was a link between smoking and cancer. The difference now, of course, is we’ve not got fifty years. The enemy is at the door now. And our blue planet does not care what you believe, or whether you believe it is right or wrong. The earth will keep turning. One million years is not the equivalent of a minute in the day. Pseudo-science and greed has given voice and grown arms and legs. Perhaps reason will meet sense, but I doubt it. We are too far down the path. As above, so below and all parts are interconnected.

Listen to a quote in Wadhams from a voice of reason, scientist and Professor Robert P. Abele.

As we inflict violence on the planet to the point of mortality, we inflict violence on ourselves, to the point of our mortality. A dead planet will result in dead people, and a people and/or its leaders who are psychologically and/or ethically desensitized to the consequences of this Terran violence have no chance of long-term survival.

Read this book. Share this post. Ask a simple question: what can we do?

A budget holiday for the rich

george osborne budget

Thornwood (Steve) in AbcTales posts I hope the Tories have a change of heart about the planned cuts. 38 Degrees send me an email suggesting I contribute money so they can take out advertisements extorting George Osborne to think again. Dream on.

Notes on poverty (in no particular order).

Orwell suggest we need to state the obvious. Richard Hoggart wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier. ‘Each decade we shiftily declare that we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty’. Orwell, like Huxley, saw no way forward for the common working man in the 1930s. Mechanization would make him surplus to requirements.  There are parallels with the contemporary  turmoil in Greece. Then as  now, for example, with around  twenty-five percent of the population unemployed and fear for their future. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath caught a country’s angst. It described the  pre-war United States experience before and after Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Second World War parodied in Orwell’s 1984, in which each warring state blows up most of the products it produces, did save capitalism. The fall of the Berlin wall left it the only game in town.

Richard Titmus dictum: ‘service for the poor would become poor services’ have never seemed more apt.

Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in Breadline Britain point out the obvious: Britain spends below the average on benefits as a proportion of GDP.

The poorest fifth in Britain, for example, are poorer than Scandinavian countries, which you’d expect. But look at our close neighbours. Forty percent poorer than those in Germany or Austria and a third poorer than those in France.

Levels of statutory sick pay, short-term incapacity benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance have been described as ‘manifestly inadequate’ by the Council of Europe which is hardly a hotbed of socialist revolution.

Jimmy Reid dead but still red.

To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit.

Robert Burns address To A Mouse ends in a field in Dumfries, a bleak December wind and a looking backwards and forwards and the realisation that the poor wee beastie, for all its troubles, is untouched by the past or future

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!

The present only touches thee:

But Ouch! I backward cast my e’e,

On prospects drear!

An’ forward, tho I cannae see,

I guess an’ fear

Robert Tressel Noonan’s classic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist fills many a void.

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it’s not caused by machinery; it’s not caused by “over-production”; it’s not caused by drink or laziness; and it’s not caused by “over-population”. It’s caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air – or of the money to buy it – even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessities of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless the had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think and say so. Even as you think at present that it’s right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: “It’s Their Land,” “It’s Their Water,” “It’s Their Coal,” “It’s Their Iron,” so you would say “It’s Their Air,” “These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?” And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on “Christian Duty” in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers. And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of th gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order, and after doing your best to tear him limb from limb, you’ll drag him, covered with blood, in triumph to the nearest Police Station and deliver him up to “justice” in the hope of being given a few half-pounds of air for your trouble.”

Owen’s fictional harangue seems rather dated and overblown. Let’s put it into modern parlance. George Ritzer’s attack on the fast-food industry and McDonaldisation as the ‘irrationality of rationality’. Let’s talk about leverage. In 2014 the UK’s GDP was £1.8 trillion. The financial sector was £20 trillion. Companies like Apple are listed on the stock exchange and worth nearly £1 trillion.

Jan Zalasiewicz’s research shows the earth is on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. The fault lies with us. Humans and the land vertebrates that we keep as a cash crop and to eat –pigs, cows, sheep, poultry etc—have pushed what we think of as wild animals such as elephants, giraffes and tigers to the fringe. We take ninety-five percent of resources and this is increasing and they take up five percent.

Pork, for example, is mass produced from cradle to grave. Ted Genoways shows how worker’s wages are driven increasingly downwards, their workload increased year on year by increasing line speed. Profits are increased, allowing vertical integration the takeover of more land, the growing of more corn crops to feed the pigs they produce and the use of their excrement as fertiliser to feed the land. One of the problems he identifies is the runoff of fertiliser (pig shit) from the land results in water pollution and leaving water undrinkable.  Half a million people in Des Moines, for example, could no longer safely drink their water because of an increased level of nitrates and E coli. Enforcement of the Clean Water Act was hampered by sacking workers who monitored the rivers. The kind of light-touch regulation we are familiar with. A saving and win-win situation. Only poor people drink water.

Catch 22. Major Major (senior) is a farmer in Mid-West. He hates Medicare. He hates social services. He hates the unemployed getting a hand out. He liked getting paid for not growing alfalfa in his fields. The more money he gets for not growing alfalfa the more fields he buys not to grow alfalfa. He knew how to make money and how not to make money. The poor were poor because they were lazy and didn’t work hard enough. Something needed to be done about them.

Corporate Ag gag laws where a triumph of corporate practice that even Joseph Heller would have chocked on. Cruelty to humans results in cruelty to animals as sure as pig follows shit. Animal abuse isn’t animal abuse if we don’t see it. Whistle blowers such as PETA who film or record such events are reclassified and prosecuted by the state as terrorists indulging in terrorist activity.

We are what we eat. Closer to home we eat the poor.

Rohan Silva: It’s no surprise that between 2010 and 2014 workers in London saw their wages fall in real terms by more than £3000 per year, even with (perhaps because of) global capital pouring into the city. Karel Williams of the Manchester Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change suggests the size of Britain’s bank fundamentally distorts its economic model. Let’s look at it sideways. Fifteen- percent of the population take seventy percent of all flights. Ninety-five percent of public expenditure on public works is spent on London, with this likely to increase with  Heathrow likely to add another runway. Daniel Boffey reports in The Observer the UK government has increasingly hampered progress in tax avoidance. To paraphrase R.H. Tawney the problem of poverty is the problem of riches.

They have fostered a climate of fear and mistrust. Al Alvarez in  The Writer’s Voice, discusses Edmund Wilson’s critique of New Criticism, but it works equally well with the politics of our Tory leaders and masters.

How, you may ask, can we identify this elite who know what they are talking about? Well, it can be said of them that they are self-appointed and self-perpetuating and that they will compel you to accept their authority. Imposters…demagogues [preaching] varieties of no nothingism.

Tory’s plan to redefine child poverty out of existence. One in five children live in a home that is cold or damp. Two-and-a half million children in poverty is not a true reflection our Tory masters claim. The Fabian society claim cuts to tax credits will hit the lowest paid, the working poor, and the largest group in society. Look back to the 1960s and 1970s and seismic influence of Peter Townsend’s The Poor and the Poorest, which became Poverty in the UK. Something had to be done. National soul searching. Debate. An increase in benefit levels.  Needs change over time but we all need to eat and have a roof over our head. With rising housing costs and reduced benefits, more people chasing fewer jobs, more people chasing fewer homes and almost a third of the population locked into wage and benefit free-fall something had to be done now. We’re budgeting for it.

Take for example the Mail on Sunday’s exposure that almost anyone could walk into a Foodbank and claim to be hungry and be given a free packet of pasta. No check on credentials. They could have been reporters that drove away in a car worth £30 000 and nobody stopped them. I must admit I’d like to have broken a wing mirror or two. But I’m not a pasta thief taking food out of the mouths of the hungry.

When I think of how our Tory leaders murder language and define poverty I think of my school days and the catch 22 before we were in a modern comprehensive secondary. The worst crime at school wasn’t burning down the school, it was refusing the belt for burning down the school. You could plead innocence. Become a grass and name the culprits. Tell the teacher you didn’t have any matches and were scared of fire and flames. The truth is you’d refused the belt and that was worse than burning down the school. Poverty is no excuse for poverty, it’s personal.

The Tory government focus on problem families. In a jointly funded church report The Lies We Tell Ourselves troubled families were estimated at around 120 000, and with typical Tory inflation this went up to 500 000. The flip side of that is these troubled families become the cause of the nation’s ills. Fecklessness became the common currency of what they were talking about and whom. They were infecting society. Benefit Street or any other documentary on Channel 4 or 5 will show the truth is out there. In the thirties this would have been called propaganda. Now its mass entertainment.

Owen in Tressel’s classic addressed it in this way. ‘What is the cause of the lifelong poverty of those who are not drunkards and DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and wont-works and unskilled or inefficient workers could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would under the present conditions be so much the worse for us, because there isn’t enough work for ALL now and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably lead to a reduction in wages and a greater scarcity of employment. The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selfishly interested in maintaining the present state of affairs…

Why is it…we are not only deprived of nearly all the benefits of civilisation, but we and our children are also unable to obtain even the bare necessities of existence.

If a man is only able to provide himself and his family with the bare necessities of existence, that’s man’s family is living in poverty. Since he cannot enjoy the advantages of civilisation, he might just as well be a savage, better, in fact, for a savage knows nothing of what he is deprived.’

How wealth is generated matters. As Henry J Ford, hardly a revolutionary figure says ‘if an employed does not share prosperity with those who make him prosperous, then pretty soon there will be no prosperity to share. Joe Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist who predicted the 2008 crash and forecasts another, says much the same thing

Roman Abromavich docked his yacht Eclipse and took a cycle round the Isle of Arran this week. Let’s look at Bill Browder’s take on corruption. He spotted there was a killing to be made in the old Soviet Union of the 1980s and made hundreds of millions of dollars. The average gap between rich  and poor proletariat Russians was a factor of six. The richest Soviet citizen were worth six times the poorest paid. Poor old Roman. He cashed in his chips and jumped ship. Now according to Forbes he’s worth $9 billion. He did in one generation what it took the aristocracy far longer. The new rich meet the old rich in cities like London were wealth can be laundered.  His Eclipse eclipses the newly revamped Southern General Hospital which cost almost £200 million. But the Southern General Hospital is an asset that employs tens of thousands and generates disposable income that is spread in and around that area. The engine of the economy is disposable income. When people have nothing they spend nothing. But it doesn’t work in reverse gear. When the rich money has something he doesn’t spend.

Pope Francis who knows a thing or two about miracles describes ‘trickle down economics’. I’ll paraphrase in terms of Pinocchio, just when the snot of trickle is about to happen the needs of the rich man grows. His nose grows commensurately and he tells you he has not enough to meet his needs. Somebody else pays. The common man. The poor pay for the roads and docks and infrastructure and they educate rich and poor, but not alike. But in the current egalitarian tax system there is a  reversal of who pays more. In the 1960s and 1970s the top fifth paid more tax than the bottom fifth. That has been reversed. The rich man orders a tax avoidance scheme from an accountant in the same way that a bespoke suit used to be made by a skilled tailor.

Piketty shows that in mature economies such as Britain money grows at increasing speed and rate to the one percent that have money and own the land and assets that go with it. The answer is to tax the rich. Simple.  It would be a start. I wish some political party would start thinking in that way and not the hot air of no nothingism that we’ve come to expect so we no longer listen.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

Robert Frank (2008) Richistan

superyacht

This book is outdated. It was published before the crash and unravelling of high finance in 2008, but the bounce back of the increasingly wealthy has been so spectacular and complete it’s as if that event never happened. A more major shortcoming is Frank’s believe in the benefits of trickle-down economics.  It’s worth repeating wealth flows at an increasing speed upwards and if the rising tide has lifted fewer boats during the Obama years, as one wag put it, the ones it has lifted has tended to be yachts. Piketty, in particular, nails this fiction as the convenient lie that it is. But coming from different positions both Frank and Piketty reach the same conclusion. The trend for the rich to get richer and the poor to become poorer is on rails and speed it picking up at an increasing rate.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Frank noted (like Piketty) a trend. In 2003, whilst writing an article about Wall Street bonuses he noted a wealth ladder in which households worth $10 million, $20 million, $50 million – all the populations were doubling.

Here’s the narrative. Frank visits a yacht club in 2004. He tells us the richest 1% own $1.35 trillion a year greater than the total national incomes of France, Italy or Canada. Remember in 2015 that number will be a lot higher now. He looks at the yachts and someone remarks: ‘You look at all these boats and you’d think everyone’s making loads of money. It’s like a different country’.

That country is Richistan. Let’s go to the end of the book. It’s 2005. Frank is travelling to visit Ft. Lauderdale for the 46th International Boat Show. It’s a Richistan of boats and billionaires. Yet he notes driving to the convention the city has been battered by Hurricane Wilma. The streets are strewn with broken glass, trees and garbage. Thousands of residents of the poorer districts are homeless, most of them Hispanic or black. Many are herded into school gyms and classrooms. A few are issued with vouches handed out by a Federal Emergency Management Agency. They’re worthless. They don’t cover the cost of local rents even before the disaster. And the housing market is overinflated because of the wealth-creating towers of million-dollar condos.

Petrina Craig, a mother of six, is shipped to a homeless shelter for a week. She asks ‘Am I supposed to sit in the shelter until they kick me out with my kids?’

A few miles away in Richistan the yacht show was kicking off, packed with gleaming multimillion dollar toys for the rich.

This is a sympathetic snapshot of the wealthy. It’s an uneven world in which size matters even between these groups. A group of children of the wealthy were asked what they would do with a $10 million lottery win. Before or after tax? one asked. You get a sense of indifference. Before or after tax is the question our government should be asking not only of the poor and marginalised but of the Richistan citizens.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole