Journalism as a tool of social mobility

A thought occurs to me, one for here rather than Medium.

Given that journalism is so dominated by Oxford and Cambridge educated, private school white people (to a greater degree than average, not totally of course, normal disclaimers apply) it is helping social mobility.

The people I know in journalism are very smart people who are earning a pitiful amount in an industry destined to terminal decline. Its entirely possible people entering journalism today could be earning thousands of pounds a year more (and on a trajectory to earn tens of thousands of pounds more) but they’re not. This downward mobility, and we normally measure mobility in hard cash, is in some ways good for society.

Maybe if we pay attention to happiness economics these people are still getting a good deal. Journalism is a job with great intrinsic rewards. Women, people of colour, poor people still find it difficult to enter journalism, so perhaps it isn’t so good for society.

In either case, I salute young journalists commitment to doing work that makes them happy and jumping on the downwards scissor of social mobility.


What do Breastfeeding and Buses and Clarice Starling have in common?

There’s two stories this week that interest me. They’re both about power and authority and who can wield it. They look like pretty similar to me, but the reaction to each has been the opposite. Who gets to be violent towards women with children?

It seems pretty clear the answer should probably be nobody. But sometimes violence is necessary, like in Hannibal [Spoiler alert] when Clarice Starling has to gun down a woman holding a baby to save her own life. In what ways are waitresses and Bus drivers like Clarice Starling? Should waitresses roughhouse women with babies? Should Bus drivers push them about? You might ask, as she does herself, should even Clarice Starling be able to do this?

Nobody asked these questions this week. This is what made for the stark contrast between the reaction to Claridge’s banning women from breastfeeding openly and to First Bus winning a court case saying saying women with children in buggies couldn’t be forced to give up space reserved for wheelchairs.

If Claridge’s really wanted to enforce their ban it would ultimately involve either their staff violently ejecting and breastfeeding women who didn’t comply. First Bus argued that yes, the wheelchair space is for wheelchairs, but no, their drivers aren’t authorised to force a woman to move. The first of these was greeted with incredulity, especially when Nigel Farage requested an end to ostentatious breastfeeding. Of course women can breastfeed where they like. The second was greeted with outrage. Of course wheelchair users can use the space reserved for them.

But both of these questions revolve around who gets to exercise violence. Perhaps bus drivers wrestling with mothers and newly born is a good idea, but it’s not a clear cut case. The court may look callous in its decision, but it has laid out where legitimate violence may and may not be used. This is to the detriment of disabled people, if a mother can’t be reasoned with, but I can’t see a way around this because that unreason is not a cause for violence.

Few people think about what private property means, but it means excluding people, sometimes consensually, often violently. There’s lots of advantages to this system but there’s also drawbacks and these cases sit at this intersection. Private property means being able to force people to do what you want, but society places constraints on what and who you can boss about. I think Clarice Starling was right and FirstBus was right but I think Claridge’s was wrong and those positions are perfectly coherent. Violence can be put to good use, rarely though against women with children.

Sorry to say it @OwenJones84, but property developers might be our only hope

Owen Jones has a video up at The Guardian on the evils of property developers. He blames them for pricing people out of their homes, but I think he’s wrong. Sure property developers are building unaffordable housing, but that’s because land is unaffordable. When land is unaffordable it makes sense to build the most expensive property you can to make the best margin you can.

In the 1930s in the UK’s recovery from the Great Depression and terrible twenties Property Developers went wild. Just like today people responded to low interest rates by investing in housing. The problem is the 1930s saw housing built that people could afford and that people liked, today low interest rates push prices go up. It was the opposite in the 1930s. As Nick Crafts explains “85% of new houses sold for less than £750 (£45,000 in today’s money). Terraced houses in the London area could be bought for £395 in the mid-1930s when average earnings were about £165 per year.”

Why was this? Is wasn’t out of the benevolence of 1930s property developers, it was because the supply of land was far less regulated. There was no incentive to sit on land and even affordable housing becomes an attractive investment when land is easy to come by. Property Developers were just as selfish then but the system channeled that to something useful. The Second World War stopped this housing boom and the 1947 Town and Planning Act made sure it never came back.

In fact, get the rules right and property developers could go from enemies to heroes. Housing expanded so quickly in the 1930s it was the primary motor pulling Britain out of its long slump. Sound familiar? That could happen today, we just need to make it much, much easier for people to use land how they want, where they want.


PS Owen talks about India too. Slum residents (not owners) are cleared out of their slums so they can be redeveloped as better quality housing. This really is something to be angry about. People without deed to their property getting expropriated by developers working (probably) with corrupt local government. This is awful and I don’t have a good solution to this, primitive accumulation accompanies the early stages of capitalist development everywhere. Solutions on a postcard please.

Why Cameron Will Pay the EU £1.7bn And Why He Should Shut Up Already

In 2000 we agreed that financial contributions to the EU should be linked to Gross National Product because that is a sensible way to do it. Recently these figures were revised for incredibly boring reasons, R&D became value adding instead of a cost, some services which weren’t counted properly now are, and so on and on as boring and inevitable as statistics.

These revisions are important because of VAT, value added tax. Because part of the EU budget is paid for through VAT so we have to reassess how much we owe to the EU budget , it’s laid out in this pdf, via the FT. We’ve just found out we’ve added more value so should have contributed more tax. Those CRAZY Eurocrats.

It’s clear that David Cameron will pay this charge. He’ll make a big deal out of it, but he’ll pay. David Cameron made it his government’s mission to return the UK to a balanced budget. He’s not going to do that, but he wanted to move in that direction to protect the reputation and borrowing privileges of the UK.

The UK is in an a small club of countries which haven’t defaulted. There’s an advantage to keeping your promises and David Cameron wanted to sensibly protect that. People believing you is valuable and keeping your promises is the only way to guarantee that. I think he’s gone about it in a stupid way, and that’s his prerogative, his intention was to protect the UK’s history of keeping promises.

That’s why he’ll pay this. The UK updated its 1994 agreement 14 years ago and promised to pay. So pay it we will. Paying your debt means keeping your promises. If David Cameron cares about keeping the UK’s word he’ll pay up. He thinks he can play the offended statesmen for the home media without worrying lenders and he’s probably right, but if he wants to be a proper statesman he should shut up and pay up.

The company Ukip keep tells you a lot

You may be expecting this post to be about Nigel Farage striking a deal with Robert Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. He’s a Polish MEP so right wing the Front National want nothing to do with him. He’s now in a parliamentary group with Ukip, and it’s saved them their EU funding. This post isn’t about that. This is about something more important: music.

On Songfacts there’s a list of songs that deal with immigration. It’s a bit out of date because Mike Read’s Ukip Calypso isn’t on there, but I want to set that right and place Mike Read in his proper context. Jamie T’s song is a lament for a friend who’s girlfriend couldn’t get a visa so his friend had to marry her. Woody Guthrie wrote about a plane of Mexican deportees which crashed, killing everyone. Rage Against the Machine wrote about a Mexican trying to enter the UK but finding a wall there. Tom Russell points out its probably immigrants building that wall too. And so on.

If you look at the above list you can see song after song praising immigrants or lamenting their suffering. But there are a couple which are anti-immigrant like the Ukip Calypso. Genesis’s Illegal Alien is nominally sympathetic, but Phil Collin’s does a cod-Mexican accent which is at least a little distasteful. Axl Rose is the only real contender for Ukip company, he doesn’t like “immigrants and faggots,” so he’d be perfect to be a Ukip Councillor somewhere.

So take solace, in popular music, if not popular news, immigrants are still presented as brave heroes, tragic victims, hard workers or just normal people with stories of their own. I was surprised to find any nominally anti-immigrant songs, bemoaning “illegal immigrants in every town” in a bad Jamaican accent is definitely the exception. Even Great White Records didn’t release many songs. So go ahead and Vote Ukip, vote for Cllr Rose.

How Ukip take advantage of you having your heart in the right place


Photo credit on reddit. To calm you down all posts about Ukip should by law carry a cat photo.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

Voting is a duty. A lot of people think it’s a right, but that only covers part of it. You don’t just have a right to vote for who governs you, but a duty to choose the right person to govern everyone. A lot of people get this and you can people voting against their own interests all the time. It’s a noble thing.

But when this sense of duty collides with the ignorance of the British public something horrible happens. Were people to vote in their own interest, we’d have a much nicer world for immigrants. When asked about issues affecting the country, immigration comes out tops, when asked about issues affecting them personally immigration vanishes.


Tuesday’s post listed just some of the ways the public are wrong about the world. If 15% of girls under 16 were pregnant each year that would be worth concern. It would imply that all girls aged over 14 were constantly pregnant. That demands action. I’m not too liberal to admit that. If we did spend more on JSA than pensions that would be worth concern.

Given current state pension spending of £74.22 billion and the over-25 rate of JSA of £72.40, we’d be paying JSA to twenty million people. That’s the population of Angola. If that was true, then I can see how people would think overseas aid was on of the top three UK budget expenditures.

People want to help their fellow citizens and immigration has become a flashpoint for many concerns. Housing, the economy, poverty, fairness, inequality. All these things converge on what the public think they know about how immigration is affecting someone else. They think 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%.

I think this concern is genuine, but misguided. A lot of what I’ve written probably makes me sound like I dislike the public and think they are scum. But that’s not true. I think they’re very caring individuals who are deeply, deeply wrong about how to help people.

They show great concern for their fellow citizens’ wellbeing when it comes to immigration, but great vindictiveness on many other matters. They think capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save a lot of money, but it won’t. They think it will work because they have a lot view of their fellow citizens, the citizens they very much want to help, are scamming them.

There’s no such thing as public opinion. You can’t collate and rank all the opinions everyone has. They don’t and can’t stack properly. But worse than this, even individuals don’t have consistent opinions. They think it’s important to protect their fellow cheating citizens from their kind immigrant neighbours.

Fighting Ukip is hard because of this. They can promise contradictory things and get away with it because people can believe contradictory things. They believe them willingly. Ukip are an anti-immigrant party with a pro-immigration MP (pro-immigration for an MP that is), who are campaigning as the champions of the UK libertarian tendency who want to protect the NHS. In government Ukip would probable deliver contradictory things and people would probably like it. People, you can’t trust ’em.

Square this circle: common sense, Ukip and the decline of deference

IPSOS-Mori point out ten places British public opinion disagrees with British reality.

  1. Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates:  we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%[i].
  2. Crime: 58% do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995[ii].  51% think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012[iii].
  3. Job-seekers allowance: 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn)[iv].
  4. Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100[v].
  5. Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year.  More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn)[vi].
  6. Religion: we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales.  And we underestimate the proportion of Christians: we estimate 34% on average, compared with the actual proportion of 59% in England and Wales[vii].
  7. Immigration and ethnicity: the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%[viii]. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%.  There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups)[ix].
  8. Age: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 36% of the population are 65+, when only 16% are[x].
  9. Benefit bill: people are most likely to think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+.  In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m[xi], compared with £5bn[xii] for raising the pension age and £1.7bn[xiii] for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.
  10. Voting: we underestimate the proportion of people who voted in the last general election – our average guess is 43%, when 65% of the electorate actually did (51% of the whole population)[xiv].

Things like this make me not envy politicians. How do you make policy when you have to appeal people who think 15% of girl’s under 16 are pregnant, but which has to be implemented by people who know it’s nonsense?

Ukip are the party of common sense. That means the received, sensible, and wrong wisdom encapsulated in the above mistakes. It’s common sense that people are ripping off the benefits system, but really its pensioners voting for a pensioner based festive meal.

People think 31% of the population are immigrants. It’s not even like that in London. How do you make policy to confront a problem which doesn’t exist. The solutions are already rolled out. The poor can’t marry foreigners. You can’t bring your family over if you’re poor. There is no legal way for asylum seekers to enter the country.

EU enlargement is over for a generation and EU immigration numbers are now dictated by the relative strengths of different parts of Western Europe. The better the UK does relative to Southern Europe the more migration we’ll see.

Sadly, I don’t have a solution to Ukip. The deference and respect people had has evaporated. People don’t believe they live in the same world as politicians. A lot of the time they’re right. For housing, employment, cost of living, economic security things are much worse than the political establishment think. But on so many other matters it is voters who have become unmoored from reality. And in these area, these vitriolic, common sense causes, that battle lines are being drawn.

I don’t have any answers, and if anyone thinks they do, then I’ll be right behind them…about a mile or two behind them.