Tuesday, 30 May 2017

What Would The World Look Like If These People Told The Truth?

 In a Blog post the other day I made three principal points about the subject of inequality, namely:

1) That despite always going on about it, people don't care very much about inequality, it is other things (poverty, perceived unfairness, perceived injustice) that they care about, but they confuse those concerns with concerns about inequality.

2) That politicians and social commentators who continually bang on about our society being the most unequal ever have got it backwards - we have never been more equal than we are today.

3) That their motives for these misunderstandings, distortions and fallacious arguments ought to be scrutinised more rigorously because it paints them in a bad light, and causes their integrity to be questioned.

That Blog post was principally a commentary about UK inequality. I'm sorry to say that when global inequality is measured, the distortions get even worse (which is to the huge discredit of places like Oxfam, who although they do an awful lot of good, tend to promote a deliberately false and misleading narrative). 

They will promote headlines along the lines of the top 1% owning about the same as the bottom 50% of the world’s population put together, which as they well know completely ignores consumption parities, counts those with negative net wealth as having zero, includes pensioners who live comfortably off but whose capital income is relatively small, and overlooks students with future earning potential. In fact, using Oxfam's metric, a group photo containing students who had just graduated from Oxford or Edinburgh or Yale would be a photo containing some of the poorest people in the world, which is absurd.

As I reminded readers in this Blog post, people's wealth accumulation happens over decades in ways that static data analyses just don't capture. You'd like to think there'll come a point when someone at Oxfam will sit up and suddenly think to themselves that it is preposterous to record people about to graduate from Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh or Yale as being among the poorest in the world.

I've made these points before, of course - but what I really want - what I'm desperate for, is for someone from the left to tell me what is going on with this misleading data. Is it a marketing campaign designed to paint a picture that will help achieve the aims of the charity or political party, or is it that the people who compile these statistics genuinely do not know how much they veer from the true picture? I am genuinely interested.

On top of that, let me articulate something that I believe most people see as being totally obvious when they are told, but before which almost no one manages to notice. Those people that get rich can only do so by making others better off, both in providing consumers with things they value more than the money, and by providing prospective employees with jobs they value more than not working. And the higher up the rich scale you look - digital tech entrepreneurs, authors, musicians, film stars - the more widespread value they provide (Google, Facebook, Amazon, popular books, great albums, enjoyable movies, etc) - in both goods and services that bring about mass value, and in the jobs they provide. As we learn in this IEA article:

"Over 60 per cent of Kenyans use mobile phones to make payments. Mobiles are used by farmers to compare and check prices so that they are not exploited by local monopolies. Globalisation in general and mobile phone technology in particular are major contributors to the huge growth in incomes in poor countries in recent years. "

The people who have made Google, Amazon, Facebook and best-selling books, films and music ubiquitous are not wealthy at the expense of others, quite the opposite - they are wealthy because they have made tens of millions of their fellow human beings better off.

There is a crisis that tears right through the inner organs of left wing social commentary. One would like to believe that their intentions are good, that they do have the poorest people's best interests at heart, and that they are really the champions of the underdog. But what casts such huge aspersions over this is the fact that so much of their narrative consists of deliberately misleading counterfactuals, bogus statistics, calculated attempts to overlook or ignore much of the whole picture and basic errors of reasoning.

As I always like to remind people, actions speak louder than words, and the left do not behave as though they have integrity and are on the side of the underdog, even if they state that they are. If truth and facts were at the heart of their narrative, and they wanted to make the world a better place in conformity with the facts, you would hear them say things like:

"Yes, the world is hugely unequal in terms of disposable income, but it is greatly narrowed by taxes, benefits and the closing of the gulf in terms of consumption; Society is less unequal than ever before, but we still want to do all we can to help the poorest in the world".

"Yes, increases in tax for the rich will have a detrimental effect on our economy in terms of reducing productivity, stifling innovation and deterring outside investors, but in spite of this, let me give you a list of reasons why I'm willing to take a gamble on it for reasons I believe are principled".

"Yes, the minimum wage does untold damage to the economy, as well as pricing low-skilled people out of the labour market. And I'm even aware that on top of that the minimum of wage is really a transfer of wealth that has a cancelling effect because what extras these workers gain in one hand they lose in the other through higher consumer prices".

"Yes, carbon taxes and green regulations achieve one of our aims in costing in some of the price of people's negative externalities, but we also acknowledge that they disproportionately hurt small businesses, and may well turn out to have been a huge unnecessary cost as market progression naturally takes care of supply and demand problems".

"Yes, rents and house prices are so high that they are unaffordable for many. A lot of this is because we've so heavily restricted the amount of land that can be built on, and heavily regulated the building industry. We appreciate the negative impacts this has, but we understand the trade off, and believe that preserving green land and restricting the building industry has benefits that outweigh the costs".

"Yes, we understand that tariffs have numerous spillover costs, we even understand that they make the nation as a whole worse off because while they protect some domestic industries they hurt others, and make our own citizens pay more for their goods. But nevertheless, we have weighed this up and believe that as the costs are spread thinly throughout the country, and that there are tangible groups of people that can be clearly seen to benefit, it is a trade off we are willing to take".

"Yes, knife crime has risen under the government, immigration hasn't fallen as much as we hoped, nor have NHS waiting times - but we understand that these factors are hugely complex, and these things might have occurred independently of MPs in Westminster. Therefore there is every chance that things wouldn't have been any better if our party were in government, as not everything that happens in complex societies is the fault of or the cause of governments".

I could carry on with many more examples, but you get the point, I'm sure. It would be so tremendously unusual if you ever heard a politician speak like that - so unusual that you wouldn't be able to help but think that he or she had had a bang on the head akin to Basil Fawlty's in the episode with the Germans. It's such a shame people cannot hear things as they really are more readily, rather than having a society where politicians habitually mislead and distort because the public insists on nothing more.