22 May 2006

Polly Toynbee is a nice person (and I'm not saying that just because she bought me a pint, although that helps!)

There seems to be quite a lot of right wingers who make a sport out of criticising our Polly (or crudely abusing her in some cases), unfairly in my opinion. They rarely point out significant errors in her work (and we all make some errors some of the time) but mostly resort to name calling. I feel this is because they recognise the power of her argument in destroying their own rhetoric. In short, they feel threatened.

Polly has written a reply to some of the more vociferous accusations made by Tim Worstall and Frank (MrPikeBishop). These right wingers seem to have had a field day making hay at Polly's expense because she wrote about the abuse she receives, as they are unlikely to publish her reply on their own sites, I publish Polly's reply on CiF in full here.

"Hello Frank! That's a bit better than this MrPikeBishop stuff. And hello metal merchant Tim in Portugal.
I've been thinking about 'hypocrite'. You keep accusing me of not revealing what I'm paid. Well, I'm not going to, not until there is general Guardian policy of transparency, which I have always advocated. It seems mildly unfair to pick on the person who is in favour of it. The whole point is everyone doing it at once - as I emailed back to an anonymous person who turned out to be Private Eye in disguise, not revealing themselves - which is hardly transparent, is it?
I write quite often about pay, from a point of view neither of you are likely to agree with. In fact I've written a book about it - Hard Work - trying to explore the injustice of the pay someone like me gets as a journalist, (which I agree is too much and too little taxed), with the pay of a care assistant looking after 6 helpless old people all day, or cleaners or dinner ladies. I write often about the danger of the well-paid - and politicians - losing all touch with the real world where ?21,000 is the median wage, yet those earning ?100,000 delude themselves that they are somewhere in the 'middle' (they are fewer than 1%). Maybe that makes me a hypocrite. But I'm not entirely sure why I deserve particular bullying for raising the subject. Class and cash divides remain taboo, but are as important as ever.
Thank you DD for suggesting Ian Birchall is an old SWP activist. That figures.
Thanks Smurfs75 and Slider.
Neither Jackie or I are against debate. How could we be? Ity's what we do. Comment is Free has opened up conversation - and that's just what it should be.
So Frank, I'll take you up on your accusation that I and my Guardian colleagues on the left of centre are responsible for wrecking the country? Is the country wrecked really? Tell me when your golden age was, who was better off and happier? How many more people had more opportunities and choices than they have now? A few maybe, but the many. You can be a Peter Hitchens/John Major wild romantic about an orderly white world of the 1950s when we drank dandelion and burdock, spinsters bicycled to church past cricketers on the village green, while mugs of warm ale waited in the pub... Major's dream. But you would be hard put to say life was really better then for the great majority than it is now. And yes, comprehensive education, opening up sixth forms, A levels and higher education has opened horizons and doors for nearly half the population... I won't bore you. You know the arguments too well. Of course we should seethe with indignation that everything that doesn't work better when it could and should. But 'wrecked' suggests a better era, once. When, exactly?"

42 comments:

  1. Neil,
    I too think she’s a nice person, heart in the right place and all that.
    Hopelessly ignorant of economics though...which is why I attack.

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  2. I have read 'Hard Work' and a few other books of hers.

    How are you defining economics? I think Polly outlines quite well an understanding of how the economic system works.

    In particular I think she understands better than you how those on low pay are being exploited by those at the top. She certainly seems to care about correcting this injustice more than you do.

    You throw the hypocrite insult at her, but I think it is more hypocritical to pretend the present system is fair.

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  3. Bradfordlabourloony22/5/06 10:43 pm

    "Hopelessly ignorant of economics though...which is why i attack"

    And what exactly makes YOU an expert on economics Mr Tim Worstall?

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  4. What makes me an expert in economics? Not a lot. A degree in the subject, a couple of decades reading around it. I’m certainly not an economist, an interested amateur perhaps?

    As to Polly’s mistakes in the subject. Well, she does often make proposals for public policy, something which is of course depply tied to economics (it’s been said that economics describes the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be).

    For example, she advocates raising the minimum wage. Most if not all economists would say that this will reduce the number of jobs available (by a small amount) and reduce the number of hours available by a large amount. The Low Pay Commission’s report on the subject shows that this is actually true.

    So raising the minimum wage actually harms those on low pay. This isn’t what those proposing such a thing wish to hear but it is the way the world actually works.

    She got into a terrible mess over how to calculate GDP last summer: but a minor point. Then, in her work on gambling she’s tried to say that it now amounts to 7.7% of GDP. Err, no, again, she’s unsure of how GDP statistics are calculated. She has taken gambling turnover (the amount bet) and then calculated the percentage of GDP. But a great deal of gambling turnover (80-90%) actually goes back to those gambling. That is, everyone wins some of the time. The number that gets included in GDP is the overall losses (or winnings of the bookies if you wish, same number) which is more like 1.3% of consumer spending.....and thus 1.3 % of GDP.

    One writer at CiF used Polly’s figures to claim that fully 40% of the rise in GDP of recent years was simply caused by the rise in gambling. Not so for the reasons above.

    Economics is an important subject, most especially in the formulation of public policy. Polly at least tries to influence such public policy, which is why her ignorance of the subject is so dangerous.

    She’s not the only one. Madeleine Bunting once wrote a whole book on how she didn’t understand labour productivity figures: which is what leads to this nonsense that the French are more productive than we are.

    Others complain about the "long working hours culture" when the fact is that we all have ever more leisure time. And about the same leisure time as people in Germany. This mistake is caused by looking only at paid working hours: and not taking into account the decline in unpaid working hours in the home.

    I have no problem with people who think that inequality is the greatest injustice (I may disagree but that’s a different matter). I do have a problem with people who state that then propose things that won’t work, or who mangle figures to make their point, or who misunderstand so grievously the causes of such inequality.

    For someone who is both of the left and who also understands these points, try reading Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling. Now he is an economist and he’s just as dismissive of Polly as I am...but from the left, as I say.

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  5. Neil -- Once again you claim I am a right-winger. I refuted this last time and refute it now. I have voted for each of three major parties at least once over the course of the last four general elections.

    (And don't get caught out throwing stones like "they are unlikely to publish her reply on their own sites" as your glass house will get quite draughty with the sodding great holes in it.)

    I do not feel challenged by Polly. I hope she continues to hold and write her opinions. Sometimes I agree with her and sometimes not but she is rarely less than thought-provoking; were she not I would not read her.

    What makes me angry, though, is her sloppy use of facts and quotes, and her gift for innacurate précis. Yes, we do all make mistakes, but if every piece of work I turned in contained a basic error which ten minutes of digging revealed, I would get fired. And what is her editor doing?

    I happen to believe, possibly naively, that rational debate is good, that facts are necessary to feed it and that one ought to be able to trust things published in quality national newspapers which purport to be facts. I cannot do that with the "facts" that appear in Polly's columns.

    She is not unique in this, and neither does it always change the thrust of her arguments, but frankly I think we deserve better -- both from her and from her soi disant editor.

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  6. Rigour Please23/5/06 8:36 am

    'Hard Work' is just a poor version of 'Nickel and Dimed', done over a much shorter period (inevitably, poor Polly can't go without her salary for too long!).

    My problem is not with Polly's position but with the low quality of her argument and writing. I find it painful and frustrating to read her, as whilst I may agree with whatever point she is trying to make her actual argument is generally pretty confused and filled with irrelevancies and as such a disservice to 'us'.

    You're right it's unfair to pick on her though - almost everything on the Guardian comment pages is junk these days (Zoe Williams... WTF!)

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  7. Rigour Please23/5/06 8:53 am

    And if the Guardian IS paying her 140 000 a year they must be retarded.

    If I ever find out that Zoe Williams actually gets paid for her drivel, rather than it being some sort of advanced care in the community project I think I will puke.

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  8. Rigour Please23/5/06 9:12 am

    BeaverHateman hit the nail on the head here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1758105,00.html

    with:
    "April 21, 2006 08:02 AM
    Posturing? Polly? Oh, you mean stuff like "Comprehensive education is the wonder of the age, only it's not quite suitable for my offspring, so unfortunately they have to go private..." Or: "Child poverty is the scourge of our times, and just as soon as everybody else does I'll reduce my earnings to within a reasonable percentile of the median. Till then I'll take a few multiples, thank'ee..." And: "We should all be open with one another about about our earnings. Baggy me go last..." On one level Toynbee may be a piece of worthless abject hypocritical dross, but at least she provides the valuable public service of shining a beacon of bright light on what happens when middle-class socialist principles come together with reality in the same time-space continuum..."

    Not hard to see the hypocrite tag really is it?

    BTW 'Nice' - just doesn't cut it, really, I care if she's 'nice'?

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  9. "So raising the minimum wage actually harms those on low pay.... [it has] reduced the amount of jobs"

    hmmm... 3.5m unemployed under the Tories and no minimum wage. Highest number of employed ever and less than a million claiming jobseekers with Labour and they have introduced and increased the minimum wage from £3.60 to £5.35.

    hmmm... paying the low waged more money harms them?

    I too am an amateur economist, but even I can see that something is not quite right in what you say.

    Have you ever thought that forcing people to work for wages so low that they cannot share in the country's prosperity is a tad wrong?

    As for your gambling point (it seems a bit pedantic (no typo from me). Surely turnover is 'equivalent' to the larger figure, even if only the profits are included in GDP.

    Do you have ANY errors in her stats that actually make a difference to the argument she is making? It seems you are finding any minor error to deflect attention from the fact you can't fault her main argument.

    factcheckingpollyanna: I used to be a Tory but I think most people would now describe me as a bit of a lefty. Who you voted for in the past is irrelevant, your current position is right wing, is it not?

    Looking through your site, I was struck by the amount of articles you effectively start 'well I can't find any inaccuracies with Polly here but..'

    I don't see these basic errors in Polly's articles that you talk about. It seems you are struggling to live up to your websites headlines which is why some of you you have resorted to personal attacks rather than attacking her argument.

    Rationality is great, the internet is great. I throw my tuppence into the mix, as we all do, and my opinion is moulded (sometimes strengthened, sometimes altered) as a result. I hope the same is true for you.

    rigour please: Is it hypocritical to argue for better comprehensive education and send your children private because it is better for their chances? Polly has always stated that private education is better for your kids, that is the point. She wants state education to be as good as private because she recognises it is wrong that wealth determines your kid's life chances. It would be more hypocritical if she knew all this and kept quiet, like right-wingers do. Sending her children to the worst comprehensive she could find would not change the system, it would just sacrifice her children. The point is, if Polly got her way and comprehensive education was improved she wouldn't need to send her children private.

    Polly might well earn £140k. I don't think anyone deserves to earn that much and Polly agrees with me. It would be more hypocritical if she tried to justify her salary like right-wingers do, while knowing that it is ridiculous. It is the system that is the problem. We all have to live in this system and individuals forgoing salary won't change the system.

    We all know that individuals can't stop climate change, charities can't end poverty, we need government. In fact encouraging individual action is probably a convenient distraction from the real issues which is why Cameron likes it so much and you lot can throw the hypocrite label around without looking to own your own distasteful views.

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  10. Neil --

    I cannot find one post I have written that starts with anything that could be interpreted as "well I can't find any inaccuracies with Polly here but.." Again, giving specific examples when you criticise someone is helpful, as it helps them either (a) rebut or (b) understand what they have done wrong and therefore change the behaviour. Vague criticisms are unhelpful.

    Again, I would not describe my current position as right-wing, and am curious as to what opinion I have expressed would make you think that this was the case.

    I find it a little frustrating that you accuse me again of personal abuse and decline to provide examples.

    Again, I think that when Polly Toynbee claims that "labelling white goods with energy-saving ratings made virtually all of them AAA in a short time" and they aren't virtually all AAA, that is a factual error. When she writes "In the polls, over 80% support the right to die and have done for the last 25 years" and it's not true, then that is a factual error. When she writes "Indeed, recent research on child care found that children left with grandparents all day did worse than children in good nurseries" and it didn't, then that is a factual error.

    As to changing my mind, I like the Keynes quote "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?". Of course I change my mind. Generally from a fact base. And that is why I think facts are important, and that Polly Toynbee damages her authority by being sloppy with facts.

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  11. Neil, forgive my ignorance but does Polly support Grammar schools? I don't read the Guardian!

    If she opposes them for being elitist then she is being hypocritical when she sends her children to a private school that offers the equivalent of a Grammar school education but only for parents who can afford it.

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  12. Rigga Please23/5/06 11:22 pm

    "Is it hypocritical to argue for better comprehensive education and send your children private because it is better for their chances?"

    Yep - pretty much dictionary definition.

    "Polly might well earn £140k. I don't think anyone deserves to earn that much and Polly agrees with me."

    I think someone as self important as polly might have a problem with HER agreeing with YOU, rather than the other way round... ('don't you know who her father is you peasant'). Regardless, if she does agree: 1. Why so coy? It's blatant hypocrisy; 2. Why doesn't she mention the roughly 120 grand she gives to charity (or whatever is left after tax...) to even things up?

    Face it Neil, Polly is the worst kind of Champagne (non) 'Socialist' you're ever likely to have the misfortune to read. read Hard Work - fucking pitiful length of time involved. She is born to privilige and will do nothing to endanger it.

    And Yep! reverted to original spelling conventions - 'Rigour Please' just looked tooo sad. Just another alias for the blue foxxx tho'

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  13. The Blue Foxxx23/5/06 11:26 pm

    Factcheckingpollyanna - just checked your site (excellent!), what does it take to make her retire? Face it Neil, you backed a loser (again), cut your losses.

    Yep Rigga please is me - just schizo.

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  14. Rigga/Blue Whatever...23/5/06 11:38 pm

    By the way - now you've seen the significant errors are you going to admit you were wrong?

    I don't mean in terms of agreeing with Toynbee's final position but in defending her fatuous, sloppy arguments. This goes back to my question that you, inevitably, failed to answer - when has being 'nice' been enough? Arguing that it is some weak, worthless shit, worhty of La Toynbee herself. this isn't a game we're playing and we can't afford handicaps like her.

    i only give you both names and appear like a spaz(~in this regard at least...) 'cos Toynbee (and Neil - check the ID card archives) seems to hate people who don't identify themselves.

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  15. "hmmm... 3.5m unemployed under the Tories and no minimum wage. Highest number of employed ever and less than a million claiming jobseekers with Labour and they have introduced and increased the minimum wage from £3.60 to £5.35.

    hmmm... paying the low waged more money harms them?

    I too am an amateur economist, but even I can see that something is not quite right in what you say."

    A decent lesson for amateur economists such as ourselves. We should compare what is happening now with what would have been happening now if we had not made the policy change.

    Not, as you have, what is happening now with what was happening 15 years ago.

    If we raise the minimum wage we obviously put out of work all those whose productivity is lower than the new minimum wage. There’s no ifs or buts there, it is inevitable. Companies simply will not hire people if by doing so they will lose money.

    So the effect of a rise in the minimum wage is to reduce both the number of jobs (around 16,000 for the last raise) and also the number of hours on offer to those who get to keep their jobs.

    Now, if you want to say that this is a trade off that’s OK, fine, carry on. But to refuse to recognise that it is a trade, that harm is being done to some to benefit others, simply isn’t showing you to be anything other than a very amateur economist indeed.

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  16. factcheckingpollyanna: "I cannot find one post I have written that starts with anything that could be interpreted as "well I can't find any inaccuracies with Polly here but.."

    here are some examples;

    On days like today, I feel disappointed I elected to critique factual accuracy rather than, say, writing style.

    I am also disappointed that I choose to quibble on facts

    Today's column is relatively free from fiction masquerading as facts

    this time there aren't a lot of non-facts masquerading as facts.

    Considering you have only been going a few weeks you seem to have to admit quite often that you can't find factual errors in what she writes (which I thought was the entire point of your site). Instead you quibble over minor details that make no difference to the point of the article or quibble over interpretation of facts (well we can all do that about someone's writing).

    ...As for the examples of factual errors that you do cite;

    The '80% support the right to die' poll is correct and polls have shown that level of support over the last 25 years. You interprete this as meaning 'every single poll', but she did not say that. And anyway as you admit yourself the polls have shown over 80% support consistently for at least 12 years. Your quibble doesn't detract from the actual point of her article which is that the general population overwhelmingly support the right to die. What is YOUR point?

    Your quibble on energy rating similarly doesn't alter the truth of Polly's article that labelling makes a huge positive difference. You have no 'real' facts to disprove what she says anyway, just your own guesswork. Maybe you should set up a factchecking website to check your own 'facts'!

    Polly's facts on the Thames barrier are also absolutely correct. You criticise her for using the most stark figures to back her case, but ALL commmentators do this, there was nothing FACTUALLY incorrect!

    God! If you think Polly is bad, try reading the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail or the Sun!!! Go and factcheck Melanie Phillips if you want to be really busy!

    The reason I call you rightwing is because this tactic of trying to smear the credibility of the very few left of centre commentators we do have is a rightwing last resort when they can't win the argument. There are plenty of rightwing commentators out there who are REALLY dishonest, why target Polly?

    "I find it a little frustrating that you accuse me again of personal abuse and decline to provide examples."

    I actually said 'some of you are resorting to personal abuse'. You are one of a few of her critics who has restricted themselves to mocking terms like 'pollyanna' rather than personal abuse. I was thinking more of Tim Worstall's, Devil's Kitchen's and others abusive name calling etc. which to me indicates their frustration at losing the argument.

    snafu: Polly argues the case for EVERYONE having the chance of decent education. As grammer schools reduce the overall average results, it seems like a good idea to get rid of them.

    blue foxx, rigga, etc: If Polly was arguing that everyone should be forced to have a state education then opted out of it, she would be a hypocrite. But she is not arguing this, (as I think you really understand).

    She is arguing that we should raise the standards of state education so that there is little need to go private (which is a different argument altogether).

    What is hypocritical is when politicians and the middle class profess faith in state schools and send their children to a state school but make sure they get into a 'good state school'. This fits the definition of hypocrite better which is all about professing something you don't actually believe, Polly is not guilty of that at all.

    As for your other points once again you misunderstand what hypocrite means. Polly has stated there should be transparency of salaries 'across the board' not just in isolated cases. If everyone revealed their salaries and Polly did not, she would be a hypocrite, but until that day she isn't.

    I don't think Polly (or anybody) revealing how much she (they) give to charities would be the right way to win approval. Maybe once again that needs to be transparent across the board (taxation?). I do however know she gives a lot of her time to charitable organisations.

    By the way, the only problem I have with monikerless comments is it can get confusing if hardly anybody chooses a moniker. Anonymous comments are fine by me.

    sunny: Cheers :0)

    Tim: "If we raise the minimum wage we obviously put out of work all those whose productivity is lower than the new minimum wage."

    Or the employer is forced to make more efficient use of his staff and train them better which benefits us all. A minimum wage can actually reduce costs on business as well by reducing labour turnover.

    Your example always reminds me of Thatcher's incomprehension that a high wage country like the Netherlands could manufacture products cheaper and better than the UK by actually training its workforce better and improving management efficiency. Paying low wages is the easy option for lazy managers. Of course the minimum wage could reach a point where it was too high, but we are far from that.

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  17. Sigh,

    "Or the employer is forced to make more efficient use of his staff"

    Try thinking for a moment. The employer makes more efficient use of his staff. What does this actually mean? More efficient means either getting more production out of the same amount of labour (ie,working people harder) or getting the same production out of less labour (ie, at the new higher price, using less labour).

    So you agree then. A raise in the minimum wage means that employers will use less labour. So what are you arguing about?

    "Of course the minimum wage could reach a point where it was too high, but we are far from that."

    And if you actually went and read The Low Pay Commission’s report you would see that we have already reached the point where it is having deleterious effects: for example, increasing unemployment by 16,000, companies reducing the use of labour in order, as you say, to increase their efficiency.

    "Your example always reminds me of Thatcher's incomprehension that a high wage country like the Netherlands could manufacture products cheaper and better than the UK by actually training its workforce better and improving management efficiency."

    Of course this is possible. Holland has higher labour costs (as you say) so therefore managers substitute capital for labour. Exactly the point. High labour costs mean less employment of labour.

    Again, what on earth are you arguing about? Raise the price of something and people buy less. It isn’t that complex an idea now is it?

    You seem to be implying that labour is actually a Giffen Good (look it up, wikipedia has a good entry). There’s a theoretical case to be made that such Giffen Goods actually exist but no one has really been able to identify one yet.

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  18. Neil --

    All of the examples you cite are followed by a big "but" or "however" -- at no stage do I say that I haven't been able to find a factual error.

    For example:

    Today's column is relatively free from fiction masquerading as facts (they are, of course, all relatively free of facts). However, Polly makes up for it by mangling a quote.

    or

    Polly Toynbee's column today is relatively fact-free (well, they always are, but at least this time there aren't a lot of non-facts masquerading as facts). however,

    In both cases, the bits in bold you don't go on to quote. In neither case am I saying there are loads of facts that can be verified, note, merely that there are few scant anchors in reality for the column.

    Merely repeating that 80% of people have been in favour of a right to die for the last 25 years will not make it true. It is not borne out in the longest consistent, reliable series I know (the British Social Attitudes Survey), and I wait with eager anticipation for the survey you can produce that shows more than 80% of people were in favour of a right to die 25 years ago.

    And as for white goods, Polly claims that virtually all white goods are AAA, and yet none of the first four white goods that I find on the website of a reputable retailer are indeed rated AAA. I don't claim that this disproves it -- merely that I have a strong case to question it.

    On the Thames Barrier, Polly does not use the starkest figures to back up her case -- this is not what I said. Go back and read it. I said that the data was too noisy to make the sort of grand "it gets closed four times a year" statement that Polly uses -- it was closed 18 times in 2003 and twice in 2004 and 2005. The starkest figure she could have used was the 2003 one, obviously. My point was that there is no sensible way of collapsing such a noisy data series to a simple measure like "four times a year" -- and in particular a figure which it is impossible to recreate. I submit the claim that it is now used four times a year is factually incorrect.

    You actually said that I was resorting to personal abuse in the comments on factcheckingpollyanna.blogspot.com (see here http://tinyurl.com/m7rge). If you are now backing away from this claim, then please do explicitly withdraw it. Otherwise, back it up. Anything else is cowardly.

    Now, as for why Polly... Sometimes I agree with her, sometimes I disagree with her. Either way, she needs to be more rigorous in her use of facts, and I will question her sloppy use of the facts whether I agree with her broader point or not. Once you start saying it's OK to be sloppy with facts so long as you agree with the broader point, you start to cheapen the idea of the fact-based argument.

    Why not do what I do to the rest of the media? Well, first off it's flattering that you think that it has merit, even if you dislike the outcome. So thank you. Unfortunately, I can't do the entire British media -- I have a full-time job, and only manage to find the odd fifteen minutes here or there to do this. And I had to start somewhere. And it was a particularly inaccurate column of Polly's which pushed me over the edge and made me want to do something about factual inaccuracies in the media.

    I am doing this not to make a partisan point, but to try and raise the level of factual accuracy in the media.

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  19. "Holland has higher labour costs (as you say) so therefore managers substitute capital for labour. Exactly the point. High labour costs mean less employment of labour."

    But employment in the UK and Holland is at higher levels and unemployment is lower under the minimum wage then it was before the minimum wage was introduced.

    Of course you could argue that employment would be higher still if we scrapped the minimum wage but the evidence is not conclusive.

    When companies reduce their labour and increase their productivity, under ANY other circumstances you would be arguing it was a good thing. Isn't this why you Thatcherites argued that Rover production closing was a good thing because the workers could find jobs that were more productive.

    If we follow your logic on the MW to a conclusion, you are arguing for all regulations (health+safety, holidays etc.) to be gotten rid of and we would get the low wage conditions and social inequity of the third world or victorian times in this country again. Now you may want that, but most people accept we have to protect workers from this exploitation.

    Once you accept 'some' social protection is needed, it is reasonable to set this protection at a decent wage level and not just subsistence.

    Even if you are right and 16,000 jobs have been lost becaused of the MW, that seems such a low number that it is hardly an 'effect', especially in the context of the millions of higher unemployment that was a result of Tory policies.

    Anyway the answer to the problem is not to have low wages and poor working conditions in this country, the answer is to reduce inequality in the developing countries that are causing this social dumping in the first place.

    I am not arguing that labour is a 'giffen good'. Looking at the wikipedia article (cos I haven't heard the term for a while and had forgot what it meant), labour is not an inferior good like bread. I don't understand what you are trying to say.

    If the price of labour rises, then the quality of labour tends to increase so employers are getting a different product for their increased price, it is not like bread (or any other product) which obviously won't improve in quality just because the price has increased.

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  20. factcheckerpolly: "Looking through your site, I was struck by the amount of articles you effectively start 'well I can't find any inaccuracies with Polly here but..'"

    This is what I originally said and I stand by it. I gave 4 examples of where you have started articles in this way, the qualifications you use further on in the articles are irrelevant and they are largely about differences of interpretation of facts rather than actual factual inaccuracies anyway.

    "You actually said that I was resorting to personal abuse in the comments"

    I apologise for that comment I left on your site and I withdraw it. You have not directly personally abused Polly as others have done. It was a general comment about right wingers I should have left elsewhere.

    "I wait with eager anticipation for the survey you can produce that shows more than 80% of people were in favour of a right to die 25 years ago."

    Re-reading Polly's article she says;

    "In the polls, over 80% support the right to die and have done for the last 25 years."

    I don't think polly means over 80% support for 25 years. She means there are polls that show over 80% support and that polls have continuously supported the right to die for 25 years (which is correct).

    The point is, factchecker you never state YOUR position;

    Do you support the 'right to die'?
    Do you agree that the polls have supported the right to die overwhelmingly over the last 25 years?

    Reading your pedantic criticism of Polly it is easy to lose sight of the points she is making which are actually completely correct.

    Polly said this about the thames barrier;

    "in 1987, it was only once every two years: now it's four times a year, eight times more often."

    This is factually accurate. It may be a simplification but once again you are trying to distract attention from the point (which is entirely valid) that the Thames barrier demonstrates the rising sea levels.

    Is it true that the Thames barrier is having to be closed more often? Are you trying to deny rising sea levels? What is your point?

    "I am doing this not to make a partisan point, but to try and raise the level of factual accuracy in the media"

    This does not hold water because it does not explain why you target Polly alone and no-one else for your criticism.

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  21. Neil --

    No, you didn't give four examples of my starting articles that way, you gave two and two quotes from the middle of articles. Now, that's a pretty easy thing to get right, given that you yourself chose the quotes.

    I am sorry you do not think that "over 80% support the right to die and have done for the last 25 years" means that there has been more than 80% supporting the right to die for the last 25 years. We shall just have to agree to disagree on that one. You will not be able to persuade me that the sentence can mean anything else than that.

    I also dispute the four times a year figure for the Thames barrier -- again, show me how you can get to four times a year from the official figures and I will withdraw my complaint that it is factually inaccurate (though would reserve the right to argue that its source is poorly cited).

    My point is that not everything she cites as a fact is a fact, and that a lot of what she blithely claims is inadequately sourced, so that it is impossible to check the claims which are merely doubtful as opposed to flat out wrong.

    This should not be a remarkable demand, and neither should it be so hard to understand. It should be a basic element of hygiene in a newspaper with aspirations to quality.

    When I write about my own views on, for example, the right to die I write about my own views -- but to do so would be distracting when factchecking, as there are some people who seem to assume that the only reason you pull someone up on their facts is because you disagree with them.

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  22. A question:

    Worstall maintains that it is obvious that raising the minimum wage causes the sacking of the least productive workers, and so increases unemployment.

    Harding maintains that a minimum wage increases the labour costs of employers of cheap labour, so prompting the employer to invest in training, machinery etc. in order to get economic use out of the employees that are available to him, and that this will actually work out to be more efficient for him than paying sub-minimum wage for unskilled labour. This last statement presumably hinges on the assumption that our hypothetical employer is too stupid to make a decision that will earn him more money, and has to be forced to do so by the government.

    That last assumption looks a bit questionable to me...

    The question is what difference taxation-funded welfare payments alter this analysis. Smeone with a minimum-wage job is also likely to find himself in receipt of a significant amount of tax-funded welfare, in the form of "working tax credit", "working families tax credit" or whatever that's called this year, and possibly several other benefits. It seems on the surface that an increase in the minimum wage isn't actually going to increase his net income very much, but is going to cause a greater part of his income to come from his employer, and a lesser part to come from the taxpayer. One can, surely, view things like working tax credit as a government subsidy to help business employ workers that it would not be economical to employ at the rate at which the employee could afford to work. I think I'm too stupid to think this one through to a sensible conclusion, though. Comments?


    Anyway the answer to the problem is not to have low wages and poor working conditions in this country, the answer is to reduce inequality in the developing countries that are causing this social dumping in the first place.


    Surely the answer is not to reduce inequality within the developing country, but to reduce the inequality between the developing country and the developed world?

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  23. pollyanna: "No, you didn't give four examples of my starting articles that way, you gave two and two quotes from the middle of articles."

    Ok two starting examples and two in the middle of the articles. You originally said there were no examples.

    At least I address your questions, you completely ignore mine.

    What's YOUR position on the overwhelming support for the right to die, on rising sea levels, on why you pick only on Polly and on no-one else? Why won't you state your position?

    "I also dispute the four times a year figure for the Thames barrier...and I will withdraw my complaint that it is factually inaccurate (though would reserve the right to argue that its source is poorly cited)."

    Why not email Polly for her source? Poorly cited? What the hell are you on about? No newspaper columnist in any newspaper has a list of references at the end. It is not an academic essay you know.

    "When I write about my own views on, for example, the right to die I write about my own views"

    Where do you write about your views? What ARE your views?

    Anon: "This last statement [on MW efficiency] presumably hinges on the assumption that our hypothetical employer is too stupid to make a decision that will earn him more money, and has to be forced to do so by the government."

    No I am not saying that. There are pressures in the market place that make it impossible for an employer to make a 'unilateral' stand but once everyone has to, it becomes an advantage for everyone.

    An example of mutual advantage; I was at a gig and only people in the front row could see, the singer told eveyone to sit down and then everyone could see. This was of benefit to everyone but it only happened because the singer got people to do it.

    Health and safety and minimum wages etc. are like that. In Ireland the smoking ban has led to more customers for pubs, but it only happened because it was made law.

    Improving health and safety and increasing the minimum wage has reduced labour turnover and the costs of extra recruiting. This in turn has allowed and encouraged employers to work harder to make more use of their staff, increase their skill levels and give out more responsibility. Left to their own devices it is too risky to invest in labour when (in the short term) your competitors would have an advantage. So they stick to having staff that are low payed and under utilised.

    WTC would weaken this minimum wage effect. A citizen's income would be a better way of doing things. In fact a CI would eliminate the need for a minimum wage.

    "Surely the answer is not to reduce inequality within the developing country, but to reduce the inequality between the developing country and the developed world?"

    Well both is what I meant to say.

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  24. An example of mutual advantage; I was at a gig and only people in the front row could see, the singer told eveyone to sit down and then everyone could see. This was of benefit to everyone but it only happened because the singer got people to do it.


    It presumably wasn't a benefit to the people in the front row, or they would have sat down anyway. Unless, of course, they were standing in front of the forwardmost set of seats, and the singer told them to piss off to the back where there were seats, in which case they have been punished in aid of the good of the greater number.


    Health and safety and minimum wages etc. are like that. In Ireland the smoking ban has led to more customers for pubs, but it only happened because it was made law.


    The fact that non-smoking pubs tend not to work on an individual basis (although of course there are a small number of non-smoking pubs in Britain, and a larger number with a smoke-free area) is usually ascribed to the claim that smokers will not go to a non-smoking pub to acccompany their non-smoking friends whereas non-smokers will put up with coming home smelling like a stale ashtray because they want the compay of their smoking friends.

    What is the equivalent statement for health and safety at work laws? Some employees don't want to get a job at a safe company because their mates all work at the dangerous company?

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  25. "What is the equivalent statement for health and safety at work laws? Some employees don't want to get a job at a safe company because their mates all work at the dangerous company?"

    Essentially yes, because the unsafe company might be able to offer higher wages as danger money, but the effect is a large number of employees getting injured or killed, so everyone is worse off as no safe companies survive (even though in the long term it might save the company money). Like political parties companies find it impossible to think long term (it is a shortcoming of the unregulated market and probably why we won't save ourselves from climate armageddon).

    "It presumably wasn't a benefit to the people in the front row, or they would have sat down anyway."

    I'm not sure why they were standing up? I think it is infectious (it only takes one person to do it and the rest seem to follow). It's like at football grounds where people feel the need to stand up even though they have seats.

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  26. Neil --

    I still maintain that I have never said that I can't find a factual error in a column of Polly's. I pointed out why I disagree. Just as with the 'more than 80% over 25 years' point, we obviously use the English language in different ways, and I'm not sure how to bridge that gap.

    I note you have provided neither a source for a poll showing 80% support 25 years ago, nor for the Thames barrier being shut four times a year at the moment.

    I don't ignore your questions; I have explained why I don't give my views using this identity already.

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  27. "I don't ignore your questions; I have explained why I don't give my views using this identity already."

    You do ignore my questions.

    Have you emailed Polly asking for her sources before you write these articles slagging her off (despite not being able, in most cases, to prove that her figures are factually incorrect)?

    Your views are important, hiding behind anonymity and saying your views are a distraction just doesn't hold water as an argument. We need to know what your views are so we know why you criticise Polly and no-one else. What is your angle, your bias?. I suspect it is because you are right-wing. I know you are based outside of the UK, are you paid by some right-wing organisation in the US?

    Criticising something or someone is easy but if you don't suggest something better it is useless. You can find fault in anything but it still might be the best available option.

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  28. Neil --

    We'll have to agree to disagree also on the matter of my views. As I wrote in response to one of your other comments (forgive me -- there are so many comment threads on which we are having a simultaneous conversation) that I challenge her when I agree as well as when I disagree -- my desire would be for her to absolutely make her opinions clearly known, and her recommendations to be made strongly, but that it should be done from a more solid factbase. I think this will improve the quality of public discourse.

    You may disagree. You may also think that I am going about it the wrong way. You may even believe that I do not find factual inaccuracies in her pieces. Fine. But this is a genuine difference of opinion.

    I have noticed a tendency for people to challenge and smear people they disagree with and to give people they agree with an easier time when it comes to their arguments. Perhaps you have observed this in others. For that reason, I don't particularly want to give my views because that will inevitably lead to a discussion about my views and not about the facts.

    I am not based outside the UK, and no-one funds factcheckingpollyanna.

    As to emailing Polly for her sources, no. And I shouldn't have to (again, in my opinion). It is easy enough to write in such a way that your sources are clear without giving an academic citaion -- she does it sometimes, though not always. For example, when she wrote: 'Writing yesterday in the Financial Times, Alexander Johnston, from a leading consultancy to Fortune 100 companies, lays out the terms he thinks investors would require' on 19 May, that was enough to track down the letter, without having to write an academic treatise. I think (again, my opinion -- if you disagree, I respect that) that when you are quoting someone else or their work, you owe it to your readers to give enough detail to let them get to your primary sources and read them for themselves.

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  29. Neil

    You appear to have poor comprehension skils.

    When you say

    "Considering you have only been going a few weeks you seem to have to admit quite often that you can't find factual errors in what she writes (which I thought was the entire point of your site)"

    In each case, your target is expressing regret that he decided to take on Polly's slapdash ways with evidence and not her appalling sense of verbal style. Her solecisms are truly appalling, possibly even worse than the way she mangles facts.

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  30. Pollyanna: The fact you pick on Polly and no-one else has to fuel our belief that you are right-wing. According to Google your page is based outside of the UK which heightens my suspicion of your right-wing US funding.

    You say you write your opinions elsewhere but won't tell us where. I am not satisfied with your excuse that this would be a distraction. This pedantic checking of minor facts and finding nothing that detracts from her basic argument is just a smear campaign. This could be done to any commentator.

    Like you say, we will have to agree to disagree on this.

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  31. Neil, my dear --

    I use blogger.com to host the blog. They're owned by Google, who are, of course, US-based. I am based in the UK.

    You also use blogger.com. You'll notice the absence of conspiracy theories about your motives from me.

    Funding? What funding? Blogger.com is free. I own a laptop and have an account with an ISP. It takes me about fifteen minutes generally to discover factual errors in Polly's columns. I don't have any funding.

    As I've explained before.

    I'm sorry you feel facts are unimportant in policy debate.

    Let me try and explain why I think they are.

    In her column on Tuesday, Polly talks about Creative Partnerships. She talks about 1,100 schools in 36 areas, which is a mangling of facts as the 1,100 refers to the number of schools they started out it over three years ago, and the 36 to the number of areas they currently operate in.

    Pedantic? Nit-picking? Well, maybe, except she goes on to quote Paul Collard as saying that five times as many schools need a creative partnership. Does this mean five times the 1,100 schools? In which case, job almost done -- according to the CP website, they had operated in 5,119 as of October 2005. Or does the quote mean they need to be in 25,000 schools? Impossible to tell, as the quote is undated and the facts are garbled.

    That is why precision is important (in my opinion) when talking about policy recommendations. What *is* the recommendation? It's unclear.

    And as for the whole "the press never reports it" bit, when Creative Partnerships has been the subject of reports in, yes, the Guardian but also the Telegraph, the Times and on the BBC News website, just plain smacks of deceit.

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  32. Pollyanna: My apologies, you are right, even my page doesn't come up with a UK search, sorry about that. Blogger - I should have realised are US based.

    Well I had never heard of Creative Partnerships and I am sure I am not alone. What Polly means is they are not given 'much' prominence and we need to expand (five times) there involvement, that seems pretty clear.

    I read the press quite a lot and I had never heard of Creative Partnerships before. A lot of your criticism is your particular 'spin' or interpretation of what she says NOT fact checking.

    I think your fact checking is pedantic to the extreme. None of it changes the truth of Polly's arguments, and you still don't explain why you target Polly and no-one else.

    The fact you won't tell us your political opinions and you only target Polly for your criticism must mean you have a right-wing bias.

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  33. Neil --

    You finally withdrew your allegation that I used personal abuse on being asked for the third time for some evidence to back it up, and having tried to weasel out of ever having made the allegation.

    You withdrew the "based in the US" thing when it was pointed out that I use the exact same US-based blog hosting service that you do.

    You also suggest that it is 'spin' to take "the press never reports it" (a verbatim quote) as meaning that the press never reports it. Your proposed definition of it is the (and I think we can all agree on this) slightly laxer standard of 'Neil Harding cannot remember it'. The second definition, it strikes me, is more to do with spin and interpretation than the first one.

    Will you be terribly, terribly disappointed if I don't take your advice on how to factcheck?

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  34. Pollyanna: You have an agenda but you won't tell us what it is. You target Polly and no-one else and have no plausible explanation for why.

    Ok you are not based in the US and you haven't directly personally abused Polly, I admit I got those things wrong.

    Now it's your turn. Admit you are partizan. Admit that your pedantic fact checking is just a smear campaign that doesn't alter the substance of Polly's articles. You clearly have an agenda. It is possible to find minor faults in anybody's articles if you interprete them in the way you do.

    Your example is pathetic. Have you ever heard of figurative speech? When someone says 'the press never report it', people know what they mean. Obviously you can never say 'never' literally, but Polly is right to say it wasn't reported at any noticeable level. I hadn't heard of Creative Partnerships and I'm sure most people haven't. This is typical, you pick on a point like this, like it actually makes a difference to the argument Polly is making, but it is irrelevant. You will be picking on Polly's typos next.

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  35. Neil --

    Sorry to disappoint you again, but I am not partisan. I am impressed that you continue to make unsubstantiated allegations despite your frankly poor record at this in the past.

    Neither am I trying to smear Polly. As I have said before, I am glad she has a platform to make her arguments and I hope she continues to make them. I just wish they were supported by a stronger set of facts, rather than the inaccurate mish-mash of half-remembered half-truths that she passes of as facts.

    My agenda (again) is that I want things reported as facts to actually be facts, irrespective of whether or not I agree with the argument or not.

    And as for "the press never reports it" -- you initially accused me of using "spin' in interpreting it; and now you accuse me of being overly literal in interpreting it. It strikes me that you are casting around rather desperately for arguments, never too embarassed to contradict yourself in your frustrated attempt to show someone else to be wrong.

    Please, grow up.

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  36. Pollyanna: "It strikes me that you are casting around rather desperately for arguments, never too embarassed to contradict yourself in your frustrated attempt to show someone else to be wrong. Please, grow up."

    Many a true word is said about yourself when you criticise others.

    My point is, you don't find errors in Polly's facts that make any difference to the argument she is making (in fact you rarely find errors at all that are not oipen to interpretation), which sort of goes against the whole name you give to your website.

    You are the one being childish. If you are interested in improving overall factchecking amongst newspaper columnists why target only Polly? You won't answer this question.

    Your interpretations of minor errors in Polly's articles are tedious and extreme and make no difference to the point she is making, which you seem desperate to draw attention from. You are the one is casting around desperately trying to find something in Polly's arguments.

    Name one Polly article where you have found an error that has altered the point of her article?

    In what way does your quibble over Polly's right to die figures alter the fact that most people support the right to die? The answer is it doesn't.

    Ditto with the Thames Barrier. Polly is right, it is closing more regularly because sea levels are rising.

    Ditto with Creative Partnerships, Polly says the press never report them (any reasonable person knows what she means). I read the press a lot and I had never heard of them before and I imagine the majority of the population haven't heard of them.

    Ditto with energy saving labelling, is it a good thing or not?

    etc. etc.

    You eventually had to admit that you had started some posts saying you couldn't find any errors in Polly's work, after initially denying this.

    You can abuse people (by questioning their honesty) all you like but it doesn't alter the fact that you are a right-wing extremist trying the best you can to discredit Polly and divert attention from the truths of her argument. If you are not right-wing, why hide your views? Just tell me now which of the above points you agree with Polly on. What are you scared of? You don't seem to care about the facts, all you care about is smearing Polly Toynbee, that much is clear.

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  37. Show me a verbatim quote of when I "eventually had to admit [I] started some posts saying [I] couldn't find any errors."

    This is another unfounded allegation you will have to back away from, as I have never said this. I agree with what empedocles wrote on this.

    And my views on the right to die are irrelevant to public opinion in the 1980s. My views on energy efficiency are irrelevant to the prevalence of the AAA rating and my views on the causes of climate change are irrelevant to the frequency with which the Thames Barrier closes.

    Sadly.

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  38. Pollyanna: "No, you didn't give four examples of my starting articles that way, you gave two and two quotes from the middle of articles."

    There is your admission after initially denying there were ANY examples.

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  39. That was me pointing out that either you didn't know what the word "beginning" meant or that you don't know the difference between 2 and 4.

    I do not accept your premise that I have stated that I cannot find factual errors in Polly's work. You'll notice that I said "I still maintain that I have never said that I can't find a factual error in a column of Polly's" in my comment of 29/5/06 9:21 AM.

    If you think that this is admitting that I *had*, how can empedocles be wrong?

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  40. Your quote clearly admits I gave two examples of you starting an article that way.

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  41. I was accepting that you did manage to cite two verbatim quotes from the opening sentences of posts, and not accepting your eccentric understanding of the English language.

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