16 December 2006

Progressive journalism!

Some good articles in the last week or so. Nick Davies at CiF argues eloquently for the legalisation of all drugs and of course is absolutely right. Also worth checking out Nick's comments in response to John Harris's weak argument for the status quo. Nick outlines the benefits of legalisation very clearly and answers all of John Harris's points. John Harris is of course the guy who advocated voting for anyone but Labour before the general election and then joined Labour afterwards. So I take what that prat says with a pinch of salt.

Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report has written this excellent article on why Gordon Brown's personality does matter. He makes the point that most people vote on their perception of the likeability of a parties policies and leaders rather than the actual policies themselves and Brown's dour image is going to be very difficult to turn around.

Talking of poor image.
I couldn't name a single song that Girls Aloud have ever performed and usually these type of bands profess they haven't a clue about politics and therefore come out in favour of the Tories. So I was shocked to see this band interviewed in the New Statesman turn out to be Labour supporters and actually have some good ideas - bullet points of party policies during Corrie ad breaks and higher hypothecated taxation to pay for the better public services that most people want. Even their support for grammar schools is understandable as not everyone has seen the figures which show grammar schools bring down the average grades in an area. I might even check out Girls Aloud music after this - thats how shallow I am. Then again maybe not.

Meanwhile Polly Toynbee makes the point that I made a few weeks back about the importance of tackling climate change equitably and that only Labour (well alright and the Greens) are talking about carbon rationing. The Libs and Tories have pinned their strategy to regressive 'green taxes' that hit the poor hard.

Even the Argus (to my shock) has got in the progressive journalism act by printing a decent article (typically cannot find it on their website) about the council's liberal attitude to prostitution paying dividends in Brighton and Regency ward and keeping sex workers safe (an attitude that would no doubt change if we get more Tory councillors in May). I'm sure this article was an aberation and they will soon get back to their usual poor slanted journalism.

Talking of which, I found this US article by our good ex-pat friend Tim Worstall while surfing the web the other night. He basically shows (in a very nice graph that I will no doubt cite from again in the future - cheers Tim) that the poorest decentile of Scandanavians have got as much disposable income (using price parity calculations to eliminate differences in cost of living) as the poorest decentile of Americans. He then ridiculously tries to claim that this is the same as having the same quality of life, neglecting to mention (of course) that Scandinavians have excellent public services providing for health, education, housing, social services etc. etc, whereas Americans have to find for example $400 a month just for decent health insurance alone out of this meagre income. I refuse to believe that someone as intelligent as Tim must be to produce such finely written prose doesn't recognise this basic (deliberate?) flaw in his argument. What is more disturbing is the number of commenters who swallow this garbage whole and dismiss those commenters that have the gall to point out the obvious flaw in his post.

Finally I cannot finish a post nowadays without at least some mention to changing our electoral system and installing some democracy in our failing dysfunctional system. So another mention for the excellent aceproject.org site, which has some great articles on the advantages and disadvantages of PR and also explains in the simplest way I have yet to read, how the single transferable vote (yawn) works.


  1. timworstall16/12/06 6:14 pm

    Neil, it's decile, not decentile. Purchasing power parity, not price parity calculations.

    Secondly, it isn't disposable income in that chart but total income after all taxes and benefit payments.

    Thirdly, poor Americans do not have to find $400 a month to pay for health care. They get it free from the Government. Called Medicaid. Some 60 million people (out of 300 million) get it, way more than the bottom 10%. That's not even including Medicare, which takes care of the over 65s. There is no way at all that the bottom decile pay for health insurance in the US. It's tax funded.

    Nor do they have to pay for schools. Those too are free at the point of consumption.
    The US also has social services and yes, they also have something very much like housing benefit and council housing. The latter are often called the projects and I agree that they are foul. Like many sink estates for example. Housing vouchers work very much the same way as housing allowances here, except they are paid direct to landlords (the tenant gets the voucher, but only the landlord can cash it).
    In fact, if you go and look at the Smeeding paper that the chart is drawn from (as I did) you will see that he also notes that food costs in the US are vastly lower than in Europe, so it is entirely possible that the US poor are in fact better off than the chart shows.

    OK, anything else?

    Glad to see you're on the right side about drug legalisation at least. I don't think anyone can be consistently 100% wrong now, can they?

  2. Tim, the first few points are minor quibbles about wording, decile - decentile, disposable - net, price parity - purchasing parity, I concede on this you are right and thank you for correcting me but you know what I meant. None of that makes any difference to the point I was making.

    Thirdly, poor Americans do have to find $400 a month if they want DECENT health care. Yes, some (over 65 only?) can rely on Medicaid but this is pretty dire and probably explains their higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy etc. compared to the decent public provision in Europe. Ditto, education, housing, social services etc. Even relatively wealthy people can go bankrupt trying to meet their health costs in the US. Someone on the mimimum wage would (for example) have to find many hundreds of dollars to pay for medical treatment for broken bones running into $1000s if it was a complicated break.

    Do you seriously expect anyone to believe that poor people in the US have a higher standard of living than the poor in Scandanavia?

    Food costs are indeed lower in the US (economies of scale of larger market and huge local agricultural production) but isn't that why you were using purchasing power parity which eliminates such disparities?

    Finally on drugs legalisation, I have been a supporter for some time. This is a fairly obvious libertarian policy but I would go much further than you on liberty.

    As well as this I realise that a true libertarian also cares about improving social mobility and reducing inequality. Whereas your aims are much narrower.