Monday, 12 February 2018

the zero hours contracts social care debacle

zero hours contracts are in my experience extremely difficult for care agencies to manage that said the carers I have are excellent but there is little continuity as the office staff seem unable to manage the level of business they have taken on my care company is a franchise privately purchased and 'run' locally both carers and clients are treated by inefficient office staff as boxes to be ticked in the case of my firm the individual responsible for arranging rotas has the job on the basis of her experience in a doctors surgery which has no similarity to the care  co ordinator roll in the community this leads to late calls frustrated carers who have zero travel time allotted 'sickness is commonplace n as is often the case when management is poor the flakier staff will throw a sickie knowing they'll get away with it because the office is always so desperate to tick the boxes,as customers we have to pay a very significant portion of our meagre benefit income on  our care needs.however comments or complaints are met with well find another company then!so zero customer care whatsoever
having had care for over 20 years i have found 90+% of carers are great but i have only had one company(no longer in the domiciliary care business that had an excellent office which knew how to run a rota for both carers and clients the care quality commission is about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike
they announce visits in advance meaning companies can get all their ducks in as row in time for a visit no surprise then that it is impossible to find a care company with a poor rating, though believe me there are plenty which deserve that until the CQC make unannounced visits to care providers both domiciliary and residential quality of care for sick , disabled and elderly people will be at best patchy demand is enormous government attention to

Sunday, 11 February 2018

challenging the Grenfell narrative

allenging the Narrative with Grenfell MediaWatch

Toyin and Angie from Grenfell MediaWatch discuss the misleading stories and PR campaigns surrounding the Grenfell Tower disaster, and what justice would look like to them


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Toyin: When I think about misinformation that's going around this Grenfell campaign, and I say the Grenfell campaign, you’ve got to figure there's two sides to it. There's the family survivor side of it, but there's also the state side, the institutions, the governments, the corporations that are involved in profiteering and actually causing this massacre. There's been much misinformation. One of the biggest campaigns that was launched very early in was the buying of property by the Corporation of London for survivors, and so the public had this idea that, "Oh my God, these survivors have landed on their feet. They've got these penthouse apartments and they've got nothing to complain about." So, it kind of diminished the whole idea about the loss of life, loss of property because it looked like actually being burned in your home was actually leading to a windfall.
But of course, even if you take out the morality of asking that stupid argument, what we have is a situation where out of a hundred, over a hundred families only two or three of them have actually being permanently housed. So again, massive misinformation campaign and led from the top because Theresa May came out saying that people are going to be rehoused in I think it was three weeks. She's backtracked now so that there are gonna be temporary, no, offered housing. So again, more misinformation.
The one that's the most troubling at this particular moment in time, though, is the number count. And when I say the number count, of people who are victims, people who have died. Initially you had 8, then 15, then 20 and I think it was at Lily Allen, it was one of these musicians who made this comment about how they're micromanaging the grief of survivors, micromanaging the nation. So, there's been a lot of, I mean, those are just a couple of examples, but there's been a lot of drip, drip, misinformation deliberately trying to kind of kick this into a long curve, recognizing it's not working, so trying different techniques.
The resignations was a fantastic piece of PR. What happened what that the government recognized that the public was begging for blood, they wanted something. So, what they did was that they made calls and they made sure that the heads of these councils and that these DMOs stood down and even if they didn't want to stand down. That made great drama, that was better than a soap opera. But what's happened was that most of those people are still in full pay. Most of them, I mean Nick Paget-Brown is still actually a councilor. So, nothing's happened to his status, nothing's happened. He set up a consultancy firm. I'm not a person that likes to point fingers at individuals. I look at them as a collective body, look at the individuals on a prosecution level. But again, this is mismanagement, this is misinformation, misdirection. It's very frustrating. I can't talk on the misplacement, on the replacements without having more information. I don't have confidence in the replacements, I just don't by looking at their performance. But, I have to give them a chance to see how it works out.
The only way to solve this problem in my eye would be to actually get survivors or get people who have been appointed by survivors in those positions. They can work with others who have got the necessary skills to do all the administrative work, but the core leadership and the direction should come from the survivors and families and those who are affected understand it. Because, let's face it, we've seen nothing but incompetence up to now.
Angie: We have to ask ourselves, what kind of people are we where we are no longer caring about people who live in these communities which are very strong and resilient communities. We have to ask ourselves why we've allowed all the governments, the successive governments from Thatcher to allow us to get into this situation today. There's been all these sort of talks, these sort of hackney terms of lessons learned but will lessons really be learned? Will we be able to look inside ourselves, look inside our consciences and say, "We will genuinely put things in place so that there's better social housing for people who cannot afford to buy all the lots of massive in housing developments that nobody can afford to live in today." Or, are we going to just continue to allow ourselves to be distracted by all other really silly, inconsequential, petty things that we are being distracted by today.
So, we've got to ask ourselves how we can make, really genuinely make sure, that a situation like Grenfell does not happen. Grenfell was 30 years in the making and it's very much tied to the crisis in housing that we're experiencing today. We have this situation where the amount of social housing that's available has shrunk enormously. In addition to that, we've got a very little attention being paid to these buildings, okay? And when they do pay attention to these buildings they're fixing them, as in the case of Grenfell, to make them look more attractive in an area that is a social elite.
I think people are prejudice to a certain degree towards people who are on low incomes, who may not have a real stake, or choose to have a stake in the political process. So, those people, their voices aren't heard and they tend to be ignored. I do think it's cynicism. I think it is breathtaking cynicism on the part of Kensington and Chelsea, and the way that they tried to cover their tracks in terms of the threats that were made to the people who were making these, raising these alarm bells about what was going on in Grenfell. Rather than actually listen to the concerns of the people who lived in that building and in the surrounding buildings, rather than genuinely listen to their concerns, they chose to threaten them instead. To silence them. That is really, in my view, quite shocking.
Toyin: It would be wrong for me to say that survivors are being shut out of process. This government has recognized that the world is looking at them. And because of that, what they've done is try to operate in a level of pseudo-transparency. So, the survivors, families, even local residents are invited into meetings, invited into consultations. But then obviously, what they say is just chucked in the bin straight afterwards. But there is this kind of veneer of inclusiveness. I think we've got to understand that that's actually part of the PR campaign and it's not actually leading to any positive change, or else the families would have been housed by now.
Angie: Nobody could anticipate that this would come to this, but at the very least there would be some structures in place to be able to assist people in this type of situation. In my view, it's just another reminder that perhaps you can't rely on the government. You can't rely on local government or national government to help you in true times of crisis.
Toyin: When a mark's about to meet his role in this and whether it's covering up the situation, if it's pushing the idea after it's been sold, I have to pull back a little bit. Even though we are called Grenfell Media Watch, we're not a propaganda arm. I mean, perhaps we are, but we're down to for the community, for survivors but not in a sense of trying to mislead. One of the things we've got to be honest about is that the media is actually divided on this now. Initially, I would argue that it was all sensationalism, it was just kind of trying to put bums on seats, sell more newspapers, get more coverage, just people getting bigger audience share.
But right now something's happened and we sense that as a team. There are some organizations, independent organizations like yourself, that are coming out and actually are really sincere about getting justice. This isn't just about getting more views or getting more readers or listeners. There was some mainstream organization, Jon Snow's discussion at the annual conference, was another one. Channel 4, who is sometimes a little bit naughty in their reporting, they have been quite fearless on this. Even the BBC. The BBC, unfortunately, are owning the reputation as the state's broadcaster. I hate having to say that but they're being pretty poor on their approach and making documentaries of such. I think that they're crossing a very thin line of actually trying to whitewash this.
Some mainstream media is actually painting a story on the side government because they worry, maybe, because they're not gonna get their funding, or for commercial or political interests. While other media, I think we've talked about this, that it's pricking the conscience of some journalists, some editors. But we are in the minority, let's be clear about that. The Daily Mails of this world, the LBCs of this world, the Fox's, the Sky's, they are still leading the charge and they have the largest audiences, so hence, they are the most influential in actually turning the public against supporting Grenfell families.
When I'm asked how do I feel about the inquiry now that we've had the opening, quite strangely I'm actually quite pleased because I think that what Moore-Bick has done has actually been up front. He's made it very clear that he's not looking for any criminal prosecutions. He's made it very clear that he's gonna ask the suspects for the evidence. He's made it clear that his agenda isn't justice in the sense of how we would see justice, it's pretty much about collaborative, I think he used the word “cooperative” pursuit for truth amongst those who are responsible for one of the worse atrocities on mainland England.
It's quite refreshing, actually, that we know going in that it's not gonna deliver the results, so it lowers the expectations of most the people. So, when it's published and we see, and we hear those famous lines: "Lessons will be learned and lessons have to be learned," and we have a recommendation list which is a hundred strong, which means absolutely nothing, we knew this going in. I just worry about the waste of time and I worry about those people who don't have access to, maybe, I want to say competent political major, but more grass roots political major who may actually be sucked in by all the fancy words, the media coverage and actually might think that inquiry is actually an important instrument. For me, the inquiry actually obstructs the police investigation, and I don't actually have much confidence in the police investigation, but I have more so in that than I have in the inquiry. The fact that the inquiry actually defers key decisions being made, that's a problem for me.
I think there is a deliberate decision by government to make sure that the inquiry takes precedence over everything, just simply because they don't want themselves to be implicated in some of the decisions that are made because they are implicated in some of the housing bills that are made, that the deregulation that took place. But also, I think they also recognize that when you have an inquiry of this nature, of this size, it serves as a kind of a pseudo-truthful reconciliation exercise. What happens is that you drip, drip people, feed people sound bytes, their emotions dissipate over time. Then after a year or two, you release an interim report here or there, at least 90% of Moore-Bick’s team are ex-government officials that have either worked in the treasury or worked in one department as civil servants. There's no one, no one whatsoever from the community working at that level, and this claim about impartiality is complete and utter nonsense.
All the universities across the U.K. should be disbanded because obviously, the knowledge that they're producing is worthless because people know each other. How can we have impartiality in modern research? So, come on, let's be real.
Angie: The questions you should be asking of politicians and powerful people. I want to say, how can you sleep in your beds at night. I mean, if these individuals are truly, truly appalled and shocked by what has happened what do they really plan to do to alleviate the problems, the challenges, that the victims and the families of Grenfell currently face. They're saying a lot of things. For example, they talked about rehousing people in three weeks or finding them accommodation. That hasn't materialized. So, what steps do they plan to take as a consequence of this tragedy from a real, a human perspective? Not from a political perspective. I think that, in times like this, I think yes, it is very political, but sometimes you've got to be human. What would you do if these were people you knew? If you knew these people, if you knew these people and what they're currently facing and experiencing, how are you genuinely going to help them, to help to rebuild their lives?
To me, justice would look like the people responsible for the Grenfell tragedy facing criminal prosecution and going to prison. That's what justice would look like to me. Justice would look like a recognition, a true recognitions of the failings of the local government and the national government in terms of making these decisions not to have an adequate health and safety procedures in place, and to be honest about the true number of people who have lost their lives because I think there's a problem there when you don't say how many people, the true number, because now all kinds of assumptions will come out of that number. This is a true tragedy. People have died in the most horrific way possible and I think we need to keep the people in the people's center, should be centered in this. It's their story, it's their experience, and we should be sympathetic and empathetic of that experience.
Toyin: The people who are interested in Grenfell Media Watch, they can just go to our Facebook page. Log on, share. I think the biggest thing that we need is people. If you like what you see on there, share it. If you hear news or even if you disagree, say something. I think the biggest thing we need is debate comments. We need the topic kept alive and that comes from us exploring ideas, critiquing ourselves, we're not always right. What happens, if something that's online, what happens when we make a mistake? Is everyone gonna turn on us, or are they gonna recognize that we're humans and we're doing it with the right intentions. Get involved in this debate. Get involved in this topic. Don't let it become a Hillsborough, don't let it become something that's like a folk legend that everyone says oh... No, let's deal with it right this time.

Monday, 5 February 2018


congratulations to Lauri and all who backed the campaign to stop Lauri's extradition to the USA a victory for common sense,
 over the overbearing bullying united states and over the bullying of those with Aspergers syndrome.
in spite of the apparent intentions of the current trump loving uk govt. THE UNITED MUST NEVER GENUFLECT TO THE WILL OF THE USA

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

NHS privatisation explained


Last year, a United Nations commissioner blasted the UK government over the cuts, saying they are causing a “human catastrophe” for disabled people in the UK.
And in November, a landmark study accused the Conservatives of “economic murder” after it found a link between cuts to public services introduced seven years ago and hundreds of thousands of deaths. According to joint research between Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, there have been 120,000 deaths linked to austerity policies since the Conservatives gained power – initially in coalition with the Liberal Democrats – in 2010.
Protest group Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights wrote on its Facebook page: “If we leave the system unchanged until 2020 then 200,000 people will have died because of Tory policies.
“When are we allowed to mention the Nazis? How do we make them stop if we don’t protest?”
A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson told the Canary: “This case was charged by the police who have now sent us an electronic file. We will review the case in advance of the first appearance at Norwich Magistrates’ Court.”
A Norfolk Constabulary spokesperson added: “A 63-year-old from Norwich was sent a postal requisition on 10/1/2018 for ‘Using threatening/abusive/insulting words/behavior to cause harassment/alarm/distress.’
“The requisition relates to an incident which happened on 29 July 2017, during Norwich City Pride, where a man has been verbally abusive towards a speaker at the event.”
Hardy will make his first appearance at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on February 9.

Friday, 5 January 2018


Show more 
The long read
The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?
Wednesday 29th April 2015 Illustrations by Mark Long, Design by Sam Morris and Chris Clarke
in May 2010, as Britain headed into its last general election, elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well.

People holding these beliefs came to be widely known in economic circles as “austerians” – a term coined by the economist Rob Parenteau – and for a while the austerian ideology swept all before it.

But that was five years ago, and the fever has long since broken. Greece is now seen as it should have been seen from the beginning – as a unique case, with few lessons for the rest of us. It is impossible for countries such as the US and the UK, which borrow in their own currencies, to experience Greek-style crises, because they cannot run out of money – they can always print more. Even within the eurozone, borrowing costs plunged once the European Central Bank began to do its job and protect its clients against self-fulfilling panics by standing ready to buy government bonds if necessary. As I write this, Italy and Spain have no trouble raising cash – they can borrow at the lowest rates in their history, indeed considerably below those in Britain – and even Portugal’s interest rates are within a whisker of those paid by HM Treasury.

All of the economic research that allegedly supported the austerity push has been discredited
On the other side of the ledger, the benefits of improved confidence failed to make their promised appearance. Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity. In late 2012, the IMF’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, went so far as to issue what amounted to a mea culpa: although his organisation never bought into the notion that austerity would actually boost economic growth, the IMF now believes that it massively understated the damage that spending cuts inflict on a weak economy.

Meanwhile, all of the economic research that allegedly supported the austerity push has been discredited. Widely touted statistical results were, it turned out, based on highly dubious assumptions and procedures – plus a few outright mistakes – and evaporated under closer scrutiny.

It is rare, in the history of economic thought, for debates to get resolved this decisively. The austerian ideology that dominated elite discourse five years ago has collapsed, to the point where hardly anyone still believes it. Hardly anyone, that is, except the coalition that still rules Britain – and most of the British media.

I don’t know how many Britons realise the extent to which their economic debate has diverged from the rest of the western world – the extent to which the UK seems stuck on obsessions that have been mainly laughed out of the discourse elsewhere. George Osborne and David Cameron boast that their policies saved Britain from a Greek-style crisis of soaring interest rates, apparently oblivious to the fact that interest rates are at historic lows all across the western world. The press seizes on Ed Miliband’s failure to mention the budget deficit in a speech as a huge gaffe, a supposed revelation of irresponsibility; meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is talking, seriously, not about budget deficits but about the “fun deficit” facing America’s children.

Is there some good reason why deficit obsession should still rule in Britain, even as it fades away everywhere else? No. This country is not different. The economics of austerity are the same – and the intellectual case as bankrupt – in Britain as everywhere else.

Chapter one
Stimulus and its enemies
when economic crisis struck the advanced economies in 2008, almost every government – even Germany – introduced some kind of stimulus programme, increasing spending and/or cutting taxes. There was no mystery why: it was all about zero.

Normally, monetary authorities – the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England – can respond to a temporary economic downturn by cutting interest rates; this encourages private spending, especially on housing, and sets the stage for recovery. But there’s a limit to how much they can do in that direction. Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t cut interest rates below zero. We now know that this wasn’t quite right, since many European bonds now pay slightly negative interest. Still, there can’t be much room for sub-zero rates. And if cutting rates all the way to zero isn’t enough to cure what ails the economy, the usual remedy for recession falls short.

So it was in 2008-2009. By late 2008 it was already clear in every major economy that conventional monetary policy, which involves pushing down the interest rate on short-term government debt, was going to be insufficient to fight the financial downdraft. Now what? The textbook answer was and is fiscal expansion: increase government spending both to create jobs directly and to put money in consumers’ pockets; cut taxes to put more money in those pockets.

But won’t this lead to budget deficits? Yes, and that’s actually a good thing. An economy that is depressed even with zero interest rates is, in effect, an economy in which the public is trying to save more than businesses are willing to invest. In such an economy the government does everyone a service by running deficits and giving frustrated savers a chance to put their money to work. Nor does this borrowing compete with private investment. An economy where interest rates cannot go any lower is an economy awash in desired saving with no place to go, and deficit spending that expands the economy is, if anything, likely to lead to higher private investment than would otherwise materialise.

It’s true that you can’t run big budget deficits for ever (although you can do it for a long time), because at some point interest payments start to swallow too large a share of the budget. But it’s foolish and destructive to worry about deficits when borrowing is very cheap and the funds you borrow would otherwise go to waste.

At some point you do want to reverse stimulus. But you don’t want to do it too soon – specifically, you don’t want to remove fiscal support as long as pedal-to-the-metal monetary policy is still insufficient. Instead, you want to wait until there can be a sort of handoff, in which the central bank offsets the effects of declining spending and rising taxes by keeping rates low. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1937: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.”

All of this is standard macroeconomics. I often encounter people on both the left and the right who imagine that austerity policies were what the textbook said you should do – that those of us who protested against the turn to austerity were staking out some kind of heterodox, radical position. But the truth is that mainstream, textbook economics not only justified the initial round of post-crisis stimulus, but said that this stimulus should continue until economies had recovered.

What we got instead, however, was a hard right turn in elite opinion, away from concerns about unemployment and toward a focus on slashing deficits, mainly with spending cuts. Why?

Conservatives like to use the alleged dangers of debt and deficits as clubs with which to beat the welfare state and justify cuts in benefits
Part of the answer is that politicians were catering to a public that doesn’t understand the rationale for deficit spending, that tends to think of the government budget via analogies with family finances. When John Boehner, the Republican leader, opposed US stimulus plans on the grounds that “American families are tightening their belt, but they don’t see government tightening its belt,” economists cringed at the stupidity. But within a few months the very same line was showing up in Barack Obama’s speeches, because his speechwriters found that it resonated with audiences. Similarly, the Labour party felt it necessary to dedicate the very first page of its 2015 general election manifesto to a “Budget Responsibility Lock”, promising to “cut the deficit every year”.

Let us not, however, be too harsh on the public. Many elite opinion-makers, including people who imagine themselves sophisticated on matters economic, demonstrated at best a higher level of incomprehension, not getting at all the logic of deficit spending in the face of excess desired saving. For example, in the spring of 2009 the Harvard historian and economic commentator Niall Ferguson, talking about the United States, was quite sure what would happen: “There is going to be, I predict, in the weeks and months ahead, a very painful tug-of-war between our monetary policy and our fiscal policy as the markets realise just what a vast quantity of bonds are going to have to be absorbed by the financial system this year. That will tend to drive the price of the bonds down, and drive up interest rates.” The weeks and months turned into years – six years, at this point – and interest rates remain at historic lows.

Beyond these economic misconceptions, there were political reasons why many influential players opposed fiscal stimulus even in the face of a deeply depressed economy. Conservatives like to use the alleged dangers of debt and deficits as clubs with which to beat the welfare state and justify cuts in benefits; suggestions that higher spending might actually be beneficial are definitely not welcome. Meanwhile, centrist politicians and pundits often try to demonstrate how serious and statesmanlike they are by calling for hard choices and sacrifice (by other people). Even Barack Obama’s first inaugural address, given in the face of a plunging economy, largely consisted of hard-choices boilerplate. As a result, centrists were almost as uncomfortable with the notion of fiscal stimulus as the hard right.

In a way, the remarkable thing about economic policy in 2008-2009 was the fact that the case for fiscal stimulus made any headway at all against the forces of incomprehension and vested interests demanding harsher and harsher austerity. The best explanation of this temporary and limited success I’ve seen comes from the political scientist Henry Farrell, writing with the economist John Quiggin. Farrell and Quiggin note that Keynesian economists were intellectually prepared for the possibility of crisis, in a way that free-market fundamentalists weren’t, and that they were also relatively media-savvy. So they got their take on the appropriate policy response out much more quickly than the other side, creating “the appearance of a new apparent consensus among expert economists” in favour of fiscal stimulus.

If this is right, there was inevitably going to be a growing backlash – a turn against stimulus and toward austerity – once the shock of the crisis wore off. Indeed, there were signs of such a backlash by the early fall of 2009. But the real turning point came at the end of that year, when Greece hit the wall. As a result, the year of Britain’s last general election was also the year of austerity.

Chapter two
The austerity moment
from the beginning, there were plenty of people strongly inclined to oppose fiscal stimulus and demand austerity. But they had a problem: their dire warnings about the consequences of deficit spending kept not coming true. Some of them were quite open about their frustration with the refusal of markets to deliver the disasters they expected and wanted. Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, in 2010: “Inflation and long-term interest rates, the typical symptoms of fiscal excess, have remained remarkably subdued. This is regrettable, because it is fostering a sense of complacency that can have dire consequences.”

But he had an answer: “Growing analogies to Greece set the stage for a serious response.” Greece was the disaster austerians were looking for. In September 2009 Greece’s long-term borrowing costs were only 1.3 percentage points higher than Germany’s; by September 2010 that gap had increased sevenfold. Suddenly, austerians had a concrete demonstration of the dangers they had been warning about. A hard turn away from Keynesian policies could now be justified as an urgent defensive measure, lest your country abruptly turn into another Greece.

Still, what about the depressed state of western economies? The post-crisis recession bottomed out in the middle of 2009, and in most countries a recovery was under way, but output and employment were still far below normal. Wouldn’t a turn to austerity threaten the still-fragile upturn?

Not according to many policymakers, who engaged in one of history’s most remarkable displays of collective wishful thinking. Standard macroeconomics said that cutting spending in a depressed economy, with no room to offset these cuts by reducing interest rates that were already near zero, would indeed deepen the slump. But policymakers at the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and in the British government that took power in May 2010 eagerly seized on economic research that claimed to show the opposite.

The doctrine of “expansionary austerity” is largely associated with work by Alberto Alesina, an economist at Harvard. Alesina used statistical techniques that supposedly identified all large fiscal policy changes in advanced countries between 1970 and 2007, and claimed to find evidence that spending cuts, in particular, were often “associated with economic expansions rather than recessions”. The reason, he and those who seized on his work suggested, was that spending cuts create confidence, and that the positive effects of this increase in confidence trump the direct negative effects of reduced spending.

Greece was the disaster austerians were looking for
This may sound too good to be true – and it was. But policymakers knew what they wanted to hear, so it was, as Business Week put it, “Alesina’s hour”. The doctrine of expansionary austerity quickly became orthodoxy in much of Europe. “The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, then the president of the European Central Bank, because “confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery”.

Besides, everybody knew that terrible things would happen if debt went above 90% of GDP.

Growth in a Time of Debt, the now-infamous 2010 paper by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University that claimed that 90% debt is a critical threshold, arguably played much less of a direct role in the turn to austerity than Alesina’s work. After all, austerians didn’t need Reinhart and Rogoff to provide dire scenarios about what could happen if deficits weren’t reined in – they had the Greek crisis for that. At most, the Reinhart and Rogoff paper provided a backup bogeyman, an answer to those who kept pointing out that nothing like the Greek story seemed to be happening to countries that borrowed in their own currencies: even if interest rates were low, austerians could point to Reinhart and Rogoff and declare that high debt is very, very bad.

What Reinhart and Rogoff did bring to the austerity camp was academic cachet. Their 2009 book This Time is Different, which brought a vast array of historical data to bear on the subject of economic crises, was widely celebrated by both policymakers and economists – myself included – for its prescient warnings that we were at risk of a major crisis and that recovery from that crisis was likely to be slow. So they brought a lot of prestige to the austerity push when they were perceived as weighing in on that side of the policy debate. (They now claim that they did no such thing, but they did nothing to correct that impression at the time.)

When the coalition government came to power, then, all the pieces were in place for policymakers who were already inclined to push for austerity. Fiscal retrenchment could be presented as urgently needed to avert a Greek-style strike by bond buyers. “Greece stands as a warning of what happens to countries that lose their credibility, or whose governments pretend that difficult decisions can somehow be avoided,” declared David Cameron soon after taking office. It could also be presented as urgently needed to stop debt, already almost 80% of GDP, from crossing the 90% red line. In a 2010 speech laying out his plan to eliminate the deficit, Osborne cited Reinhart and Rogoff by name, while declaring that “soaring government debt ... is very likely to trigger the next crisis.” Concerns about delaying recovery could be waved away with an appeal to positive effects on confidence. Economists who objected to any or all of these lines of argument were simply ignored.

But that was, as I said, five years ago.

Chapter three
Decline and fall of the austerity cult
to understand what happened to austerianism, it helps to start with two charts.

The first chart shows interest rates on the bonds of a selection of advanced countries as of mid-April 2015. What you can see right away is that Greece remains unique, more than five years after it was heralded as an object lesson for all nations. Everyone else is paying very low interest rates by historical standards. This includes the United States, where the co-chairs of a debt commission created by President Obama confidently warned that crisis loomed within two years unless their recommendations were adopted; that was four years ago. It includes Spain and Italy, which faced a financial panic in 2011-2012, but saw that panic subside – despite debt that continued to rise – once the European Central Bank began doing its job as lender of last resort. It includes France, which many commentators singled out as the next domino to fall, yet can now borrow long-term for less than 0.5%. And it includes Japan, which has debt more than twice its gross domestic product yet pays even less.

The Greek exception
10-year interest rates as of 14 April 2015

Chart 1 Source: Bloomberg

Back in 2010 some economists argued that fears of a Greek-style funding crisis were vastly overblown – I referred to the myth of the “invisible bond vigilantes”. Well, those bond vigilantes have stayed invisible. For countries such as the UK, the US, and Japan that borrow in their own currencies, it’s hard to even see how the predicted crises could happen. Such countries cannot, after all, run out of money, and if worries about solvency weakened their currencies, this would actually help their economies in a time of weak growth and low inflation.

Chart 2 takes a bit more explaining. A couple of years after the great turn towards austerity, a number of economists realised that the austerians were performing what amounted to a great natural experiment. Historically, large cuts in government spending have usually occurred either in overheated economies suffering from inflation or in the aftermath of wars, as nations demobilise. Neither kind of episode offers much guidance on what to expect from the kind of spending cuts – imposed on already depressed economies – that the austerians were advocating. But after 2009, in a generalised economic depression, some countries chose (or were forced) to impose severe austerity, while others did not. So what happened?

Austerity and growth 2009-13
More austere countries have a lower rate of GDP growth

Chart 2 Source: IMF

In Chart 2, each dot represents the experience of an advanced economy from 2009 to 2013, the last year of major spending cuts. The horizontal axis shows a widely used measure of austerity – the average annual change in the cyclically adjusted primary surplus, an estimate of what the difference between taxes and non-interest spending would be if the economy were at full employment. As you move further right on the graph, in other words, austerity becomes more severe. You can quibble with the details of this measure, but the basic result – harsh austerity in Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, incredibly harsh austerity in Greece – is surely right.

Meanwhile, the vertical axis shows the annual rate of economic growth over the same period. The negative correlation is, of course, strong and obvious – and not at all what the austerians had asserted would happen.

Again, some economists argued from the beginning that all the talk of expansionary austerity was foolish – back in 2010 I dubbed it belief in the “confidence fairy”, a term that seems to have stuck. But why did the alleged statistical evidence – from Alesina, among others – that spending cuts were often good for growth prove so misleading?

The answer, it turned out, was that it wasn’t very good statistical work. A review by the IMF found that the methods Alesina used in an attempt to identify examples of sharp austerity produced many misidentifications. For example, in 2000 Finland’s budget deficit dropped sharply thanks to a stock market boom, which caused a surge in government revenue – but Alesina mistakenly identified this as a major austerity programme. When the IMF laboriously put together a new database of austerity measures derived from actual changes in spending and tax rates, it found that austerity has a consistently negative effect on growth.

Yet even the IMF’s analysis fell short – as the institution itself eventually acknowledged. I’ve already explained why: most historical episodes of austerity took place under conditions very different from those confronting western economies in 2010. For example, when Canada began a major fiscal retrenchment in the mid-1990s, interest rates were high, so the Bank of Canada could offset fiscal austerity with sharp rate cuts – not a useful model of the likely results of austerity in economies where interest rates were already very low. In 2010 and 2011, IMF projections of the effects of austerity programmes assumed that those effects would be similar to the historical average. But a 2013 paper co-authored by the organisation’s chief economist concluded that under post-crisis conditions the true effect had turned out to be nearly three times as large as expected.

So much, then, for invisible bond vigilantes and faith in the confidence fairy. What about the backup bogeyman, the Reinhart-Rogoff claim that there was a red line for debt at 90% of GDP?

Well, in early 2013 researchers at the University of Massachusetts examined the data behind the Reinhart-Rogoff work. They found that the results were partly driven by a spreadsheet error. More important, the results weren’t at all robust: using standard statistical procedures rather than the rather odd approach Reinhart and Rogoff used, or adding a few more years of data, caused the 90% cliff to vanish. What was left was a modest negative correlation between debt and growth, and there was good reason to believe that in general slow growth causes high debt, not the other way around.

By about two years ago, then, the entire edifice of austerian economics had crumbled. Events had utterly failed to play out as the austerians predicted, while the academic research that allegedly supported the doctrine had withered under scrutiny. Hardly anyone has admitted being wrong – hardly anyone ever does, on any subject – but quite a few prominent austerians now deny having said what they did, in fact, say. The doctrine that ruled the world in 2010 has more or less vanished from the scene.

Except in Britain.

Chapter four
A distinctly British delusion
in the US, you no longer hear much from the deficit scolds who loomed so large in the national debate circa 2011. Some commentators and media organisations still try to make budget red ink an issue, but there’s a pleading, even whining, tone to their exhortations. The day of the austerians has come and gone.

Yet Britain zigged just as the rest of us were zagging. By 2013, austerian doctrine was in ignominious retreat in most of the world – yet at that very moment much of the UK press was declaring that doctrine vindicated. “Osborne wins the battle on austerity,” the Financial Times announced in September 2013, and the sentiment was widely echoed. What was going on? You might think that British debate took a different turn because the British experience was out of line with developments elsewhere – in particular, that Britain’s return to economic growth in 2013 was somehow at odds with the predictions of standard economics. But you would be wrong.

Austerity in the UK
Cyclically adjusted primary balance, percent of GDP

Chart 3 Source: IMF, OECD, and OBR

The key point to understand about fiscal policy under Cameron and Osborne is that British austerity, while very real and quite severe, was mostly imposed during the coalition’s first two years in power. Chart 3 shows estimates of our old friend the cyclically adjusted primary balance since 2009. I’ve included three sources – the IMF, the OECD, and Britain’s own Office of Budget Responsibility – just in case someone wants to argue that any one of these sources is biased. In fact, every one tells the same story: big spending cuts and a large tax rise between 2009 and 2011, not much change thereafter.

Given the fact that the coalition essentially stopped imposing new austerity measures after its first two years, there’s nothing at all surprising about seeing a revival of economic growth in 2013.

Look back at Chart 2, and specifically at what happened to countries that did little if any fiscal tightening. For the most part, their economies grew at between 2 and 4%. Well, Britain did almost no fiscal tightening in 2014, and grew 2.9%. In other words, it performed pretty much exactly as you should have expected. And the growth of recent years does nothing to change the fact that Britain paid a high price for the austerity of 2010-2012.

British economists have no doubt about the economic damage wrought by austerity. The Centre for Macroeconomics in London regularly surveys a panel of leading UK economists on a variety of questions. When it asked whether the coalition’s policies had promoted growth and employment, those disagreeing outnumbered those agreeing four to one. This isn’t quite the level of unanimity on fiscal policy one finds in the US, where a similar survey of economists found only 2% disagreed with the proposition that the Obama stimulus led to higher output and employment than would have prevailed otherwise, but it’s still an overwhelming consensus.

By this point, some readers will nonetheless be shaking their heads and declaring, “But the economy is booming, and you said that couldn’t happen under austerity.” But Keynesian logic says that a one-time tightening of fiscal policy will produce a one-time hit to the economy, not a permanent reduction in the growth rate. A return to growth after austerity has been put on hold is not at all surprising. As I pointed out recently: “If this counts as a policy success, why not try repeatedly hitting yourself in the face for a few minutes? After all, it will feel great when you stop.”

In that case, however, what’s with sophisticated media outlets such as the FT seeming to endorse this crude fallacy? Well, if you actually read that 2013 leader and many similar pieces, you discover that they are very carefully worded. The FT never said outright that the economic case for austerity had been vindicated. It only declared that Osborne had won the political battle, because the general public doesn’t understand all this business about front-loaded policies, or for that matter the difference between levels and growth rates. One might have expected the press to seek to remedy such confusions, rather than amplify them. But apparently not.

Which brings me, finally, to the role of interests in distorting economic debate.

As Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis noted, on the very same day that the Centre for Macroeconomics revealed that the great majority of British economists disagree with the proposition that austerity is good for growth, the Telegraph published on its front page a letter from 100 business leaders declaring the opposite. Why does big business love austerity and hate Keynesian economics? After all, you might expect corporate leaders to want policies that produce strong sales and hence strong profits.

I’ve already suggested one answer: scare talk about debt and deficits is often used as a cover for a very different agenda, namely an attempt to reduce the overall size of government and especially spending on social insurance. This has been transparently obvious in the United States, where many supposed deficit-reduction plans just happen to include sharp cuts in tax rates on corporations and the wealthy even as they take away healthcare and nutritional aid for the poor. But it’s also a fairly obvious motivation in the UK, if not so crudely expressed. The “primary purpose” of austerity, the Telegraph admitted in 2013, “is to shrink the size of government spending” – or, as Cameron put it in a speech later that year, to make the state “leaner ... not just now, but permanently”.

Beyond that lies a point made most strongly in the US by Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute: business interests dislike Keynesian economics because it threatens their political bargaining power. Business leaders love the idea that the health of the economy depends on confidence, which in turn – or so they argue – requires making them happy. In the US there were, until the recent takeoff in job growth, many speeches and opinion pieces arguing that President Obama’s anti-business rhetoric – which only existed in the right’s imagination, but never mind – was holding back recovery. The message was clear: don’t criticise big business, or the economy will suffer.

If the political opposition won’t challenge the coalition’s bad economics, who will?
But this kind of argument loses its force if one acknowledges that job creation can be achieved through deliberate policy, that deficit spending, not buttering up business leaders, is the way to revive a depressed economy. So business interests are strongly inclined to reject standard macroeconomics and insist that boosting confidence – which is to say, keeping them happy – is the only way to go.

Still, all these motivations are the same in the United States as they are in Britain. Why are the US’s austerians on the run, while Britain’s still rule the debate?

It has been astonishing, from a US perspective, to witness the limpness of Labour’s response to the austerity push. Britain’s opposition has been amazingly willing to accept claims that budget deficits are the biggest economic issue facing the nation, and has made hardly any effort to challenge the extremely dubious proposition that fiscal policy under Blair and Brown was deeply irresponsible – or even the nonsensical proposition that this supposed fiscal irresponsibility caused the crisis of 2008-2009.

Why this weakness? In part it may reflect the fact that the crisis occurred on Labour’s watch; American liberals should count themselves fortunate that Lehman Brothers didn’t fall a year later, with Democrats holding the White House. More broadly, the whole European centre-left seems stuck in a kind of reflexive cringe, unable to stand up for its own ideas. In this respect Britain seems much closer to Europe than it is to America.

The closest parallel I can give from my side of the Atlantic is the erstwhile weakness of Democrats on foreign policy – their apparent inability back in 2003 or so to take a stand against obviously terrible ideas like the invasion of Iraq. If the political opposition won’t challenge the coalition’s bad economics, who will?

You might be tempted to say that this is all water under the bridge, given that the coalition, whatever it may claim, effectively called a halt to fiscal tightening midway through its term. But this story isn’t over. Cameron is campaigning largely on a spurious claim to have “rescued” the British economy – and promising, if he stays in power, to continue making substantial cuts in the years ahead. Labour, sad to say, are echoing that position. So both major parties are in effect promising a new round of austerity that might well hold back a recovery that has, so far, come nowhere near to making up the ground lost during the recession and the initial phase of austerity.

For whatever the politics, the economics of austerity are no different in Britain from what they are in the rest of the advanced world. Harsh austerity in depressed economies isn’t necessary, and does major damage when it is imposed. That was true of Britain five years ago – and it’s still true today.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

uk media see blue Peter badge as more important than major international peace prize very questionable values of uk mainstream media

The BBC tried to defend a media “blackout” on Jeremy Corbyn winning an international peace prize. It didn’t go well.
On 8 December, the Labour leader received the Séan MacBride Peace Prize from the International Peace Bureau (IPB). Founded in 1891, the IPB is one of the world’s oldest peace organisations. But not a single mainstream media outlet seemed to report on Corbyn winning the award, sparking allegations of institutional bias.

Enter the BBC

On BBC Daily Politics, host Jo Coburn was grilling [0.05] Corbyn ally Chris Williamson MP:
Why do you think there is a conspiracy amongst UK mainstream media to suppress positive stories about Jeremy Corbyn?
The Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services responded [0.11]:
Well, you tell me. But it’s pretty clear that there was a media blackout… Let’s remember, when… there was a photograph of Jeremy wearing a tracksuit, it made front-page news. When Theresa May put a star on the top of a Christmas tree, there was wall-to-wall coverage, as there was of William and Kate being awarded a Blue Peter badge. And here we have the leader of the opposition being… awarded a prestigious peace award being completely ignored.
There was indeed wall-to-wall media coverage when royals William and Kate recently won a Blue Peter badge. And as Williamson says, there was apparently nothing on the leader of the UK opposition winning an international peace award.
While Corbyn received the award on 8 December, the IPB announced it in September. With this in mind, Coburn later suggested [2.12] that the media didn’t cover the award because Labour didn’t speak up enough:
None of the official Labour media accounts or even Jeremy Corbyn himself actually publicised it. Do you think that is the problem?
The MP for Derby North pointed out [2.20] that the story went viral on social media:
No. I think the problem is very clearly with the mainstream media who simply ignored it, even when it went viral on social media.
Williamson also noted that even foreign news outlets reported on Corbyn receiving the award.

Enter Channel 4

Meanwhile, Channel 4 FactCheck argues that there was no coverage of Corbyn winning because the media doesn’t generally report on the award. But Dave Webb, vice-chair of the IPB board, points out that the peoplewho win it are rarely mainstream figures. They do tend to be distinguished anti-war and anti-nuclear activists, who the media has a history of marginalising. They do not tend to be among the most high-profile people in Britain.
Still, no mainstream media outlet covered it. So Williamson called out the “blackout” on the BBC. Apparently, we have a media that values a royal couple winning a Blue Peter badge far more than the elected leader of the opposition winning an international peace prize. The topsy turvy coverage would be funny if it didn’t have such far-reaching implications.
Watch the exchange here:
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