Best of US news networks geography fails


This photo just popped up on my timeline. It’s got to be either photo-shopped or the graphics guy taking the piss right? US news networks do have a reputation for not really knowing where stuff is though. Here are a few more examples.

View image on Twitter

Perth is in Tasmania? Also “Seach”?

London calling: CNN's graphic pinpointed the capital city as being situated in Norfolk

London is in Norfolk?

Iraq, Egypt. What’s the difference?

Ukraine, or Pakistan?

Don’t think that’s quite right either.

Nearly all of these are CNN by the way. You’d think after the first couple of times they’d actually start checking these things before they go out.


“What motivates people and leads them to high endeavor is not fear but hope”

I really like this blog from today by Bill Mitchell about what he calls the ‘unemployment industry’ and what we would call welfare to work. Talking about Australia, he says this industry’s productivity is practically zero. This resonates here too because we have a Work Programme whose results are worse than doing nothing. Bill draws up some great quotes from and about Arthur Altmeyer, one of the fathers of social security in the US.

I think it’s worth repeating them in full here because it will demonstrate how far we have come from the initial aims of social security, aims that over here were expressed by Beveridge. At an event in 1968 to mark the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act, the US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Wilbur J. Cohen said this of Altmeyer:

“To those who declared that if men were no longer afraid to lose their jobs America would become a nation of loafers, Arthur Altmeyer replied that there was a motivating force in the lives of men that was even stronger than fear–that force, he said, was hope. A democratic society, he said, must rely on hope and incentive rather than fear and compulsion to influence the conduct and aspirations of its citizens. And I think that is a worthy note for us to remember in the issues that face us today. Social security, he taught us, replaces fear with hope. As he put it, liberty means more than freedom to starve. It means a real opportunity to make the fullest use of one’s capacity. Far from destroying individual initiative and thrift, social security, by providing a degree of protection to families against the major vicissitudes that beset them in this modern and complicated and hazardous world, releases energies because it substitutes hope for fear as the mainspring of human endeavor.


In short, Arthur Altmeyer preached and practiced the idea that liberty and security are interrelated and that we cannot have one without the other. With this kind of faith that he demonstrated in man’s perfectability, with this kind of vision of democratic government.”

The bits in bold seem to be the exact opposite of what politicians like Iain Duncan Smith believe today. Far from bringing hope, IDS believes social security has fostered a ‘dependency culture’. Rather than replacing fear with hope, with his new sanctioning regime, he wants to replace hope with fear, believing he can scare people into jobs, or at the very least compel them to stop claiming social security. 

Bill goes on to quote Altmeyer from the same 1968 event as saying:

“Before I get off of the early days I want to say another thing–an important thing many people forget. Important as the Social Security Act was, it was only part of the New Deal. We recognized it as largely an income maintenance program. But we had all kinds of work and education programs going. For example, the National Youth Administration. It financed not only vocational schools, but made grants to the colleges, secondary schools, and primary schools. People have forgotten that that was a part of the picture. We had the work programs–PWA, WPA and CCC.


Today I run across people who went to those CCC camps. They are proud of what they did in those days. They go and visit–when they have their vacations– the places where they planted trees, or what not, to show their children, their grandchildren, what they did for their country.”

Now, instead of jobs programmes, we have unpaid work experience and ‘mandatory work activity’. When Duncan Smith talks about dependency he means social security payments are too high, but to Altmeyer, who was dubbed “Mr Social Security” (that would probably sound like an insult now):

“The most important cause of dependency is a lack of jobs at adequate wages. So we must work toward full employment. We must have a permanent, long-range, nationwide public works program.”

As Bill then goes on to write:

“All our modern politicians and policy makers and those who the policy makers have co-opted within the ‘unemployment industry’ they created should reflect on that and work out where they have gone wrong and why.”



100 year old excuses for unemployment

Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised to find out that exactly the same arguments being made today about an issue have also been made in the long distant past. Back then they may not have known any better, today we definitely should. A comment from Peter Martin on Labourlist gave me another example of this phenomenon. He quotes from Robert Tressell’s “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” which was written in 1912 to show what arguments were being made around that time to account for high unemployment.


‘Yes,’ said Crass, agreeing with Slyme……… Then thers all this new-fangled machinery,’ continued Crass. ‘That’s wot’s ruinin’ everything. Even in our trade ther’s them machines for trimmin’ wallpaper, an’ now they’ve brought out a paintin’ machine. Ther’s a pump an’ a ‘ose pipe, an’ they reckon two men can do as much with this ‘ere machine as twenty could without it.’

The immigrants:

‘Why, even ‘ere in Mugsborough,’ chimed in Sawkins–……..We’re overrun with ’em! Nearly all the waiters and the cook at the Grand Hotel where we was working last month is foreigners.’

On cheap foreign labour:

“you know very well that the country IS being ruined by foreigners. Just go to a shop to buy something; look round the place an ‘ you’ll see that more than ‘arf the damn stuff comes from abroad.”

Over 100 years later, this is still fairly mainstream political discourse in the UK. We had this UKIP poster:

I also often see people arguing that cheap foreign labour overseas is costing us jobs in the UK.

And you still hear the Luddite argument that machinery will replace all our jobs. Technology has and will continue to replace jobs that are being done by humans today, but this doesn’t mean unemployment is guaranteed. A lot of people on the left use this argument to advocate a guaranteed basic income, but it ignores the fact that new forms of work are being created all the time, and we could also broaden what we think of as work to include activities that are not being paid to do at the moment.

We had full employment in the 1960s and there is no reason we shouldn’t have it again. As Keynes said:

“…Our main task, therefore, will be to confirm the reader’s instinct that what seems sensible is sensible, and what seems nonsense is nonsense. We shall try to show him that the conclusion, that if new forms of employment are offered more men will be employed, is as obvious as it sounds and contains no hidden snags; that to set unemployed men to work on useful tasks does what it appears to do, namely, increases the national wealth; and that the notion, that we shall, for intricate reasons, ruin ourselves financially if we use this means to increase our well-being, is what it looks like – a bogy.”

The self-employment earnings timebomb

Some more good charts and analysis on the increase in self-employment.

Flip Chart Fairy Tales

Lots of people have been poring over this week’s report on self-employment from the ONS.  I particularly liked this chart from Nathaniel Lichfield, showing annual growth in GDP, employment and self-employment.


It shows clearly how, even though employment growth fluctuated with the economy, the rise in self-employment carried on regardless.

Self-employment, says the ONS, is now at a record high, both in terms of number and proportion of the workforce, accounting for around 70 percent of the increase in employment since the recession.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 14.47.50But the increase is not due to more people becoming self-employed but to fewer people quitting self-employment. According to the ONS stats, the number of people becoming self-employed did not change much on pre-recession levels but the number of people leaving fell, by a lot.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 14.57.47

It’s like filling a bath with the plug slightly open. If you then close the plug, the bath will fill more quickly, even…

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John Oliver on Ferguson and Police Militarization

Here’s John Oliver on his show ‘Last Week Tonight’ talking about the shooting of an unarmed 18 year old by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He reminds us of the events that took place before giving some quite jaw-dropping examples of how the police in the States are becoming more and more militarized. He manages to balance anger with just the right amount of humour to keep the audience with him.

I like this show. It’s just half an hour of Oliver talking and introducing news clips. Each week he devotes about 15 minutes of the show to a major news story – just enough to give the viewer a bit of depth without turning them off. It’s only shown on Sky Atlantic over here, but most of each show is put on Youtube soon after it airs. The nearest equivalent over here would be the 10 O’Clock show, which rarely devotes more than 5 minutes to a topic before cutting to Jimmy Carr wearing a false mustache telling a few tasteless jokes before shrugging. Oliver is British, so here’s an idea. Someone get him to do something similar over here.

Why are houses in Britain so small?

We build the tiniest new dwellings in Europe, and yet more storage and living space is what people desperately want.

At 11ft x 5.5ft, this flat in Knightsbridge, London is smaller than a snooker table. Photograph: Rowan Griffiths

One left their kitchen bin in the middle of the kitchen, because there was nowhere else for it. Another said their cupboards were so small they stored shopping in the boot of the car, while Miriam and Matt from Liverpool were so short of space they kept their vacuum cleaner at their mother’s house, a good 20-minute drive away.

A report this week by Riba and Ipsos Mori found “long- and short-term storage space” – for everyday functional items such as ironing boards and bed linen, as well as seasonal or nostalgic possessions such as Christmas trees or a wedding dress – was one of the features people most wanted in their…

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Stafford protest camp sets vital NHS example – ignored by media

Didn’t know about this. Interesting.


If you don’t live in Stafford or the surrounding area, you won’t have heard that the people of Stafford have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to save their hospital. For some time now, a ‘Greenham Common’-style camp – started and entirely run by ordinary local citizens – has been pitched outside the hospital to protest against the relentless plans by the government’s ‘TSA’ (Trust Special Administrator) and to try to save vital health services.


You would think, all things being equal in a 24hr-news age, that such an unusual thing would have attracted the interest of all kinds of media – at the very least as ‘filler’ on thin news days. But apart from a few mentions in the local media and in the blog of local activist group SSH (‘Support Stafford Hospital), the existence of the camp has been conspicuous by its absence in the press and on…

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Taxation, Government Spending, the National Debt and MMT

Fixing the Economists


The other day my friend Rohan Grey — a lawyer and one of the key organisers behind the excellent Modern Money Network (bringing Post-Keynesian economics to Columbia Law School, yes please!) — directed me to an absolutely fascinating piece of writing. It is called ‘Taxes For Revenue Are Obsolete’ and it was written in 1945 by Beardsley Ruml. Ruml was the director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from 1937-1947 and also worked on issues of taxation at the Treasury during the war.

The article lays out the case that taxation should not be focused on revenue generation. Rather, Ruml argues, it should be thought of as serving other purposes entirely. He writes:

MMT1Basically Ruml is making the same case that the Modern Monetary Theorists (MMTers) make: a country that issues its own sovereign currency and is unconstrained by a gold standard does not require tax revenue in…

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ONS provides new estimate for numbers of people on zero-hour contracts

There have been a rash of data releases by various Government departments over the last week. I’ve put up blog posts already this week on housing benefit and universal credit stats, and here is another one, this time on zero-hours contracts (ZHCs). 

Before I start, I should say that I have had a job where I was on a ZHC, and it worked very well for me. Whilst at university, I worked in a bar. I was required to commit to three shifts a week, including one at the weekend, but was not guaranteed to get any work. For me this was great because I was reasonably well liked by the management so was always offered plenty of hours, while at the same time being able to pick and choose when I worked. Others were not so lucky, and were given few hours at quiet times. As the job was just to top up my student loan, if I didn’t get any hours one week, it was not the end of the world. So I am not wholly against ZHCs and think there may some limited cases where they have a place. 

Now to the latest data release. This comes from the ONS. After the uproar over ZHCs of the last couple of years, the ONS have tried to get a grasp of exactly how many people are on these types on contracts. They are still not quite there, but are now asking the question as part of the quarterly Labour Force Survey. For April-June 2014, they say there are 622,000 people on zero-hour contracts. Similar surveys asking businesses how many zero-hours staff they have suggests the figure could be as high as 1.4 million though. 

It is good that the ONS are starting to publish these statistics, which over time will mean it will be possible to get a feel for the trend, i.e. whether ZHCs are becoming more or less common. 622,000 sounds like a lot of people to be working for no guaranteed hours. 1.4 million even more so. The real issue is around choice. If the people working ZHCs are like I was at university, then ZHCs may be appropriate. If not though and people are being forced into them because no other work is available, it is very worrying, and it seems unlikely that all those (or even most of those) on ZHCs are happy with the arrangement. This new data and future updates will help us understand what we’re dealing with. 

The number of working households claiming housing benefit up by 63% since 2010

In a blog for Inside Housing, Jules Birch summarises the latest housing benefit statistics which were published yesterday. This section in particular caught my eye:

The number of households who are in employment and receiving housing benefit increased from 650,551 in May 2010 to 1,058,569 in May 2014, an increase of 63 per cent. The housing benefit bill for people in employment has risen from £2.9 billion (14 per cent of the total) to £5.1 billion (21 per cent).


The total number of working claims continues to rise (and will carry on rising, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility) even as the number of claims from unemployed people slowly falls. This is consistent with yesterday’s figures showing rising numbers of people in employment and falling unemployment but it also shows the impact of stagnant and even falling earnings on the housing benefit bill. Despite all the government rhetoric about hardworking families and benefit dependency, the stats show the true cost of the boom in low-paid work or (as Joe Halewood points out) the true cost of the subsidy to low-paying employers.

It’s quite staggering that since the election in 2010, an additional 400,000 households can no longer afford to pay the full cost of housing despite being in work. What recovery?