Tittle tattle is replacing proper debate and the consequences are not good

Via Chris Dillow, I came across this piece by comedian Frankie Boyle. It’s on the topic of “Offence and Free Speech”. Part of it talks about the modern phenomenon of ‘outrage’. Someone says something that could be interpreted in different ways, it’s stripped of all context and written up as someone saying something unequivocally awful. Boyle writes:

“I find it incredibly worrying that we no longer need to hear the actual content of the thing we’re told to be offended by. We hear of people being arrested for tweets without the tweet being reported; comics are blasted for routines that aren’t printed; newspapers hire lip-readers to find something to get offended by at the tennis and then print the resulting fuckfest as asterisks. And who decides whether we should be outraged at something we haven’t seen or heard? The press. Our seething collective Id. None of us would trust a journalist to hold our pint while we went to the bathroom, yet we allow them to be ethical arbiters for the entire culture.

I don’t read newspapers anymore – I just lie to myself and cut out the middleman, but I think it’s important to note that the press themselves are not actually outraged by what they report on as being offensive. No tabloid journo -whose life is invariably a shattered kaleidoscope of prostitutes, gambling, cocaine, self-loathing, literally going through a strangers bins, erectile disfunction and cocaine-  is genuinely offended when some students dress up as the Twin Towers for Halloween. Outrage just makes good copy. It’s easier to write, and simpler to understand. A tabloid hack knows that their average reader can barely read and they’re not going to try to communicate anything like ennui in the vocabulary of a ten year old.”

I’m seeing examples of this every day, I may even have shared and commented on some of it myself. There is now a whole industry created by people who seek out Tweets, Facebook posts and even photos posted to Tinder to try and whip up a storm, usually about somebody nobody has ever heard of. In the realm of politics, the aim is to damage ones opponents, force a resignation, or just imply guilt by association.

This has two damaging consequences in my view. First, now we know it’s open season on everyone’s social media histories, anyone with any even wild aspirations to get into politics will refrain from expressing any opinion which might be deemed offensive (which rules out a hell of a lot). The result will be bland, boring politicians operating within a tiny box of acceptable opinion.

The second, related consequence is that rather than the media discussing important political issues, where the parties differ, and – more likely – where they are the same, this discussion is replaced with mere fluff – tittle tattle, “He said this isn’t it awful?” “Why did they say that, what point were they trying to make?” “Doesn’t matter. Isn’t it outrageous?”.

Here’s a rather trivial example. A UK candidate (who in my opinion is an idiot), made a slip of the tongue and said “What happens when renewable energy runs out?”. She meant subsidies for renewables, but the media and various blogs reported along the lines of “isn’t she stupid to think renewable energy will run out?”. Well yes, she probably is stupid, but not for that reason. Her mangled question could have sparked a decent debate about energy subsidies for both renewable and non-renewable sources, where technology is likely to take us, and therefore how best to proceed policy-wise, but  instead, that hole was filled with silliness.

Anyone who is interested in progress, social change and improving the country we live in should be concerned by this. When we are replacing political debate with fake outrage and trying to ‘expose’ opponents for saying not very controversial things, we have a problem. There are many things that seem offensive when stripped of all context, but if people actually took the time to understand their opponents arguments, they might find they actually have interesting ideas, even if they disagree with them.


Pensioner bonds and government debt

Pensioner bonds were launched this week. These are three year savings bonds available to those aged over 65 and paying an interest of 4%. There is also a one year bond paying 2.8%. George Osborne hailed the launch, saying:

“Our economic plan involves supporting savers and I’m delighted to report that it is proving hugely popular.”

Last week though, David Cameron said their economic plan was all about getting the deficit down and ensuring the government spent less on debt interest so it could continue to spend on things like the NHS. On his blog yesterday, Chris Dillow sets out some issues he has with these new bonds:

“Which interest rate would you rather borrow at – 4% or 0.6%? It sounds like a moronic question. Not if you’re the Chancellor, it’s not. In launching pensionerbonds yesterday which pay 4% pa over three years, he is choosing to borrow at a much higher rate than the 0.6% charged by the gilt market.

This is costing the tax-payer money. If, as is likely, all of the £10bn bonds on offer are bought, the government will be paying almost £300m a year more in interest than it would if it borrowed in the gilt market*.

To put this in context, it is three times as much as the government is saving from the cap on benefits. And it is almost as much as it is saving from the bedroom tax.”

Chris goes on to say:

“What’s going on here is simple. Osborne is channelling tax-payers’ money to a favoured client group. There’s a word for this – corruption. This is the sort of thing we expect in Uzbekistan or Nigeria, not a western democracy.”

You would think pointing this out would be a slam dunk for Labour. For all the talk about the Coalition keeping interest rates low, when it comes to giving out bribes right before a general election, they are quite happy to issue new government debt at over 6 times the current going rate of interest! As far as I can tell though, Labour have kept pretty silent so far.

Links for the w/e 13.04.14

Just a few links to share this week. First up, Brian Romanchuk gives us a primer on functional finance as proposed by the economist Abba Lerner, which is an alternative approach to government finances:

Primer: What Is Functional Finance?

Next, here’s Bill Black comparing and contrasting two Nobel economics prize winners:

Nobel Schizophrenia over the Georges: Stigler and Akerlof

And here’s a nice interview with economist Ha-Joon Chang:

Ha-Joon Chang: Economics Is A Political Argument

Over in Ireland, it seems some discussion of a full job guarantee may be starting to take place:

Joan Burton wants a job guarantee for everyone on the dole

And to end, because this is a short list this week, we finish with Chris Dillow writing:

In praise of brevity


JCP PR fail, Labour MP facepalm and the economics of the 1%

This week’s news has been dominated by the flooding in Somerset and in Surrey. Cameron got his wellies on and sprung into action, promising that “money was no object”. Cynics pointed out that it took until the flood waters threatened the playing fields of Eton before he gave a shit. Here’s some non-flood related stories from the last week.

More on the bedroom tax now, and week by week, this is a policy that seems to be on life-support. Labour have promised to scrap it if they win next year, but it the whole thing may have imploded before we get that far. Joe Halewood explains why here:

Councils cant administer an unlawful policy – The bedroom tax is dead!

Jobcentre Plus news now, and David Henke summarises a big PR failure playing out on social media:

Tweet Wars: How humourless Jobcentre Plus was humiliated by bolshie bloggers

Here’s a nice vid of an interview with economist John Weeks in defense of government:

The Economics of the 1%: Neoliberal Lies About Government

News now of a prominent Labour MP doing something entirely in character for the modern Labour Party, but nevertheless a bit shocking. Lecturers at Queen Mary University in London were part of a national strike over pay, but Tristram Hunt decided to cross the picket line in order to deliver a lecture about socialism! Should he not be standing side by side with workers trying to secure better pay and conditions? Hunt strikes me as the sort of politician who would be comfortable in any party. He doesn’t seem to hold any core beliefs. A pretty typical career politician in other words. Here’s the full story:

Tristram Hunt defends crossing picket line for socialism lecture

Finally, here’s Chris Dillow’s recipe for succeeding in business:

How to succeed

50p taxes, deficit nonsense and political messaging

This week’s roundup starts with the hysterical reaction to Labour’s announcement of their intention to reinstate the 50p rate of income tax for high earners. Chris Dillow ridicules talk of economic disaster:

The idea that a tax tweak will cause disaster is ignorant of history

Next, also from Chris Dillow, a nice post about some of the nonsense we hear about the public finances:

A lot of talk of the public finances is simply fallacious

Moving on, and Paul Bernal blogs about the worrying news that David Cameron’s views on spying and use of big data stem from the information he’s gleaned from watching TV dramas:

No, Prime Minister

A bit closer to home (to me) now, and a story in my local rag about Bradford Council’s “Employment Opportunities Fund“. This is a successful, but very limited program aimed at creating job opportunities to young, older and people with disabilities who’ve been out of work for a long period of time:

Jobs scheme is to get funding boost

Political messaging now, and an article by Zoe Williams on George Lakoff and why the conservatives (small c) are winning. Among other things, Lakoff explains why rebutting moral arguments with evidence often doesn’t work:

George Lakoff: ‘Conservatives don’t follow the polls, they want to change them … Liberals do everything wrong’

Another thing that happened this week was that some people got offended. A couple of those who were offended said they were all for free speech but people shouldn’t say or do some things. In other words, they don’t believe in free speech. And these were Lib Dem activists! People general don’t have a right not to be offended as comedian Steve Hughes explains well :

Steve Hughes – What’s wrong with being offended?

Last up, and following news that whistleblower Edward Snowden has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, here’s a nice interview with Snowden which aired recently on German TV:

German Television does first Edward Snowden Interview


Out-Goving Gove, IDS in Apology Shocker and Stupid Back-Bench MPs

Here’s my weekly round-up of links from the last week that caught my eye.

First up education, and the news that Labour spokesman Tristram Hunt wants to introduce licenses for teachers. Some teachers respond:

Tristram Hunt has out-Goved Gove

Iain Duncan Smith news now. It transpires that a few thousand people (IDS says 5,000, others think more like 40,000) have been made to pay the bedroom tax even though they are actually exempt. IDS has now apologised (in the most grudging way possible) and it looks like some repayments may be made. Jules Birch gives full details here:

The Hardest Word

Onwards now, and some MMT-related stuff. I bang on about the job guarantee idea a lot here but this slideshow produced by the blogger Senexx is worth linking to:

What a Job Guarantee Is

Also worth a watch is this short video on Peter Martin’s blog:

How come that nearly everyone, gets it all wrong on money and the economy?

Here’s the promised stupid backbench MP news now, with the revelation that Tory MP Philip Davies (who’s also my MP) has been watching Benefits Street and so is now an expert on the problems with the welfare system. When I tweeted this link, someone replied that he also described incapacity benefits as unnecessary after watching the film “Cocoon”:

Shipley MP Philip Davies says benefits ‘too generous’ after watching Channel 4’s Benefits Street

And while we’re talking about Benefits Street, here’s a nice post from Chris Dillow it’s probably not reasonable to expect current affairs programs to be bias-free:

How current affairs reporting is inherently biased

That’s about it for this week, but I’ll leave you with this image someone tweeted the other day which sums up how I feel about the term ‘hardworking’.


Last 7 Days Reading List 30/11/13

I’ve decided to do a regular Saturday post linking to some of my favourite articles or blog posts from the last 7 days. Here’s the first list:

The DWP has been in the news this week for various reasons. First up, universal credit and the IT system that is a ticking timebomb. Computer Weekly interviewed a former DWP consultant who explained the departments inability to ensure IT services are procured well:

Disaster at DWP

The DWP’s Work Capability Assessments came back under the microscope, with a number of suicides linked to the loss of benefits being highlighted in the media and on the blogosphere:

Second Suicide Linked To Welfare Reform Reported This Week: RIP Victor Cuff

Information Commissioner rules on the cover up of DWP-related deaths

Also on the DWP, disability rights campaigner Sue Marsh sets out the refusal of DWP to engage with disabled people about cuts to welfare and on the WOW petition campaign which has nearly reached 100,000 signatures:

WOW Petition – Nearly There

Moving on now from welfare reforms and on to the economy in general, which is the stated reason for welfare cuts. Lord Skidelsky wrote a very clear and accessible rebuttal against the arguments for austerity:

Four Fallacies of the Second Great Depression

In a post on ‘debt overhangs’, Bill Mitchell pours a fresh dose of scorn over Excel spreadsheet wizards Rheinhart and Rogoff:

Been searching for a public debt overhang – didn’t get far

More politics now, and I liked this post from Puffles about the difficulties political parties continue to face with how they use social media:

Do Labour party chiefs know how to use ‘priceless’ social media?

Boris Johnson made a widely criticised this week in which he informed us of his views on inequality and IQ. Hopefully a few people will have seen this and realised that maybe voting for someone because they make them laugh might not be the best idea. Two blogs from Chris Dillow on Johnson’s speech are well worth reading:

Inequality and Growth

IQ and Equality

Employment now, and this Buzzfeed article was quite good, highlighting the 9 worst unpaid internships in Britain. I think my favourite is the one at Reading Football club:

9 Of The Worst Unpaid Internships In Britain

Finally, and not related to what I normally blog about, a couple more links that caught my eye this week. First up, a nice interview with Charlie Brooke, talking about his new documentary on video games being shown tonight on Channel 4:

Charlie Brooker on why video game television is so hard to make

Lastly, footballer Ryan Giggs turned 40 this week. I’m not much of a football fan any more, but as an 8 year old boy, the year Giggs made his debut, I was a mad keen Man Utd fan. That he’s still playing at the top level (and for the same club) is an amazing achievement, and I thought this was a nice little interview with the man who first discovered Giggs:

Ryan Giggs, by the milkman who discovered him