But wait! Their data allows for three explanations!
Perhaps we should spend too much time puzzling over whatever it is that Scottish Labour wishes to promise us all given that current indications are that there’s not going to be a Scottish Labour soon enough. But their attitude towards food banks does deserve some puzzling over:
His announcement came the day after he promised a £175 million anti-poverty fund that he said would be used to end food banks in Scotland.
Why would we want to end food banks on Scotland?
It’s entirely true that use of food banks has soared in recent years. But it’s also true that we’ve got to be very careful in determining whether this is a supply shock or a demand shock. And all the evidence we’ve got is that it is indeed a supply shock. As the Trussell Trust itself points out, back a decade and more there simply were no food banks (OK, perhaps two or three) in the UK. Now there’s a great network of them, alleviating the number of tens of thousands of people each week.
It is possible that there was no hunger back a decade. But anyone with any experience of the benefits system of the past would not claim that it did not make mistakes, that it did not underpay, take a long time to pay, take weeks to start getting the impoverished some cash to alleviate their hunger. Some of us here have direct experience of just those situations.
So, it is not that the benefits system is worse today than it was: it’s that we’ve a new technology, those food banks, to deal with an already extant problem. That is, it’s a supply shock, not a demand one.
At which point we come to something of a logical puzzle. The little platoons have worked out a way, a very effective way, to deal with the inefficiencies of the State. The response is thus to nationalise by that very State the thing that alleviates the State’s inefficiencies?
Umm, why not just leave the little platoons to get on with the job they are doing so effectively?
True, this example comes from the US, where one of us does some media work and is thus bombarded with press releases. But this really does quite take the cookie, as they might say over there:
NEW YORK – An open letter signed by over 130 faculty members was delivered this morning to NYU President John Sexton calling for fossil fuel divestment. The letter, which began to garner signatures in early February, calls on the university to divest its $3.4 billion endowment from the top 200 publicly traded oil, gas, and coal companies. The university currently has an estimated $139 million in fossil fuel investments.
The letter was delivered in hard copy this morning by the Environmental Studies department chair, Dr. Peder Anker, who stated, “NYU needs to divest, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Delivering it on paper? Isn’t that going to kill trees? However, what interested us was, well, we know pretty much nothing about New York University. This is not a comment about the divestment campaign please note (a silly idea but it’s not about that). It’s a question about, well, is 130 members of faculty an interesting number or not?
We could imagine that NYU has 140 faculty members. In which case this is highly interesting, even if not important. So, we asked. And it should be noted that this list of 130 includes those at other campuses, associated study groups, remote locations and so on. The answer for the total faculty was:
The latest number I found from 2013 is for “Academic Staff” is 6,564.
We’ll assume that Academic Staff is a rough proxy for Faculty shall we? And our rough, back of that fag packet with the cancer warnings on it, calculation is that 2% of the faculty have signed this petition.
From memory, so don’t quote us on these numbers, some 11% of Americans are convinced the Moon landings were fake, 18% think that Obama was born in Kenya and, judging from legislative acts, more than 50% are sufficiently deluded to think that raising the minimum wage increases the number of people in employment.
But, this is how politics is done. Some papers will print this release without questioning the numbers and it will become a standard tale that “the faculty of NYU call for divestment”. And thus is politics done in this modern age.
Aren’t we all such lucky people?
Governments in democratic societies are elected to serve their citizens, not to impose some ideological view of what they would prefer society to look like. If they do try to pursue equality in wealth and income they will almost certainly reduce both. While there are some who would prefer a society that was more equal rather than one in which everyone became wealthier, this is unlikely to become a popular view. Becoming richer is something that matters much more to poor people than to rich people.
People are different and they have different goals in life. Some are born more talented, and some put in the effort and the time it takes for them to become so. Some people have more economic value than others, though this is not to say they have more moral worth. People will pay money to see a talented celebrity or sportsman perform, and those individuals can become richer in consequence. To equalize incomes is to prevent this happening. Since higher earnings make possible higher savings and greater wealth, to equalize wealth is to prevent people from accumulating the proceeds of their talents.
Most people would prefer society to make provision for the unfortunate or destitute, but this means ensuring they have a decent standard of living, not making them equal in wealth and income with richer people. Governments that strive for equality can only do so at the expense of liberty, by preventing the free choices and exchanges that people would otherwise make.
Egalitarians have tried to redefine poverty as a percentage of average income, but this is not what it is. Poverty does not mean inequality, it means not having enough resources to get by and to live a decent life. Many would rate opportunity above equality, thinking it more important that people should have the chance to develop their talents and abilities and to raise their standard of living. Many would prefer governments to help make this possible, rather than attempting to equalize wealth and income.
If only we had introduced the Hard Euro, as the UK Prime Minister at the time, John Major, had suggested! Sadly his proposal came just too late, as the EU Euro enthusiasts were already pressing ahead with their own plans to create a single, Euro, currency that would replace domestic currencies such as the Frank, Mark, Lire and of course Drachma.
John Major’s idea can be seen working perfectly well here in Peru, which I have been visiting for the Mont Pelerin Society conference in Lima. Being close to the US in terms of trade, and reasonably close – well, in the same hemisphere – in terms of geography, and having a border with Ecuador, which uses the US Dollar as its currency, US dollars circulate quite freely here, alongside the domestic currency, Soles.
Dollars are most obvious in the capital and in tourist areas, and indeed the ATM cash machines at the banks will dispense them in everyday quantities. They are commonly accepted, particularly for larger transactions.
The result is that there is a competition between currencies, Dollars and Soles – just as Hayek proposed in the 1970s and as Robert Miller outlined, in a recent Adam Smith Institute paper ‘What Hayek Would Do’.
The effects are interesting. Because of the prevalence of Dollar usage, there are limits to the extent that the monetary authorities in Peru can overextend and devalue Soles. They know that if their currency loses its value, more and more transactions will be done in Dollars. We used to think that there would need to be a difference of perhaps 5% or more (and perhaps a widespread feeling that the gap would widen) between the value of competing currencies in order for people to shift from one to the other: which made a lot of people say that competition in currency would not work, because it would lead to big wrenches from one currency to another.
But the opposite seems to be the case. As one currency loses a bit of value, more and more people make their transactions in the other. The marginal differences in people’s currency use is enough to keep up the pressure on the domestic authorities. And the authorities know that they have no influence on the value of the Dollar – the value of which might, at any point, become inappropriate to local economic conditions – so the last thing they want is people rushing to take out Dollar loans and relying too heavily on Dollars, since then the authorities would lose all control over monetary conditions.
Equally, the public are pretty savvy about their finances. Announcements from the Federal Reserve in Washington lead to radio chat shows in which people debate whether they should be taking out mortgages in Dollars rather than Soles. Just the sort of competition that Hayek might have hoped for – no big wrenches, just lots of individual decisions made at the margin.
Wouldn’t that be nice in Europe? A currency that had to prove its worth to people by being at least as good, and maybe slightly more solid, than their own, and which people could choose (or not) if they desired. Indeed, even in non-Euro countries like the UK, it would be rather refreshing for people to have the choice over which currency they used. It might have moderated the reckless expansions of the early 2000s and made the post-2008 adjustment very much quicker and less painful.