Tag Archives: inequality

The Widow’s Mite

St NicholasI don’t recall when I first engaged with Economics 101, but it may have been in the choir stalls of St Nicholas, Wells-next-the-Sea, in the mid-1950s. So probably it was during the season of Trinity, and I was tuned in (as a boy soprano might) to the prescribed New Testament reading:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Not “termites”: two mites!

Ok, let’s resort to the ultimate authority, the OED:

Any small coin of low value; originally applied to a Flemish copper coin, but in English used mainly as a proverbial expression for an extremely small unit of monetary value (see also sense 1b). Occas. used to denote a more specific unit, as a farthing, a half farthing, or (esp. in accounting) some smaller fraction of a farthing. Now hist.

Yes: I’ve had to explicate that further, in another context, by bating a stiver. That was in connection with Robert Browning (stanza ten) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln:

The Piper’s face fell, and he cried,
“No trifling! I can’t wait! Beside,
I’ve promised to visit by dinnertime
Bagdad, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor–
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion.”

A stiver?

Indeed: as defined — again – by the Oxford English Dictionary:

A small coin (originally silver) of the Low Countries; applied to the nickel piece of 5 cents of the Netherlands (one-twentieth of a florin or gulden, or about a penny English).

In other words: the smallest coin of the realm.

Not quite an episode of the madeleine, then

More one of post-prandial ginger cake and a relaxed second bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

For, it was then the Lady in my Life drew my attention to Polly Toynbee:

… last week Ed Miliband bet the bank – plus bankers’ bonuses – that ballooning inequality was the great issue of our time. He’s not alone, as the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and even Mark Carney of the Bank of England identify it as the root cause of long-term economic woe: if too many are paid too little, who buys the goods and pays the taxes?

In his “zero-zero economy” speech Miliband threw off inhibition to hammer out his long-term theme – how inequality, insecurity and low pay cause a standard of living crisis that looks dangerously like the new normal. This is Labour’s authentic message, not political calculation or a left lurch, but what the party’s for. The pretence that Labour is anything else always reeked of the Westminster dissembling and inauthenticity that drives voters away. For both main parties, the middle ground begins to look more like a death zone than the winning turf.

Or to put a few numbers in there:

 Those earning over £2.7m contribute 4.2% of all income tax, while the lowest-paid third contribute 4%.

Polly is citing from the Telegraph‘s despairing How top 3,000 earners pay more tax than bottom 9m.

The difference is those top earners do it out of shed-loads of “disposable” income — monies which are available to deploy after all living costs,  including the Bentley,  the au-pairs, and the Swiss chalet,  have been settled.

The poor pay their whack, like it or not, in constrained deductions, such as VAT on essential living, and the new taxes, beloved by “conservative” Tories, such as the Bedroom Tax and ever-ramped transport costs.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, economy, equality, Guardian, Literature, Quotations, social class, socialism., Wells-next-the-Sea

The pointless grump of a downtrodden man

There is, none too far from Redfellow Hovel, a parked car. It is big, long, black, sporty, Mercedes and a recent model. To Malcolm’s untutored, and definitely non-petrolheaded eye, it looks distinctly expensive — the kind of hardware that costs as much as a three-bed home in many parts of this fragmenting kingdom.

The Merc-monster has been there, unattended, a couple of days now.

Quite a bit transpired, yesterday, when an anonymous white van also arrived. The van contained the the heavy mob from the collections agency. They had come to chain up said Merc-monster because a string of parking tickets were outstanding.

Seeing Malcolm hard a-blog, the more elephantine of the heavy mob rang the door-bell of Redfellow Hovel. Did Malcolm know anything about Merc-monster?This Malcolm decoded as, “Is it yours? We have a tidy account for you to settle. Then we can head off to the pub.”

Most definitely no, never seen the thing before. Shouldn’t be there. etc.

While his mate was dealing with the chain on the Denver Boot, Mr Pachyderm explained why this was under way (hence the information three paragraphs previously) and then fished out one of those telephones that contain major computing power. He was then able to display in Malcolm’s face a name and address. Again Malcolm decoded, “Does this name and address chime with you?”

Well, actually, in a dim recess of the less-visited parts of Malcolm’s cortex, it did, but the synapse didn’t instantly connect.

Only later did Malcolm recognise the connection. The name waved electronically before him seemed to lack a title. Not “Mr” or “Dr”, but “Sir”. It is — perhaps by coincidence, the name of a prominent and publicly-honoured architect, of the modernist tendency, who has scattered the landscape with some exotic structures.

The gravy train

Well, Malcolm has no envy that such talent has earned so well to afford the Merc-monster, and to pay so promptly the inflated fines (by the evening, Mr Pachyderm and his mate had returned and doffed the chains).

On the contrary, such a show of wealth is part of modern Britain.

As is the lack of opportunity for others, and the failure for wealth to percolate downwards.

Consider the story by Patrick Wintour in today’s Guardian, Labour to use US research to shape election campaignIn the print edition that comes with a nice little line-graph. On-line we have to settle for:

UnknownLabour is drawing on research by the New Democrat Network (NDN) central to the Obama re-election campaign to shape its own election thinking.

The research was described by the Obama campaign as its North Star. It tracked three trends in the US economy between 1992 and 2009, showing how two – higher growth and higher productivity – had not been matched by a rise in living standards for the majority.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank, the leading voice on UK living standards, will next week produce its own State of the Nation report showing how long it will take to return to rising living standards in the UK even if growth returns. Labour will also launch its own exercise – “the condition of Britain” – next week, its policy review chief, Jon Cruddas, has revealed.

Padded out with some choice quotation, there’s also this:

It also indicates that the crisis of living standards predates the City-induced recession of 2008.

“The reason this is happening is because of rising global competition, the defining new economic challenge of our time,” Simon Rosenberg, the head of the New Democrat Network, said in a recent interview.

“In the actual experience of the American economy, there has become an enormous gap between the upper one-third and everyone else.”

The chart hung in the Obama campaign office, along with a caption derived from a focus group participant: “I’m working harder and falling behind.” That same line was repeated by the president in a campaign stump speech.

So some have Merc-monsters, and can ignore parking fines, on the assumption that it’s only money (and expenses can be set against taxes). The rest of us have to obey the rules and muddle along as best as we can afford.

There are two ways of looking at this.

imagesOn one refined level we can take the research and graphics of — say — the Financial Times, to show just how dismally the ConDem government have perpetuated the Great Depression of 2008-2018 (as in the graph — Malcolm likes simple graphs — right).

Along with that, we can take the wit-and-wisdom of the Office for National Statistics, who tell us the same, with numbers attached:

Incomes squeezed more than in previous recessions

Real national and household incomes have been falling due to a combination of the recession and high inflation. That is the analysis published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as part of the Measuring National Well-being Programme.

The data describes an economy that has been stagnating:

  • In the second quarter of 2012 net national income (NNI) per head in real terms was 13.2 per cent below its pre-recession level in the first quarter of 2008; a sharper fall in economic well-being than the 7.0 per cent fall that GDP per head data indicate.
  • In the second quarter of 2012, real household actual income per head was 2.9 per cent below its peak in the third quarter of 2009.
  • Household incomes have generally been eroded by price inflation, for example in September 2011 inflation peaked at 5.2 per cent whereas the annual rise in household actual income per head was 1.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2011.
  • At the end of 2011 national debt was in excess of one trillion pounds, the first time on record, and equivalent to 65.7 per cent of GDP.

Or we can simply look, it is hoped with compassion, at the plight of millions of Britons, trapped in falling incomes, rising costs, lower wages, poorer expectations and increasing misery.

At the start of the ConDem government, David Cameron was buoyant that we could, and should measure “well-being”. And so, at a cost of £2 million and two years later, we were treated to guff like:

Responses by 165,000 people in the annual population survey reveal the average rating of “life satisfaction” in Britain is 7.4 out of 10 and 80% of people gave a rating of seven or more when asked whether the things they did in their lives were “worthwhile”.

Any bets we’ll not be hearing comparisons this year? Even that the ONS be told, quietly, to forget the whole thing?

Or, of course, the ConDems could scatter Merc-monsters across the land, warbling up-lifting ditties (and not the kind of uplifting that Mr Pachyderm & co involve themselves in):

With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,
These pretty country folks would lie
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, Hey ding a ding, ding.
Sweet lovers love the spring.
This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey hey-nonny-no.

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