Wrap it up, guys, the Telegraph has proved socialism is wrong

Look at this post. Just look at it.

The Telegraph is hosting a truly marvellous piece of trolling from Tim Worstall, in which he proves socialism is wrong because there isn't enough money in the world to satisfy a 13-year-old's definition of what it entails.

The whole piece is probably worth reading; I've heard it described as "Brick-esque", which can only be a compliment.

Worstall starts with an insult:

As anyone who has ever met or been a teenager knows, there's this idea floating around that we'd all be so much richer in a very real sense if everything was just shared equally. Most of us grow out of this and some become socialists.

Then he "runs the numbers":

If we average out global GDP we get to a figure of about $8,000 per head, something like that. That's a tad over £5,000 each. So if we share everything around the world equally with everyone around the world then that's what each of us, at maximum, can possibly have each year.

One might think that given 95 per cent of the world live on less than $10 a day, more than doubling that would be a huge achievement. But Tim is right, it would hit hard in the UK. Because an insurance company ran a survey:

A survey of over 2,000 adults by the insurance company found that Britons need extra pre-tax income of £7,236 a year to make them feel financially secure.

This is when his connection to reality goes a bit (more) wobbly. If Britons need an average of £7,000 extra to feel financially secure, then they can never get that by redistributing money within themselves. As he says, "that's what an average means." So it's strange that the next four paragraphs are spent demonstrating that yes, you couldn't find that extra money within Britain.

Especially since he doesn't even get his straw-man argument right:

If we wander over to the ONS we can work out how much those rich have been unrighteously keeping from us too. Household expenditure by income decile group would be a good one. A decile is 10 per cent of all households in this instance and when we download the .xls file we can see that the top 10 per cent of all households spend £1,000 a week. Yes, this includes their food, their mortgages, all their spending.

That's not what redistribution of wealth means. The clue is in the name: Tim has looked at income, when he should be focusing on wealth. Actually, not even income, but expenditure, which means that he must think the rich aren't taxed and don't save. He clearly thinks he is looking at wealth too:

To make all households financially secure we've got to find £180 billion, but even if we take all the cash off the top 10 per cent, all the food, ponies, labradors and croquet lawns they have, we've only got £130 billion.

Unless you need to buy a new croquet lawn every week (you might; I've never owned one), then it isn't going to show up in a survey of household expenditure. But it's a pretty good indicator of household wealth.

Socialists don't believe any of this, of course. It's been a very long time indeed since you would find someone on the left advocating the "everyone put their money in a pot and share it out equally" model of socialism. But if for some reason you were going to publish on a major newspaper's website a debunking of an economic theory no-one holds, you would think you would do a better job of it.

A person reads a copy of the Daily Telegraph. Photograph: Getty Images.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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