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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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