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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue