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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.