Here's what the perfect women's magazine would look like

Let's have less Photoshopping, less of the "circle of shame" and less of the ridiculous sex tips, and more of what women might actually want to read about: practical life advice, clothes a human-shaped person can wear and - heaven forbid - <em>books</em>.

In this world of "Celebrity breakdowns gone wild: side-boob edition", "Make-up tips for the birth of the royal baby", and "Is guacamole making you fat and infertile?", it’s not hard to have gripes with the institution that is The Women’s Magazine. You only have to lazily scan a news stand in any local supermarket to see that the content in publications in the "Women’s Lifestyle" section is lacking. This celeb is too fat; this one has a diet you can follow; this one’s biological clock is ticking; this one is doing an interview on how motherhood and the workplace are incompatible. As we currently make a living from slagging off the most insidious examples from these Conde Nasties and National Magazine meanies, attempting to defend ourselves and womankind from guacamole-induced anxiety and side-boob panic with a semblance of satire. Which is all very well, our critics cry, but what would our ideal magazine look like? Well, here are our recommendations:

  • Every model would have her own limbs. Nary a tacked on, Photoshopped leg nor a slimmed down waist would marr the pages.
     
  • The diversity of the models’ ethnicities and body types would directly reflect that of the general population. Being a size 14 would not be treated as some kind of freaky health condition whose only possible treatment is a wrap-dress, and the fashion spreads would cease to look like a brochure for a summer camp for Aryan teenagers. Healthy BMIs only. No under sixteens.
     
  • No cosmetic surgery advertorial. Especially not positioned next to features on "body confidence".
     
  • Cover interviews with interesting women who have done fabulous things, none of whom employ the terms "down to earth", "normal", or "just like you". No picking over of their diets and exercise regimes. No PR puff. Instead, questions would cover a wide range of topics, ranging from "what’s your horrible terrible?" and "how do you think Obama’s doing?" to "if you could live inside a painting like the little girl in Roald Dahl’s The Witches does, which painting would it be?"
     
  • Since many of us do have a secret interest in why Kanye called his baby North West or whether or not Boris Johnson and Eminem share a hairdresser, the celebrity section would remain. Only this time, there aren’t any sneaky photographs taken by photographers hiding in the bushes and judging women’s baby weight or headlines proclaiming their imminent breakdowns - "Rihanna looks painfully thin and probably broken inside as she wanders desolately along the Hollywood Boulevard with a heartbreak-flavoured ice cream, thinking of Chris" - will be absent. Tired gender stereotyping will be done away with entirely.
     
  • In place of where the latest woman would be held up as a tragic spinster or hysterical diva, editors will be encouraged to be far more creative. "Megan Fox emerges from a local bar, looking for all the world like she’s had an exhaustive argument about the Israel-Palestine conflict and eventually ducked out because she was getting shouted over by some bigot who didn’t even know anything about West Bank settlements", as an example. "50 Cent is spotted hand-in-hand with a twentysomething woman: could this be the handshake marking a new technological business deal in nearby Silicon Valley? More news on her possible profession inside", as another.
     
  • The Fashion Section. Wheeling out the same old Topshop jeans to illustrate "What To Wear" would be replaced with something a little more inspiring, such as artistic fashion photography and an encouragement to experiment with style. If you like those embroidered knee warmers, then you should go ahead and wear them without judgement.
     
  • There would be a moratorium on using "the circle of shame" to point out where celebrities went wrong with their red carpet dresses. The perfect fashion section would be a nurturing environment from which the readership could emerge, bright-eyed and unafraid, to toddle out onto the high street and buy whatever the hell they want. No more tears in the changing room because Cosmo said you couldn’t do disco knickers.
     
  • Why not show us what women across the world are wearing? We’re a nosy bunch, but most of us know that the women in current so-called "street style" sections in magazines are not only school friends of the features ed but are also styled and preened to within an inch of their lives. What we’d really like to see is Anna from Norway’s amazing hangover grocery shopping outfit, and how she has successfully merged the steam punk aesthetic with silky pyjama bottoms and a beanie. Also: no fascinators.
     
  • Oh, and stop telling us "this dress will change your life".
     
  • There would be no further attempt to correlate the female body type with that of a fruit or root vegetable. We are not an apple, a pear, or a butternut squash, and, being adult women, most of us know how to dress ourselves.
     
  • Oh, and we couldn’t give a shit what’s in your beach bag.
     
  • There would be a ban the phrases "OMG", "totes", and "amazeballs", and a shift towards the use of plain English. Hashtags would remain the preserve of Twitter, and portmanteau phrases such as "babymoon", "momtrepreneur" and "yestergay" would be consigned to the dustbin.
     
  • The female columnists would write hilarious, clever pieces on a wide range of issues. We’ve got to a point now where there’s nothing to be said about multi-dating, and referring to your partner as "the boy" when you’re in your mid-thirties and peppering your copy with "lolz" just begins to look as though you’re desperately trying to be down with the kids. Can we get some new blood please? Preferably someone with an interesting life.
     
  • Make-up. Yeah, we like it, but it doesn’t merit the 60 or so pages that are currently given over to it, especially as we’re onto you fuckers and we know that much of it is much of a muchness. Why not replace it with usefull stuff, a la Rookie Mag, such as how to buy a used car or make your own lipbalm, or a story about losing your virginity? Or even, y’know, women’s issues or politics?
     
  • Please, stop reminding us about our ovaries having a sell-by-date. Believe us, we know.
     
  • Accept that we are never going to be as obsessed with scatter cushions as you are. Bear in mind that the "fuck it" generation are only just coming of age. Home decoration tips for the impoverished, please.
     
  • Tell us not that mayonnaise is "sinful". It is a condiment made almost entirely from egg yolks, we never assumed it was healthy. We’d like to see fridge raiders features, in which dieticians berate B-list celebrities for the food they eat, replaced by a "Woman v Food" challenge. Holly Willoughby has a god-awful hangover- can she rustle up a cure from the contents of her cupboard? And will it all fit in her mouth at once?
     
  • Health. At present, magazines are failing to cover the full spectrum of all the things that can go wrong with your vagina. They have the twin pillars of cystitis and thrush pretty much down, but we’re talking rarer shit, like vestibulitis and syphilis. It’s good to share, and it’s good to be aware.
     
  • The sex tips would immediately become more female-focused - no more "Slap on a PVC G-string and gyrate around a £200 pole until your boyfriend feels up to it", and no more pretending that getting your boyfriend to test spaghetti sauce by licking it off your breasts is conducive to good sex or good cooking. The "U-spot", "T-spot", "VV-spot", and all the other imaginary "spots" that have been made up by desperate editors will be replaced by a more sensible and fruitful focus on the clitoris. Oh, and no more orgasm-shaming. Reading another feature called "The 45 orgasms you must totally have NOW otherwise you’re a loser" will pretty much kill our will to live.
     
  • Books. We read them. And not just books by women with names like Felicity Meadows and that tell the tale of a small-town girl who moves to the big city only to discover that her boyfriend is a tool.
     
  • If you could mention a woman in print without putting her height and weight next to her name in brackets, then that would be awesome, ta.
     

Got more ideas for the perfect women's magazine? Let us know in the comments, or tell us on Twitter via @VagendaMagazine or @NewStatesman

Down with this sort of thing. Photograph: Jessica Mullen on Flickr via Creative Commons

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?