Sex, children and Mail Online

The Daily Mail campaigns against the sexualisation of children. Meanwhile, its website runs pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a "tiny wetsuit" and "skimpy bikinis". What's wrong here?

Kylie Jenner is “seen posing up against a rusty old truck” with her sister, Kendall, in their “flirty white dresses.” With “much longer limbs” than their more famous siblings they “made the most of their trim pins”. Later, Kylie changes into an olive-green gown “which is skimpy around the bust area”, and “works her magic in front of the camera”. She has less modelling experience than Kendall, a swimsuit model who “is envied by millions of girls … for her lithe figure,” but is catching up, and loves “posing for the cameras”.

Kylie Jenner is 14 years old.

She is the daughter of Olympian Bruce and Kris Kardashian, and stepsister to Khloe, Kim, Kourtney and Rob. Her sister, Kendall, recently turned 16. The quotes above are all taken from a single Mail Online article, which is just of one of dozens written about the young girls. A more recent headline reports that they “don tiny wetsuits for a day at the beach”. The article is based on a picture that Kendall posted on Twitter; it was spotted by the all-seeing Daily Mail Reporter, who apparently felt that 14- and 16-year-old girls wearing “very short wetsuits” would attract clicks.

 

Elsewhere on the site, six photos appear of the “teen bikini queens” soaking up the sun. Daily Mail Reporter describes them as “exhibitionists” who “display maturity and a lifestyle far beyond their years”. Fourteen-year-old Kylie is “not exactly shy!” as she “gets dressed in full view of passers-by”, an image Mail Online editors feel must be shared with the world. Days later, Daily Mail Reporter is shocked - shocked! - to find that the Kardashian family have included the two girls in a “raunchy home music video”. The “sexually-charged” performance features “teenagers Kendall and Kylie dancing suggestively in skimpy bikinis” and “shaking their bottoms for the camera”. The Mail show a picture of the girls, captioned Too young?” In case readers still aren’t sure, they helpfully provide the full video too. 

Enough.

Of course the Kardashians court publicity. The Kardashian name is a brand, and the family are a business built around the meticulously stage-managed performances of people who have chosen to live life as low-brow art. One can criticise adults for making that choice, and say that they deserve to reap the consequences of their actions; it is not so easy to dismiss the plight of a 14-year-old girl who - like any princess destined for a throne - has her choices made for her. Her family created the photo opportunities, photographers decided to take pictures of her posing in a bikini, picture agencies bought and sold the snaps, and newspaper editors chose to run them. At no stage in this celebrity industry assembly line does anybody seem to have considered whether it was appropriate to exploit a child in this revolting fashion.

At 14, Kylie has come late to celebrity. Six-year-old Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom and Katie, has been featured in more than six hundred Daily Mail articles - almost one for every three days of her life. In 2010 the Mail reported that the four-year-old was spotted snuggling up in her pink 'blankie',” observing that: “the comforter has been a constant feature in little Suri's A-list jetset life, and it seems that she isn't quite ready to give it up”. If this seems ‘cute’ to you, imagine this sort of obsessive media scrutiny applied to you or your child at the same age. No wonder that in 2008 the Mail could report that: Suri Cruise may be only two years old but it seems the toddler has already developed a dislike for photographers.”

The next stage, surely, is for the intrepid Daily Mail Reporter to venture through the vaginas of pregnant celebrities with a microphone and a handycam, in order to rank the relative cuteness of famous foetuses. Of course MailOnline's editor, Martin Clarke, told the Leveson Inquiry that “we don’t report pregnancies unless confirmed by the subject”, but as TabloidWatch reported recently they’re happy to cover rumoured pregancies; whether revealing that Megan Fox is “still staying mum” about her “growing ‘bump’,” or asking whether Gisele has “something to hide?” Clarke and his competitors are leading us into a brave new world where people can be celebrities from conception to grave.

As worrying as this is, it is the treatment of teenage girls that is most worrying. The Jenners are far from the only targets - Jimmy Saville-Row at Vice Magazine recently highlighted, the Mail’s alarmingly frequent use of the phrase “all grown up” to describe adolescents, to which I would add the equally creepy “older than her years”. The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

Remarkably, there is nothing in the PCC code to stop Mail Online publishing images of young children accompanied by such commentary. Section 6 of the code, focusing on children, says that “young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion” and that editors “must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s life”. In the case of Kylie Jenner, a celebrity under construction placed firmly in the public domain by her parents, neither rule really applies. That is a state of affairs the Leveson Inquiry would do well to consider. If Paul Dacre’s concerns about sexualisation are genuine, then perhaps he might like to consider it too.

Martin Robbins is a writer and researcher. Find him at The Lay Scientist or on Twitter: @mjrobbins

Kendall and Kylie Jenner are regular fixtures on Mail Online. Photo: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

Getty
Show Hide image

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?