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Meet Richard Murphy, “the man behind Corbynomics”

The accountant and tax justice campaigner explains how his ideas ended up in Jeremy Corbyn's economics plan.

Which economist made his name blogging about the global financial crisis and got sucked into politics in 2015? Yanis Varoufakis is one correct answer. Richard Murphy may be another. The “man behind Corbynomics”, as the 57-year-old accountant from Norfolk has been dubbed, chuckles at the comparison with Greece’s former finance minister. “No one has suggested I’m the UK’s Varoufakis,” he says, “but the thought has occurred to me.”

Murphy’s sudden rise to prominence occurred early in August after it was reported that Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plan relied heavily on his writings. The two men have known each other for about ten years after meeting through the Left Economics Advisory Panel. “If you drew a Venn diagram of my economic ideas and those of Jeremy Corbyn you’d get a large overlap,” Murphy says.

His world-view was shaped by a career in finance. He trained as an accountant with KPMG and established his own practice in his mid-twenties. Murphy says his work there and in business – among other things, he helped manufacture the Trivial Pursuit board in Europe – gave him an insight into the inequities of the global tax system, which favours large corporations and the rich.

After selling his firm in 2000, he considered becoming an academic, and then focused on new economic ideas. He starting blogging nearly a decade ago and has written roughly 12,000 posts, mostly about tax and monetary policy. (His forthcoming book is called The Joy of Tax, which, though unlikely to repeat the success of Alex Comfort’s 1972 illustrated sex manual, nevertheless shows a sense of humour. “The book is about the second most exciting three-letter word that ends in ‘x’,” Murphy says.)

Even though he and Corbyn are acquaintances rather than close friends, Murphy was pleased to see the veteran socialist enter the Labour leadership campaign. “There’s a clear desire from a great many people to know there’s an alternative to the system we have got. No one allowed them to articulate that feeling until Jeremy came along.”

Murphy did not approach the Corbyn team but, “When you create ideas, you want people to use them,” he says.

Some of the main pillars of Corbynomics relate to tax. Murphy wants higher taxes for the wealthy and large companies, and a big clampdown on tax evasion, which he says could bring in £20bn. The most talked-about policy is the so-called people’s quantitative easing, which Murphy first wrote about in 2010, calling it green QE.

Under conventional QE, a central bank uses newly printed money to buy government bonds from investors such as banks and pension funds, increasing the amount of cash in the financial system. Critics say the biggest beneficiaries of this policy in the UK have been the banks and high-net-worth individuals.

With people’s QE, the Bank of England would print money, in effect, to allow the government to build houses, schools and hospitals, thus stimulating the economy.

Like Varoufakis, Murphy is not short on confidence. “I believe that people’s QE will become the next big tool used by governments around the world,” he says. 

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear