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23 August 2023

Letter of the week: The debt paradox

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By New Statesman

If, as Freddie Hayward writes (Politics, 18 August), Rachel Reeves “doesn’t want to borrow” to fund Labour’s flagship policies, then the shadow chancellor should learn from a recent, counter-intuitive economic outcome.

In 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, the US government spent $3trn to help rescue the country’s economy. This injection of (borrowed) money increased US government debt and thus reduced its wealth by almost the entire $3trn – the largest such drop in US government wealth on record. Surely something this unfavourable to the government’s “balance sheet” would have broad, adverse financial consequences? And yet, as Richard Vague writes in The Paradox of Debt, in 2020 US household wealth rose, not just by the $3trn from the government but by $14.5trn, the largest recorded increase in household wealth in US history. As a whole, the wealth of the country – its households, businesses and the government added together – increased by $11trn.

The US government didn’t raise taxes, it borrowed. Rachel Reeves should take note.
David Murray, Wallington, Surrey

The wider questions of gender

Alice Sullivan and Maya Forstater point out correctly (Correspondence, 18 August) that the study by Yang Hu and Nicole Denier, published in Demography in June, refers to sexual orientation, and that it was a mistake to think that this included sex change in the sense of transition, which none of the respondents had undergone during the six-year period under review.

At the same time, Hu and Denier refer repeatedly throughout their report to “mobility” and “fluidity” of gender, to “changes in people’s self-reported sexual identity” which reflect “meaningful change in one’s self-perception and self-presentation”. These findings, they write, challenge “the linear assumption that sexuality ‘stabilises’ over the life course”; they call for them to be taken into account by other scholars in the field.

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Perhaps these remarks are “the strange leaps of interpretation” to which Sullivan dismissively refers. For me, they open up a wider question about the normative sexual identities on to which everyone in an oppressive society is expected definitively to fasten themselves. That is the question which, via psychoanalysis, I was raising throughout my article (Ideas Lab, 28 July) as a way of seeing trans experience, not as outlandish aberration, but on a sexual continuum implicating everyone.

In the context of the often vitriolic and unproductive debates about trans identities, I still think it is a question more than worth asking.
Jacqueline Rose, co-director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Asylum is a global issue

There was an interesting conjunction between “The new politics of migration” (Leader, 18 August)  and “The struggle for order” (The NS Essay, 18 August). The leader is right that the only sustainable solution to the challenge of immigration is an international one – but not through a quota system, or certainly not only that.

An enormous transfer of resources from Europe to countries such as those in the Sahel is needed to give the populations there, especially the young, hope of a better life at home rather than in Western Europe. The Industrial Revolution was kick-started by exploiting the natural resources of West Africa and elsewhere, and by the slave trade, so it would seem reasonable (and in our own long-term interests) to start returning some of the profits.
Nigel Wakeham, Faversham, Kent

European countries should agree consistent principles for asylum policy. Likewise, within Britain, local authorities should agree on policies and numbers. Currently, the north-west of England and London bear a higher financial, housing and support responsibility than many other authorities, notably in the south-east.
Moira Sykes, Didsbury, Greater Manchester

In 1517, an angry London mob threatened a group of migrants, a scene later depicted in the play Sir Thomas More. In a speech attributed to Shakespeare, Sir Thomas asks the outraged citizens to put themselves in the shoes of the “wretched strangers, the babies at their backs” and then consider: “Would you be pleased to find a nation of such barbarous temper that… would not afford you an abode on Earth… what would you think to be thus used? This is the strangers’ case; and this your mountainous inhumanity.” This is the migrants’ case; and this the Tories’ ever-mounting inhumanity.
Austen Lynch, Garstang, Lancashire

Penny pinching

Phil Jones (The Diary, 8 August) seeks a good response to right-wing pundits talking of “economic illiteracy”. May I put forward Kurt Vonnegut’s suggestion that “we will go down in history as the first society that wouldn’t save itself because it wasn’t cost-effective”.
Richard Crombie, Hutton Roof, Cumbria

Nolan’s universe

As a former pupil and son of a teacher at Haileybury, I was intrigued yet irritated by Will Lloyd’s piece on the Old Haileyburian Christopher Nolan (Critic at Large, 18 August). When Nolan attended long dormitories, Latin grace and the Combined Cadet Force uniforms would have appeared out of date. Having been there from 1976-81, I can attest cold showers were not compulsory, and the dining room did not smell of boiled cabbage.

Yes, there were oil paintings of men who dictated Punjab affairs but there was also one of old boy Clement Attlee, who ordered Britain’s withdrawal from India. Haileybury also nurtured artistic talent in the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, actors Gerald Harper and Philip Franks and the musician John Manduell.
David Rimmer, Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire

Some fascinating insights into Christopher Nolan from Will Lloyd. Nolan is brilliant at judging landing points for his audience in his complex and dark films. He calls up a sort of classic British war-movie ambience in Dunkirk and deploys the thriller trope of an electronic clock counting down to an explosion in Oppenheimer.

I wonder, though, if he “disdains” his mass audience. Perhaps he is simply trying, Steven Spielberg-like, to engage moviegoers and then give them the chance to move into more challenging territory.
David Perry, Cambridge

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This article appears in the 23 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Britain’s Exclusive Sect