Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nation Endangered By Politics Of Envy

Neat maps... but that's about all
Forget terrorism. Forget crime. Forget immigration. Yesterday's BBC News bulletins led on the major new problem gripping Britain. The "wealth gap" between rich and poor is threatening national cohesion. As this report by their John Moylan concludes:

"A new picture is emerging of an increasingly divided Britain. Changing these trends will take decades not years."

So we'd better get started right away!

The hysteria was based on two new studies by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The first is a lengthy statistical analysis cobbling together Census data with the rehashed findings of JRF poverty surveys and a raft of other stuff. We'll come back to that.

The second is an analysis of opinion poll data asking people the free-hit politics of envy question of whether they think that the gap between rich and poor is too big. And as you can see from the JRF chart, concern is mounting rapidly:

Figure 1: People's views of whether the income gap is too large/about right/too small (1983-2004)

Oh... ahhhh... well, blow me down! Concern isn't mounting rapidly at all. In fact, the proportion of people who are quite happy has actually reached a 20 year high. How can JRF possibly think there's a problem?

Ah, well, they say, it's because people are confused and ignorant about inequality. And you can see that quite clearly from their second poll chart on the massive support for redistribution:

Figure 2: Views about the income gap and support for redistribution
Gah? But people seem to be less in favour of government redistribution now than at any time since these polls started.

Ah, yes, say JRF, that's because "public attitudes to redistribution are complex, ambiguous and apparently contradictory. Current evidence does not explain why a smaller proportion of people support redistribution than see the income gap as too large."


OK guys, here's a possible, and obvious, explanation. When given a free hit moan question, people will always complain about the idle rich. It's like the weather. But when asked whether they would like Big Brother to intervene with even more punitive taxes, they say not bloody likely.

In reality, JRF have spun their argument from nothing. Indeed, far from suggesting increasing public concern, their quoted poll findings actually suggest the public are getting more comfortable with letting the market decide.

Very bad, guys. Very bad. You have been very naughty this time.

So what about the first statistical study on Poverty and Wealth? Is that any better?

Sadly, not.

It purports to demonstrate an alarming increase in polarisation between rich and poor, with people in the South-East (outside London) getting richer, and people in the old industrial cities getting poorer.

Now you may say we knew that already. True enough. Which is why to get some headlines, they needed to somehow recyle the thing. Like, say, drawing up some attention grabbing maps. Unfortunately, because the Census data on which the study is based do not include incomes or wealth, that meant they had to cobble all that together from a vast patchwork of other sources.

Get the picture? Although the results were widely reported as fact, safe consumption actually requires a very large bucket of salt.

Look, we all understand the JRF is a campaining group, and all campaigners are selective with the actualite. So good luck to them.

But WTF does the BBC- ONCE AGAIN- have to report such shoddy leftwing propagandising as fact? Why don't they point out the underlying work doesn't support the headlines?

PS Good for Sir Tom Hunter promising to give £1bn to good causes. Even better if he keeps his promise to be hands on with deploying it. One of the best things philanthropic billionaires can do is to apply their golden personal touch to actaully making stuff happen, rather than just signing the cheque. Everybody hates the evil MS Empire, but we should all salute Bill Gates and his wife for rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. He's put his money and his talent where his mouth is.

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