The End of GDP?

‘The GDP was contrived in a period of deep crisis and provided an answer to the great challenges of the 1930’s. As we face our own crises of unemployment, depression, and climate change, we, too, will have to search for a new figure. What we need is a “dashboard” complete with an array of indicators to track the things that make life worthwhile – money and growth, obviously, but also community service, jobs, knowledge, social cohesion. And, of course, the scarcest good of all: time.’

– Rutger Bregman – Utopia For Realists

One of the problems with GDP is that it does try to combine all of human welfare into one number, and fails…

– Annie Quick

Social scientists often recommend that measures of subjective well-being should augment the usual measures of economic prosperity, such as GDP per capita.’

Esteban Ortiz-Ospina & Max Roser

The GDP model was invented in the inter-war years before being properly adopted in 1941 as a means to understand how much economy activity was taking place in order to determine what resources could be allocated for the war effort.

Since then GDP has become a globally recognised measure of progress and prowess. With a high GDP should come a better standard of living, the general consensus being that hard work pays off.

With polarisation between the rich and the working and welfare “classes” widening, with fiscal inequality rising and with social care, health and welfare systems being drastically underfunded. The trickle-down economic system – the system by which wealth is created in the upper echelons and eventually trickles down to smaller businesses whilst providing welfare support through taxes for those in need – has been shown to be more or less fanciful thinking than a reliable model.

The trickle-down economic model relies on the philanthropic and altruistic endeavours of wealthy individuals and organisations, companies abstaining from using automation and, most importantly, everyone paying the correct amount of taxes and not squirrelling their money away in off-shore tax havens.

Recent research suggests that off-shore tax havens are hiding half of the world’s money.

If the trickle-down model theory was put into practice, the United States, China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom (the top 5 strongest economies) would not be experiencing such vast levels of criminality, an abundance of mental health issues, homelessness, shortages of social care for the elderly, strangled social-mobility and ever-increasing levels of “working poor.”

Perhaps an answer to the failings of the GDP measuring system and to the trickle-down economic model; last week New Zealand made public that they were going to replace the GDP model with a new “welfare budget” in which the plan is to ‘prioritise well-being over economic growth.’

The change was announced last week by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden as part of her reformist agenda. Jacinda said: ‘Today we have laid the foundation for not just one wellbeing budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether.’

The Welfare Budget will focus on 5 key areas:

– Improving mental health
– Reducing child poverty
– Supporting indigenous people
– Transitioning to a low emissions economy
– Thriving in a digital age

There has been opposition to the welfare budget by (none other than) opposition parties who claim that the budget will starve essential services, including healthcare, education and housing. It has also been pointed out that the welfare budget has come at a difficult time, as the trade crisis has worsened between the United States and China – New Zealand’s biggest trading partner. Critics have also pointed out that the N.Z government are also putting more money into defence and army departments which seems to be at odds with the welfare budget.

Amy Adams of the opposition National Party had this to say about the Welfare Budget: ‘Apparently it’s about measuring your sun and moon feelings, improve you locus of control, and understanding your ability to be yourself…I have no idea what that means and, outside the Wellington bureaucracy, I’m not sure anyone does.’

A particularly derogatory statement but not one without reason. After all the welfare budget moves from providing immediately available and quantifiable results to a long-term approach at battling NZ’s dominating issues. It is a fact that budgets cannot provide cash injections of equal value into every aspect of life, but the five prioritised areas outlined above have been highlighted as New Zealand’s most pressing problems.

However, upon closer inspection, the welfare budget is arguably a more comprehensive system to improving New Zealand’s economy than through small, intermediary solutions.

20% of New Zealand’s population struggle with mental health issues, a figure not that dissimilar from the U.K. Countless studies show that preventative measures, or early-intervention, would help save billions through both easing the pressure on reactive healthcare services and also on businesses. Globally, mental health issues are the leading cause of work days missed.

By approaching and dealing with mental health issues in the early stages pressure would be alleviated from New Zealand’s health service (on which they currently spend 5% of GDP or $12 billion on acute mental health services) and businesses would benefit by avoiding the costly disruption of absenteeism and lost productivity.

The same can be said for reducing children’s poverty. By providing children with means, with education and with access to services, the welfare budget may break the poverty cycle thus easing welfare costs in subsequent generations and, more importantly, improving the lives of New Zealanders.

Whilst certain branches of capitalists might consider the idea of properly funding the welfare state “fluffy”, the truth is that the new welfare system would do more to combat the inequalities faced by New Zealanders than relying on the aforementioned trickle-down system which does very little to tackle social issues head on. When talking on podcast ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, senior civil servant and economist Gus O’Donnell said; ‘People using GDP as a measure of how well you’re doing really do need to kind of grow up…’

New Zealand’s plan to move to a low-carbon economy is not revolutionary. It is, if anything, well overdue. Green energy economic models have been put forward for decades in pursuit of a sustainable future and it does not take a great deal of insight to see that the green energy market is being gripped by nations and companies alike.

Wind-farms, electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel-cells, hydrofoil technology, wind-sail and of course solar power are shaping domestic and business infrastructure and green energy design, production and maintenance will likely take the place of oil production and distribution as the dominating global market force.

In an age of nanotechnology, biotechnology and gigafactories, it is nothing short of embarrassing that we are still using fossil fuels to power our cars and aeroplanes.

So no, New Zealand is not doing anything revolutionary, it is simply taking a step in the right direction. When it comes to the future of the planet, the battle to fight rising temperatures, rising sea-levels, rising levels of pollution and particulates, the only people who would see this move as in any way reductionist behaviour would be those who have interest in fossil-fuel companies or else those economists who fail to see the necessity and profitability of a green energy market.

The long-standing argument that the move to green energy would lead to a loss of jobs is demonstrably true because, yes, of course it would lead to a loss of jobs, within that sector. However, within the U.S, solar power alone employs more people than oil, coal and gas combined. By offering to teach new skill sets or by altering knowledge to suit the new green energy market, job losses would be minimal and the production of new jobs would far outweigh any interruption during the changeover.

In regards to thriving in the digital age, Yuval Noah Harari speaks widely of the issues that humankind will face in the rise of the digital world. From recognising and combating ‘fake news’, the rise of automation, the change from a product-driven economy to a service-driven economy to the proliferation of biotech (the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes) and information technology. In the face of such vast and complicated change, any nation, business and individual would do well to prepare themselves.

By making “thriving in a digital age” an objective of the welfare budget, New Zealand is taking a step toward future-proofing their economy. Digital education has the potential to increase business reach and maybe even divert some of the entrepreneurial talent from places like Silicon Valley. There is also the benefit of teaching people how to spot fake news articles, recognising malware, and safeguarding children from malicious intent/content.

Social media has the ability to change the political landscape. The influence of Russian bots on twitter and facebook throughout the referendum of 2016 to leave the European Union and throughout the presidential campaign of the same year cannot be overlooked or underestimated. MP Bob Seely noted in his paper put before parliament; Russian Federation activity in the UK and globally, the danger of Russian interference within political processes throughout the world. China is also doing the same.

Having protection against this kind of intervention (digital warfare?) is absolutely key in a world where 2.1 billion people use facebook or facebook owned services every day.

There has been no hiding the fact that the welfare budget is an attempt to stymy the progress of populism within New Zealand.

Changing from the GDP to a more representative model (or from objective well-being to subjective well-being) has the ability to continue allowing nations to monitor their progress, but also take into account sustainable and improved living. As said by Christoph Schumacher; ‘GDP is a good measure of economic growth but doesn’t provide us with any information about the quality of the economic activity or the well-being of the people.’

The extra benefit of the welfare budget is that it means politicians can no longer use the GDP as evidence that all is well. It is the difference between objective well-being and subjective well-being.

Nobel Prize winning economist and inventor of the GDP system, Simon Kuznets: ‘The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.’

The creation of wealth is integral to our way of life but the problem with only focusing on the GDP model is that it does not provide solutions long-standing problems. At least, not in decent time. Trickle-down economics has, until the date of writing this piece, never officially worked. So the hell with it. Why not try something new?

Is the Queen going to be dragged into Brexit?

It is almost written in stone that Boris Johnson is set to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Boris has claimed to be dedicated to the Brexit cause countless times and his campaign to become the next PM rests solely on his ability to convince the people and the Conservatives that he is willing to keep a No Deal Brexit on the table.

The choice to keep a No Deal Brexit comes as a bid to secure support from the Euro-sceptic European Research Group (ERG) which is headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg – who has endorsed Boris Johnson – as well as support from other Conservative leave-leaning Conservative members. Boris Johnson has said that he would prorogue if negotiations were not secured which would provide the U.K with some kind of deal.

Proroguing is essentially the act of suspending parliament in order for the acting Prime Minister to pass a bill without contest.

By offering this result if negotiations are not successful, Boris Johnson is effectively appealing to both sides of the Conservative voters; those who want a soft Brexit and those who would prefer a No Deal scenario.

Proroguing is a means of circumnavigating parliament who are entitled to exercise their rights (and sovereignty) to vote on the outcomes of bills. This is no longer the case as Boris Johnson has claimed that he is not against proroguing. However, if this were to occur, the only way that Mr Johnson would be able to push through a No Deal, is if the Queen herself allowed it to happen.

This scenario does raise some concerns.

Proroguing would pull the Queen into matters of state which is against the notion of impartiality that the British monarchy is demanded to uphold by government.
If the Queen is asked by government to speak for the country and she denies the right to a No Deal Brexit, we are not only back to square one, but there will also be resentment from staunch Leavers and Euro-sceptics toward the Queen and the monarchist system.

The right to exercise one’s own power, to uphold sovereignty and to run with the empirical history of Britain’s past were crux issues of the 2016 referendum. If the Queen exercises her power and moves against No Deal, will the people decide that they no longer want the monarchy or will they accept the Queen’s decision to exercise her power, a cause for which the Leave vote was cast?

If, on the other-hand, the Queen moves in favour of No Deal, the U.K will be looking at a (already proven) decline in trade, transport and services as major service providers have already sought sanctuary on mainland Europe to continue to offer their trades to the rest of the trading bloc. Staunch Remainers would also be dismayed and morale and national spirit would undoubtedly hit rock bottom.

Abortion in the U.S

Criminalising abortion is evidence of Americans moving against their own Constitution.

Article IV of the Constitution:

‘N(o) religions Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.’

1ST Amendment:

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’

The Constitution is America’s guiding document. A revelled piece of history that is constantly used to link the American people with the foundation of their great country. The Constitution is quoted time and again when protecting the people’s right to “bear arms” but there has been a mass looking of the other way when it comes to upholding the 1st Amendment when it comes to religion having a place in matters of state.

Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, recently signed off on the law and followed it by stating that the bill was “a powerful testament to Alabamian’s deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

As highlighted in the 1st Amendment, whilst the practice of religion is a personal liberty, it has no place as a governing force within the United States and yet this is being ignored. Donald Trump tweeted a response to the motion in Alabama to criminalise abortion by claiming it as a victory for “pro-life” groups. He also tweeted against Doug Jones in Alabama by using the argument that Jones was Pro-Abortion as a smear tactic.

86% of Alabamians identify as Christians.

Why are proud Americans going against the decisions as outlined by their very constitution? Might it have something to do with the Pledge of Allegiance?

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which is stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The often used phrase; “one Nation under God” was not part of the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954.

The State is flexible and, though sometimes wavering (nothing is perfect), it is the closest thing that we have to a true representation of the people. The State considers many factors such as protecting the rights of victims of rape and incest and the impact on children born into unsuitable and perhaps unloving environments. It also takes into consideration the stages of foetal development and the safe (and unsafe) periods of termination.

The economic benefits cannot be overlooked either.

The abortion law is going to hit low-income families the hardest. This is because a lack of funds meaning that they cannot afford to go across state lines to undergo the procedure elsewhere, unaffordable contraceptive methods and because people in low income areas are more likely to be subject to attacks such as rape.

Raising a child when finances are tight will also be extremely tricky which could result in myriad problems including depression in parents and children, resentment or malnourishment. School lives could be dramatically affected and quality of life for parents, children or families in general could diminish greatly.

The welfare system would then have to intervene, at great cost. Social care would soar as children face difficult upbringings and inhospitable living conditions. Parents, especially mothers, would have to be given extensive counselling to help come to terms with rape and its repercussions or to simply help manage a stressful life brought around by an overabundance of children.

Hospitals would have to increase staff numbers in order to be able to manage anything from kids coming in with scraped knees to vaccinations and that is before we even consider what physical issues children born through incest might have. And then there is of course the problem that women will lose any anonymity that abortion could have provided. Now, with abortion illegal, women will have to continue within their communities with their children as any evidence of past trauma.

Pro-life groups are overwhelmingly religious and use religious doctrine to dictate their actions in choosing to fight abortion, or end it altogether. When religious beliefs start to infringe upon the liberties of others, it is no longer the practice of religious freedom but the imposition of one’s own belief on others. It becomes what the late Christopher Hitchens called; “theocratic bullying.”

As of the date of release, the following states recognise abortion as illegal (in varying degrees):

Utah

Montana

Alabama

Kentucky

Missouri

Ohio

Arkansaw

Arkansas

Georgia

Indiana

Mississippi

Louisiana

North Dakota

Donald Trump arrives in the U.K in the midst of controversy

Donald Trump was in U.K airspace when he tweeted about Mayor of London Sadiq Khan:

Before President Trump landed, LBC’s Rachael Venables spoke to Jeremy Hunt (who was ready at Stansted to greet the president) regarding the tweets. Jeremy Hunt brushed off the behaviour with standard there-or-thereabouts remarks in a bid for democracy. Hunt sided with Trump stating that: “He” (Trump) “has been shown great discourtesy.”

Donald Trump has previously endorsed Boris Johnson for Prime Minister and Nigel Farage to lead Brexit and has recently offered platitudes on the Queens grand-daughter in-law, Meghan Merkel. Despite this, Trump is due to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and have a reception at Buckingham Palace.

Anthropogenic Extinction & Plastic

Last week scientists provided the starkest report yet warning of a man-made extinction level event.

Also known as Anthropogenic or Holocene extinction, the findings give evidence that we are going to see the eradication of 1m species which will have catastrophic effects on food chains and on levels of biodiversity needed to sustain our environment.

From the images we see on our television screens and social media news feeds of animals suffocated by plastic to the air pollution monitoring systems accessible online, we can see almost in real-time the devastating impact that we are having on the planet.

We are not only polluting the atmosphere through the overuse of fossil-fuel-rich sources but we are reducing ground level carbon sinks such as peat bogs and rainforests as cut down trees for commercial purposes, to build roads and for property development. Our effects on the planet are not slight, but monumental in their brevity as reported by Camilla Cavendish in The Financial Times: “Three quarters of the land, two thirds of our oceans and 85% of wetlands have already been altered or lost.”

Despite this information there is not enough being done to combat climate change. In certain areas of society climate change is ignored or described as a “hoax.” Donald Trump has time and again shooed the idea of climate change as a threat by claiming that there is evidence on both sides of the argument or else citing jobs as a reason to ignore climate change action.

The same was recently reiterated by Nigel Farage during an interview with Andrew Marr in which Nigel Farage claimed that he would not pursue climate action because of the loss of “hundreds of thousands” of jobs. This statement either highlights the lack of information that Nigel Farage is privy to regarding the vast scale of employment levels that would be achieved through a green energy market, Nigel’s willingness to overlook the signs of looming devastation in a bid to appeal to fossil-fuel companies like his friend Donald Trump, or perhaps just trying to appeal to the older voters of the U.K who remember with fondness the days of coal mining and oil extraction.

We don’t have the time to entertain regressive energy politics when we are seeing the destruction of 1/8th of the species that inhabit and contribute to our planet’s ecosystem.
Labour have recently announced that (if they were in power) they would D-list companies that do not follow strict environmental procedures. This at least provides incentive to work in a cleaner and more environmental way were Labour not facing embarrassing losses through both local elections and through the upcoming European elections.

Another worrying piece of information was put forward yesterday by television icon and environmentalist, David Attenborough: plastic pollution kills up to 1m people a year in developing countries. The awareness of environmental issues has skyrocketed, especially in the last year, but there is still little being done about it, predominantly by corporations whose products are found floating in waters the world over. While people recycle and do their best to limit water usage and take part in local clean-up operations, there needs to be a movement by corporations to become plastic free.

There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently littering the oceans, as mentioned by the The Ocean Cleanup, an Dutch organisation currently leading the world’s largest ocean plastic removal scheme. Corporations and citizens need to work together to come up with innovative new ways to distribute products whilst eliminating plastics. At present, immediate convenience seems to trump full-scale catastrophe.

Trump and the Environment

Image courtesy of AllVector

President Donald J. Trump is a controversial figure. He faces questions about possible collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, fraud and money laundering. We know for certain that he paid off Stormy Daniels. Bank account transactions and testimony from Trump’s previous confidante are proof to that effect.

The most dangerous aspect of Donald Trump’s presidential cabinet, however, is the absolute refusal to believe that climate change is a danger. Or, in some cases, is even happening.

As written by Simon Johnson in the i newspaper:

“Just 24 hours after the United Nations warned that a million species were at risk from environmentap degradation by humans, the United States has refused to sign an agreement on protecting the Arctic.

“Diplomats said the US objected to wording in the deal that stated climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic. The Trump administration has consistently downplayed or even denied climate change.”

The reason for America’s choice is clear; the melting Arctic ice holds a potential 13% of the planet’s untapped oil.

The Trump Whitehouse is overseeing the abolishment of scientific findings and irrefutable fact. Essentially ignoring common sense.

That being said, the world must pick up the slack in the green energy market. Whilst America tinkles with fossil fuels and sits firmly in a residual industrial phase, a new global player can take the leading position of innovative change.

We can only hope that the recent predictions of a decline in fossil fuels within the next five years is accurate.

The Comedown

Last year I read an article published in the Guardian that warned against coming off anti-depressants without advice from doctors. Doing so could lead to extreme symptoms of (you guessed it) depression, among other things.

The article was not wrong.

Last month I ran out of my anti-depressants and, seeing as my mind is a little slippery sometimes (another side effect of medication), I forgot to replace them. For a week and a half I did not take my prescribed Sertraline and it hit me like a freight train.

I felt tired. So tired. Waking up and getting myself out of bed was a nightmare. When I finally managed to push the covers back and sit up my thoughts came syrupy-slow and I couldn’t make sense of things.

One day I had an interview at 13.00 and yet I could barely stay awake. A woman with fuzzy blonde hair told me all about electronics and home and business instalments and I just nodded and kept pushing myself up in my seat so that I didn’t fall asleep.

She showed me around the building and I asked some blurry questions. When I left I breathed a sigh of relief, got home and fell asleep on the couch. I have never known tiredness like it.

I felt more depressed. Thoughts of doing things that mattered like housework were met with myriad what’sthepoint?aries. Excuses were easier to make up than actually getting up.

In contrast to this I would have periods of highs where I could clean the house, perform woodwork, write a blog and job hunt for hours. My heart raced. I was plagued with bouts of tunnel-vision and then I would fall asleep as quickly as a switch had been flicked.

Had I been in more dire circumstances I sincerely believe that, without other medication placating erratic thoughts, I would have been close to spiralling again.

The message is clear; best not to come off meds without consultation.