I don’t want to lift children out of poverty

I’ve been thinking more about how we frame our messages this election year, and I’ve realised something pretty significant.

I don’t want to lift children out of poverty.

Because poverty isn’t a hole in the ground, which a few errant kids fell into by accident. Why weren’t they watching where they were going? Can’t they just get themselves out again?

Where did that hole even come from? It’s been there forever. Hell, we put up signs to warn people – “Stay in school!” “Don’t do drugs!” “This way to the free CV-writing seminar!”

If some kids are going to be reckless and fall into the poverty hole, why should my taxpayer dollars pay for a rope to get them out?

It’s not my hole. I was smart enough to stay out of it. My parents don’t live anywhere near that hole. Why should stupid kids who jumped in get a free hand up? They’ll just jumping in again, because we haven’t made them face the consequences of their actions.

I don’t want to lift children out of poverty, because they’re not in there alone. Of course we don’t really blame them for being in the hole. But their parents? They’re adults. They should have known better. Why on earth were they wandering around a hole, with kids no less?

Some of them even have more children in the hole. We can’t reward that kind of irresponsible behaviour!

What if poverty wasn’t a hole in the ground?

What if we talked about poverty as violence. Not inevitable. Not accidental. A deliberate act, committed by human beings who hurt others for their own gain.

What if we talked about poverty as a scam. Greedy con artists stacking the deck in their own favour and stealing everyone else’s cards.

In either case, it’s a choice they’ve made, to profit and rule by robbig other people of options. Offering nothing but starvation wages and windowless garages to live in.

What if we talked about poverty as a wall. Something built by people – CEOs, rightwing politicians, the 1% – to trap everyone else and deny us freedom to live our lives.

What if we said: those people demolished the things we built together – state housing, social welfare, health, education – and used the rubble to block our path.

What if we said: we’re going to tear that wall down, all of us, together.

(What if we realised there isn’t one wall, there are multiple walls, and some people have more than one standing in their way, and we have a moral duty to destroy every single one of them, not just the ones that affect us personally?)

I don’t want to lift children out of poverty. Because I will not treat the deliberately-created, wilfully-engineered exploitation of other human beings as a natural phenomenon. A blameless boo-boo. An opportunity for abstract debate about whether the role of government is to throw a rope down or tell them to pull themselves out of the mess they got themselves into.

I want us to disarm the people who are hurting children by forcing them and their families to be poor. I want us to expose the fraud. I want us to break down the walls of poverty which have been constructed so a greedy few can hoard the profits of others’ labour.

We cannot offer solutions without naming the problem. But we’ve got it all backwards.

The problem isn’t poverty. It’s greed.

The villains aren’t the stupid people who jumped down the poverty hole. It’s the greedy. The rich. The neoliberal mad scientists who created poverty in a lab and sent it out on a dark and stormy night to menace innocent villagers.

The solution isn’t lifting children out of poverty. It’s tearing poverty down.

The right don’t want to have this conversation. They are very happy for us to keep talking about poverty as an abstract phenomenon. They love how much time we spend trying to nail them down to one specific, simple, objective measurement of poverty. They want us to keep saying poverty is a hole, so they can keep saying that it’s not the government’s job to give people free rope to climb out of it.

So let’s stop playing their game.

Make the bludgers pay their fair share

Few things in this world make me eyeroll as strongly as the quibblers who jump up whenever you point out the discrepancy between the amount of money lost to benefit fraud – which our government pursues like a greyhound hopped up on E – and the amount lost to tax evasion – which isn’t nearly such a big deal, unless you’re a tradie, in which case you get doomsday language like “HIDDEN ECONOMY” slapped on you.

“But it’s different!” the quibblers cry. “Tax evasion is legal!”

As though “legal” is the same as “ethical”.

As though this doesn’t just prove how strongly the system is rigged – as though the loopholes aren’t there for a reason. As though the grey areas just evolved naturally.

As though all those just-legal-enough mechanisms are coincidentally only accessible to the people who are already wealthy.

As though the way we talk about tax and welfare aren’t designed to make this all seem okay.

That’s why I got a bit cheeky in the title of this post. When you saw it, who did you think I was talking about? Who do we usually frame as “bludgers”, and who do we usually assume isn’t paying their “fair share”? When politicians talk about people “taking responsibility”, do they mean the people with money? Or the people without?

Here’s the radical idea. Tax isn’t a burden. It’s one of the contributions we all make (yes, including people on state benefits) towards maintaining our society. Towards having strong infrastructure and free healthcare and education and a social safety net for people who need it.

The right like to scream and moan about the wealthiest 15% paying 75% of taxes – but it’s rubbish. What they love to avoid mentioning is that 1% of people in this country own 16% of everything while 50% of people own 5% – and they’d die before acknowledging that the 50% are the ones doing the actual work, while the 1% drain off the profits like leeches.

When it comes to lamenting the poor little rich boy who has to pay tax, there’s plenty of numbers and statistics to justify the status quo. When you ask the government how many kids they are letting go hungry because there aren’t enough jobs for their parents, and the jobs that do exist are paid poverty wages – oh no, that’s too difficult to measure, they say, we can’t do anything about that.

The truth is this. The rich aren’t paying their fair share to keep our country running. And even if they stopped using their wealth and power to dodge the spirit of tax law, if not the letter, they still wouldn’t be paying their fair share, because the tax system has been set up to benefit them.

This is a conversation the left desperately need to stop running away from, especially if we keep letting the first question for any progressive policy be “but what will it cost?”

Let’s just stand up and say it. Yes. It will cost a hell of a lot to institute a universal basic income, or raise benefits to a survivable level, or rebuild our health system. But we won’t be paying for it – those dickheads over there, who have been bludging off other people’s hard work and living the high life through fancy accounting tricks will. Because for too long they’ve dodged paying their fair share and it’s time they took some responsibility.

Let’s stop the bludging. The filthy rich have spent decades stockpiling the wealth other people worked to create, exploiting our country’s social support systems to enrich themselves. It’s their turn to pay the price for a strong, healthy democratic society. They won’t be impoverished by having to sell off one of their yachts or settling for just two investment properties. And they’ll benefit, as they always have done, from being able to do business in a country of healthy, educated, happy, productive people.

It’s really that easy. We just have to change the conversation.

Bold politics: redefining a good business model

I’m slightly in love with this idea of Jeremy Corbyn’s: to stop companies paying dividends until they pay the people who work for them a living wage. He said in a speech to the Fabian Society on Saturday:

Only profitable employers will be paying dividends, if they depend on cheap labour for those profits then I think there is a question over whether that is a business model to which we should be turning a blind eye.

By “slightly in love” I mean I cackled for a good five minutes after reading it because it’s so beautiful, righteous, and utterly outraging to the anti-Corbyn folk who have so desperately tried to get him to back down from his principles. This is not a guy who’s worried about being called “hard left” or “socialist”.

jeremy corbyn gives you the eye

It’s a serious proposition, though. It challenges our ideas of how businesses should operate – ideas which we tend to take for granted.

We know what a “good business” is meant to look like. It must be profitable! And efficient! And innovative! And of course it must “value” its employees – by giving them their own nametags or buying them Christmas hampers or talking a lot about just how much you value them. Even the second-most-horrible employer would agree that having happy employees/staff/associates/~partners~ is important to the success of your business.

(The most horrible employer is the Talley family, who think workers should be grateful to be fired for wearing green t-shirts. There’s always an exception that proves the rule, etc.)

We often talk about profit as though it’s the single most important measurement of a company’s success – but profit doesn’t trump everything.

britney serious

We don’t say “you only need to implement basic food hygiene after you become profitable.” We don’t say “accuracy in advertising is only required once you’re making money.” We understand the need for common-sense minimum standards in business.

If a CEO stood up and said “Look, our business model just wouldn’t be profitable if we had to ensure there wasn’t fecal matter in the ground beef” we would say “Your business model is broken.”

If a Director of Corporate Social Responsibility stood up and said “Our business model isn’t sustainable if we have to stop pumping raw sewage into the harbour” we would say “Your business model is both literally and figuratively shit.”

We already accept the idea of a minimum mandated wage for people who work. So why not stand up and say, “if you can’t afford to pay the people who do your work enough to live on, your business model is broken”?

Of course there’ll be pushback. Of course there’ll be resistance. And the people opposing us will have larger media platforms and greater influence and more money to throw into advertising and astroturf.

But that’s nothing we haven’t overcome before. That’s pretty much the entire story of the labour movement and the entire reason we have Labour Parties across the world.

This is the kind of idea which ticks all the boxes. It just makes sense. It challenges the rich and powerful who get whacking great payrises while the people who do the work struggle.

It’s the right thing to do. And taking a stand when it’s the right thing to do is how you win progressive causes. Isn’t it?

Mhairi Black: I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy

My first speech of the week post was also a Mhairi Black one, so perhaps I should just have a “Badass Things Mhairi Black Said This Week” tag …

“I often find myself looking across that chamber at the Tory MPs and I think ‘are you so genuinely out of touch that you can’t see the damage you are doing’.

“Either way I am tired of being lectured by Tories as to why austerity is essential, why these welfare reforms – in fact they’re not reforms, they’re cuts – are essential. I’m tired of being told pensioners cost too much, I’m tired of our young people being told they’re not good enough, I’m tired of immigrants being scapegoated for the mistakes of bankers and politicians.

“I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy, for a long term economic plan.”

There could be a strategic opportunity here for UK Labour. The right, throughout Anglo countries, has dragged the political conversation in their direction, defining “common sense” or “the centre” more and more in their own terms. It leaves the big parties on the left chasing after them, crying “we’ll be fiscally responsible too!” or “we’re even better at delivering surpluses than they are!”

The big-party right (cough, National, cough) has often done it by having a more-extreme group on their flank (cough, ACT, cough). It makes them sound far more reasonable and measured when they say “well look, we’re not going to privatise all the schools/sell all the assets/eliminate all forms of taxation like those people want to, we’re finding the middle ground.” Even when the middle ground is a neoliberal wet dream.

With the SNP in a strong position and people like Mhairi Black speaking some damn fine truth to power, UK Labour has a readymade, strong left flank. Corbyn is being painted as an absurd extremist, with the kind of labels the right (and his own “centrist” colleagues) hope will distract voting people from the fact that most of the policies he supports are incredibly popular ones. The SNP, who are unafraid of saying radical things like “your welfare reforms are cuts, stop playing” and are frighteningly, well, Scottish, can be a fixed point to Corbyn’s left – a concrete bit of evidence he isn’t the resurrection of Lenin.

They can’t start in Scotland, of course. The worst thing Labour could do is run around undermining its natural allies by talking to their voters about how scary and extreme they are. They need to show the people who’ve been voting Tory for the last few elections that they can have stable, safe government and not sell off the NHS.

That’s how the left redefines the middle ground: by showing there isn’t just an alternative, there are multiple alternatives. Give people options and say, pick the one which matches your current comfort level. And move from there, leftwards.

Transcript via The Scotsman.

Older white men paid double young ethnic women

That’s not my headline. That’s Stuff’s business section’s headline.

Middle-aged white men might be sick of being cast as villains, but a report suggests they should check their privilege.

And that’s not my first sentence, that’s business reporter Richard Meadows’ first sentence.

I’m going to try to not just copy-paste the entire article – because it’s all good and it’s all quoteable – but seriously:

Young Middle Eastern and African women are at the bottom of the heap, with median pay of just $14.75 an hour, on par with the minimum wage.

At the other end of the spectrum, white men aged 45-64 command top dollar, earning a median hourly rate of $28.77.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue said it was only fair that wages should increase with time and experience.

These are the kinds of statements which normally get sneered at – when it’s Social Justice Warriors making them. There are cries of “ew, politics of envy!” and “that’s just because you all go off and have babies!” and “just upskill if you don’t want to flip burgers your whole life!!!”

Sorry, dudes: pay discrimination is a real, documented, mainstream idea.

The Human Rights Commission’s interactive Tracking Equality at Work tool is amazing, and I strongly encourage having a look – especially if you still want to pretend that we’re all living on an even playing field.

The only way to ignore these statistics and pretend they don’t matter is to openly admit that you really do believe that women, people of colour, and people with disabilities “just aren’t trying hard enough” and somehow “deserve” to be paid less, hired less, and promoted less.

Statement of the bloody obvious: of course different types of work and different levels of “skill” are always going to be paid differently in the economic system we currently have.

Other statement of the bloody obvious: but that cannot justify the widespread discrimination and disadvantage which is playing out in workers’ lives every day. It cannot justify paying women like Kristine Bartlett, with 23 years’ experience caring for elderly people in rest homes, $14.46 an hour.

If we took a serious look at the “value” produced by low-paid workers – the people feeding us, caring for us, keeping our workplaces and public spaces tidy and hygienic – we could not condone the miserable wages they are paid. We would not write off their jobs as “unskilled” or “women’s work”.

But the first step is admitting there’s a problem. And when it’s right there in black-and-white on a major news site – even listed as an “editor’s pick” on the front page – I think we’re ready, as a society, to take that step.