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Let them eat equality

The idea that there is a fixed amount of wealth is a pessimistic fallacy held by cod economists. The idea that there is a fixed amount of stupidity is an optimistic fallacy held by cod psychologists. New forms of stupidity are being generated all the time; and this process is not the least hampered by old forms of stupidity continuing to flourish and even spring up anew in places from which naive observers had thought that particular species of stupidity had been eradicated.

The Guardian newspaper is a sort of Rare Breed Survival Trust for economic and political stupidity. It works to secure the continued existence and viability of endangered falsehoods. Heartwarmingly, its labours often meet with success and stupid ideas once considered moribund can thrive again. Not thrive in terms of achieving anything worthwhile, of course, because the ideas concerned are stupid, but in terms of being loved.

Let’s look at a case study of a fallacy brought back from the brink of extinction to flourish once again in the pages of the Guardian. I refer you to an article by Zoe Williams entitled “Poverty goals? No, it’s extreme wealth we should be targeting”.

Furthermore, as Martin Kirk from the activist network the Rules pointed out, all the language of sustainable goals frames poverty as a disease: eradicable, no match for the ingenuity of mankind, but fundamentally nobody’s fault. It is a landscape where everyone’s a hero and nobody’s a villain; one in which unfair trade agreements, land grabs, structural debt relations, privatisation of publicly owned utilities and tax evasion never happened.

Poverty is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created though wealth extraction. Any goal that fails to recognise this is not only unlikely to succeed, but can only be understood as a deliberate act of diversion, drawing attention away from what might work; in its place, the anodyne, fairytale language of hope, in a post-ideological world where all politicians just want what’s best and a billionaire is just a benefactor you haven’t met yet.

39 comments to Let them eat equality

  • “The Guardian newspaper is a sort of Rare Breed Survival Trust for economic and political stupidity. It works to secure the continued existence and viability of endangered falsehoods. Heartwarmingly, its labours often meet with success and stupid ideas once considered moribund can thrive again”

    I foresee this gleaming gem being recycled as a SQOTD 😉

  • Runcie Balspune

    The fallacy relies on the redefinition of “poverty” to mean “relative wealth”, in this sense the second extracted paragraph is correct. But in relative terms, poverty is meaningless, in a world where everyone has two mansions, the man with only one mansion is “poor”.

    Poverty in absolute terms, i.e the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money (Wikipedia), can be “natural”, is not necessarily “anthropogenically created”, and if it is, it can be though one’s own activities rather than others, so the second paragraph is b*ll*cks.

  • Patrick Crozier

    “The Guardian newspaper is a sort of Rare Breed Survival Trust for economic and political stupidity.”


  • Stonyground

    “Poverty is not a naturally occurring germ or virus;”

    Not a germ or virus no, but certainly it is naturally occurring. Poverty would be our natural state if we didn’t do any productive work in order to create stuff.

  • Slartibartfarst

    To be fair, “Poverty” is in fact defined as a disease, in the W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) list of diseases, where, for many years it has resided with the number Z59.5
    The publication: World Health Report 1995, section “The
    state of world health” – executive summary focused on this, but of course the focus unfortunately seemed to shift to something a little less challenging for each of the years after that.

    Regardless, @Runcie Balspune probably has it about right where he describes the Marxist mantra quoted as “b*ll*cks”.

  • CaptDMO

    OK, here ya’ go…
    Baptists and bootleggers.
    One of my favorites comes from divorce courts (sometimes called “family law”) with “special” rules.
    It involves “awards” (para) “… in the lifestyle to which they (read:she) have become accustomed”

  • Watchman

    I would actually argue that poverty is anthropogenic too, as if human’s didn’t define it, it wouldn’t exist.

    But I am not sure Ms Williams really understands the importance of that – we have invented a concept that shows we are worried by the idea and reality that the concept conveys, which we call poverty. If we were not concerned by poverty, the word would not exist as we would not have needed to invent it. As with many socialists, a political philosophy that ironically believes the study of language is valuable in aiding their cause, Ms Williams fails rather neatly to understand that humans are social animals that care, and that we worry about poverty.

    Mind you, individually I worry about the stupidity of anyone who thinks poverty is increased by trade and decreased by preserving peasant working conditions.

  • Rob Fisher

    Poverty is created by wealth extraction. Wow. That’s my new favourite stupid sentence.

  • Laird

    Perry, that was my first thought, too.

    “Poverty is not a naturally occurring germ or virus.” Nonsense on stilts. Abject poverty is the default state of mankind, and has been throughout history (and preceding it as well). It is only in the last hundred years or so, when the benefits of the industrial revolution and (relatively) free trade began to seep into all corners of the western world, that we have basically eliminated it. But Zoe Williams wants to return us to that state. What a moron.

    With regard to the idea of a “rare breed survival trust for economic and political stupidity”, I would nominate the writings of J.M. Keynes as one of the first such specimens. His “General Theory” is a collection of long-discredited pseudo-economic notions resurrected from the dustbin of economic history, cobbled together into an incoherent and internally inconsistent mélange of quackery. It is no wonder that he is celebrated by the denizens of The Guardian.

  • Zoe Williams writes, as emphasised just above by Rob:

    Poverty is created by wealth extraction.

    She is wrong; poverty is created by wealth.

    And her problem is that to do away with poverty, she wants to do away with its solution/opposite/whatever!

    Best regards

  • Dgarsys

    I’m stealing that one, Runcie…. “in a world where everyone has two mansions, the man with only one mansion is ‘poor'”

  • Mr Ed

    So when will they overtly move on to say that illness is caused by health? Inequalities in health, not related to economic factors, must be tackled, with excesses of health exposed and removed.

    (Hence the NHS, but that’s another story).

  • Re: “extreme wealth”

    The first question to be begged is: “And who decides what constitutes ‘extreme‘ wealth?”

    Like the man said: pay no attention to what lines are being drawn; pay attention instead to who wants to draw them.

  • Jerry

    Runcie said it more eloquently than I but ANYTHING ranked vertically
    ( smallest to largest, worst to best, dimmest to brightest ) will have an entry at the bottom !
    This looks like a brand new shiny wrapper for the same old turd !

  • Patrick Crozier

    Birth creates poverty.

  • RRS

    Well, let’s begin by noting that the wordsmiths who purport to be the public intellectuals of our day (those located on the Gdjn anyway) do not read what their “others” have writ.

    Had this Williams intellect read the reports and commentary therein on the Nobel award to Angus Deaton?

    More soon.

  • RRS

    There was a conference in Washington, D.C. in June 2014, which produced the following dicta and immediate response:

    Catholic social teaching, calls for “dealing with the structural causes of poverty and injustice.”

    “. . . the elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed.” Cardinal Maradiaga, at the Catholic conference, “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism.” (6/3/2014) Washington, D.C.


    There are no “structural causes for poverty.”
    “Poverty,” mere subsistence or less, even the failures of subsistence have been the beginning and end of much of human existence and experience. It has always been the beginning.

    Sufficiency, which is the displacement of mere subsistence and of poverty, has been accomplished through human interactions with one another and their surroundings.

    Where the conditions for those interactions have been optimal and occurred in the greatest conditions of freedom, abundance has accompanied sufficiency.

    History is replete with examples of “structural obstacles” that have limited those conditions of freedom of interactions which could produce the sufficiency to displace poverty. They are with us everywhere today.

    The “urgency” is to remove the structural obstacles to freedom of human interactions, without political direction or ideological determinations, before mankind’s faith in its given nature to produce sufficiency is further weakened, requiring longer and harder efforts to regain the power of that nature.

    That response still stands and is offered to to those “public intellectuals” who write so knowingly on “Poverty.”

  • gongcult

    Anthropolligally generated wealth extraction has always been the effect and usually the raison d’street of the state. Cause we can’t have the free market generating wealth -not everyone will be wealthy under capitalism. But there will be billions less of people living in poverty. Think of it, with all the varieties of (H) u man (A) cation the capitalist endeavor is the only one that does the most good-however you define good. (Couldn’t resist adding the allusion to Mises…)

  • gongcult

    That should be raison d’ etre !

  • gongcult

    That should also be “anthropologically”.

  • Laird

    RRS, I would expect even a Cardinal to be familiar with Mark 14:7 (“For ye have the poor with you always“).

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    In a world where every person has 2 mansions, you could never find a person with only one mansion! Everyone else failed the IQ test! Look up oxymoron. Redo test.

  • Eric

    Poverty is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created though wealth extraction.

    Good lord. Apparently it’s just like strip mining, and has nothing to do with people trading their labor for goods and services they need.

  • gongcult

    Hi Eric.
    the funny thing is that the toxins, detritus and waste -tailongs of strip mines won’t last as long as the residues of the progressivist welfare state.because physical shit is less resilient than intellectual bullshit.

  • Paul Marks

    The Canadian “liberals” has just won the election by promising more taxation (of “the rich”) and government spending (for “the poor”).

    And Mrs Hillary Clinton is doing rather well in the polls in America – promising the same thing.

    So the idea that the Guardian newspaper represents a small outdates opinion is, sadly, false.

    The evil (and it is evil) that the Guardian newspaper represents is very much the mainstream view in the modern world.

    I wish it were not so – but it is so.

  • PeterT

    For people with nothing to add to the economy the zero sum fallacy is a very useful way of maintaining their sense of self worth.

    To them I would only say: “I know that I have done very little for my fellow man compared to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and the vast fortunes they built up is evidence of that, but I also know that I am better person than you”

  • RRS

    @ Laird

    “Familiarity, ” even that of Princes of the Church, perhaps even moreso with them, as with many “intellectuals” breeds “interpretation.”

  • diogenese2

    Mr Ed; “inequalities in health…..must be tackled with excesses of health exposed and removed”. This change took place 15 years ago when the local NHS budget was determine by the Jarman index. The objective was to adjust the inequality of health outcomes in respect of “social class”. The problem was that. within the mountain of data the NHS collects about individual patient, no indicator of “class” or “income” is recorded (in fact it is strictly forbidden). So, in addressing “health inequalities” the NHS must resort to the Jarman Index, only applicable to a LA “ward” (which is greater than a postcode) to address the issue. When you hear the phrase “post code lottery” it is, in fact, fundamental to the entire NHS dominant philosophy.

  • diogenese2

    PS Zoe is perfectly corrected in pointing to the absolute contradiction between the goals for “development” and those for “climate change”, it just that she incapable of comprehending the implications of this.

  • Phil B

    I never realised that assets (goods, money etc.) were a fixed and immutable quantity.

    I’m living in a three bedroom house with electricity, working plumbing and heating which did not exist 20 years ago.

    Therefore it MUST have been stolen by evil capitalists from somewhere else.

    No wonder people in Africa live in grass and mud huts. It MUST have been stolen from them… or something.

  • Julie near Chicago

    A propos of Paul’s observation, an acquaintance of mine here in (unusually, for the season) sunny Illinois, and a generally bright fellow, informed me recently that, “let’s face it, Illinois is going to have to raise taxes to get us out of the mess our economy is in.”

    Nigel, nice piece by Mr. Hannan, thanks.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Julie, to give your acquaintance a cheap laugh, why not ask what would happen if taxes were lowered and laws repealed? Would people go mad if they had more money than they knew what to do with? Still, what good can come from a state that starts of ILL, as in ILLinois? Name-determinism, anyone?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas, what a low blow! You have ruined my mental image of my beautiful state (and it IS beautiful, not even the Chicago Dem Machine can change that) forever!

    I can just see the look of puzzlement on his face. Tell you what, Andy, why don’t you magnetate on over here and YOU tell him, while I watch. He even volunteered the info that he voted for the Incumbent. Lucky for him he was driving! :>)! And too bad the Tea Party Express bumper sticker fell off a couple of years ago. At least I still have “Time for Concealed Carry in Illinois” adorning my bumper. (Too bad I don’t have the hardware to back it up. 🙁 )

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Phil B, not that I disagree with your main point but I’d also like to observe that people in Africa are fast moving up from the grass and mud huts. As many of the Guardian comments* to Zoe Williams’ article point out, thanks to the capitalism she so reviles in recent decades the proportion of humanity living in absolute poverty has steeply declined. I guess the many Africans moving into their new poured concrete houses which are basic by our standards but, crucially for public health, have sewerage and running water, must have stolen their increasing wealth from… someone or other.

    *As regular readers of the Grauniad will know, the regular commenters there are not monolithically left wing.

  • Richard Thomas


    Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.”

    — R.A.Heinlein

  • Phil B

    @ Natalie

    (Switch sarcasm on)

    But … but … if there is a FIXED amount of wealth in the entire world, in the universe, in space, then if someone improves their wealth and material wellbeing it MUST be at the expense of someone else, surely?

    So if Africans are improving their lot, it MUST be because they are stealing it from someone else … Papuan, New Guinea people, for instance …

    (Switch sarcasm off)

    Dear God. The World NEEDS a sarcasm font, eh?

    Yes – capitalism has raised more people out of a miserable existence and given them comforts, goods and services undreamed about by Nero or any Medieval despot but the idiots that want to “bring the system down” are pure evil and malicious to want to inflict the miseries that this will bring on other people. A lead injection into the right ear at 1200 feet per second is the only cure for such congenital stupidity.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie “we are going to have to raise taxes to get the economy out of the mess it is in”.

    A person who says that is indeed a nightmare.

    It reminds me of the late G. Howe (Chancellor of the United Kingdom 1979 to 1983).

    I was not going to comment on this man when he died – but all the praise he got (and all the attacks on Mrs Thatcher, also dead, for “bad treatment” of the person) angered me.

    G. Howe reaction to the economic situation of 1979 was as you describe.

    He inherited high taxes – and increased them more, for example near doubling sales tax (8% to 15%). He increased general taxation far more than he cut some taxes.

    On government spending G. Howe took the outgoing Labour government’s spending promises, on pay and so on, and “honoured” them – as if Labour had won the election.

    The result?

    Three million unemployed and the worst recession in the Western world.

    One of the little business enterprises destroyed by Mr Howe’s antics was the shop my parents ran.

    I hated that fake “free market” man with a passion – but, I repeat, I would have kept silent had his supporters kept off politics when he died.

    Had they just said “good husband and father” I would have kept silent – but the political praise, and the attacks on opponents, was too much.

    Nor did G. Howe stop in 1983.

    In his new job (Foreign Secretary) he supported the “Single European Act” of 1986 – a tidal wave of regulations, see the works of Christopher Booker on this.

    And then there was the “ERM” – the rigging of exchange rates by the European Union. Sadly also supported by Nigel Lawson – who should have known better.

    This led to the massive British boom-BUST of the late 1980s.

    Then there was the final betrayal in 1990.

    A total scumbag.

    A bit like the people who are calling for higher taxes to “save the economy” in Illinois.

  • JohnW

    Yaron Brook “Equal is Unfair” lecture at Exeter Uni yesterday…”Any employer who hires you is making a profit from you. They wouldn’t hire you otherwise.”