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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [http://www.monbiot.com/2015/06/23/curb-your-malthusiasm/ Curb Your Malthusiasm]</center> ===
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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/06/the-mind-hackers/// Owned]</center> ===
<center><span style="color:grey">Vilification of the unemployed as scroungers and skivers has a long and grisly heritage</span></center>
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<center><span style="color:grey">As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.</span></center>
  
23rd June 2015
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8th July 2019
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All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.
  
Kindness is cruelty; cruelty is kindness: this is the core belief of compassionate conservatism. If the state makes excessive provision for the poor, it traps them in a culture of dependency, destroying their self-respect, locking them into unemployment. Cuts and coercion are a moral duty, to be pursued with the holy fervour of Inquisitors overseeing an auto da fé.
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So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.
  
This belief persists despite reams of countervailing evidence, showing that [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/27/david-cameron-cutting-benefits-cap-britain-work severity does nothing to cure] the structural causes of unemployment. In Britain it is used to justify a £12 billion reduction of a social security system already so harsh that it drives some recipients to suicide. The belief arises from a deep and dearly-held fallacy, that has persisted for over 200 years.
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They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.
  
Poverty was once widely understood as a social condition: it described the fate of those who did not possess property. England’s Old Poor Law, introduced in 1597 and 1601, had its own cruelties, some of which were extreme. But as the US academics Fred Block and Margaret Somers explain in their fascinating book [http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674050716 The Power of Market Fundamentalism], those who implemented it seemed to recognise that occasional unemployment was an intrinsic feature of working life.
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It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called [https://landforthemany.uk Land for the Many.] It proposed [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/tackle-inequality-land-ownership-laws a set of policies] that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.
  
But in 1786, as economic crises threw rising numbers onto the mercy of their parishes, the clergyman Joseph Townsend sought to recast poverty as a moral or even biological condition. “The poor know little of the motives which stimulate the higher ranks to action – pride, honour, and ambition”, he argued in his [https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=x05aVYLp8HAC&pg=PA85&lpg=PA85&dq=Dissertation+on+the+Poor+Laws&source=bl&ots=Fd6qR3d7w3&sig=hg8M7I14sl4GXqvIOWKnE6ou1ME&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JGKJVZPENob-UouolYAJ&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=Dissertation%20on%20the%20Poor%20Laws&f=false Dissertation on the Poor Laws]. “In general it is only hunger which can spur and goad them onto labour; yet our laws have said, they shall never hunger.
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Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7171049/Report-lays-Corbyns-proposal-grab-inheritances-tax-profits-family-house-sales.html A week ago], the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/06/23/labours-wealth-grab-would-iniquitous-country/ the Telegraph explained], that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.
  
Thomas Malthus expands on this theme in his [http://www.esp.org/books/malthus/population/malthus.pdf Essay on the Principle of Population], published in 1798. Poor relief, he maintained, causes poverty. It destroys the work ethic, reducing productivity. It also creates an incentive to reproduce, as payments rise with every family member. The higher the population, the hungrier the poor became: kindness resulted in cruelty.
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But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.
  
Poverty, he argued, should be tackled through shame (“dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful”) and the withdrawal of assistance from all able-bodied workers. Nature should be allowed to take its course: if people were left to starve to death, the balance between population and food supply would be restored. Malthus ignored the means by which people limit their reproduction or increase their food supply, characterising the poor, in effect, as unthinking beasts.
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There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7105601/James-Brokenshire-blasts-Labours-planned-tax-raid.html “an extra £374 a year] on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.
  
His argument was highly controversial, but support grew rapidly among the propertied classes. In 1832, the franchise was extended to include more property owners: in other words, those who paid the poor rate. The poor, of course, were not entitled to vote. In the same year, the government launched a [http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/19thcentury/overview/poorlaw/ Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws].
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The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.
  
Like Malthus, the commissioners blamed the problems of the rural poor not on structural factors but on immorality, improvidence and low productivity, all caused by the system of poor relief, which had “[https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-79PAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71&dq=“educated+a+new+generation+in+idleness,+ignorance+and+dishonesty%22&source=bl&ots=OXqRqxu0Fp&sig=gCuTaEIHhTeeaPYSP4m-h_fVrHc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DmOJVdXzCcb_UM-RgZgE&ved=0CC4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=“educated%20a%20new%20generation%20in%20idleness%2C%20ignorance%20and%20dishonesty%22&f=false educated a new generation in idleness, ignorance and dishonesty]”. It called for the abolition of “outdoor relief” for able-bodied people. Help should be offered only in circumstances so shameful, degrading and punitive that anyone would seek to avoid them: namely the workhouse. The government responded with the [http://www.workhouses.org.uk/poorlaws/1834act.shtml 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act], which instituted, for the sake of the poor, a regime of the utmost cruelty. Destitute families were broken up and, in effect, imprisoned.
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We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.
  
The commission was a fraud. It began with fixed conclusions and sought evidence to support them. Its interviews were conducted with like-minded members of the propertied classes, who were helped towards the right replies with leading questions. Anecdote took the place of data.
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It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.
  
In reality, poverty in the countryside had risen as a result of structural forces over which the poor had no control. After the Napoleonic wars, the price of wheat slumped, triggering the collapse of rural banks and a severe credit crunch. Swayed by the arguments of David Ricardo, the government re-established the gold standard, that locked in austerity and aggravated hardship, much as George Osborne’s legal enforcement of [http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/12/academics-attack-george-osborne-budget-surplus-proposal a permanent budget surplus will do]. Threshing machines reduced the need for labour in the autumn and winter, when employment was most precarious. Cottage industries were undercut by urban factories, while enclosure prevented the poor from producing their own food.
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The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.
  
Far from undermining employment, poor relief sustained rural workers during the winter months, ensuring that they remained available for hire when they were needed by farms in the spring and summer. By contrast to the loss of agricultural productivity that Malthus predicted and the commission reported, between 1790 and 1834 [http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674050716 wheat production more than doubled].
 
 
As Block and Somers point out, the rise in unemployment and extreme poverty in the 1820s and 1830s represented the first great failure of Ricardian, laissez-faire economics. But Malthus’s doctrines allowed this failure to be imputed to something quite different: the turpitude of the poor. Macroeconomic policy mistakes were blamed on the victims. Does that sound familiar?
 
 
This helps to explain the persistence of the fallacy. Those who promoted laissez-faire economics required an explanation when the magic of the markets failed to deliver their promised utopia. Malthus gave them the answer they needed.
 
 
And still does. People are poor and unemployed, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith [http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/comment/article1571391.ece claimed in this week’s Sunday Times], because of “the damaging culture of welfare dependency”. Earlier this month, Duncan Smith, in a burst of Malthusiasm, sought to [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/01/downing-street-rejects-iain-duncan-smith-plan-for-new-limit-on-child-benefit restrict child benefit to two children per family], to discourage the poor from reproducing. A new [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-dwp-is-trying-to-psychologically-reprogramme-the-unemployed-study-finds-10312838.html analysis by the Wellcome Trust] suggests that the government, which is about to place 350 psychologists in job centres, now treats unemployment as a mental health disorder.
 
 
The media’s campaign of vilification associates social security with disgrace, and proposes even more humiliation, exhortation, intrusion, bullying and sanctions. This Thursday, the new household income figures are [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/20/child-poverty-rise-uk-halts-progress-charities-claim likely to show a sharp rise in child poverty], after sustained reductions under the Labour government. Doubtless the poor will be blamed for improvidence and feckless procreation, and urged to overcome their moral failings through aspiration.
 
 
For 230 years, this convenient myth has resisted all falsification. Expect that to persist.
 
 
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
  
 
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Featured article(s)

Boris Johnson

George Monbiot: Owned

As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.

8th July 2019

All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.

So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.

They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.

It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called Land for the Many. It proposed a set of policies that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.

Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. A week ago, the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, the Telegraph explained, that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.

But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.

There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add “an extra £374 a year on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.

The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.

We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.

It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.

The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.

©www.monbiot.com

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