Sunday, February 14, 2016

Migrant Myths 2 : The "Flood" of migrants and refugees to the EU and UK - There isn't one, but if Syrian refugees continue to be left to starve there soon will be

Summary: While there is a lot of talk of a “flood” of refugees to the EU or a “migrant crisis” the numbers involved are pretty small compared to the population, size and wealth of the EU – around 0.6% of the existing EU population in 2015 for instance. (This figure includes all migrants estimated by the EU border force Frontex to have entered undetected, and of all nationalities). More a growing trickle than a flood.

The proportion of these coming to the UK is even smaller as the UK gets less than 5% of asylum applications to EU countries. Ninety-five per cent of Syrian refugees are in Syria and neighbouring countries.

The real crisis is for countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Jordan, for instance, a country the size of Cornwall and much poorer than the UK , has about 1.2 million Syrians, an increase in its population since 2011 of 25%.

The widespread reports that the richer Arab Gulf states have taken in no Syrians are also false. In fact they have taken in about 1.3 million Syrians and in Saudi’s case given them rights to free education and healthcare, but as they are not signatories to the 1951 UN refugee convention, none are reported in UN statistics as refugees.

Since Saudi for instance has an extreme version of Sharia law, and oppresses non-Sunni Muslims, many Syrian refugees – who include Christians, Shia, Alawites and secular or moderate Sunnis, as well as non-Arab Kurds, will not want to live there either.

Many of the Syrian refugees in countries bordering Syria are receiving no food aid or medical treatment or education for their children, because wealthier countries have not donated enough to the UN to pay for this.

The £1.3 billion over 4 years that the British government boasts about having given to refugees is about £400 million a year out of annual public spending of around £700 billion. It is only “generous” compared to the even smaller amounts given by other countries. Its latest pledge only increases this to around £500 million a year (around 0.07% of the UK’s annual public spending).

Unless EU governments , the US and the Gulf states donate a lot more money to the UN to feed Syrian refugees , there really will be a flood of them into Europe soon – especially with the governments of countries neighbouring Syria having started deportations of Syrians, and the Turkish government’s restarting of its war with Turkish Kurdish separatists, which makes Turkey even less safe for Syrian Kurd refugees.

A flood of migrants and refugees to the EU and UK?


Only 5% of Syrian refugees have been taken in so far by countries outside the Middle East. The other 95% are in Syria itself (about 18 million internally displace people forced out of their homes but still somewhere in Syria) or refugees in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. The numbers granted refugee status in neighbouring countries are
over 2.5 million granted refugee status in Turkey, over 1 million in Lebanon, about 600, 000 in Jordan , 250,000 in Iraq (which has a civil war itself) and 100,000 in Egypt (a military dictatorship) . However the total numbers of Syrian refugees in these countries are higher, as many have not been granted formal refugee status. Lebanon and Jordan are small and fairly poor countries. (1).

Lebanon alone has taken in probably more Syrian refugees than the entire EU combined at 1.1 million (or 1.2 million including those not granted refugee status), a 25% increase on its pre-Syrian civil war population of 4.3 million (which already included 450,000 Palestinian refugees).

The EU by comparison got asylum claims from a bit over 200,000 Syrians in 2015 – or just 0.04% of its 504 million population, or 270,000 total since 2011, around 0.05% of its 504.5 million population on the first day of 2011. Of course there were other migrants and asylum seekers from other countries too. The European border agency Frontex estimates the total number of migrants coming to the EU  illegally in 2015 was around 1.5 million, including those likely to have avoided border controls. The numbers who enter legally each year have been similar from 2010 at about 1.4 to 1.5 million a year. So for 2015 the total number of legal and illegal migrants would be around 3 million, or a 0.6% increase in the EU’s population if all were allowed to stay (which they will not be as, while applications may take a long time to process, many applications are rejected each year and around 40% of rejections result in deportation in the same year as they are rejected) (2) – (5).

Multiplying by 4 for the years since the Syrian civil war started in 2011 it would come to a 2.4% increase in population from all forms of immigration. (This will be a significant overestimate as there were more migrants and refugees in 2015 than in previous years)

These figures don’t include the number of non-EU nationals who leave the EU (emigrate from it) every year, from around 700,000 in 2010 to over 800,000 in 2013. That would make the overall growth of non-EU national population in the EU about 2.5 million in 2015, or 10 million over 4 years maximum or around 0.5% per year, or 2% over 4 years (again likely an over-estimate) (6).

So the total increase in the EU’s population from immigration from outside the EU is not so much the “flood” the media often talk of as a rapidly growing trickle relative to the size of the lake it’s flowing into.

And of course immigration and emigration aren’t the only factors affecting population growth. Birth and death rates also affect it. Looking at total population growth for all the countries that are now EU members since 1960  there has not been any significant increase in the rate of population growth. Birth rates have fallen significantly over that time, while people are also living longer due to improved living standards and medical care. The result is a growing population, but with a growing percentage of elderly people (7).

Without either immigration (with immigrants being younger on average) or other measures to increase the birth rate (e.g the 35 hour week tried in France), or both, we may end up with not enough people of working age to pay the taxes to fund healthcare and pensions for pensioners.

But ever increasing population results in increasing pollution, deforestation and environmental damage, including climate change. This is a difficult circle to square.

The rate of population growth in the EU has actually been falling for decades though and is considerably lower than it was in the 1960s.


Are the wealthiest Arab states refusing to take in any Syrian refugees?

The Gulf states – Sunni ‘monarchies’ (dictatorships) allied to the US and who are funding and arming many of the Syrian Jihadist Sunni rebels (including Al Nusrah, the Syrian wing of Al Qa’ida) are refusing to take in any Syrians as refugees, as they are not signatories to the 1951 Refugee convention.  However some Syrian refugees have been given residency permits to live in Saudi and granted free education and healthcare (the Saudi government claim over 100,000 though this is not an independently verified figure) (8) – (9).

World Bank figures gave the total for all the Gulf monarchies as over 1.3 million Syrians living in them in 2013 , 1 million in Saudi, but the UNHCR figure in 2015 was just 500,000, possibly due to definitions of who was being counted (10).

However even Saudi citizens have no real rights not to be imprisoned or executed without fair trial. Immigrants working in Saudi are exploited ruthlessly.

And Saudi Arabia has an extreme version of Sharia law based on the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam. Syrian refugees include Christians, Alawites and Shia, all of who face persecution in Saudi, along with moderate and secular Muslims who do not want to live under Sharia law. So many refugees would rather avoid Saudi Arabia and other dictatorships with religious laws.

Is the UK taking more than its share of refugees coming to the EU? No, far less

The UK’s population has grown steadily too, around a 20% increase in the last 50 years. The rate of increase has gone up and down over that period, but is currently higher than at any point since the 1950s (11).

The UK, with over 10% of the EU’s population, and one of the richest countries in it, gets less than 5% of asylum applications for refugee status from people who are not citizens of any EU country. So the people at Calais are not a flood either, but an even smaller trickle. For instance in the second quarter of 2015 the UK got just 3.5% of applications to EU countries. In the  third quarter it got just 2.86% (12).

And that trickle is not higher than ever before either – the
number of asylum applications in the UK in 2014 was about the same number as in 1990. And overall about 52% of asylum applications processed in 2014 in the UK were refused (13) – (14).

The UK actually gets very few asylum applications relative to it’s size and wealth – one of the lowest rates in the EU relative to our population.


Source : BBC News (15)

The UK, twice as wealthy as Lebanon in GDP per capita and a much larger country in terms of population and land area, had granted just 5,102 Syrians the right to remain as refugees by August 2015 and offered to take just 4,000 a year in future. (Total numbers will be higher as some will be waiting for applications to be heard, but still likely in the thousands compared to Lebanon’s millions)

Graphic : http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/GB/LB


The real refugee crisis is in Syria’s neighbours, not the EU, but unless the EU provide more money to feed and house refugees, it may be an EU crisis soon


The EU and UK are not suffering a refugee “flood” or “crisis”, but manageable numbers both in terms of their exsiting population, their land area and their wealth. The real refugee crisis is in Syria and for its neighbours. But if the wealthier governments continue to fail to provide enough money to feed and house refugees in countries neighbouring Syria, there may soon be a real flood.

Those Syrians in refugee camps in the Middle East are not getting enough food, and often no medical treatment for illnesses and wounds, as donations from governments around the world have been too low. Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon currently get under 50 cents or 35 pence worth of food a day, not nearly enough. The Turkish government has begun sending many back to Syria. Jordan has closed its border with Syria leaving thousands of refugees stranded in the desert. Lebanon has also begun deporting Syrian refugees . The governments of the three countries are saying they can’t take any more refugees
(16 )  – (19).

The UK’s supposedly “generous” aid to Syrian refugees in the Middle East comes to about £1.1 billion over 4 years since the Syrian civil war began, or a bit under £300 million a year, out of annual public spending of around £700 billion (thousand million) a year. The fact that other EU governments have given even less is nothing to boast about. Even Cameron’s latest pledge to increase it to around £510 million a year from the UK and ask other EU countries to increase similarly is far too little. It amounts to under 0.07% of the UK’s annual public spending of over £700 billion a year (20) – (22).

Sources

(1) = UNHCR 19 Jan 2016 ‘Syria Regional Refugee Response - Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal’, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

(2) = BBC News ‘Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in graphics’
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34131911 (200,000 asylum applications from Syrians EU 2015; Frontex 1.5 million migrants estimate for 2015)

(3) = Al Jazeera 22 Dec 2015 ‘One million 'refugees and migrants' reached EU in 2015’, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/12/million-refugees-migrants-reached-eu-2015-151222100045573.html (270,000 Syrians applied for asylum in EU countries since 2011)

(4) = BBC News 09 Sep 2015 ‘Migrant crisis: Who does the EU send back?’,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34190359 (only 39% of rejected asylum claimants deported from the EU in 2015)

(5) = BBC News 13 Aug 2015 ‘What happens to failed asylum seekers?’,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33849593

(6) = Eurostat 10 Jun 2015 ‘Immigration in the EU’,
http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/docs/infographics/immigration/migration-in-eu-infographic_en.pdf

(7) = Eurostat Jul 2015 ‘Population and population change statistics’,
http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Population_and_population_change_statistics

(8)= Huffington Post 23 Sep 2015 ‘Western Media's Miscount of Saudi Arabia's Syrian Refugees’,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anhvinh-doanvo/europes-crisis-refugees_b_8175924.html

(9) = Guardian 12 Sep 2015 ‘Saudi Arabia says criticism of Syria refugee response 'false and misleading'’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/12/saudi-arabia-says-reports-of-its-syrian-refugee-response-false-and-misleading

(10) = News Week 12 Apr 2015 ‘The Gulf States Are Taking Syrian Refugees’, http://europe.newsweek.com/gulf-states-are-taking-syrian-refugees-401131

(11) = ONS 26 Jun 2014 ‘Changes in UK population over the last 50 years’, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/pop-estimate/population-estimates-for-uk--england-and-wales--scotland-and-northern-ireland/2013/sty-population-changes.html

(12) = Eurostat News Release 10 Dec 2015 ‘Asylum in the EU Member States More than 410 000 first time asylum seekers registered in the third quarter of 2015’, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7105334/3-10122015-AP-EN.pdf/04886524-58f2-40e9-995d-d97520e62a0e

(13) = Migration Observatory , Oxford university, 13 Aug 2015, ‘Migration to the UK : Asylum’, In 2014, 59% of asylum applications were initially refused. 28% of appeals were eventually approved,
http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migration-uk-asylum

(14) = Migration Observatory , Oxford university, 13 Aug 2015, ‘Migration to the UK : Asylum’, Figure 1 - Asylum applications and estimated inflows, 1984-2014,
http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migration-uk-asylum

(15) = BBC News ‘Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in graphics’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34131911

 (16) = Observer 06 Sep 2015 ‘UN agencies 'broke and failing' in face of ever-growing refugee crisis’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/06/refugee-crisis-un-agencies-broke-failing

(17) = BBC 15 Jan 2016 ‘Turkey 'acting illegally' over Syria refugees deportations’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35135810

(18) = Independent 22 Jan 2016 ‘Jordan blocks Syria border leaving thousands of refugees in the desert - including hundreds of pregnant women’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/jordan-blocks-syrian-border-to-leave-thousands-of-refugees-trapped-in-the-desert-including-hundreds-a6828471.html

(19) = CBS/AP 07 Feb 2016 ‘Turkey: We're at end of "capacity to absorb" refugees’,
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/turkey-has-reached-the-end-of-its-capacity-to-absorb-refugees/

(20) = DFID Syria Crisis Response, https://www.gov.uk/government/world/organisations/dfid-syria-crisis-response

(21) = http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/total_spending_2015UKbn

(22) = www.theguardian.com 04 Feb 2016 ‘David Cameron calls for billions more in international aid for Syrian refugees’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/03/david-cameron-calls-for-billions-more-in-international-aid-for-syrian-refugees

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Migrant and Refugee Myths 1: Why are they all young men? They’re not

First, they’re not. Of the one million people who came to the EU by boat from non-EU countries in 2015, half were women and children. As the vast majority of migrants come by boat, this will mean close to 50% of all migrants were women and children.  Eurostat figures on all non-EU asylum applications in EU countries in 2014 (coming by land and sea) show 70% were male and 30% were female, and of those who were male, many were children  (1) – (2).

The figures for the first half of 2015 were similar. This led to claims that migrants were “mostly young men”, but by the end of it , as mentioned already, half were women and children.

Some claimed the change in the percentages over time was due to the UN and EU fiddling the stats, ignoring the fact that well over half a million more migrants arrived in the EU in the last several months of 2015.

One of the actual reasons for the change over that period is that many of the men are making the long, hard, dangerous journey to an EU country so their wives and children can follow them from the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon or Syria. If they are granted asylum then their families are likely to be granted asylum too. Then their family can join them legally, without having to be at the mercy of criminal gangs of people smugglers, or the significant minority of criminals among the migrants who prey on the ordinary refugees, often robbing, raping or killing them (3).

Of Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern countries , over 50% are female and 26% are 17 or younger on UN statistics (4).

The higher proportion of young men among refugees travelling to the EU is likely also down to the fact that  the journey to the EU is a long, hard one and can be risky too. And men are not any safer from being killed in a civil war – they may even be more likely to be jailed, tortured or killed as they’re more likely to be suspected of being a fighter for another side.
The Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica in 1994 massacred every “male of military age” which they defined as from 16 to 65 years old.

Of course some migrants from some countries will be more economic migrants than refugees, but that does not make every male asylum seeker a fake, or an economic migrant.

Another reason why more younger men may come is that families in poor countries often send one member to go to a wealthier country to get a job and send money home. Money sent back to the country they were born in by people who have come to wealthier countries dwarfs the amount of foreign aid provided by governments (5).

 

Sources

(1) = UNHCR Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean (retrieved 20 Jan 2016),
http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php

(2) = Eurostat 21 May 2015 ‘Asylum Statistics :  Share of male (non-EU) asylum applicants in the EU-28, by age group and status of minors, 2014 (%),http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics  and http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Share_of_male_%28non-EU%29_asylum_applicants_in_the_EU-28,_by_age_group_and_status_of_minors,_2014_%28%25%29_YB15_III.png

(3) = National Review 12 Oct 2015 ‘Why So Many of Europe’s Migrants Are Men’, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425398/why-europes-migrants-are-men

(4) =  UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response - Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal (retrieved January 2016) http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

(5) = www.theguardian.com 30 Jan 2013 ‘Migrants' billions put aid in the shade’,
http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/jan/30/migrants-billions-overshadow-aid

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Corbyn is not an anti-semite - He promotes peace negotiations while his critics approve arms sales

The accusation that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic based on some of the people who have spoken at the same rallies as him or run charities he has backed is a serious one, but unfounded.

Corbyn did call members of Hamas and Hezbollah who came to a conference in Britain “our friends”.  It’s fair enough to discuss whether that was a good choice of words. Corbyn argues he was being diplomatic and says he does not agree with many of Hamas or Hezbollah’s views or actions (1).

But it is not evidence that he is anti-Semitic just because some of them are and he favours peace negotiations between them and Israel

Corbyn did speak at Stop the War rallies in which some other speakers have at other times and places expressed anti-Semitic views. Again, that does not make Corbyn an anti-Semite (2).

If it did then Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, who has been calling for negotiations with Hamas for almost a decade now would also be anti-Semitic. It’s a safe bet that he’s not (3) – (4).

The same goes for Shlomo Gazit , the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet military intelligence agency, who told the Jewish magazine Forward in 2007 that the Israeli government’s demands for full recognition of Israel by Hamas before negotiations even began was “ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate” (5).

Israeli professor Yossi Alpher also pointed out in 2006 that “Israel never demanded recognition from Egypt or Jordan as a precondition for negotiating with them; recognition is a logical way to conclude successful peace talks, not to begin them.” (6)

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami has made the same point (7).

Israeli historian Avi Shlaim pointed out in an interview with BBC Newsnight recently that Corbyn had backed the Deir Yassin Remembered charity long before it was taken over by a Holocaust denier. And Shlaim said he himself supports Deir Yassin Remembered because that massacre (of Arab civilians by Zionist militias during the 1948 war) should be remembered (see from 23.30 on in this BBC iplayer recording) (8).

As for associating with people involved in terrorism, the Israeli government has repeatedly overseen operations in which the Israeli military deliberately target and kill civilians in war crimes – most recently in Netanyahu’s last Gaza war, in which a British reporter witnessed Israeli forces targeting and killing civilians with artillery , tanks and small arms during a ceasefire. Amnesty International’s investigation found war crimes in the first day’s Israeli strikes alone which killed hundreds 135 civilians including 75 children (9) – (11).

Netanyahu and many of his government ministers have also made it clear  that they will never allow a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – and in some cases said that they will not allow any kind of a state at all.

How is this better than those Palestinian extremists who refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist on any borders – who incidentally, do not include all of the Hamas leadership, many of who have said they would consider a two state solution on roughly the pre-1967 war borders.

Yet  current and former members of the British government – New Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative - are not condemned as anti-Semitic against Arabs (Arabs, like Jews, also being a Semitic people) for their associations with the Israeli government – which are far closer, involving providing arms to them. The current government has scrapped the last restrictions on arms sales to Israel despite its recent war crimes (12).

Gordon Brown, who criticises Corbyn for the people he talks to, oversaw a government which continued arms sales to Israel even after the war crimes committed by Israeli forces in the 2008/9 Gaza war – and to Sri Lanka while the Sri Lankan military were firing on field hospitals with heavy artillery and rounding up and massacring Tamils on suspicion or being Tamil Tiger fighters, before dumping their bodies in mass graves. (13) – (14).

Jeremy Corbyn has never armed Hamas or Hezbollah. Nor would he. He has done far more to promote peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians than most of his critics, many of who have actively facilitated war.

(1) = Channel 4 news 13 July 2015 ‘Jeremy Corbyn: 'I wanted Hamas to be part of the debate'’, http://www.channel4.com/news/jeremy-corbyn-i-wanted-hamas-to-be-part-of-the-debate

(2) = BBC News 19 Aug 2015 ‘Corbyn 'forgot' meeting banned pro-Palestinian activist’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-33991920

(3) = Interview with Efraim Halevy in Mother Jones Magazine 10 Feb 2008 ‘Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows’, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/02/israels-mossad-out-shadows

(4) Independent 10 Jun 2015 ‘It's time for Israel to talk to Hamas, says former Mossad head’,
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/its-time-for-israel-to-talk-to-hamas-says-former-mossad-head-10311651.html

(5) =  Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’, http://www.forward.com/articles/10055/

(6) = Forward 20 Oct 2006 ‘Preconditions for a Problematic Partner’,
http://www.forward.com/articles/5948/

(7) = Times 26 Feb 2009 ‘Peace will be achieved only by talking to Hamas’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5804266.ece

(8) = BBC Newsnight 18 Aug 2015 – watch on BBC Iplayer here from 23.30 on,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06764cv/newsnight-18082015

(9) = See the post on this link and sources in it

(10) = Channel 4 News Blogs – Paul Mason 01 Aug 2014 ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’, http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/deadly-shelling-threatens-gaza-truce/1892

(11) = Amnesty International 29 Jul 2015 ‘Gaza 'Black Friday': Cutting edge investigation points to Israeli war crimes in Rafah’, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/07/gaza-cutting-edge-investigation-rafah/

(12) = Independent 16 Jul 2015 ‘Government lifts remaining restrictions on arms sales to Israel after year-long review’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/government-lifts-remaining-restrictions-on-arms-sales-to-israel-after-yearlong-review-10394143.html

(13) = theguardian.com 30 Mar 2010 ‘MPs call for review of arms exports after Israeli assault on Gaza’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/30/arms-british-gaza-assault

(14) = Times 02 Jun 2009 ‘Britain sold weapons to help Sri Lankan army defeat Tamil Tigers’, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/asia/article2610539.ece

Many respected economists say Corbyn’s ‘Peoples’ QE’ plan to issue money to invest in ways that could create economic growth is a good one

There are politicians and media commentators every day claiming that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan for Peoples’ QE is unrealistic and economically unfeasible. The policy would involve government issuing money to invest in public services and in loans and grants for small and medium businesses, in order to increase economic growth (1).

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has claimed that basic economics tells us it won’t work. Yvette Cooper, one of Corbyn’s rivals for the post of labour leader, claims that as an economist she can say it would be disastrous (2) – (3).

Labour Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie has even claimed that it would lead to both inflation and an increased national debt. That would be pretty surprising if it happened, given that inflation reduces the value not only of a nation’s currency but also its debts denominated in that currency, suggesting the Shadow Chancellor’s grasp of basic economics is somewhat shaky (4).

Gordon Brown's continuation of "light touch regulation" of the banks (a euphemism for the minimal regulation begun under Thatcher) led to the banking crisis. And his claim that he would "end the cycle of boom and bust forever" predictably turned out to be nonsense. So New Labour's economic credentials aren't exactly great.

Yet many highly respected economists, including some who predicted the banking crisis say it and Corbyn’s other anti-austerity policies would work – and work far better than the current UK government’s counter-productive ones.

Australian economics professor Steve Keen, who predicted the banking crisis, says it’s a good policy. Nobel prize winning former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz backs it and Corbyn’s other economic policies. So does Paul Krugman (5) – (8).

Even some columnists for the Financial Times have said the policy could work (9).

Critics of the policy say it would lead to inflation. It would lead to some inflation, but inflation is currently zero, while quarterly economic growth is under 0.5% and unemployment is 1.85 million on official figures and much higher in reality, as these figures are fiddled. So creating economic growth and jobs should be a much higher priority than inflation at the moment (10) – (11).

Ha Joon Chang, a South Korean economist who teaches in the US, wrote in his book ’23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’ that one IMF study found inflation does not negatively affect economic growth or living standards until it reaches 8% - and that some other studies put the figure at 20% (12).

Of course that doesn’t mean unlimited amounts of money could be issued each year, nor that an eye wouldn’t have to be kept on the effects on inflation. But Corbyn has never suggested printing unlimited amounts of money. The plan is to issue money and invest it in ways that will lead to increased economic growth and so increased tax revenues. That would reduce our national debt, not increase it. This is, as the plans critics would say “basic economics”.

It’s also worth remembering that all the New Labour politicians criticising Corbyn and claiming knowledge of economics backed the deregulation policies New Labour adopted from the Conservatives, which led to the banking crisis, the worst economic disaster for the UK since the 1930s. And that that crisis led to Labour losing voters’ trust on the economy and the two elections since it. Taking their advice on economics would be a bit like taking advice on how to prevent fires from an arsonist.

(1) = Tax Research UK 03 Aug 2015 ‘Chris Leslie has got Corbynomics wrong’, http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/08/03/chris-leslie-has-got-corbynomics-wrong/

(2) = Scotsman 13 Aug 2015 ‘Jack Straw adds voice to anti-Jeremy Corbyn chorus’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/uk/jack-straw-adds-voice-to-anti-jeremy-corbyn-chorus-1-3858368

(3) = www.guardian.co.uk 12 Aug 2015 ‘Yvette Cooper says Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn's policies not credible or radical’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/13/yvette-cooper-jeremy-corbyn-policies-not-credible-labour

(4) = Guardian 03 Aug 2015 ‘Jeremy Corbyn to unveil public investment plan to end austerity’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/02/corbyn-vision-2020-end-austerity-public-investment-plan?INTCMP=sfl

(5) = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Keen

(6) = https://twitter.com/profstevekeen/status/629411010542223360

(7) = Guardian 27 Jul 2015 ‘Joseph Stiglitz: unsurprising Jeremy Corbyn is a Labour leadership contender’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/26/joseph-stiglitz-jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-contender-anti-austerity

(8) = CNBC 18 Aug 2015 ‘‘People’s QE?’ Left-wing leader’s plans for the UK’,
http://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/18/peoples-qe-left-wing-leaders-plans-for-the-uk.html

(9) = FT Alphaville blog 06 Aug 2015 ‘ Corbyn’s Peoples’ QE could actually be a decent idea’,
http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2015/08/06/2136475/corbyns-peoples-qe-could-actually-be-a-decent-idea/?Authorised=false

(10) = BBC News 30 Jun 2015 ‘UK's economic growth revised up’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33323999

(11) = BBC News 15 Jul 2015 ‘UK unemployment rises for first time in two years’,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33535114

(12) = Ha Joon Chang (2010) ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’, Penguin / Allen Lane, London, 2010, ‘Thing 6’, page 55 of Allen Lane hardback edition

Sunday, February 01, 2015

German and EU hypocrisy and short memories on Greece : Syriza aren't extremists - they're asking for the same debt relief deal Greece gave Germany in 1953. The EU is handing the banks almost ten times the amount of money Greece is asking written off in debts

Syriza extremists or unrealistic? No, moderates, asking for deal Germany got in 1953

The deal Syriza are looking for is a reasonable one. For their creditors to forgive 50% of their debts, for debt repayments to only have to be made once the Greek economy is growing again, for the EU to stop privatising Greek government assets and services by selling them off for buttons at the bottom of the market, and an end to austerity policies which prevent growth (1).

This is a plan based on the 1953 London Agreement under which Germany was forgiven 50% of its debts incurred during two world wars and from Marshall Plan aid from the US after them. The creditors forgiving half of those debts included the governments of Greece, Ireland and Spain, three of the four countries much derided as ‘PIGS’ over the debt crisis. The London Agreement also included Germany only having to pay back debts out of 3% of its export earnings, so that its creditors imported German products (2).

While saying there will be no more debt reductions for Greece, Angela Merkel and other EU government leaders have approved issuing 1.1 trillion (one thousand one hundred billion) euros of “quantitative easing” money to be handed straight to private banks (3).

How is it that there is infinite money available to the banks, but none to keep ordinary people in work? Or even on benefits while there are more unemployed people than job vacancies?

How is it that one thousand, one hundred, billion euros can be created and handed to the banks, but none of it can be used to reduce Greece’s debt of around 300 billion euros by half (150 billion)? (4)

Syriza’s proposal is that some of the QE money should be used by the European Central Bank to buy bonds not just from private banks, but from governments suffering debt crises, like Greece and Spain’s.

Some Greek and American economists are saying the only problem with Syriza’s proposals are that they’re not radical enough (5) – (6).

While many have tried to paint Syriza as being left wing extremists, mirroring the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party’s right wing extremism, in fact Syriza’s leadership are moderate left wingers. Even the Telegraph newspaper, which favours the right wing of a Conservative party whose centre is right of Thatcher, considers Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s Finance Minister, to be a moderate (7).

Far from being ideologically opposed to EU or Euro membership, Syriza leader Alexis Tspiras preferred a coalition with the right wing but anti-austerity Independent Greeks party to one with the radical left KKE party which wants to leave the Euro and the EU (8).

Lazy Greeks? Nope – they work the longest hours in Europe

The supposedly “lazy” Greeks work, on average, the longest hours of any nationality in the EU according to OECD figures, over 2,000 hours per year, and did so even before the crisis. The “hard working” Germans rank 33rd at under 1400 hours a year .The average employed person in the UK works 1,600 hours a year, 400 less than the average Greek. (9) – (10)

Other studies found that Greeks work on average 38 hours a week, compared to 35 in the UK and Germany (11).

And Germans take  more days of holidays per year than Greeks too (12).

Greece allowed more tax avoidance and corruption?
There are tax havens and corruption in UK dependencies and across Europe

Tax avoidance by Greeks is also often raised to try to justify the conditions imposed by the EU. Tax avoidance is certainly a serious problem in Greece, but the idea that other EU countries have done anything to prevent it is laughable. The UK allows offshore ones in the Channel Islands and in the UK dependencies of Bermuda and Belize, as well as the main party in government in the UK getting more than half its donations to party funds from the financial sector. Both Luxembourg and Switzerland are renowned tax havens.

It’s highly likely that much of the tax money avoided by wealthier Greeks is in those tax havens in other EU countries and territories they control. Since they’re demanding a crack down on tax avoidance and evasion by the Greek government, perhaps they could help out at the other end by closing down their own tax havens?

Mark Field, the Conservative MP for the City of London & Westminster, Mark Field, boasted in 2010 about all the foreign money coming into UK tax havens (13).

Government minister Francis Maude said in 2012 that turning the UK into a tax haven is “exactly what we are trying to do” (14).

Lord Fink, Treasurer of the Conservative party, and director of three firms with subsidiaries in tax havens (the Cayman Island,s Luxembourg and Guernsey) called for the same (15).

And progress has been made towards making the mainland UK a tax haven, with many US firms now relocating their headquarters for tax purposes here (16).

Ireland’s economic “miracle” and then collapse were, like Britain’s , largely down to deregulation (though worse for Ireland as it didn’t have it’s own currency). This included Ireland slashing its corporation taxes to the lowest in Europe in order to get companies to relocate there for tax purposes (17).

That’s why Ireland was able to recover relatively fast from the crisis. But, as Greek government ministers point out, there is not room for every country in the EU to have the lowest taxes, and competition to reduce taxes results in crises for government funding in all of them.

As the firms and banks benefiting most from tax havens also tend to be big donors to party funds for the biggest parties in countries across the EU, corruption is as much a problem in the UK as in Greece, it’s just done in a more formalised way and at a higher level in Britain.
Cash in brown envelopes is for amateurs. Donations to party funds, and jobs as advisers or directors for retiring ministers for favours done in office, are preferred.

Does Greece have any choice but to do what the EU and Germany say?

Yes. It could drop the Euro as a currency and return to the drachma, or adopt another currency, such as the dollar. This would likely cause another crisis and considerable hardship, but with the austerity imposed by the EU having seen average incomes cut 40% and unemployment over 25%, most Greeks are already suffering plenty of hardship and might decide that having control of their own government and economic and welfare policy and budgets again was worth a bit more.

This would likely lead to a run on the Euro, which might well lead to Portugal, Spain and maybe even Italy also dropping the Euro as currencies. The Eurozone benefits Germany most of all. Countries leaving the Eurozone would reduce German export earnings, which have been greatly increased by the Eurozone effectively reducing the price of German exports in countries using the Euro (18).


Sources

(1) = Greek Reporter 28 Jan 2015 ‘Greece: This is SYRIZA’s New Government Plan in Detail’, http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/01/28/greece-this-is-syrizas-new-government-plan-in-detail/

(2) = EU Observer 07 Jan 2015 ‘Europe's debt revolution: Can Syriza's plan work?’, https://euobserver.com/news/127115

(3) = BBC News 22 Jan 2015 ‘ECB unveils massive QE boost for eurozone’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30933515

(4) Washington Post 30 January2015 ‘Greece really might leave the euro’ =
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/01/30/greece-really-might-leave-the-euro/

(5) = Truthout 22 Jan 2015 ‘Economist Leonidas Vatikiotis: Syriza's Proposals Don't Go Far Enough for Greece’, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28661-economist-leonidas-vatikiotis-syriza-s-proposals-don-t-go-far-enough-for-greece

(6) = NYT 26 Jan 2015 ‘Ending Greece’s Nightmare’,  by Paul Krugman, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/opinion/paul-krugman-ending-greeces-nightmare.html

(7) = Telegraph 26 Jan 2015 ‘Yanis Varoufakis: Greece’s future finance minister is no extremist’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11369851/Yanis-Varoufakis-Greeces-future-finance-minister-is-no-extremist.html

(8) = Guardian 26 Jan 2015 ‘Greece: claims of a far-left victory are nonsense’,
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/26/greece-claims-of-far-left-victory-are-nonsense

(9) = OECD Stat Extracts ‘Average annual hours actually worked per worker’, http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

(10) = BBC News 26 Feb 2012 ‘Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe?’,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17155304

(11) = Busting the myth of France’s 35-hour workweek, http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140312-frances-mythic-35-hour-week

(12) = See (10) above

(13) = Bloomberg 03 Nov 2010 ‘Tax Havens Send ‘Massive Capital’ to London, Lawmaker Says’, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-11-03/tax-havens-send-massive-capital-to-london-lawmaker-says

(14) = This IS Money 07 Apr 2012 ‘Francis Maude in new row after saying it would be a compliment if Britain were seen as a 'tax haven' under coalition’, http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2126452/Francis-Maude-new-row-saying-compliment-Britain-seen-tax-haven-coalition.html

(15) = Guardian 21 Sep 2012 ‘Tory treasurer wants UK to become more like a tax haven’,  http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/sep/20/tory-treasurer-make-uk-tax-haven

(16) = Reuters 09 Jun 2014 ‘Britain becomes haven for U.S. companies keen to cut tax bills’, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/06/09/uk-britain-usa-tax-insight-idUKKBN0EK0BA20140609

(17) = Forbes Magazine 06 Nov 2013 ‘If Ireland Is Not A Tax Haven, What Is It?’, http://www.forbes.com/sites/taxanalysts/2013/11/06/if-ireland-is-not-a-tax-haven-what-is-it/

(18) = Business Insider 20 Nov 2011 ‘Why German Taxpayers Should Be Forced To Bail Out Italians And Greeks’, http://www.businessinsider.com/why-germany-should-bail-out-italy-and-greece-2011-11#ixzz3QRQBjDjw

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Big Money, not the house of Lords, is the really big problem with our democracy - and it's not just a Westminster problem, it's an SNP problem too

I can see why Alex Salmond would suggest making the House of Lords elected, but on its own that will not fix the biggest problems with our democracy. The US has an elected upper house, and even more corruption in the system than the UK has. Nor will devolution, or even independence, fix the biggest problem with our democracy without other reforms (1).

That’s because the biggest problem is that we allow big banks, companies and the super-rich to buy up political influence. They do this partly by big donations to party funds and election campaigns.

The big political parties use the donations to pay advisers, advertisers, graphic designers and pollsters to design campaigns of leaflets, billboards and adverts to persuade people to vote for them. Then, when they’re in government, they pay the donors back many times over, with taxpayers’ money.

They do it with public contracts that massively over-pay companies and have no safeguards to ensure value for money for taxpayers, for instance with PFIs. They do it by permitting tax havens in UK dependencies like the City of London and the Channel Islands so the big donors can avoid taxes easily. They do it by letting them off with most of their evasion of tax even when they’re caught, through “sweetheart deals”. They do it by not enforcing anti-monopoly laws and de-regulating whole industries so a few large companies can dominate each economic sector and charge consumers what they like whether their own costs are going up or down. This de-regulation also led to the banking crisis.

In the last 5 years the Conservative party has got more than half its donations from the financial sector – mostly big banks and hedge funds. It has failed to bring in any proper regulation of the banks of the Glass-Steagall kind that would ban high street savings banks from also being “investment” (actually mostly stock market casino) banks (2).

To save on the millions every few years it would take to publicly fund the election campaigns of all candidates at a low and equal level, we end up losing tens to hundreds of billions every single year in big companies allowed to overcharge us for electricity, food and many other things ; in PFI contracts ; in lost tax revenues ; in companies allowed to grow too large so there is no longer real competition to reduce prices for consumers ; in de-regulation leading to everything from higher prices to banking crises.

The Revolving Door Between Government and Big Business

They also do it through the “revolving door” between government and the firms its meant to regulate. If government ministers, civil servants, MPs and advisers do favours for big donors to party funds, we allow them to leave government and go straight to work for firms they were regulating, deciding on taxation for, or giving contracts to.

For instance Sean Worth, an adviser to David Cameron on NHS “reforms” (largely contracting out services to private firms) left that job after just two years, to become an adviser to MHP Communications, which lobbies on behalf of the Priory Group, which runs mental health services for the NHS (3).

Labour in government were no different. Health Secretaries Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt both contracted out NHS services to the private sector, and both became paid advisers to private healthcare firms on leaving government (4) – (5).

 Many other former ministers and advisers, Labour and Conservative, have done the same (6).

And one of the ways the parties pay back donors to party funds is by allowing people employed by these firms to take up jobs in the same government departments, so that the biggest firms are able to scrap any regulations they don’t like, as well as avoid competition laws being enforced to break them up when they become too big.

Not just a Westminster problem – a Scottish and SNP problem too

And the problem is not just at Westminster. Even if Scotland was independent the same problem of big business and the super-rich buying up political influence would remain.

The SNP has already shown it can be bought by big donors too.

Within a month of receiving a £500,000 donation from Brian Souter, who owns much of Highland Transport group,  in January 2007, the SNP scrapped its policy of re-regulation of the bus network. And to this day the Scottish governments has no plans to renationalise or even seriously re-regulate bus services (7) – (8).

Legalised Corruption

All of this is political and government corruption by any other name. In legal terms it may not be corruption, because while there are laws against bribes in money, there are no laws against taking those bribes as big donations to party funds in return for favours at taxpayers’ expense, nor taking them in kind as paid employment, nor in letting representatives of the banks or companies into government to write their own regulations in return. But there should be laws against it. In moral terms, and in its effects on voters and taxpayers’ interests, isn’t it just as corrupt as taking a bribe?

The almost powerless House of Lords is a distraction from the big problems

The House of Lords has almost no power. The majority of what it does is to review bills sent to it by the Commons (often badly thought out laws rushed through by the government) and suggest amendments to them. It can do that twice. When it comes to the third time it has to approve them even if the commons has rejected all the Lords' amendments. That’s been the case for over 100 years since the 1911 Parliament Act.

Scrap it and don't replace it and the government can rush through half-arsed laws without any oversight or amendment and frequently no-one will even notice till it's too late.

Scrap it and replace it with an elected upper chamber, without having fixed all the other problems, and you end up like the US - with either a rubber stamp (if the same party or parties control both houses) or gridlock with almost no laws passed at all (if different parties control the two houses), and most laws only passed if they benefit big donors to election campaign funds.

I'm not saying there are no problems with the Lords - how Lords are appointed needs changed. Party leaders shouldn't just be able to hand seats to big donors to party funds, and there doesn’t seem much justification for hereditary peers.

Electing them is one possibility, but on it’s own will solve little and might well just hand the party machines and big donors to party funds as much influence in the upper house as they already have in the more powerful House of Commons.

Binning our votes unrepresented – First Past The Post Elections

Another problem is than the the First Past the Post electoral system used for UK General Elections, which often gives single parties big majorities on a minority of the votes and throws away any vote not cast for the winning candidate in a constituency unrepresented (and the winning candidate can win on the largest minority of the vote, doesn't even need 50%) .

In the 2010 General election more than half the votes cast were for losing candidates and were effectively binned unrepresented.  In 2005 and 2010 two-thirds of MPs didn’t even have a majority of the votes cast in their constituency. And it’s even worse than that, because of safe seats. The safer a seat the less voters bother voting at all  (9) – (10).

Lack of Democracy inside parties

A fourth problem is the lack of any written constitution or law requiring democracy inside political parties.
So for instance in the Labour party, the party leader can change policy to benefit big donors to party funds at any time, and ignore votes by party conference as “non-binding”.

Whether we are part of the UK or an independent country, private donations to political parties and the revolving door between government and big business are two of the biggest weaknesses in our democracy.

How to fix our democracy

Public funding of all candidates in elections at a low and equal level would allow the giving or receiving of any private political donation to be made a criminal offence. This would have to include any donation from any source, as otherwise companies could use phony “charities” or industry front groups.

Making it also a criminal offence with a stiff jail sentence to move between employment in a government department in any capacity and employment in any firm regulated by, given contracts by or whose taxes were decided by that department within a 10 year period would end the revolving door syndrome.

 Those two measures could take most of the big money influence out of politics and make politicians look to the people who elected them first.

We could end dodgy PFI contracts. It could end de-regulation of the kind that led to the financial crisis and allow the banks to be re-regulated to prevent another one (six years after the crisis there is still no law against high street savings banks also being “investment” banks). It could stop government letting big donors to party funds use government permitted tax havens in UK dependencies like the Channel Islands, and end “sweetheat deals” that let Goldman Sachs and others off with millions in tax at a time, even when they are caught evading it.

If we just have an elected House of lords, or get more devolution or independence, and think that’s democracy fixed though, business will continue as usual with the majority’s interests over-ridden by those of big donors to party funds.

A written constitution specifying internal democracy within parties (e.g constituency parties to have the sole right to select or deselect candidates ; votes of party conference must become party policy etc) would also be progress, but is similarly a minor issue as long as big money is allowed to controls our governments and opposition parties.

(1) = Guardian.com 20 Dec 2014 ‘Alex Salmond calls for ‘peasants’ revolt’ vote to abolish House of Lords’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/dec/20/alex-salmond-peasants-revolt-type-referendum-abolish-house-of-lords

(2) = BBC News 09 Feb 2011 ‘More than half of Conservative donors 'from the City'’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12401049

(3) = Guardian 23 Nov 2012 ‘David Cameron's former NHS privatisation adviser becomes lobbyist’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/nov/23/david-cameron-privatisation-adviser-health-lobbyist

(4) = Guardian 17 May 2011 ‘Former Labour ministers rushing to take private sector jobs, report finds’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/may/17/labour-ministers-consultancy-private-sector

(5) = Telegraph 12 Jun 2012 ‘Social mobility man Alan Milburn is on the way to a million’,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9324145/Social-mobility-man-Alan-Milburn-is-on-the-way-to-a-million.html

(6) = Lobbying Transparency – Revolving Door is Unhealthy, http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/15-blog/general/62-revolving-door-is-unhealthy

(7) = Scotsman 22 Apr 2007 ‘SNP under attack after bus U-turn’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/scotland/top-stories/snp-under-attack-after-bus-u-turn-1-744256

(8) = Scotsman 12 Feb 2011 ‘£500,000 war chest for Alex Salmond’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/163_500_000_war_chest_for_alex_salmond_1_1493699

(9) = Electoral Reform Society 6 May 2010 ‘The UK General Election 2010 In-depth’, page 35,
http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/images/dynamicImages/file4e3ff1393b87a.pdf

(10) = IPPR 2011 ‘Worst of Both Worlds -Why First Past the Post no longer works’ , by Guy Lodge and Glenn Gottfried, http://www.ippr.org/assets/media/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/Worst%20of%20Both%20Worlds%20Jan2011_1820.pdf
and
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/first-past-the-post-no-longer-fit-for-purpose/