Janice Turner provides some evidence for the miserabilists (for those new to this, I’ve had a running conversation with the followers of Theodore Dalrymple, about whether Britain is irrevocably worse than 30 years ago/20 years ago/10 years ago/ever).

“Matthew, Natalie and Carl are everything that David Cameron thinks is wrong with modern Britain. Natalie, 25, is a single mother: I ask if she regrets having her son, now 5, so early. “I do, because it’s hard. But the thing is, I left it late. All my friends had their babies at 15, 16. . . . I grew up just a few miles from here, in the 1970s on another estate. But I never knew kids like these. Memory blurs and nostalgia gilds and mostly I was looking at books or boys or in the mirror, not monitoring my community’s socioeconomic indices. But I don’t recall anyone whose father was unemployed. I can name the three kids whose parents were divorced and, although we all drank — in town centre pubs from 14, my dad’s home-made wine outside youth-club discos — I never once encountered drugs. One girl got pregnant.”

It’s strange, because I read on the Wikipedia page that “Births to teenagers increased during the 1960s and peaked in 1971 at 50.6 per thousand of the population. Since 1971 they have gradually fallen to their lowest level since the mid Fifties.”  As I’ve reflected earlier, some impressions of a happy past are Bad History. What has really changed is “The proportion occurring outside marriage has increased from around one in six in the 1950s to nine in every ten in 2006. Teenage abortion rates are currently at their highest rate since legalisation in 1968. Although the number of conceptions are falling the proportion ending in abortion has increased over the last ten years”.

Doncaster seems unusually bad. Here is the English Democrat view:

The Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, an English Democrat with tap-room views on immigrants and gay pride marches, also bemoans the skill shortages. But he blames social breakdown on “the liberal agenda”, a decline in moral standards. Which is the Tory view too, although David Cameron may balk at Mr Davies’s recent praise for the Taleban and its “ordered system of family life”.

She also has an interesting column about what being a poor northerner does to Green attitudes:

While in London, we’ve grown accustomed to damning car-use as selfish ecocide, in Doncaster it is an indicator of economic hope. To a struggling community, cars bring cash, customers and trade. Doncaster parking costs buttons if you’re used to being fleeced in Camden or Westminster; fees are often waived for Christmas shopping days; acres of town centre are turned over to ugly parking lots; and strip malls encircle the town like in some soulless American burg.

The long term problem: an inability to cope with the social consequences of deindustrialisation.

In other news

Least surprising fact of the day: Republicans Spank

More surprising fact: who’s expecting 2,200 Sony Playstations for Christmas?

Richard Koo sees a double-dip in the UK. He favours fiscal action, always.

Quick quiz: how much wealth do you think is there in the UK? Finally, we have a regular survey reporting on this.  Unsurprisingly it is far more than our debts.

Scott Sumner is vindicated. His approach seems to be adopted by Paul Krugman without much attribution.

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6 thoughts on “Janice Turner: more evidence for the miserabilists?

  1. Of course, if you include rights to the basic pension it is much, much higher, especially for those poorer than average. £7k a year, indexed to earnings, for life, at age 60 or 65: that is worth a lot of money. (It would cost £200k for a 60 yr old women in good health, to buy a £130 a week pension, RPI linked)

  2. The subject of wealth inequality is very interesting, not least because it can be surprisingly different from income inequality. For example, the Luxembourg Wealth Study found that the Gini coefficient of wealth was higher in Sweden (89) than in the USA (81 or 84), let alone the UK (66) (see Table 9). Big caveat: the LWS definition of wealth seems to exclude pensions and some other assets (for comparability), meaning that in the USA there is a sustantial amount of wealth unaccounted for in that calculation, see Table 3. Given that the FT article states that pension wealth is the most significant part of the wealth of the top 10%, it strikes me that the Lib Dem policy to abolish higher rate tax relief on pension contributions has a lot of sense.

    I wrote about the LWS results here in a comment on a letter to the Economist from a Swedish professor (my comment also has the link for the study): http://www.economist.com/node/13688130/comments

    Something else I found striking in the study is that fewer Swedish households had positive net worth (and more had negative net worth) than their UK counterparts.

    And as for state pension entitlements, it makes sense to include them as wealth if (like Sweden) the system is fully funded by contributions, but perhaps less if it is a pay-as-you-go system (a.k.a. a pyramid scheme) like Britain’s. That said, no government is going to renege on entitlements already created so in that sense the expected state pension is a more secure form of wealth than many investments!

  3. @Tim Leunig and Giles, the ONS specifically didn’t include state pension entitlements:

    “The survey splits wealth into four categories – property, financial, physical and private pension wealth – and measured it for personal, private households. It covered over 30,000 households and excludes business assets and rights held to future payments, such as the state pension.”

    (From the FT article.)

  4. Niklas, that is really interesting about Sweden. In the UK, we have some image of Sweden as a place that has solved many or most social and economic ills. If you orbit Europe from 30km up, you can actually see, with the naked eye, the stream of public policy experts heading to and fro Stockholm . . .

    Wealth figures are so hard to find – which is a pity, because the inequalities are so much worse, and the advantages of having a pot (you are slave to no man), so great.

    I personally think the ONS were right to exclude state pensions, though this depends on future tax liabilities and how they treat them.

  5. I wonder whether the Swedish discrepancy (low income inequality but very high wealth inequality) is isolated or if there are more examples? If it is not a one-off, what does it do to the Spirit Level hypothesis? (I.e. that inequality is correlated to so many bad things that reducing it is a good aim for public policy in itself.) The authors only used income inequality, if I remember correctly.

    Wealth data is hard to find, probably because few countries try to tax wealth any more (Sweden has given up, finding that it was too easy to evade and drove capital out of the country) so there is no taxman keeping his beady eye on the statistics! I found out about that study through a very interesting article in a Swedish magazine I read.

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