Meet austerity's millionaires

Britain's harsh austerity measures have produced a sharp decline in real income and quality of life for the majority of the country; but the number of people earning £1M+ has doubled and is at an all-time high.

Official figures reveal that 18,000 people now earn at least £1m – the highest number recorded by HM Revenue & Customs. In 2010-11, 10,000 earned more than £1m, and in 1999-2000 there were only 4,000 earning such a salary.

There is also growth further down the salary brackets, with 5,000 more earning £500,000 to £1m in 2012-13 compared with 2010-11, an extra 31,000 earning £200,000 to £500,000, and 7,000 more earning £150,000 to £200,000.

The figures will increase concerns that the trends of the 1990s and early 2000s are continuing, with a growing disparity between the top-earning 1%, many of whom work in finance, and the rest of the workforce. In sectors such as manufacturing, construction and hospitality salaries have been squeezed in recent years. A recent report showed that if low to middle earnings were to rise by the 1.1% a year above inflation achieved in the past, average annual household incomes in this group would take until 2023 to reach £22,000 – the equivalent of where they stood in 2008.

Super-rich on rise as number of £1m-plus earners doubles [Daniel Boffey/The Observer] Read the rest

Northern Ireland builds a Potemkin Village for the G8

The G8 Summit is coming to Fermanagh, a county in Northern Ireland that has been devastated by austerity. To spruce things up and maintain the fiction that austerity will get us out of the global economic depression, the county has spent £300,000 giving local businesses "a facelift" -- including installing a fake butcher-shop window full of imaginary meat in a derelict storefront.

Two shops in Belcoo, right on the border with Blacklion, Co Cavan, have been painted over to appear as thriving businesses. The reality, as in other parts of the county, is rather more stark.

Just a few weeks ago, Flanagan’s – a former butcher’s and vegetable shop in the neat village – was cleaned and repainted with bespoke images of a thriving business placed in the windows. Any G8 delegate passing on the way to discuss global capitalism would easily be fooled into thinking that all is well with the free-market system in Fermanagh..

The butcher’s business has been replaced by a picture of a butcher’s business. Across the road is a similar tale. A small business premises has been made to look like an office supplies store. It used to be a pharmacy, now relocated on the village main street.

Elsewhere in Fermanagh, billboard-sized pictures of the gorgeous scenery have been located to mask the occasional stark and abandoned building site or other eyesore.

Recession out of the picture as Fermanagh puts on a brave face for G8 leaders [Dan Keenan/Irish Times]

(via The Atlantic) Read the rest

Usury in the UK

A UK Parliamentary committee blasted the Office of Fair Trading -- a consumer watchdog agency that is supposed to regulate moneylenders -- for doing effectively nothing to curb the growth of usurious, predatory moneylenders who attack poor and vulnerable people. There are 72,000 consumer credit firms in the UK, some chargin annual interest rates of 4,000%, but the OFT has never fined a single firm for breaking lending rules. On some rare occasions, it did shut down firms, but did nothing to stop them from reopening immediately under another name.

This week the charity Citizens Advice said it knew of cases where loans had been given to under-18s, to people with mental health issues, and to people who were drunk at the time of securing the loan. One client who took out a £50 loan was targeted with emails and texts offering more cash and ended up with debts of £800.

"Some of these lenders use predatory techniques to target vulnerable people on low incomes, encouraging them to take out loans which when rolled over with extra interest rapidly become out of control debts," the committee's chair, Margaret Hodge, said. "Meanwhile, the OFT has been ineffective and timid in the extreme. It passively waits for complaints from consumers before acting."

PAC's report said the OFT lacked information on how much lending was being done by each firm, and about how different people used consumer credit. A study commissioned from the National Audit Office suggested the scale of consumer harm was at least £450m a year, but the OFT was accused of lacking detailed information on the types of harm suffered by different groups of borrowers.

Read the rest

Documentary on hidden victims of Greek austerity that's crowdfunded, free & CC-licensed

Into The Fire is a film with a difference. Besides being a hard hitting documentary which shows the plight of refugees and migrants amidst a collapsing Greek economy, it's also an experiment in new film production and distribution techniques.

Austerity economics only works if you make an Excel formula error

A new paper called Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin from UMass Amherst tries and fails to replicate the classic work on austerity, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's 2010 Growth in a Time of Debt.

Reinhart-Rogoff is the main research cited in favor of cutting public services and spending in bad economic times. It's a big part of why the local library is shutting down, why they're kicking people out of public housing, shutting down arts programs, slashing education and public transit, and laying off public employees. It purports to show that countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios of 90 percent or more are a "threat to sustainable economic growth."

In the new Amherst paper, the authors reexamine Reinhart-Rogoff's original data and conclude that the numbers don't add up. They show that Reinhart-Rogoff cherry-picked which years of high-debt GDP they measure, that they put their thumbs on the scales with "unconventional weighting" and made a "coding error" that "entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark." This last error -- literally the wrong formula in a spreadsheet cell -- badly skews the outcome.

Here's the tl;dr: "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]."

Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year. In their data set, there are 110 years of data available for countries that have a debt/GDP over 90 percent, but they only use 96 of those years.

Read the rest

Spanish locksmiths won't help banks evict people from their homes

As the subprime bubble continues to burst in Spain, locksmiths find themselves complicit in putting families out on the street. In Pamplona, the local locksmiths have banded together and will not accept work from the banks changing locks or opening doors, even though it's costing them business:

Tired of accompanying court officials to evict unemployed people as banks foreclosed mortgages, De Carlos consulted his fellow Pamplona locksmiths before Christmas. In no time at all, they came to an agreement. They would not do the dirty work of banks whose rash lending pumped up a housing bubble and then, after it popped, helped bring the country to its knees.

"It only took us 15 minutes to reach a decision," says De Carlos amid the racks of keys in the family's shop in the centre of this small northern city best known for its annual bull-runs and the adoration heaped on it by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. "We all had stories of jobs we had been on where families had been left on the street. When you set out all you have is an address and the name of the bank, but I recall an elderly, sick man who was barely given time to put his trousers on."

The logic behind their decision was clear and simple. While Spain's banks mop up billions of euros in public aid, they are also busy reclaiming homes that in some cases they lent silly money for. At the height of Spain's housing madness, banks were, in effect, offering mortgages of more than 100%.

Read the rest

Best-of Canadian Conservative government blunders for 2012

Dave sez,

This little blog is my attempt to keep track of all of the comings and goings of Canada's Conservative government. Every week I spend an hour or two putting together a weekly round-up of the bad things done by the Conservatives in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and "family values". Honestly, there's always so much material to work with that it practically writes itself. I figured it would take no time at all to put together a nice little list of my favourite Conservative moments/people/events of 2012. But there was just so very much to work with I very quickly became sad, angry, confused, overwhelmed and then sad, all over again. There's a few holes and a few things missing, but this list should provide a nice little primer for anybody that wants to know about the fantastic accomplishments of Canada's Government in 2012! Highlights include:

- A Conservative MP who keeps falling asleep at work and then gets really angry when people ask him about it - An incompetent energy company attempting to hack a pipeline through the wilderness of British Columbia - A Conservative Minister who attempted to destroy Internet privacy but threw a hissy fit when the details of his divorce were made public (spoiler: he may-or-may-not have slept with the babysitter!)

24 Percent Majority: 2012 Best Of - Week 87 - Dec 25-Jan 1 (Thanks, Dave!) Read the rest

Student Riots in Italy: a dispatch from Jasmina Tesanovic

When I myself was a protesting student, I remember vividly remembered the cold warning in the text by Pier Paolo Pasolini. He reminded us youngsters that the police we faced in the streets were also someone's children, that not all young people were fortunate enough to be in colleges rather than wearing uniforms, and that we should join all together against the general oppressor, the system, capitalism, the corporations, name it…

That was then, and this is now, and while the students and policemen still have the same interests, they are still on the opposite sides of the barricade. Austerity has driven Italy to its knees. Day by day the future of Italy's young people is vaporizing, and now the streets are flooded by torrential rains, to boot. Italian cities rocked by earthquakes might as well settle for witchcraft, rather than find responsible and competent government officials who can rescue the nation's casualties. Read the rest

Spain's pocket communist utopia, Marinaleda

Dan Hancox sez,

You may have heard about Spain's 'Robin Hood Mayor', Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo - who last week made global headlines after he led farm labourers into supermarkets to expropriate basic food supplies, which were then distributed to the massed ranks of the local unemployed (currently 34% in Andalusia).

The Spanish economic miracle has become a catastrophe; with a government whose cuts have pushed miners to armed conflict (firing home-made rocket launchers at riot police), an Economics Minister whose last job was director of the Spanish branch of Lehman Brothers, and a lost generation of 'indignados' with no homes, no work, and no faith in the system. And right in the middle of it all, Marinaleda, a self-described communist utopia led by the charismatic poet-rebel, Sánchez Gordillo: a town of landless labourers who for over 30 years since the death of Franco, have fought capitalism - and won. 'Utopia and the Valley of Tears' is their story, published this week. There is a short extract in The Guardian.

Utopia and the Valley of Tears: A journey through the Spanish crisis Read the rest

Man in a coma is "fit for work," loses disability benefits

A post in a thread on claims that ATOS (a French private company that administers disability benefits assessments for the UK Department of Work and Pensions) has declared a man in a coma to be fit for work and cut off his benefits. This is part of a the stepped up campaign to stop "benefits cheats" by requiring complex paperwork from claimants. A companion piece on Libcom has comments from others who've been cut off, including a man who's suffered brain injuries that caused him to file his paperwork late.

Client’s husband is in hospital in a coma. He was sent ESA501.

Client contacted DWP to explain situation and was asked to obtain letter from hospital confirming he is in a coma. Did so. Was told to send it to ATOS rather than local BDC. Did so. Husband has now received decision letter – yep, as he has failed to return the ESA50 without good cause and is therefore capable of work [he is] no longer entitled to ESA…

Coma patient fit for work Read the rest

Get a free copy of "Share or Die" - strategies for a shared, post-austerity world

Share or Die is a new anthology from (whose mandate is to promote sharing in all its guises), written by 20-somethings struggling through austerity and econopocalypse, who find in sharing a solution to some of their problems. I was privileged to write the book's foreword, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can buy a copy or get a PDF for free -- all the book's publishers ask is that you tweet the fact that you've gotten a copy yourself. Here's a snip of my foreword:

This was supposed to be the disconnected generation. Raised on video-games and networked communications, kept indoors by their parents' fear of predators and the erosion of public transit and public spaces, these were the kids who were supposed to be socially isolated, preferring the company of video-game sprites to their peers, preferring Facebook updates to real-life conversations.

The Internet's reputation for isolation is undeserved and one-dimensional. If the net makes it possible to choose to interact through an electronic remove from "the real world," it *also* affords the possibility of inhabiting the "real world" even when you've been shut away from it by your fearful parents or the tyranny of suburban geography.

Even as entertainment moguls were self-servingly declaring "content is king," they failed to notice that content without an audience was about as interesting as a tree that falls in the deserted woods. Conversation is king, not content. If we gather around forums to talk about TV shows or movies or games or bands, it's because we enjoy talking with each other, because "social" is the best content there is.

Read the rest

Austerity Jubilee: unemployed workers tricked into being Jubilee stewards, denied toilets, left to camp in the rain

Long-term unemployed workers say they were bussed to London to act as stewards for the Queen's Jubilee, told they would be paid for the work and cared for while in town. When they arrived, they were told they wouldn't get paid (this was "work experience" not a job), and were made to strip down and change into uniforms in public, pitch tents in the rain, sleep under a bridge, and left without toilet facilities for 24 hours. They were told that if they didn't accept this "training," they wouldn't be considered for work during the Olympics.

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday...

A 30-year-old steward told the Guardian that the conditions under the bridge were "cold and wet and we were told to get our head down [to sleep]". He said that it was impossible to pitch a tent because of the concrete floor.

The woman said they were woken at 5.30am and supplied with boots, combat trousers and polo shirts. She said: "They had told the ladies we were getting ready in a minibus around the corner and I went to the minibus and they had failed to open it so it was locked.

Read the rest

Petition to save Canada's National Archive

Peter sez,

The Canadian federal government recently announced that they are cutting $9.6 million from the budget of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Canada's national archives. This will seriously undermine the archives, which was already struggling due to chronic underfunding to live up to its mandate 'o preserve the documentary heritage of Canada.'

Hundreds of other archives across Canada will also be negatively affected by these cuts because LAC is terminating the National Archives Development Program (NADP), a long-running contribution program that helped fund projects by small archives to preserve documentary heritage locally and make it publicly available. The NADP cost only $1.7 million annually, but has done a world of good in helping to ensure that Canadian history survives and is accessible by all. If you want to help fight these devastating cuts to Canada's archival heritage, please sign the online petition to save the NADP and spread the word about these harmful cuts.

Make it Better - Write a Letter. Help save Canada's National Archival Development Program. (Thanks, Peter!) Read the rest

Austerity obliterates ecology: Canadian budget to make environmental impact statements optional, class eco-groups as money-launderers

Chris sez, "The budget bill currently before the Canadian Parliament (Bill C-38) does a bunch of things that don't seem to have much to do with the budget--including completely gutting Canada's federal environmental laws. The Environmental Assessment Act is being completely repealed and replaced with a regime that gives the government the power to basically approve any project they want without any environmental review--including mining projects in Alberta's Athabasca Tar Sands and the Canadian portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. And while environmental protections are being slashed, $8 million is going to the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities (with the understanding that the main targets will be environmental charities--which the government has labelled as money launderers working for foreign interests). By putting this in a budget bill, the Conservative government has ensured that there will be minimal debate on these changes, and they will almost certainly be passed by the majority-Conservative parliament. Canada's largest environmental groups have organized a website blackout on June 4 to protest and raise awareness of these changes."

BlackOutSpeakOut - Welcome / Bienvenue (Thanks, Chris!) Read the rest

Austerity obliterates transparency: budget cuts mean cuts to Canada's Freedom of Information

A reader writes, "Yet another voice calling attention to the ever narrowing access to information in Canada as the Harper Government repeatedly thumb their nose at the Canadian Access to Information Act." And the CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick reports:

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault reported today that the federal government's budget cuts could jeopardize a "fragile" access to information system that has been improving... Legault said the access to information areas within government departments tend to be vulnerable when there are cuts and she has already heard from some requestors that they've been told their files are being delayed because of cuts.

Budget cuts threaten access to information, watchdog says Read the rest

Austerity obliterates history: Canadian heritage docs no longer available through interlibrary loan

A reader writes, "Canadian heritage documents that used to be accessible through inter-library loan will be no longer accessible. If you want to access documents of Canada's history, be prepared to do some traveling, and even at that, those documents may no longer exist since standards of preservation may be compromised. This is of particular concern since the Harper government has revealed revisionist tendencies in the past."

From Laura Mueller in Nepean/Barrhaven Local Community News:

"Unless something is done soon, Canadians are at risk of losing key parts of their historical and cultural record," Harder wrote to Minister James Moore. "Preservation of our country's heritage is not something we can afford to sacrifice."

The Ottawa Public Library system relies on the national library for key Canadian heritage documents accessible through inter-library loans.

"It's going to have a huge impact on inter-library loans," said Jennifer Stirling, OPL's manager of service and innovation. "(The archives contains) Canadiana that just can't be replicated elsewhere ... it's very sad to see this happen."

Here's the national campaign to save Canada's archives.

Federal archive cutbacks impact local libraries, Canadian heritage archives will no longer be accessible by inter-library loan Read the rest

Canada's national archives being dismantled and scattered

A reader writes,

The Canadian government is slowly doing away with Canada's ability to access its own history.

Library and Archives Canada's collection is being decentralized and scattered across the country, often to private institutions, which will limit access, making research difficult or next impossible. It should be noted that Daniel Caron, the new National Archivist hired in 2009, doesn't even have a background in library nor archives but, a background in economics.

"The changes and cuts are being justified by reference to digitization. A generous estimate is only 4% of the LAC collection has been digitized to date -- a poor record that will be made worse by the cuts announced on April 30, 2012, which reduced digitization staff by 50%."

Save Library & Archives Canada Read the rest

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