Letters: New ways to slice the economic cake

These letters appear in the Tuesday 20th edition of The Independent

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It is heartening to see new measures of progress entering the mainstream debate. But we must question your editorial’s concern (19 May) that non-monetary measures “could be used as an alibi for the growing divide between rich and poor”. An economy that was run to maximise well-being would care more, not less, about reducing poverty and inequality.

It is GDP, not well-being, that has historically been used as an “alibi” for inequality. GDP only tells you the size of the cake: it says nothing about how that cake is distributed. And for decades we have been told that if we freed “wealth creators” to grow the size of the cake, the benefits would trickle down to those at the bottom. We now know that this is untrue.

By contrast, well-being evidence demonstrates that distribution does matter. Poverty and deprivation are strong predictors of low well-being, but further up the income scale the link between money and well-being almost disappears – with relative income seemingly at least as important as absolute income. Focusing on GDP growth won’t improve well-being if the fruits of that growth go disproportionately to the rich.

Well-being is not merely a sideshow – it is a serious alternative to a yardstick of progress that has failed in economic as well as non-economic terms.

Christine Berry, Researcher, Centre for Wellbeing, New Economics Foundation, London SE11


Your editorial “Britain: The global capital for billionaires” (12 May) captured the problem without either analysing the cause or providing any solutions.

The disparity of wealth has increased since the adoption of the Reagan/Thatcher concept of low-regulated free-market economics. From the end of the Second World War until 1980 the opposite was happening, at least in developed countries. Annual growth rates were higher in this period than they have been since in the UK, despite spanning the 1970s oil-price crisis. It is strange that nobody is discussing this until you realise who has benefited from it and who has not.

The crash in 2008 was also caused by this failed unregulated market capitalist model so beloved of all our politicians and newspaper owners. This approach has failed almost as comprehensively as the Marxist central planning model.

The solutions our Coalition Government has chosen to employ have exacerbated the disparities, making the poor pay for the actions of bankers. 

The sad thing is we have evidence of a system that worked much better, the regulated social market capitalism that was in place in most democracies up to 1979, that we were told by the politicians of the time had failed – a failure that would be deemed a success in today’s economic environment.

Instead of debate we blame the EU, foreigners, billionaires, the unions, take your pick.

Dr Robert Sloss, Bury, Lancashire


The news that the 1,000 wealthiest Britons now own £519bn – the equivalent of a third of Britain’s gross domestic product – should set alarm bells ringing. The figures reflect a grotesquely unequal society, which comes into ever clearer focus when it is remembered that one million people go to food banks.

This level of inequality needs urgent attention, given that there is only a limited amount of time that the mass of people are going to continue to tolerate such an unjust situation.

Paul Donovan, London E11


Scapegoats for Europe’s woes

I have changed my mind about the EU.

I have always considered the EU to be an undemocratic, corrupt, interfering, smug, self-satisfied institution, with a rigid free-market and federal agenda. I still believe that analysis of the EU to be correct. However, I am voting for a pro-EU party – the Green Party if you want to know – because there is one thing far worse than the EU and that is the growth of militant nationalism that is exclusive, intolerant  and blinkered, and which looks for whipping-boys on which to relieve its frustrations.

Moves towards a federal Europe will stoke the flames of nationalism so the EU must be reformed on a social-democratic model, so that it becomes a commonwealth of independent nations rather than a federal state.

It has long been one of the weaknesses of the EU that when people perceive that they have lost control of their countries’ internal affairs, because of European  institutions that are not directly accountable, then scapegoats will be found and there will be a return to nationalism. Nationalism should not become the legacy of the EU.

Lyn Atterbury, Pila, Poland


Camps where we corral migrants

I don’t often find myself agreeing with every word that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes, but this morning’s piece (19 May) was exceptional. It made me as angry, as it so obviously made her. So where do we go from here?

Could I suggest that a good start might be for newspapers like The Independent to stop referring to places like Yarl’s Wood with the coy title of “Immigration Removal Centres” and start calling them what they really are: concentration camps.

A concentration camp is a means of corralling people of a particular sort so that they can no longer cause bother to the ruling élite. My German friends never cease to remind me that they are a British invention, instituted during the South African wars of the late 1890s to keep unruly Boers in one place. Perhaps revealing to the nation that this country still operates concentration camps might wake people up?

John Williams, West Wittering, West Sussex


You have made no proper analysis of why there is so much concern over uncontrolled immigration to this country.

It is not about race, despite The Independent and other dishonest media attempts to paint it that way. It is primarily about numbers.

Our schools are full, our hospitals are full, our GP surgeries are full, our housing stock is full, our prisons are full, our roads are clogged, and all of these are leading to a reduction in the quality of life for all residents in this country.

There is some understandable resistance to people of some cultures that bring with them attitudes and behaviour that are incompatible with the values of this country, such as forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, and demonising of children as witches. There is also understandable resistance to people who bring their conflicts with them, such as the Sunni-Shia conflict or the Tamil Tigers.

But the essence of the argument to control immigration is numbers, irrespective of race. Because of the attempts by The Independent and others to deliberately misrepresent this argument I will be casting my vote for UKIP for the first time on 22 May.

Ian Dunlop, Staplecross, East Sussex


I would much prefer to live next door to a Romanian than to Nigel Farage.

Gill Littlehales

Pudsey, West Yorkshire


The land of falling house prices

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has identified surging housing prices as the biggest risk to the UK economy. He believes that “there are not sufficient houses built in the UK”.

Maybe Mr Carney should come to Middlesbrough, where my three-bedroom semi is still worth less than it was in 2007, and hundreds of perfectly good houses have been demolished.

When I read such  articles in the media, I often think that they are about a foreign country.

May I suggest the Government should start looking at encouraging businesses, by offering them incentives to relocate, or at least set up satellite offices, away from London to the forgotten towns such as mine. This would help to cool the housing market in the South-east, and at the same time ease the unemployment in the depressed areas.

Or is that too easy?

Gerard Etherington, Middlesbrough


Survival of the farthest-flung snails

Your report on the homing abilities of snails (16 May) clearly shows that natural selection is at work.

That garden snails do not return if removed more than 20 metres is obviously related to the width of suburban gardens. One garden away is normally less than 20 metres; two gardens away is normally farther than a snail will be thrown. So there is no need to develop the navigational skills for returning from the greater distance. 

Another possibility is that the snails are smart enough to realise that a gardener with enough venom to hurl them that far is best avoided.

David Ridge

London N19

Isn’t there enough spite shown already to innocent creatures without your encouraging gardeners to throw snails at least 20 metres?

G Pigott

Holland-on-Sea,  Essex