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December 10, 2013 3:18 AM   Subscribe

Let's admit it: Britain is now a developing country.
Gender equality? The WEF ranks us behind Nicaragua and Lesotho. Investment by business? The Economist thinks we are struggling to keep up with Mali. Let me put it more broadly, Britain is a rich country accruing many of the stereotypical bad habits of a developing country.
Aditya Chakrabortty discusses the increasing hollowing out of the UK economy, as well as the City as an economically distorting resource curse.
posted by jaduncan (74 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
While of course the UK economy has many problems, this journalist/columnist is apparently using his own meaning of developing/development, different from what is commonly used. It's provocative and lazy attention-seeking rather than cogent analysis. By his standards, Japan is even more of a developing country than the UK.
Also, successfully growing developing countries (and China, as Chinese government official and policy experts will tell you, while it is an economic powerhouse and is probably the next superpower that will dominate the globe, it is still very much - and for a long time to come- a developing country, given the huge proportions and more intense degrees of impoverishment amongst the whole population there, vastly outweighing relative equivalents in the UK) have the potential to post high growth rates much bigger than anything that developed economies can achieve, because developing countries aren't mature yet (i.e. they have more low-hanging fruit).
posted by Bwithh at 3:30 AM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


As a filthy foreigner living in the UK, I have often remarked how it strikes me as more akin to a developing than developed country on many occasions in the past. Just a few examples - the housing stock here is laughable, especially in light of the climate, transport infrastructure (especially rail) is godawful - third class on local trains in Vietnam and northern China is more comfortable, modern, and well-maintained than many of the trains I've been on between London and Brighton for example, nevermind how the Tube compares to any other metro I have experienced anywhere - and outrageously expensive, state schools in many areas are hilariously underfunded, and private education is very very widespread, oh, and telephone lines are still overhead (something I've only ever seen otherwise in south-east asian slums).

There's more to development than GDP growth.
posted by Dysk at 3:39 AM on December 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


The "hollowing out of the UK economy" resonates.

We're doing what the USA has allowed - wealthy, neo-liberals to exploit everyone whichever way they can, creating oasis of well-provided-for-living (a few parts of a few cities), whilst screwing everyone else.

Not too sure it's fair to say it's a developing country. I'd say it's a self-destructing post-developed country, that has allowed greed to run wild.
posted by rolandroland at 3:50 AM on December 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Without glossing over the many failings of the UK, you can't be good at everything. There are 112 criteria in the World Economic Forum's competitiveness survey. In it, Britain is 10th overall and Chile is 33rd. Britain's roads are ranked 28th. By contrast, Switzerland is the most competitive economy overall but it ranks 40th on port infrastructure (no, I don't know how, either) and 33rd on organized crime.

I'm not sure the author of this article knows what a developing country is and would be intrigued to know which ones he'd been to.

Scroll down the article and you get to his point: it doesn't matter if you're rich it's all about social mobility and income distribution. Fine. Say that, rather than burying the lede by cherry picking facts that don't really make the point.

It's looks to me a classic Guardian 'tax and spend' article with a side helping of old fashioned student paranoia ("that's why police are now a presence on our business-friendly university campuses") ending in a not very convincing denial that he doesn't, in fact, think we're going to the dogs.

And then a spunk joke.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:51 AM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think this is a direct consequence of Thatcherism.
posted by Renoroc at 3:53 AM on December 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's been criticism of the PISA tests mentioned at the start of the article as well. Also BBC, TES.
posted by edd at 3:56 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


> telephone lines are still overhead (something I've only ever seen otherwise in south-east
> asian slums)

Well you haven't seen much of mainland Europe or the United States then. Telephone lines above ground! What savagery!
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:58 AM on December 10, 2013 [29 favorites]


The World Economic Forum report to which the article refers says:
As in previous years, this year’s top 10 remain dominated by a number of European countries, with Switzerland, Finland, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom confirming their places among the most competitive economies.
That doesn't seem like bad company.
posted by pracowity at 3:59 AM on December 10, 2013


There's more to development than GDP growth.

That's true, but it's also really politically difficult to introduce wholesale, expensive redevelopment of pre-existing and heavily interwoven infrastructure. The advantage that developing countries have is that public opinion and pesky land laws and people with a clear understanding of their rights and the ability to mobilise protests around large scale building or publicly financed projects is not maybe so much of an issue.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:59 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let's Admit It: "Developing" Means Something Other Than What It Normally Means
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:02 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


transport infrastructure (especially rail) is godawful

While I get pissed off with train companies on a regular basis, I actually feel that public transport here, at least in cities, is a good thing. I can't drive and am not allowed to anyway due to medication, and there are parts of the US where this would leave me effectively housebound.

The housing situation, though...the high cost of rents (and deposits, and fees, and having to pass a credit check), following on from the high cost of putting a deposit down on a property which has raised the average first-time buyer age to 37, has actually led to a slum-like situation in parts of London. Homeowners build glorified sheds in their gardens and let them out to people who are either here illegally or don't have good enough English to check their rights for hundreds of pounds a month. I haven[t lived in other parts of the country for a while, but there is a phenomenal amount of greed around the housing market.
posted by mippy at 4:14 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


"How can any nation that came up with the BBC and the NHS be considered in the same breath as India or China?"

India invented naan bread and China invented ice cream. NEXT.
posted by mippy at 4:16 AM on December 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


It certainly is rare that I hear anything like good news from back home in the (gasp) eight years that I've been asay. Part of my wants to put that down to a national inclination to accentuate the negative, but now I'm thinking everything really has gone to shit. Certainly the current government sounds like the fucking worst, everything bad about Thatcherism without the fake economic boom of privatization - not that they don't privatize things, just nothing economically happens as a result except people's lives getting worse - total bunch of incompetent clown assholes.
posted by Artw at 4:18 AM on December 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Or maybe they're highly competent, but are working on behalf of interests other than the country's general welfare.
posted by ardgedee at 4:20 AM on December 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


I believe "developing" was meant to be a polite way of saying "poor", but language being what it is, the kindly euphemism has automatically become an insult in this kind of context. A bit like being called 'special needs' in the playground.
posted by Segundus at 4:24 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am hoping that if Scotland declares Independence they'll let everyone North of London come with them.
posted by longbaugh at 4:24 AM on December 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


To add on to @mippy

China invented gunpowder, paper, and the magnetic compass, India invented the number zero, mathematics, and meditation. They both truly are highly developed countries in massive decline, if viewed in the long sense of things.
posted by DGStieber at 4:26 AM on December 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


London is a terrible barometer for the UK's economic health. When the economies of Greece and Spain (among others) started to tank, a huge chunk of money fled those areas in favour of London property, inflating that part of the economy at the expense of making life for immigrants and the poor in our capital pretty much unbearable.

That same influx of money helps to give the artificial appearance of a recovering property market, which then bleeds out to the rest of the country in the form of over-valued property. The Tories, as always, are quick to take credit whenever the tide of the market moves in their favour; if things were swinging the other way (as they probably are, if cost and quality of living are your metric), it's just a problem they inherited from Labour.
posted by pipeski at 4:27 AM on December 10, 2013


I'm hoping that this article and the attention it garners might reanimate Graham Chapman. Because this is the fucking most hilarious thing I've read in perhaps ever.
posted by vapidave at 4:32 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The housing situation, though...the high cost of rents

The UK - primarily England and Wales - have a housing issue, for sure, thanks to years of underinvestment in the public sector. Foreign investment in prime central London does bleed out to higher prices around London but it doesn't really explain why Cornwall or Bristol or Manchester are expensive.

When making international comparisons it is at least fair to acknowledge that land in the UK is expensive, and that is part of the problem. It makes a private sector-based solution - the favoured method since the mid seventies - much harder because it would require a glut of social housing just to start to depress prices.

France has 674,843 km² of land for 66m people. England has 130,395 km² for 53m people. In 2004 agricultural land was £2,400 in the UK per acre compared with £7,440 an acre in 2012. In France it is less than one third of that. Green belt restrictions exacerbate this and mean there is a high level of demand for land even out in the sticks.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:32 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Manchester is the economic hub for the north-west. I grew up in a town about half an hour away by train, where the average wage is £18k, and there is high unemployment, a lack of cultural life, little in the way of decent shops and restaurants, and huge race relations problems. Anyone I knew who was gay, ambitious or a little bit weird took off down the M62 like a shot as soon as they were old enough. The average salary there is apparently £32,988 (though when I lived there as a student and then a temp I couldn't envisage ever earning that much) and there are a lot of students there too, so housing is in demand.

My SO is from Fife, and Edinburgh plays a similar role there - though its status as the capital and as a major tourist town probably have an impact there too. I don't know Bristol, but would imagine it is in a similar situation in relation to the south-west. Cornwall I know has the problem that natives to the county can't buy or rent there due to second home owners pushing up the cost of property.
posted by mippy at 4:37 AM on December 10, 2013


I am hoping that if Scotland declares Independence they'll let everyone North of London come with them.

Or, London could just declare independence itself. I think the rest of us would get on with things quite happily. C'mon, turn the M25 into a moat, you know you want to...
posted by Catseye at 4:44 AM on December 10, 2013


there is a high level of demand for land even out in the sticks.

Build up. Every village ought to have at least one tower block full of small flats for single people and new families. Paint it grey and you'll never even notice it against the sky.
posted by pracowity at 4:44 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of food banks in the UK. But, how does one get access to a food bank in the UK? They go to a doctor/nurse/faith leader and say "I am hungry". Then, the official does a survey to assess whether that person is hungry and poor enough to access a food bank, which they can only access three times per year for a grand total of nine days' worth of food per year. So, a lot of people accessing nine days' food per year. Food banks are a stop gap measure meant to empower local agencies to address individual family problems, not holistic gaps in services.
posted by parmanparman at 5:05 AM on December 10, 2013


I don't think Chakrabortty is advancing a coherent thesis as such; it seems more like flailing around a bit randomly in the grip of the terrible cognitive dissonance that naturally arises from reading reports in the Telegraph and other places that Osbourne's strategy has come good, Ed Balls silenced as growth rolls again, Tory Britain soars ahead, etc
posted by Segundus at 5:18 AM on December 10, 2013



We're doing what the USA has allowed - wealthy, neo-liberals to exploit everyone whichever way they can, creating oasis of well-provided-for-living (a few parts of a few cities), whilst screwing everyone else.

Not too sure it's fair to say it's a developing country. I'd say it's a self-destructing post-developed country, that has allowed greed to run wild.


This resonated for me. Last week I was riding a shuttle bus that goes between the parking area and the terminal at a major US airport. At some point I looked around and noticed how decrepit the bus was -- rattling, old, and totally beat up. It was the kind of bus you would have expected to ride on in a developing country back in the early 1990s, say, compared to the spotless and brand new bus I rode the last time I flew through Germany.

The interesting thing is that we have come to take that kind of declining infrastructure as normal -- we don't expect better, we don't demand better, and we certainly don't get anything better. The UK, much less the US, isn't a "developing country" in a meaningful economic sense, but there is something to the comparison in terms of the daily experience of living and an acceptance of low-quality public services and an open extraction of public resources by the elite.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 AM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Let's Admit It: "Developing" Means Something Other Than What It Normally Means

Let's admit it: article headlines sometimes provide an attention-grabbing gloss on the articles themselves, and we can debate exactly how far that's legitimate or not in the fiercely competitive new media environment, but it's almost always really frustrating when Metafilter threads turn into arguments about those headlines instead of the articles themselves.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:33 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


While of course the UK economy has many problems, this journalist/columnist is apparently using his own meaning of developing/development, different from what is commonly used. It's provocative and lazy attention-seeking rather than cogent analysis.

The author is building on Sen's definition. Who, it might be argued, knows a thing or two about development.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:38 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh, and telephone lines are still overhead (something I've only ever seen otherwise in south-east asian slums).

It's extremely common, especially in places where the ground is a) wet, or b) solid rock. Britain is both.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:05 AM on December 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


The headline is more than a bit click-baitey, but the point about the hollowed-out economy is certainly true. It's not about to get any better anytime soon either, what with Gideon laying out plans to take Government spending back to 1948 levels. Reducing infrastructure investment, removing the social safety net, concentrating the opportunities and rewards of society in a smaller and smaller elite. It's a good recipe for achieving a state that looks like a developing country, even if we're not there yet.
posted by Jakey at 6:09 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you guys still burying your water pipes in the ground? Ground made out of dirt? Ugh, barbarians.
posted by forgetful snow at 6:09 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Let's admit it: Britain is now a developing country."

No, it isn't.
posted by downing street memo at 6:14 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


American and British infrastructure is antiquated partly because they weren't forced to rebuild everything post-1945. Still, the dismal state of American transportation is a politcal failure; and it makes Britain's system look sleek and modern by comparison.
posted by spaltavian at 6:15 AM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


"The author is building on willfully misrepresenting Sen's definition. Who, it might be argued, knows a thing or two about development."

FTFY. Does anyone honestly think that a capability metric would put Britain behind India? Like, is anyone willing to make that argument to Sen's face? I would pay good money to watch him respond to that.

Much of this article depends on the claim that the colonizer should never be bested by the colonized in any arena. Since when is: "We're falling behind the non-whites!" a reason to complain? We should hope someday that an article like this would be written honestly and without misrepresentation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:15 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


American and British infrastructure is antiquated partly because they weren't forced to rebuild everything post-1945. Still, the dismal state of American transportation is a politcal failure; and it makes Britain's system look sleek and modern by comparison.

To add to this, in railway terms Britain suffered because it had a lot of coal. This helped delay a transition to Diesel and Electric for some time.
posted by garius at 6:20 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


American and British infrastructure is antiquated partly because they weren't forced to rebuild everything post-1945. Still, the dismal state of American transportation is a politcal failure; and it makes Britain's system look sleek and modern by comparison.

Right up until you have to pay for your ticket and discover you can fly to Athens for less than it costs to buy a last minute train ticket to London.
posted by srboisvert at 6:25 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've recently basically given up reading the Guardian due to a massive increase in link-baitey garbage articles like this one.

Britain has a lot of problems with the north-south divide, youth unemployment and underemployment, a badly structured economy, housing, infrastructure and inequality but it's hardly a developing/third world/whatever country... it's not even Spain/Greece/Etc
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:33 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


By contrast, Switzerland is the most competitive economy overall but it ranks 40th on port infrastructure (no, I don't know how, either) and 33rd on organized crime.
Are you telling me there's a Swiss mafia?
posted by deathpanels at 6:45 AM on December 10, 2013


Quite a good chunk of Britain had to be rebuilt post 1945. Most of Coventry, for example, and a good part of London. This led on to the slum clearances of the 1950s, in which good chunks of Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow were demolished.
posted by mippy at 6:46 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since when is: "We're falling behind the non-whites!" a reason to complain?

Aditya Chakrabortty isn't white, to be fair.

I wish the Guardian and/or the author hadn't gone with that as the headline, because it does come across as link-baity and not well supported by what the article's actually saying. (Not to mention that it's a bit weird when Guardian headlines, even in CiF, seem interchangeable with the most right-wing of Daily Mail This-Country-Has-Gone-To-The-Dogs style rants.) "Britain is a rich country accruing many of the stereotypical bad habits of a developing country" is more reasonable.
posted by Catseye at 6:47 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


American and British infrastructure is antiquated partly because they weren't forced to rebuild everything post-1945.

There are logical-sounding arguments for continuing to use overhead power lines. For example, overhead lines fail more often but take longer to repair, underground lines become less reliable than overhead lines as they age, and underground lines are a hell of a lot more expensive to install and maintain. Apparently one big reason for burying lines is simply that it looks better, so developers trying to sell property push for burying the lines.
posted by pracowity at 6:56 AM on December 10, 2013


Submitted too early on the last one.

In tranport infrastructure terms Britain is a lot better off than might at first seem, with an enormous amount of top-draw infrastructure and rolling stock having either come into service over the last five years or in the process of being realised in the next ten. There is, however, a fair argument to be made that most of that has focused primarily on London.

In part, that's because infrastructure investment in large cities becomes something of a circle-jerk if you're not careful - good infrastructure brings investment, which brings demand, which requires further investment, which brings more demand etc. etc.

It's also, though, because politically London is far more powerful and influential than elsewhere. That's not really because the seat of government is here - that's a bit of a political falsehood and oversimplification - it's because in the office of the Mayor and the existence of Transport for London as arguably the last real powerful nationalized (Londonized?) industry, the city has two hugely powerful political forces at its disposal. More importantly those forces know what they're doing and are (generally) both pulling for long term wins.

Anyway, the result is that you get a country where we're now getting some of the most modern trains and infrastructure in London - genuinely world-beating, never-seen-anywhere-else-before technology and techniques that other countries are watching with great interest - and shitty old pacers with folding doors (!) running elsewhere in the country.

So the wealth needs spreading but more importantly so does the political nous. The north doesn't need more money, it needs more of its own versions of TfL and then it needs money.

You only get successful major infrastructure projects in places like the UK if you have good, locally focused (but forward) thinking. You need dedicated transport authorities prepared to do the dirty work of making sure projects get signed off and delivered.

Look no further than the differences between HS2 and Crossrail as projects for evidence of that.

Crossrail, despite its long gestation, taught TfL that you have tie supplementary income from businesses into your project finances, and get spades in the ground as quickly as possible, so that you're as immune as possible from Treasury meddling of whatever political colour.

More importantly it taught TfL that the last thing you want to do is get bogged down in arguments over routes or land usage - as, rightly or wrongly, your arguments are always going to seem less personal and less headline-worthy than those of the old lady who's worried about what impact a new railway two fields over will have on her house.

Both of those are mistakes that the Department for Transport have made with HS2, and that really doesn't help the political case for investment outside of the Capital, particularly if you're a politician who really just wants something big and non-controversial to back and - hopefully - then open whilst you're holding the purse strings at the Treasury. Why go through the hassle of being picketed by farmers if you can get clapped by Londoners (or if you're a Tory London's businesses) instead?

That, then, is the key problem in transport infrastructure terms at a country level - how do you export the way TfL works to the regions? Do that and the investment will follow, and the infrastructure imbalances between north and south will continue to decline.

Perhaps more importantly, it doesn't automatically follow that more investment up North in transport has to be to the detriment of London. TfL's real talent has always been in securing funding above and beyond that which had already been allocated for Transport - i.e. not getting a larger slice of the Department for Transport's allocated funding, but grabbing a slice of Treasury money and income elsewhere (e.g. through the Crossrail Levy on key businesses in the City).

Successfully replicate that talent up north and everyone wins.
posted by garius at 7:00 AM on December 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


it doesn't matter if you're rich it's all about social mobility and income distribution

I think of this every time someone spews the bullshit about the US being "the richest country in the world". Countries are not rich. People are rich, or not as the case may be.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:04 AM on December 10, 2013


The main problem with HS2 is that it was a Labour plan to connect [Labour-leaning] northern towns to London/Europe by high speed train, carving up [very Conservative-leaning] districts all the way through to Birmingham.

Which is electorally manageable when you're a Labour government with a majority. Your voters win, your opponents suffer.

But it's a harder sell to your own party when you're a Conservative PM of a coalition government bringing a benefit to people who probably won't vote for you and alienating the party faithful.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:11 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well "developing" is something of a euphemism, isn't it? If you're decaying from a first world into a third world country, that's not so much "developing" as its exact opposite.
posted by Naberius at 7:33 AM on December 10, 2013


There are logical-sounding arguments for continuing to use overhead power lines. For example, overhead lines fail more often but take longer to repair, underground lines become less reliable than overhead lines as they age, and underground lines are a hell of a lot more expensive to install and maintain. Apparently one big reason for burying lines is simply that it looks better, so developers trying to sell property push for burying the lines.

Quick correction to the section I've bolded: overhead lines fail 50% more often, but the average duration of an underground outage is 58% longer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:33 AM on December 10, 2013


The main problem with HS2 is that it was a Labour plan to connect [Labour-leaning] northern towns to London/Europe by high speed train, carving up [very Conservative-leaning] districts all the way through to Birmingham.

Which is electorally manageable when you're a Labour government with a majority. Your voters win, your opponents suffer.

But it's a harder sell to your own party when you're a Conservative PM of a coalition government bringing a benefit to people who probably won't vote for you and alienating the party faithful.


Exactly - which is why it takes a strong transport authority (or parent organisation) to execute large transport infrastructure projects. Because they have to provide the consistency of message and political pressure that the ebb and flow of politics don't necessarily provide.
posted by garius at 7:33 AM on December 10, 2013


Garius, what you say rings true in Manchester where the working together of local authorities within TfGM has led to the growth of a pretty decent (for England Not London, that is) light rail system.

I've long thought that most local government in England is too small and lacking in power to reach its best.
posted by Thing at 7:41 AM on December 10, 2013


There are a lot of food banks in the UK. But, how does one get access to a food bank in the UK? They go to a doctor/nurse/faith leader and say "I am hungry". Then, the official does a survey to assess whether that person is hungry and poor enough to access a food bank, which they can only access three times per year for a grand total of nine days' worth of food per year. So, a lot of people accessing nine days' food per year. Food banks are a stop gap measure meant to empower local agencies to address individual family problems, not holistic gaps in services.

I don't quite get this. Is there also independent food distribution that's known by some other name? Surely it isn't all so regulated that poor folks can only access nine days of food per year? If we did that in the US, people would be dying in the streets.
posted by Frowner at 7:45 AM on December 10, 2013


I have to say that while the WEF may be measuring on a lot of different things, I'd say there's a pretty big difference between ranking low on port infrastructure and ranking low on gender equality. You can't be good at everything, but some stuff is more important.
posted by Sequence at 7:52 AM on December 10, 2013


Like most countries, the UK's welfare state is a patchwork of services and organizations. Most food aid comes in the form of cash benefits, although now there is a shift towards US food stamp-style debit cards that can only be used for food and other necessities.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2013


Minor point on the gender equality thing, assuming this is the right report - what a carefully-constructed example! "Would you believe it, the UK is below complete shitholes like Nicaragua and Lesotho."

Except it turns out that Nicaragua is ranked 10th, Lesotho is ranked 16th, and the UK is in the soul-crushingly low position of...18th. Out of 68. Holding more or less steady over the past few years.
posted by forgetful snow at 8:02 AM on December 10, 2013


When I was a little kid (late 80s/early 90s) I went into Manchester's decaying city centre on a foetid double-decker bus with rotting puke-orange seats, sitting as far towards the back as possible to avoid the cigarette smoke wafting down from the upper deck. I'm also pretty sure that getting a wheelchair user on board took the assistance of two or three strong guys. The last time I was back, I rode a sleek Austro-German tram into a clean, very busy and extensively remodelled centre that provided free accessible intra-city buses. In the couple of years I was away, the tram network had dramatically expanded, with more planned. This is not, at all, the trajectory that the article describes.
posted by topynate at 8:06 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Manchester's extensively remodelled city centre? Well, they had to do something in the aftermath of the IRA Provo bomb in 1996 that wrecked a good part of it.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:16 AM on December 10, 2013


True, but the development that came after was far more extensive and over a much larger area than was directly affected by the bomb.
posted by topynate at 8:17 AM on December 10, 2013


I've been sort of pondering a notion that if you are a right wing government who believes in small government (The conservative party in this case) then you actually can't lose.

If you govern well according to your principles then you reduce the state and your supporters are happy. If you govern poorly then it just proves your point that government is bad and you should have less of it.

This... sort of offends my popperian instincts.
(Not that any government has put forth properly falsifiable governance as a working principle of course)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not that it wasn't an incredibly large bomb. I was in synagogue at the time; the guards at the gate heard it. We were 6 miles away.
posted by topynate at 8:26 AM on December 10, 2013


Quite a good chunk of Britain had to be rebuilt post 1945.

Yes, but they were so busy making it look as ugly as possible they had no time to optimise the infrastructure.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:32 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, but they were so busy making it look as ugly as possible they had no time to optimise the infrastructure.

"What's our new architectural vision for Britain then lads?"

"If it doesn't move, pebble-dash it."

"Righto!"
posted by garius at 8:37 AM on December 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


I've been sort of pondering a notion that if you are a right wing government who believes in small government (The conservative party in this case) then you actually can't lose.

You're leaving out the risk factor. When a small enterprise fails, its effects are minimal and relatively easy to correct. When a large enterprise fails, the effects are catastrophic.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:41 AM on December 10, 2013


Are you telling me there's a Swiss mafia?

Switzerland is right next to Italy, Swiss bank accounts are basically code for money laundering, and, to boot, had an enormous wave of immigration from the former Yugoslavia during and after the wars in the Balkans. It's got all of the elements for a significant organized crime presence.
posted by Copronymus at 9:04 AM on December 10, 2013


I heard it's getting harder now to buy property in Scandinavia thanks to the Swedish House Mafia.
posted by mippy at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


They're not the only problem. Move outside the city and the Jungle is Massive.
posted by garius at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


India invented the number zero, mathematics, and meditation.

Do you mind elaborating? Wikipedia seems to give the nod to Babylon/Egypt.

Right up until you have to pay for your ticket and discover you can fly to Athens for less than it costs to buy a last minute train ticket to London.

Not if you're trying to fly to Athens for the holidays. It costs about as much as flying to bloody Tokyo.
posted by ersatz at 6:05 PM on December 10, 2013


It seems to me there are other choices beyond 'developing' and 'developed'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:57 PM on December 10, 2013


While I get pissed off with train companies on a regular basis, I actually feel that public transport here, at least in cities, is a good thing. I can't drive and am not allowed to anyway due to medication, and there are parts of the US where this would leave me effectively housebound.

In cities, perhaps. London has fancy things like night buses! Here in the midlands, good luck getting anywhere past, oh, half ten at night unless you fancy shelling out for a taxi.

"oh, and telephone lines are still overhead (something I've only ever seen otherwise in south-east asian slums)."

It's extremely common, especially in places where the ground is a) wet, or b) solid rock. Britain is both.


So is Hong Kong. No overhead cables. Denmark is pretty wet. No overhead cables. We're hardly talking about serious tunnelling work here, just putting the bastards under a couple of feet of dirt. You're putting some sort of foundation in for your roads and pavements anyway. Besides which, that one point was something of a joke ;)

American and British infrastructure is antiquated partly because they weren't forced to rebuild everything post-1945.

As someone else pointed out, basically all of Coventry was rebuilt post-45. It's just down the road from me, and let me tell you, it's just about the most egregious example there is of shitty infrastructure and housing anywhere, especially with regards to transport infrastructure.

I'm sure the trams in Manchester are lovely, and London is good compared to other places, and hell, last I visited Nottingham it was very nice too, but get outside the cities, or even just to the smaller cities, and it's completely different. The number of times I've ended up effectively stranded in Coventry (about ten mile down the road) because every last transport link between there and here (the county capital, a large shopping town, and the largest town in Warwickshire) just stop dead past ten pm - and that's assuming the last bus runs even vaguely on time, rather than being either a half hour early, or just not bothering to turn up. Don't even get me started on getting to and from Birmingham, and god forbid you might want to travel from one town to another town. Or from here to Cambridge - 80-odd mile roughly due east by road. How does public transport get you there? 90-odd mile south into London, then 90-odd mile north up to Cambridge, and you get charged through the damn nose for the privilege. It's ridiculous. And it's hardly unique to my area or town.

Your Manchesters and your Londons may be nice, but they are not representative of England.
posted by Dysk at 2:07 AM on December 11, 2013


Your Manchesters and your Londons may be nice, but they are not representative of England.

Well combined they represent roughly 15% of the population of England, so I'd say there's an argument at least for saying that they do - at least as much as any two places do.

I'm not saying that to be awkward - just to highlight that defining what does represent England is a thorny question that is rarely fully addressed in debates like this. Should we think in terms of geography, population or what?

I mean, you can take the populations of the four largest cities in the UK outside of London and add them together, and you've basically got the number of travellers on the Tube on an average week day in February (at least if the COO of the Underground can be believed). So if London - especially when coupled with somewhere like Manchester - doesn't represent England then just who does?
posted by garius at 3:38 AM on December 11, 2013


When we're talking about transport infrastructure, looking only at metro transport within cities is overlooking a whole hell of a lot. Whatever proportion of the population the n largest cities make up, and however easy, cheap, and awesome it is to get around within them, to say that the quality of the Tube or whatever is representative of the transport infrastructure of the country is disingenuous. Even Londoners will have occasional call to travel outside of London, and Manchester's bus network can be as good as it likes, it's no use if you can't get to Manchester in the first place.
posted by Dysk at 5:01 AM on December 11, 2013


Minor point on the gender equality thing, assuming this is the right report - what a carefully-constructed example! "Would you believe it, the UK is below complete shitholes like Nicaragua and Lesotho." Except it turns out that Nicaragua is ranked 10th, Lesotho is ranked 16th, and the UK is in the soul-crushingly low position of...18th. Out of 68. Holding more or less steady over the past few years.

You're not wrong - except the rankings in that report are even more "carefully constructed" than you'd expect. Table 3a on p.8 is clearly the source of the rankings Chakrabortty cites, but it's a composite of rankings of a wide range of indicators, which are broken down more thoroughly from p.48 onwards. And some of those are very odd. Take a look at Table D6: Literacy rate. The UK is equal 22nd! How terrible! Except that's equal 22nd in a ranking of the ratio of female literacy to male literacy, which for most countries is 1.00, i.e. men and women are equally literate, but in a handful of countries is higher than 1.00, meaning that more women are literate than men. For example, the number 1 ranking goes to Lesotho, where the ratio is 1.30, because 85% of women are literate compared to 66% of men. This surely helped boost Lesotho's overall ranking, but how is it an indicator of "gender equality" - and how is it better for women to live there than in a country with 99% female literacy?

But it gets worse. The rankings from 13th place down to 59th place all show a ratio of female to male literacy of 1.00, but - no doubt because of the effect of third or fourth decimal places not shown in the table, where figures are rounded to two - how these are actually ordered seems almost random. Costa Rica, with 96% female and male literacy, sits at 13th place above the Dominican Republic, with 90% for both, at 14th. Nicaragua, with 78% female and male literacy, sits at 53rd place, above Italy, with 99% female and male literacy, at 59th. Meanwhile, 22 countries share equal 22nd place, with 99% female and male literacy, including the UK, US, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, and Russia. Three countries claiming 100% female and male literacy rank 12th to 21st, five more rank 44th to 48th, three more 50th to 52nd, and one 56th. It's ridiculous.

Clearly, it makes no sense at all to take a ranking of these ratios as an indicator of quality of life for women around the world. Nor does the next table (D7: Enrolment in primary education) fare any better, where two countries (Senegal and Mauritania) with enrolment of around 75% rank 3rd and 4th (because a few percent more of girls are enrolled than boys) compared with Canada at 42nd (100% enrolment for both sexes). Only the most blinkered definition of "gender equality" would attribute any meaning to these two tables; but clearly they have been factored into the overall rankings, making the whole exercise dubious.

There are other tables where ranking F:M ratios makes more sense - for example, D1: Labour force participation, or D2: Wage equality survey, or D3: Estimated earned income. But in determining where countries stand, you would have to look carefully at the relationship between these tables as well. Are as many women working as men in a particular country because wages are so low that they have to work continuously in order to survive, or can they afford time out to study, have children or retire? Tanzania's labour force participation rates of 90% of women and 91% of men put it at 4th place on that table, above the UK's 69% women and 81% men which put it at 47th place. In the UK until very recently, women could retire at age 60 (although this is now changing), with 13 more years of "healthy life expectancy" during their retirement according to this very report, while men retiring at 65 could expect only 6 years of healthy retirement; that alone would explain a good part of the disparity in labour force participation in the UK (although whether the difference in retirement age between men and women is a net positive or negative for UK women is another question). But in Tanzania, the healthy life expectancy for women and men is 45, so how many of either could ever afford to retire? Again, the logic of the table falls apart under closer examination.

And in table after table, countries with an over-representation of women to men in the area under examination - and thus a higher female-to-male ratio - top the rankings. How does this in any way indicate levels of gender equality?

Actually, although Chakrabortty refers to the overall rankings as measuring gender equality, the report's authors hedge their bets by talking about gender gaps: "The Global Gender Gap Index seeks to measure one important aspect of gender equality: the relative gaps between women and men." They explicitly state that they are measuring gaps "rather than the actual levels of the available resources and opportunities in those countries ... in order to make the Global Gender Gap Index independent from the countries’ levels of development" (p.3). But this opens them up to the sorts of nonsensical results seen above.

It gets still worse. In the indicator tables in Appendix D, as we've seen, countries with big gaps can rank first or last, depending on which gender is on which side. The report authors seek to address this by "truncating data at the equality benchmark" when factoring these indicators into the overall rankings (see p.4), so that countries where the F:M ratio exceeds 1.00 are capped at 1.00 - but this still allows Lesotho's literacy levels of 85% women/66% men to be considered equivalent to the UK's 99%/99%. In throwing away the gap they themselves had measured, they throw away any pretense to measuring equality under this indicator (and how many others?), and they've already dismissed measuring absolute levels - so what are they measuring? What is this report for?

The more I look at it, the more annoyed I get. It's only somewhat annoying, actually, that Chakrabortty took these "rankings" at face value without spending a couple of hours looking at them closely enough to call them into question; what's more annoying is that the rankings were produced by a global forum with the collaboration of Harvard and Berkeley. These tables could end up affecting political debate and government policies around the world, and some if not all of them are virtually meaningless.
posted by rory at 5:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


(And for the record, much of my griping was about Coventry - the 9th largest city in England - and its links to neighbouring towns and cities, such as Birmingham - the second or third largest city in England.)
posted by Dysk at 5:07 AM on December 11, 2013


Rory, you are 100% correct about the uselessness of those gender equality rankings. It's astonishing that anyone would take those at face value.

I had initially thought that they suffered from the fatal defect of considering "equally destitute" to be equal or superior to "wealthy, but unequally so", but you have skillfully pointed out that they're fundamentally broken even beyond that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:13 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a crazy way to do equality ratios.
Oh, they go into more detail...

"To capture gender equality, two possible scales
were considered. One was a negative-positive scale
capturing the size and direction of the gender gap. This
scale penalizes either men’s advantage over women or
women’s advantage over men, and gives the highest points
to absolute equality. The second choice was a one-sided
scale that measures how close women are to reaching
parity with men but does not reward or penalize countries
for having a gender gap in the other direction. Thus, it
does not reward countries for having exceeded the parity
benchmark. We find the one-sided scale more appropriate
for our purposes"

Just awful!

It should surely be (Least / Most)
Not (Men / Women)

putting Lesotho at 0.77 instead of 1.28

This report on equality seems to have started from some very troubling assumptions.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:35 AM on December 11, 2013


The thought of that WEF gender gap report being taken as meaningful is really unsettling. A search of Google News shows link after link to pieces uncritically accepting its claims, such as this Canadian Liberal MP at HuffPo asking Is Canada Really the Best Place to Be a Woman? The few debunkings I've found have come from the American right, such as this critique of the report's methodology at The Weekly Standard. Those on the left might be tempted to dismiss their criticisms as ideological, but that would be a mistake. It doesn't matter what you think of Nicaragua's politics - no country could jump from being ranked 27th most equitable in the world to 10th within two years in any meaningful sense.
posted by rory at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2013


Seeing stories like this one in local and national newspapers far too frequently these last few years. This isn't a pleasant place to live, really.
posted by Wordshore at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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