Category Archives: Economics

Dollar Street, humanity on display!

Flotsam: Our occasional series of pieces about ideas and views from other places.

dollar street road sign image
Discover more here…

Dollar Street

We weren’t quite sure what to make of these web pages at first. Built by Gapminder in Sweden, they show two hundred and forty families, across forty six countries, and link a series of images of their possessions and homes to their average monthly income.

Was it voyeurism that made us uncomfortable? Was it the notion of ‘economic tourism’? Or simply the discomfort of being shown a stark reality, illustrating how individuals and families, often precariously, cling to hope, aspiration and dignity?

For the team at Gapminder the proposition for Dollar Street is clear. These are the facts and they should temper all discourse about the other – other people, communities and culture.

Was it our imaginations, or did the preponderance of families with incomes of less than five hundred dollars a month across the globe decline to smile in the photographs? Of course this could be a cultural thing, rather than a crude measure of some sort of economic level on an imagined ‘happiness index’.

However, the wealth of Creative Commons images on the site and the short biographies of the people photgraphed make for an interesting comparative study.

To counteract litanies of fear, prejudice and racism can be no small aim. Rendering global ignorance redundant by illuminating the world with facts. No small ambition for a small Swedish independent Foundation.

‘For the first time in human history reliable statistics exist. There’s data for almost every aspect of global development. The data shows a very different picture: a world where most things improve; a world that is not divided. People across cultures and religions make decisions based on universal human needs, which are easy to understand.

The fast population growth will soon be over. The total number of children in the world has stopped growing. The remaining population growth is an inevitable consequence of large generations born decades back.

We live in a globalized world, not only in terms of trade and migration. More people than ever care about global development! The world has never been less bad. Which doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The world is far from perfect’. Source:

Exploring Gapminder:

For teachers Gapminder has a proliferation of resources and toolkits available to explore the world through data.

Gapminder World offers access to a series of global trends and an on-line/off-line toolkit to explore them.  A teacher’s guide to 200 years of world developmental history and change. A Life Expectancy PowerPoint, with background information and a teacher’s guide.

Having wrangled with the intrusive nature of the Dollar Street image index, and having read the Gapminder mission statements, we felt their argument that the world is indeed ‘a better place’ to be much needed in troubled econo-social and educative times.

Explore the Gapminder site here and decide.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

Revisiting Ken Robinson

Following the ‘Brexit’ referendum and the recent series of affrays across the political landscape, with a resultant refreshed exposition on the economy, the topography of industry is now littered with claims for an upsurge in economic flexibility, innovation, challenge and growth.

We revisit Sir Ken Robinson talking about ‘How to Change Education?’ as a consequence.

What better time in the current climate to look again at the education reform focus of the Robinson arguments about schools as Enlightenment driven, rigid, formulaic and command and control industrial systems.

The RSA Animate, featured above was a wonderful synthesis of those arguments and offers a direct challenge to some more traditional ‘informed thinking’ about the educational process for our children.

You can see the full, original RSA talk (24 mins) by Ken Robinson in July 2013 here…

With the socio-political present focus on ‘the other’, isolation and insularity – the call to arms for fresh thinking about creativity embedded in the Robinsonian education reform argument, to secure the future of all our children, becomes now doubly telling, we think.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

IT in Education – in crisis?

science & Tech CoverImage
View or download this report here…(pdf)

A recent parliamentary report, by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Digital Skills Crisis, looks at the state of IT in business, education and the development of a broader UK strategy.

The report contains not only the analysis, assessment and findings of the committee, but also looks at a variety of conclusions and recommendations for the sector.

The findings of the committee declare that there is a ‘digital divide’ in the UK, with up to 12.6 million adults lackiing basic digital skills. The report finds that there are probably still some 5.8 million people who have yet to use the internet at all.

The report identifies a recent Royal Society report into Digital Skills and notes…

‘If the workforce is to be future-proofed, education systems in the UK must be designed to equip everyone with strong literacy and numeracy skills, information literacy and a mind-set that is flexible, creative and adaptive. This will be crucial to preparing today’s young learners for a future economy in which the skills needed are not only unpredictable now, but will continue to change throughout their careers…’

In the Committee report it is concluded that Ofsted have found the impact of digital technology on education standards has been varied.  The variety of outcome, Ofsted argues, is due to a lack of standard investment across the sector, access to high speed broadband geographically and suitable teacher support for the cause of Digital Skills.

The report is generally praiseful of the changes to the ICT curriculum from September 2014, with stress placed on the input of industry experts and academia. However, only a third of teachers hold the relevant qualification for ICT and cites a report from the British Computer Society, which stated that only 25% of computing teachers felt conficdent delivering the revised curriculum.

Some, but not all, of the recommendations made by the Committeee include…

  • ‘The Government has set targets for recruiting teachers in Maths and Physics. They
    should also make a similar pledge for Computer Science’.
  • ‘We recommend that the Government request Ofsted to include the computing curriculum in their inspections…’
  • ‘The Government should encourage the uptake of existing available resources by
    schools, many of which are free.’
  • ‘We recommend that the Government work with the Tech Partnership to establish a regular forum for employers to raise and discuss their priorities for ensuring the computing curriculum and its teaching stay up to date, and to help ensure that other school subject qualifications provide a foundation for a broader range of digital careers.’

We recommend this comprehensive, clear headed and detailed report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to all who are interested in education and the digital economy. See the full report here.

After Note:

Interestingly the RSA have recently published new research, which shows how, in the North of England, enterprise in the digital sector is booming. A veritable Digital Powerhouse in the North in fact.

See this RSA report here…pdf

Reading the two reports together, it is apparent that embedded in this second report from the RSA, is a development success in digital enterprise, that, it can be argued, runs across the grain of the pessimism of the Parliamentary report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee above.

We offer the new work, Digital Powerhouse (.pdf), using as it does the digital economy of the north of England as both metaphor and research instance to examine and make suggestions for development in what is obviously a successful arena. In spite of, not because of, education if seen through the prism of the House of Commons paper.

We leave it to your judgement to decide. See the full RSA report here.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

Inequality over the last century…



Oxford economist, Max Roser, has tested the nature of structural income inequality in England and found the arguments as to ‘inevitability’ and ‘the play of market forces’ to be wanting. In his highly detailed and closely argued article, Roser signposts other economic  models, and countries, where political will and economic structures are bent to its defeat.

Max Roser (2015) – ‘Income Inequality’. Published online at Retrieved from: [Online Resource]

Roser makes some interesting and telling observations about inequality, setting his argument, as he does, across a broad swathe of economic data, by time and country.

England is interesting in that income data, defined by social group, or set out in ‘social tables’, goes back a long way. Flawed, is the Roser argument, citing the lack of scientific discipline in Gregory King’s Social Table for 1688.

However, Roser cites Milanovic, Lindert and Williamson (2008) who have graphed longitudinal data in pre-industrial societies, using the Gini Index to measure ‘inequality’ and GDP per capita to measure ‘prosperity’.

(The Gini coefficient – or Gini index – is a measure of the income distribution of a population. It was developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini (1884-1965) and is named after him).

This longitudinal view of inequality, by Roser, incisively demonstrates that it is political and institutional structures which enforce inequality. It is not, he argues, the market or efficiencies of capital which promote inequality as a mechanism for distribution of income. We quote his summation at length…

A lesson that that we can take away from this empirical research is that political forces at work on the national level are possibly important for how incomes are distributed. If there was a universal trend towards more inequality it would be in line with the notion that inequality is determined by global market forces and technological progress where it is very hard (or for other reasons undesirable) to change the forces that lead to higher inequality. Inequality would then be inevitable. The reality of different inequality trends within countries suggests that the institutional and political framework in different countries play a role in shaping inequality of incomes‘. (Roser, 2015)

In his well illustrated and closely argued article, Roser compares and contrasts the data for non-English speaking European countries and Japan. All examined countries reached fairly low levels of income inequality in the 1970’s, with significant increases in inequality returning after that decade. With the exception of Japan, where socio-political institutions press for equality in a way that is not available in the Euro-economic matrix.

See more graph detail here...








…we can see the correlation between increases in the income share of the top 1% and the decrease of the marginal income tax rate since 1960. The graph confirms the hypothesis that in general as tax rates decrease, the income share of the most wealthy citizens increases. The US and the UK are both extreme examples of this happening. France, Germany, Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland all contradict this trend. While the marginal income tax rate on the most wealthy has decreased, the government has implemented other means to decrease income inequality‘. (Roser, 2015)

Ths is economic analysis of a high order, which does not set out to find an answer to a pre-conceived position, rather it uses diverse, broadly sourced data across long time spans to argue for a new mode of thought, to diminish the corruscating effects of inequality.

We are most interested in educational outputs, but see how social justice outcomes and the well-being quotient of so many could also be raised by a new economic mind-set.

interneticon2 (copy) See more of Max Roser and his work here…

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference



Free money for all –
A basic human right?

In the video below, Rutger Bregman as part of a TEDx Maastricht talk, informs us of the validity of a single idea that links Thomas Paine and Milton Friedman.

Bregman argues for the universal dispersion of the basic income, as a human right. His opening argument is based upon the notion of standing on the shoulders of giants. ‘Our forefathers have worked so hard to achieve our level of propserity, we should now be able to give everyone a share of that prosperity…’

He argues that in communities where basic income experiments have been attempted, the outcome can be measured in better educational achievement, lower truancy rates, and higher economic growth. Developing an active, participatory counter to inequality.

In a disenfranchised community, he argues, a basic income frees human capacity…it does not diminish it or whither it out of laziness or lack of engagement in societal progress.

Nixon, in the 1970’s nearly passed legislation that engendered the basic income in the US, arguably at the cost of only 25 per cent of the US Defense Budget. A development now long forgotten in US economic thinking.

The London charitable experiment, cited in the film, to give long term homeless men free money, as an alternative to counselling, police monitoring and other forms of ‘traditional’ support also resulted in a variety of sustainable self help outcomes that was, by conventional critiques of ‘the benefit society’, surprising and enduring.

Bregman argues against the three most often made arguments for a universal ‘citizen wage’. It’s too expensive, all people will stop working and it will never happen, politically. The film highlights both optimism, human nature and the individuals need to make a contribution to society as counters to these narrow objections.

  • The Green Party have argued for the universal wage in their UK manifesto at the last election. Is this an idea that can stand a return to wider national focus?
  • Might this economic reform be the very bedrock of enduring and effective educational reform too?
  • Might the introduction of a universal, non-means tested income prevent the collapse of the middle -class through the unending pressure of inequality?

You can visit the web site and cast a vote for the universal basic income.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference

The Economics of Inequality

As we travel the country taking our campaign forward we often see a great book, one quarter read, abandoned on the coffee table. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Trans. Arthur Goldhammer).

A master work of economic analysis, which retuns Marxian thought to the high table of discourse, we would argue, but which the average reader might fail to pursue to the end, due to its length and complexity.

pikettyEconomicsofInequalitycoverPic2 (copy)
Piketty’s paper…

Piketty’s framing propositions were developed, it can be argued, in an an earlier paper authored with Emmanuel Saez, in 1995. The Economics of Inequality is a much shorter work than his later magnum opus. (National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 8467. U.S., September 2001)

Recently published as a ‘new’ book by Harvard University Press, The Economics of Inequality ( at 160 pages or so, is a much more digestible read than Capital. It has some newly updated content and tables, although the data used to deliver argument in this new work stops in the mid-nineties of course. (Harvard University Press; July 2015)

View, print or download a copy of the original paper.

In a recent New York Times book review, Inequality as it was viewed in the 90’s, the review article argues that Piketty has achieved something of a volte-face on the 1%, and their limiting effect on the economic distribution of wealth and resources.

…the most important contribution of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was precisely its suggestion that since then a rising share of after-tax profits in national income has indeed set us on the path back to a rentier society, in which the rich live off inherited wealth’.

The article expounds further that Piketty’s Capital ‘…made a disturbing case that we are well on the way to re-establishing “patrimonial capitalism,” a society dominated by oligarchs who inherit their wealth’.

The weakness in this earlier paper, The Economics of Inequality, the reviewer argues, is that Piketty declares, in his original research with Saez, that ”…progressive taxation seems to have prevented a return to 19th-century rentier society”. We disagree. This shorter paper is still a key piece of analysis on an emerging understanding of inequality even with an anti-rentier argument, with all its concomitant impact on economics, education, property and law.

A better critique, we would argue, is that Piketty has spent another two decades researching and thinking about his core propositions and has tempered his analytical ‘oratory’ accordingly with the publication of Capital.

Do open or download Piketty’s original paper from this page and see if you agree. The paper has some interesting historical analysis on the rise of I.T. professions and their effect on wages. (Even though contemporary analysis would now hold that this view is a ‘paperless office’ proposition, which technology also failed to achieve -Ed ).

interneticon2 (copy)Useful links:  An on-line version of the NYT Book Review here.

Turning the tide - making a difference
Turning the tide – making a difference