The Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do better | Brussels Blog

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do better

posted by on 22nd Aug 2017

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
could do better

Once upon a time I was a poet. Quite a good one. You can read some of my stuff on Auntie Jayne Solves Your Poem, unless you are in Morrisons Supermarket, where it is banned. Morrisons allows the Racing Post but not Oddschecker (reason=GAMBLING ). Most of my other websites are banned too but the reason fields are blank. Pity. Morrison’s customers are a refreshing change from the pretentious middle classes who shop at Waitrose – F&H, M&J and a few others are obviously excepted from this slur. (Note for US readers: In the UK the “middle class” are considered a step up the social scale from the “working class” but it’s complicated.)

My second book, Tuesday Night Again, has one good review on Amazon. Thank you Wilson Zetland. You can buy one (Used: Very Good) for £0.59p. Earlier, I had written poems about economics because I was desperate to get important issues voiced. If I couldn’t get mainstream economists to listen, I would try the long-shot of making my poems accomplished enough to challenge them. That’s the kind of thing us Angry Amateurs get up to. Just a bit barmy.

I have just been looking for a relevant comment on the lump of labour fallacy to highlight this posting and, surprise, surprise, I found a quote from the FT’s Samuel Britain in one of my poems from 1993. Here it  is …

Take that, EJ Thribb

The most frequently recurring scare in world economic history
is sometimes dignified by the name “lump of labour fallacy”.
It is based on the idea that total output is fixed, so that if fewer
workers are needed in one line of activity they must end up on
the scrap heap.

Samuel Brittan: “Economic Viewpoint”
Financial Times, February 18, 1993

So Robert Owen

You are a
Lump of labour

Everyone else
That total
Isn’t fixed

But it might
Mightn’t it?

In my case
It’s going
And down

I eat less
I rest more
I don’t drive my car

Not my best but I can still read it without blushing.

Inclusive growth, the “lump of labour fallacy” fallacy
and the sixth mass extinction

This poem points to a fallacy economists fall for when they silently assume there are no long-run limits to consumption and output. They assume consumption and output will continue to rise as society and technology progress. They concede “frictional adjustments”, like local and time limited pockets of unemployment, but in the long run increased consumption will generate jobs.

Now, however, we are close to a “long run in which we are all dead”. Most species on Earth may disappear through a sixth mass extinction event. The human species is on the danger list too. In Earth’s sixth mass extinction event already underway scientists warn the Guardian reported

Scientists analysed both common and rare species and found billions of regional or local populations have been lost. They blame human overpopulation and over consumption for the crisis and warn that it threatens the survival of human civilisation, with just a short window of time in which to act.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, eschews the normally sober tone of scientific papers and calls the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” that represents a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”.

The production of goods and services for consumers like us creates greenhouse gasses. In the coming decades greenhouse gas emissions from each unit of production (also called the carbon intensity of production) cannot be reduced fast enough to avoid this conclusion: Unless we reduce consumption and economic output we will exceed the remaining carbon budgets and threaten climate driven extinction events. It’s unfortunate that many economists, the foremost policy gurus of our time, don’t seem to be up-to-speed on the dangers we face. (A small plug here for my encounter with Nobel Lauriate, economist Amartya Sen, who does go for growth. P.S. After the encounter he didn’t reply as promised.)

There are three flavours of economic growth frequently discussed: green growth, inclusive growth and de-growth. Briefly, green growth means growth which preserves the environment and climate. Inclusive growth means growth which shares increased output with every section of society so everyone can have increased consumption. Degrowth means there is less production, less output and less aggregate consumption. Briefly, green growth is impossible, inclusive growth destroys the planet, leaving de-growth as the however improbable truth.

That ‘green’ or ‘inclusive’ growth are possible, within this context, is false. This falsehood added to the ‘lump of labour fallacy’ makes it a ‘lump of labour fallacy fallacy’.

It is disingenuous (or possibly just ignorant) to deflect concerns about jobs and inequality with the assumption that given time economic growth will cure all. A much better poet wrote

‘Had we but world enough and time …’





The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)
“working with government”

Now, I have a few grudges against the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). A small one is because I applied to be their new (but amateur) CEO and failed. (My application is shown as an appendix.) My main grudge is that I think they are one of the few organisations, who are in a position to make a real difference to the world and they fluff it.

I believe that the JRF founder, Joseph Rowntree, and his son, Seebohm Rowntree, would be welcomed into my Club of Angry Amateurs. Their incomes were not generated by their efforts to make a better world so in a sense they were amateurs. A controlled anger shows in their writing. Joseph Rowntree’s Founder’s Memorandum sent shivers through me.

Perhaps the greatest danger of our national life arises from the power of selfish and unscrupulous wealth which influences public opinion largely through the press (e.g. the Opium and Drink traffic, and the South African War).


I have already alluded to the Land question. Such aspects of it as the nationalisation of land, or the taxation of land values, or the appropriation of the unearned increment – all needs a treatment far more thorough than they have yet received.

Plus ça change.

An article I wrote for How the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do more for the poor used a comment from a friend “[The JRF] commission academics to write reports to fill university libraries.” One of the latest library fillers is Job creation for inclusive growth in cities. The authors boast

We can solve UK poverty

JRF is working with governments, businesses, communities, charities and individuals to solve UK poverty.

Job creation for inclusive growth in cities shows how increasing demand for labour can contribute to growth that benefits everyone – a key focus of our strategy to solve UK poverty.

In choosing “inclusive growth” to “solve poverty”, the authors, in line with other JRF pronouncements, advocate banishing poverty by making the poor more productive by “supply side” measures (such as training) so they can have jobs with higher wages. The authors also advocate “demand side” measures to boost employment and consumption.

However, higher productivity with a high level of employment means  more consumption – at a time when climate disaster can only be avoided if aggregate consumption falls because the carbon intensity of production cannot fall fast enough.

It is the also the present government’s aim to have a workforce which is well paid because it is a workforce with high productivity.  This may be the justification for a higher minimum wage.  (However, it is accompanied by changes to the  benefit system.  If you can’t get one of these jobs with higher wages and higher productivity you will suffer the cruelty of the new Universal Credit system.)

The message from the authors and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in “working with governments”  lends support to the governments stance.  What they fail to recognise (openly at least) is that the rich and affluent are the big climate problem and “solving poverty” must curb their consumption to allow the poor to have a little more.  Oxfam’s info-graphic is very instructive…

There are plenty of ways that the rich and affluent can cut their consumption. If there were to be a God, He might send these new commandments:

Kill My world as little as you can
Don’t drive your car,
Don’t fly in planes
And leave that corned beef in the can

Kill My world as little as you’re able
Don’t build with bricks
Don’t build with steel
And eat the horse that’s in your stable.

Don’t kill My world by rushing all the time
Gaze at the stars
Breathe in the air
Revere creation that is Mine

Solving poverty has a much easier prescription than planet destroying inclusive growth: Take from the rich and give to the poor. That may not be something an organisation ‘working with government’ might avoid saying. Jonny Void puts it blunty in How The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Tory Party.

I’ve just found a closing quote from Upton Sinclair

It is difficult to get a man to understand something,
when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

For ‘man’ also read ‘woman’. For ‘salary’ also read ‘political influence’.


P.S. The answer to poverty cannot be for the poor to output more climate destroying stuff. I hope those at the JRF and those funded by the JRF read the recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines.

As Pirate Jenny might have said to the whole human race ‘That’ll learn ya‘.


Appendix 1: That joke about raising labour skills.

In Job creation for inclusive growth in cities the authors say

Without increasing the availability of more and better jobs, raising labour skills and qualifications can mean people are over-qualified for the available jobs (Schmuecker, 2014). To deliver inclusive growth, the close relationship between demand and supply means complementary , sequenced and supportive policy intervention is needed on the demand and supply sides, for example by generating increased local demand for more skilled labour by employers as well as and at the same time as supporting local labour skill upgrading.

I think I made a better point in 1992

Memo to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications

Train a hundred hair dressers to dress up our hair
And a hundred plumbers to plumb in our sinks
And a hundred brick layers to lay all our bricks
And thousands of trainers to train them to fix

My hair
My taps
My garden wall

Must I have my hair cut three times more
Have leaky pipes that didn’t leak before
Have an extension put on my house
And have more kids to fill it.

But I’m not spending my money at all.
I’m saving it all to spend on my soul.
So what will we do with bricklayers and plumbers
That we have trained in enormous numbers

We’ll take on some trainers to train them again
In flexible thought and assertiveness
And trades that will have future usefulness

But who will train trainers,
train trainers trainers,
train trainers trainers trainers?

Whoever it is at the top of the tree
They must be clever, as clever me.
For they’ll certainly see that in fifty years time
We’ll need lots of rhymers to make our rhymes rhyme.

So now we know, we’ve just the time

To train trainers trainers trainers
Who will train trainers trainers
Who will train the trainers
Who will train us.

In forty years time
I’ll be starting the course
In elegant rhyme

But like the old lady
That swallowed the horse
I’ll be dead of course.

Sometime in the early 1990s, I did meet Sir Brian Nicholson, head of the NCVQ, who was kind enough to let me visit him in his office in Sheffield Hallam University.  As is often the case, I remember coming away rather dissatisfied.


Appendix 2. Application to be CEO at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Geoff Beacon , 11th July 2016

CV for the purpose of applying for the role of Chief Executive of

(a) the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and
(b) the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust

Context of this CV:

The most important role of chief executive one of setting a new policy direction. My first action will be to advertise for a deputy who can effectively manage these organisations.

The JRF and the JRHT have become distanced from the ethos of the most prominent Rowntrees. Joseph and Seebohm had a mission to alleviate poverty. This was separate from their own monetary rewards. As chief executive I will accept no salary – just reasonable expenses.

Failure of the JRF/JRHT is evident in the Derwenthorpe housing development. This “was envisaged to be one of the first large-scale low carbon communities” – with provision for affordable housing. Derwenthorpe can be more aptly described as expensive unsustainable housing. See Three failed eco-towns.

I have some sympathy with what Jonny Void said on his website (but I wouldn’t express as crudely) in How The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Tory Party.

Some of my publications

Articles can on the economics, inequality, housing and climate change can be found on

Other articles

How the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do more for the poor. Note the comments in this article:

‘JRF are in an ivory tower’
‘They commission academics to write reports to fill university libraries.’

Main paragraphs from the evidence given to the Public Inquiry in 1972 on the York Inner Ring Road

This evidence advocated “drastic traffic suppression”. The planning inspector in his report said “At the inquiry I have heard no objector put forward any workable alternative bar that of drastic traffic suppression” Most of my recommendations, unpopular at the time, have since been implemented.

Employment creation with very large scale labour subsidies.

This article outlines a policy of very large scale labour subsidies which presents the possibility of creating full employment – reducing unemployment to the level of ‘frictional’ unemployment only.

The employment effect of subsidies – a report for the European Commission.

A report together with Professor Kim Swales of Strathclyde University with funding arranged through DG5.

Designing for local food distribution and production (1999)

This proposal was written for a friend interested in contributing to the development of Derwenthorpe.
I would be pleased to answer any questions.


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