Friday, March 17, 2023

Cooking the Books: Per capita (2023)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the beginning of December the media reported that Papua New Guinea’s population doubled overnight as researchers had worked out that it must be 17 million rather than 9.4 million. The explanation was that the population living in the remote highland interior, where people survive through subsistence hunting and farming, had been underestimated.

The new figure, the Daily Mail wrote, meant ‘the country’s per capita income is slashed by half, making the average salary around £930.’

This suggests that the population of Papua New Guinea had suffered a drastic cut in their living standards. In fact, it made no difference. People’s income was not affected at all. All that changed was the statistic for average income obtained by dividing the country’s Gross Domestic Product by its population. As the figure for population increased while GDP remained the same, the average fell.

This shows how the figure for a country’s GDP per capita can be misleading. In the case of Papua New Guinea, particularly misleading. GDP is a measure of the market price of all the new goods and services produced in a year and so does not take into account goods and services that are not marketed, such as those produced directly for their own use by the subsistence hunters and farmers in the country’s interior. They produce wealth but as this is not sold it is not counted when calculating GDP. Yet their number is taken into account for calculating GDP per capita. Logically, it should not be, but only those who receive a monetary income from which to buy what they need to ‘subsist’.

But even that would be misleading as not all the money income from GDP goes to wage-earners. A large part is the income of businesses as their profits. The Daily Mail is wrong in saying that the new population figure slashed ‘the average salary’. GDP per capita is not a measure of this. It is an average of all money income — profits and income from self-employment and government transfer payments as well, not just income from working for a wage or salary — divided by population.

According to Investopedia, ‘GDP per capita shows how much economic production value can be attributed to each individual citizen’ ( This suggests that it might be a measure of how much each person in a country contributed to the value of what is produced. But it is not that either. The whole of GDP is indeed attributable to what wage-workers produce in a year. But only a portion of that goes to them and their dependents.

The Economics Help blog says: ‘High real GDP per capita indicates citizens are able to purchase more goods and services’ ( Not necessarily, as that will depend on how GDP is divided between profits and income from work. If GDP per capita goes up due to a higher proportion being made up of business profits, then ‘citizens’ might not be able to purchase more.

Per capita figures are misleading because they ignore that ‘the population’ includes owners of businesses which bring in a high total income as profits, which distorts the average making it seem that the individuals in the rest of the population get much more than they do.

It is not just figures for new marketable wealth that are distorted but also for other things such as water consumption and carbon emissions. Per capita figures for these, by attributing business’s contribution to everyone, give the impression that individuals use more water or have a larger carbon footprint than they actually do.

Party News: The Socialist Party's Summer School (2023)

Party News from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Work, in all its forms, is what keeps society running. At best, our own work can be interesting and creative, if we're not stuck in an unfulfilling role. Capitalism turns work into employment, with our job roles shaped by how profitable or cost-effective they are likely to be, more than by how useful or manageable they are. Even so, countless important tasks rely on volunteers and other unpaid labour.

Poor conditions and pay have pushed an increased number of employees to go on strike. But how effective can industrial action be when workers don't own or control the places we work in? Alongside the impact of the state and the economy on how we work, technology has had a massive influence, from the most basic tools to the latest advances in computing.

In a socialist society, work would be freed from the constraints of money and the exploitation of employment, and would instead be driven directly by people's needs and wants. This would entail workplaces being owned in common and run democratically. But how could this happen in practice?

The Socialist Party's weekend of talks and discussion looks at different aspects of work, and what they tell us about the society we live in. The event also includes an exclusive publication, exhibition and bookstall.

Our venue is Woodbrooke, 1046 Bristol Road, Birmingham, B29 6U. Full residential cost (including accommodation and meals Friday evening to Sunday afternoon) is £200; the concessionary rate is £100. Book online at or send a cheque (payable to the Socialist Party of Great Britain) with your contact details to Summer School, The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN. Day visitors are welcome, but please e-mail for details in advance. Send enquiries to

"Sick and tired of wondering . . . "

From the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Party News: Socialist weekend at Yealand Conyers in Cumbria (2023)

Party News from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

After unavoidable interruptions including a pandemic, Lancaster branch is once again organising a socialist residential weekend, from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 June, at the Yealand Quaker Centre in rural Cumbria. This is a sociable get-together for members and non-members in a nice hostel with dorm rooms and self-catering facilities, where we muck in together on the cooking and chores. The last time we did this was in 2019 and it wasa pretty enjoyable experience all round (see the report in the August 2019 Socialist Standard). The branch will bear the hire cost but is happy to accept pay-what-you-can contributions. You'll also have to fund your own travel arrangements. Spaces are limited to max 16 so if you'd like to take part please let us know at

Obituary: Ivan Corry (2023)

Obituary from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are saddened to have to report the death in December of our comrade Ivan Corry at the age of 90. Ivan was from Dublin and joined the Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) in his twenties. Like many who had passed through their hands he had an abiding contempt for the Catholic Church, compounded by the experience of priest-led mobs trying to break up SPI outdoor meetings as ‘godless communism’. He was part of the large-scale Irish emigration to England in the 1950s, including most members of the Dublin branch of the SPI. Some members found work in the car factories in the Midlands. Ivan went to London where he worked in his trade of upholsterer. He joined the Islington branch in 1956 and became an active member. In fact he was known right up to the 2000s for his exuberant and memorable appeals at Conference for the Party to be more active. When he was younger he had been one of a number of branch members who were amateur wrestlers (Ivan was actually the name he adopted for this and for his Party membership, as his legal name was Sean). On retirement he moved to Worthing on the south coast but continued to visit London from time to time.

Proper Gander: Dukes And Rebukes (2023)

The Proper Gander TV column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The royal family get enough coverage in the media without a need for fictional retellings of its excesses. Netflix’s ongoing series The Crown has been the most prominent, reframing the dynasty’s recent history in whatever way will win the most awards. In what looks like a dig at The Crown’s pretentiousness, Channel 4’s Prince Andrew: The Musical makes a song and dance of the life of the now-disgraced Duke of York, the eighth person in line to the throne. Andrew is played by comic actor Kieran Hodgson, who also wrote the show’s deft, droll script. He portrays ‘randy Andy’ as smarmy and self-aggrandising, enjoying an extravagant lifestyle because he’s ‘Elizabeth’s favourite son’ and doesn’t have the expectations of being the heir.

The show takes us through Andrew’s life with jaunty musical numbers and real archive footage narrated from the character’s perspective. We begin with the 2019 interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight, which Andrew reluctantly realises didn’t put him in a good light, before rewinding to his younger years, believing that he was a hero in the Falklands War. His marriage to Sarah Ferguson is presented as a transaction from which Sarah sought to benefit, much like her later attempt at selling access to Andrew to an undercover reporter. A role as a trade envoy gave ‘air miles Andy’ opportunities to continue his jet-setting ways, no sweat. The frothy format of a musical is supposed to be an impudent way of telling his story, but jars when the subject of sexual abuse comes up. After Andrew’s association with convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein became known and he was accused of sexual assault by Virginia Giuffre (the latter glossed over in the musical), he ‘stepped back from public duties’. He reached a financial settlement with Giuffre which (in a logically puzzling way) did not include an admission of guilt. The programme risks minimising the seriousness of the allegations against Andrew by putting them in the frivolous context of a musical. In it, Andrew makes the point that he’s a useful scapegoat to take attention away from the wrongdoings of the rest of the royals.

The show was commissioned as part of ‘a collection of irreverent, thought-provoking and hugely entertaining shows that no other broadcaster would air’, according to Ian Katz, Channel 4’s Chief Content Officer. This may have felt like a last throw of the dice for the channel which at the time was planned to be privatised, a decision since reversed.

Prince Andrew: The Musical isn’t the only Channel 4 show to present the royals in a cartoonish way, being close in tone to The Windsors, a sitcom which has been running since 2016. In both programmes, members of ‘the firm’ are characterised too loosely to be particularly insulting. In the musical, Munya Chawawa portrays Charles as a stern boss who tries to keep Andrew in line, and who also unfortunately reminds us of his infamous ‘tampon’ remark. The late queen was immune from being lampooned in either show, though, not appearing as a character. While Elizabeth was treated with too much veneration in the mainstream media to attract much criticism, the caricatures of Charles demonstrate that there’s less reverence for him, even now he’s the monarch.

Prince Andrew is probably secretly relieved that media attention has largely switched away from him to his mother, brother and now towards the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The latter’s criticisms of the attitudes of other royals towards her were the focus of last December’s documentary series, Harry & Meghan. This was hyped up enough to attract Netflix’s highest number of viewers in the UK for the year, although how many really did endure its almost six hours of self-promotion from the estranged and bitter Sussexes? Harry has since courted even more attention with his tell-all memoir Spare and another round of interviews, for which he’s no doubt received a princely sum of money. But this hasn’t bolstered his popularity, as measured by YouGov’s Royal Favourability Tracker, which has reported a drop in support for him as well as for the monarchy as a whole. Harry’s salacious confessions about drug-taking, being knocked to the floor by William, having frostbitten genitals and killing members of the Taliban have chipped away some of the mystique which the royals have traditionally attracted.

Being born into a life of privilege has damaged Harry and Andrew in different ways, raising the issue of what kind of institution produces lives like theirs. Questioning this can only be a good thing if it’s a step towards a wider rejection of the social system which includes having a monarchy. If the figureheads for capitalism are so dysfunctional, what does that say about the system? Presumably, the House of Windsor is hoping that the pomp and pageantry of Charles’ coronation in May will push away recent bad press and declines in popularity. Even if it does to some extent, more pointedly, the spectacle will be in stark contrast to the privations much of the country will still be trying to cope with. The coronation will be a reminder of the gulf between how the vast majority have to live and the indulgences of the elite.
Mike Foster