Billionaires 2017

Forbes recently released their list of billionaires for this year, and the amount of wealth on the list is staggering: $7.67 trillion USD, roughly 10% of global GDP1 and 18% higher than last year.  This data didn’t really tell me much, though, and in order to understand it I investigated three questions:

  1. are the individual billionaires richer, or are there just more billionaires;
  2. has their wealth increased in real terms, or can this be explained away by inflation;
  3. did they become richer because the world became richer, or because of wealth concentrating?

The first question is the easiest to answer, with the numbers on the list: the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased from $6.5 trillion USD in 2016 to $7.67 trillion USD in 2017 — an increase of 18%— while the number of billionaires grew from 1 810 to 2 043 — a total of 13% — meaning a total per-billionaire growth of 4.5%2.

In order to determine whether this growth is real, in that it represents an actual increase in spending power, we must compare the growth to inflation, which is the measure of how much wealth has devalued; a pound sterling in 1700 was worth considerably more than a pound now. Global inflation from 2016-2017 was 3.28%3, which means their wealth grew 1.22% over inflation, indicating a real gain in wealth of 1.2%. From this we can conclude that, on average, the world’s billionaires have gained wealth in real terms.

Does this increase in wealth indicate they own a bigger share of the pie or, as many in favour of trickle-down economics argue, that they’re growing the pie for everyone and just taking their fair share for themselves? According to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, the global economy grew by 3.4% from 2016-20174, meaning that the billionaires’ wealth is increasing faster than the total wealth of the planet by about 1%.

But the story doesn’t end there: because we’re comparing the wealth on a per billionaire basis, we should compare the global economic growth on a per capita basis, meaning we need to take into account global population growth. In the past year, the world population has increased by 1.11%5, meaning that the average person saw 2.3% more wealth, slightly more than half the rate of billionaires.

We’ve now answered our original three questions:

  1. billionaires have gotten wealthier faster than the number of billionaires has grown;
  2. the wealth growth has been real, rather than a product of inflation;
  3. while some of this growth is due to a global increase in wealth, half is attributable to wealth concentrating; the pie is growing twice as fast for the billionaires as it is for everyone else.
Billionaires 2017

Australian Election 2016

For those unaware, the Australian Federal election is on this coming Saturday (02/07), and there’s a real risk that the Liberal-National Coalition (our conservative parties) will regain government for another three years. This would be terrible for numerous reasons, as I contended in a post on Facebook:

If you intend to vote for the Coalition this election, you are saying that you care more about perpetuating the myth that conservative governments are better at economics than the welfare of me, my friends, and my people.

You are saying that the rich and the powerful matter more than the poor and dispossessed.

You are saying that the messages of demagogues, xenophobes, and homophobes are more enthralling to you than egality, equality, and equity.

You are saying that your beliefs are lacking empathy and completely antithetical to my conception of morality.

You are saying that you personally do not care if I am hurt or harmed.

You are, in short, saying that you are not my friend, and I would appreciate you make this manifest by removing yourself from my friend’s list, rather than continue this charade with false-face and false-heart.

The Coalition wants to give businesses a $50 billion tax cut, while cutting welfare. They say that this would end up being profitable in their models … but their models assume that government spending doesn’t impact people’s well-being, which is clearly a ludicrous assumption.

Meanwhile, they want to hold a plebiscite to allow same-sex marriage. If this sounds good, it’s not: the other major parties (Labor and Greens) promise to legalise it through an act of parliament, in the exact same way the Coalition banned it in the first place. The plebiscite will cost over $100 million, and they intend to ignore the result: if the plebiscite shows that the Australian population are willing to endow queer people one of their rights, then the Coalition will allow a conscience vote, rather than a binding one. It’s a farce.

As a proud queer woman, and as an intersectional feminist, I can’t stand the thought of allowing these racist, xenophobic, queerphobic people to run our country and throw their full might against the poor and minorities of all stripes. If you choose to vote for them, you are favouring demagoguery and trickle-down economics, and I have absolutely no idea why you read this blog.

Australian Election 2016

On Pay Gaps

The average woman full-time employed earns roughly 17% less than the average full-time employed man. While people may protest that if you account for women working in different industries, working at lower wage levels, leaving due to pregnancy, and performing unpaid & unvalued labour that the gap is only 3%, they are missing the point and are blindingly oblivious to the one that they’re making. By pointing to this as their ‘gotcha’, they’re establishing that they don’t realise that the 3% remaining is due to direct prejudice (held by all genders). They also miss that these social disparities are part of the problem! Critically analysing why these things are the way that they are is a necessary aspect of understanding both the human and natural world.

Addressing these issues would be an entire blog by itself – or, as it turns out, an entire library of books – but I’m interested in painting a broader picture by discussing pay gaps. Intersectionality is a concept that recognises the myriad oppressions and privileges that we experience due to our intersecting social identities. While ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are the two axes that dominate the discussion around pay gap, there are numerous others ranging from race (e.g. white, aboriginal, Asian, Arabic, African) to sexuality to social class, all of which have an impact on how your life is shaped by those around you.

Furthermore, the interaction of these different axes is significantly more complicated than simply adding the two oppressions/privileges together — a black woman, for example, doesn’t suffer the oppression of a black man + a white woman, but something different to both. Rather than exploring the nature of intersectionality, this blog seeks to offer a brief glance of its impact on the pay gap. Below is a bar chart I’ve constructed from numerous sources, indicating the expected wages for a particular demographic in Australia, relative to a white man.

Pay Gap
The pay gap in Australia: Please note that ’employed’ means ‘full-time employment’.

At a glance, we can see that the average white person earns more than their counterpart Aboriginal people (red), queer people (purple) and disabled people [1] (green), except in the case of lesbian women; this is an example of white, straight, and able-bodied privilege respectively. For example, an Aboriginal woman earns 83% of what a white woman earns (that this is the same proportion that white women earn relative to men is a coincidence), while trans women earn 2% less than this.

This chart, however, only really explores the intersection of woman/manhood with one other identity (sex + race, for example), and is in itself failing to be intersectional: what does a disabled Aboriginal man earn? A disabled trans woman? How about an Australian of Asian descent? African immigration? Unfortunately, the data for these groups is incredibly hard to find – any search involving ‘pay gap’ or ‘wage gap’ will return articles on gender inequality, even if you include terms like ‘disabled’ or ‘queer’ – and far too small to be reliable, especially for Australia-specific detail. As it is, the value for employed trans men is something I find dubious, but included for completeness.

Even worse, this graph of mine actually diminishes the wage gaps. While most of the values can be taken as qualitatively reliable, the sources have had various sources of data manipulation to treat everyone ‘equally’ (note that this shows the failure of considering intersectionality when choosing a criterion).

The employment criteria are all for full time work: every group has a lower rate of full-time engagement than white men, and so the majority are excluded from being counted towards average wage. This is particularly true for disabled people, whose full-time work engagement is under 5% (meaning the average disabled person could be earning 4% of the wages that an employed white man earn in wages. Similarly, trans people suffer significant unemployment (especially trans women of colour), something that I have included an underestimate of in the ‘trans woman’ and ‘trans man’ categories: their actual earnings would be much lower.

Similarly, the value for Aboriginal incomes have been normalised across regions, which serves to erase the fact that rural income tends to be lower than cities, and many Aboriginal people tend to live in rural areas: if the data is not normalised, their proportionate incomes drop by a third.

Conclusion

This was largely an unfocused blog, and drifted from topic to topic to illustrate the complexity of this matter. There are two points that I wish to impress upon the reader: there is more than one pay gap, and the interaction between various social identities is complex, and includes much more hidden detail than can be shown in a single metric.

I may later write another blog, going into significantly more detail on individual aspects of this phenomenon, if it’s desired. For now, I just want to apologise for taking so long between posts: the research took me longer than anticipated, and with PhD work piling in I took it to be more important to write something short for now.

[1] Note that I was unable to find how ‘disabled’ was defined in this document; presumably those considered so for Centrelink purposes only.

 

On Pay Gaps

Safe Schools Programme

For those of you not in Australia, this is a post about Australian politics, in particular the Safe Schools. This was an anti-bullying programme that was particularly focussed on queer children, including educating everyone about queer issues, which served two purposes:

  • To teach non-queer children empathy and help them understand that their queer peers should be treated with respect, and;
  • To teach queer students that what they’re experiencing is a thing, that they aren’t broken, that they don’t have to feel like freaks.

It also included links to a number of queer support sites and further information, and sexual education (in Australia, we tend to start sex-ed around Grade 5, c. 11 years old), in particular safe sex behaviour. Naturally, this education included not only PiV (penis-in-vagina) sex, but numerous different kinds.

This was a fantastic programme, but you may have noticed that I’m using the past tense. It wasn’t a new programme — it had survived four previous education ministers (two Labor, the former government, and two Coalition, the current) — but it suddenly gained the attention of right-wing backbenchers within the reigning Coalition government. If I were inclined to paint them as spoiled, puerile bullies (and I am), I would point out that the timing of this happened to occur right after they failed a number of different anti-queer (and especially anti-trans) goals.

So a few weeks ago Cory Bernardi began complaining about the Safer Schools ‘indoctrinating’ children, and from the conservative wing of the party a number of other voices joined, decrying the system as ‘Marxist cultural relativism’ (which is, you know, not a thing) and demanding a review into the programme. Eventually, they managed to bully the Prime Minister (PM) into instigating such a review, which would to take place over a fortnight.

That review came back and was, on the whole, relatively positive, and came with a few suggestions for improvement. It is here I will agree with the right-wingers on one thing: it was not thorough enough. Not enough time or funds had been allocated to see more than a handful of schools, and certainly not enough to recognise any positive effect it was having on children. But those screeching voices in the Coalition didn’t stop, and eventually the PM, who had previously positioned himself as ‘progressive’ and pro queer-rights, and education minister decided to take action

Did they decide to look at the recommendations of the review they ordered? Did they decide to launch further investigations after decrying the investigation as insufficiently thorough? No. Instead they decide to gut the programme.

Queer-specific material was removed from the course, especially trans material — remember, this programme was created to help address anti-queer bullying in the first place — and is now to focus on general bullying and only hetero-cis sex-ed. If any queer students want information suitable to them, they have to specifically ask their teacher, one-on-one, for one of the two or three small books available, naturally outing themselves in the process.

These three books are government-sanctioned, as now is the online material: all third-party sources, including queer organisations and other mental health groups, have been removed, and only stuff the government writes will be included. Meanwhile, children in Primary school are now barred from accessing it: knowledge about queer issues (especially revolving around gender identity) has been deemed “inappropriate” for children.

I guess straight sex ed is alright for 11 year olds, but introducing them to the idea of different genders and sexualites, and teaching them how to respect people of varying identities is “inappropriate”.

If you’re someone who likes to look on the bright side, you could take comfort that an anti-bullying programme of some form would be allowed to continue, regardless of whether or not it successfully targets one of the demographics with the highest suicide rates for which it was initially designed. However, you would be being too optimistic: they’re terminating the programme entirely in 2017.

So, if you’re not in Australia, you now have some idea why queer people here are quite upset, to the point that Cory Bernadi’s office was invaded and trashed. If you are from Australia, I hope you didn’t vote for the coalition or, if you did, that you will reconsider this time. If you vote do choose to still vote for the Liberal and National Coalition, look at your hands: they are coated in the blood of bullied children who saw no escape from their fate except by death. The homophobic ideology of this party was known before the election, so don’t even try to wash your hands like Pilate.

Safe Schools Programme

Harry Potter and Trans Issues

In the Harry Potter novels, we don’t see anyone who is identified as transgender. This could be for a number of reasons: that there are no transgender wizards; that their numbers are too low for our protagonists to encounter one; that Harry doesn’t remark upon them (as the books are told from a third-person account of Harry’s perspective); or that magic can in some way ‘cure’ transgender (henceforth trans) people. The last option has a positive interpretation, and a very dark one.

That there are no trans wizards seems an incredibly lazy explanation; what reason do we have to think that? Further, it’s a boring explanation, as it completely ends any further exploration of the Harry Potter world.

The next explanation, that the protagonists never encounter someone who is trans, seems a plausible enough explanation — after all, trans people constitute somewhere between 0.5% and 0.1% of the general population, and Harry only rubs shoulders with a few hundred people for any length of time; it wouldn’t be a statistical miracle for him to simply never meet someone who is trans.

The idea that Harry doesn’t remark upon seeing a trans person, assuming he did get to meet one, implies one of two things: he either doesn’t recognise the person as trans, or the fact the person is trans is not remarkable. Since trans people don’t necessarily look different to cis people (cis means non-trans) – think of the huge amount of variety of men and women you see every day – it’s not unreasonable to suppose Harry just didn’t notice. If instead he didn’t find it remarkable to note, this says something very interesting about wizarding society: that they are at least somewhat accepting of trans people (I’ll discuss this in more detail later). This leaves the final supposition to explore.

Magic as a cure

What if magic can be used to ‘cure’ people who are transgender? I invoke the inverted commas about ‘cure’ since being transgender is simply not a disease to be cured. As I see it, there are three different different things magic could do: affirm a person’s gender identity physically, change the appearance of the trans person to that of someone of their identified gender without actually modifying their body, or make the trans person cis by making their body confirm to their gender assigned at birth.

Affirmation of gender identity

This is by far the best resolution for trans people that want to physically transition: they get the body they desire and their gender dysphoria would be largely resolved (insofar as it doesn’t apply to missed past opportunities and experiences). What would this look like? A trans wo/man would look like a cis wo/man, with all the associated body parts: breasts, uterus, vagina and vulva for a trans woman; penis and testes for a trans man. It may even be possible to mix-and-match body parts, as many trans people are happy with parts of their anatomy (e.g. some trans women like having a penis).

An interesting question to ask is what would gender affirmation magic mean for non-binary trans or gender-fluid people? I don’t actually have an answer for this, but it would be sad to think that these people would be left out while binary trans people have a spell to grant their desires.

Transition of appearance

There are two major reasons a spell to change appearance would be useful: to help alleviate some of the psychological contribution of gender dysphoria, although it won’t help with physical issues such as inappropriate hormone levels; the other is to change the way others see them, to help alleviate the social aspects of gender dysphoria.

While these may sound like two good things, the latter  can have some negative implications about society. In its most innocuous form, the social aspect helps protect against being misgendered, which is an uncomfortable and upsetting experience for many trans people. However, it can also be to make trans people invisible to society, so that cis people don’t have to feel uncomfortable about gender non-conformatnce; this implies a society somewhat oppressive to trans people, much like the muggle world is today.

Denial of gender

While some trans people would jump at the chance to not have to deal with dysphoria and be happy in their unmodified birth body and assuming their designated-at-birth gender, many more wouldn’t. The question is, would this spell be voluntary? Would it be used instead of psychotherapy to help people accept their gender identity, in stead of muggle conversion therapy is used now?

If society is transphobic, there’s no way that this spell can be ever be free of coercion, and people who are desperate (e.g. the destitute) or pressured by authority figures (e.g. children by parents) may undergo this spell unwillingly, essentially brainwashing them. If society is very transphobic, the change may be mandatory, essentially a genocide against trans people. This would be a very dark world indeed, and I won’t consider it further.

Trans experience in wizarding society

So what would wizarding society be like for trans people? It could be fully accepting of gender non-conformity, it could begrudgingly tolerate trans people (think of the muggle world now, at least in relatively progressive areas), or it could be completely unaccepting (think of the 90’s where trans people were only portrayed as the butts of jokes).

What do we see in the novels? While men and women seem to have an equal legal standing, are treated equally whenever they are interacting in the novels, and appear to wear the same clothes, the world of Harry Potter does seem to be patriarchal, in much the same way the modern world is. All the powerful people are shown to be men (with the exception of Dolores Umbridge and Minerva McGonagall), we see very gendered opinions of people from Harry’s perspective (although this may be peculiar to Harry, since he was raised by muggles and probably internalised some of their prejudices). Further, the facilities in Hogwarts are all strictly gender segregated, and we never see men in a traditionally feminine gender role or vice versa.

This would seem to indicate that wizarding society is not fully accepting of trans people, but we have no way to distinguish between the other two conclusions. If trans people are tolerated, it seems very unlikely that there would be forced denial of gender. Appearance-altering spells would likely serve to avoid uncomfortable experiences, rather than to protect the individual’s safety. Non gender-conforming and non-binary individuals would likely experience some level of discrimination, as the world would still have the notion of a gender binary fully established.

The completely unaccepting society would likely have coerced denial of gender spells, and trans people would be using change-of-appearance or gender-confirming spells as a matter of urgent personal safety. Most children wouldn’t get this opportunity.

Trans experience at Hogwarts

As noted before, Hogwarts seems to have strictly gender-segregated facilities: we have boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and dormitories and differing expectations in social events (e.g. Yule ball). Ignoring the strong heteronormativity of this world that we gather from the novels – so normative, in fact, that not even Dumbledore could be openly gay (if Rowling’s out-of-text assertion is to be accepted) and he’s the most powerful wizard of the age – what would Hogwarts be like for a trans student?

No gender-neutral bathrooms are noted in the novel, but that could easily be because Harry is relatively unobservant about such things, of more concern seems to be the lack of gender-neutral dormitories within the houses: they seem like something that would be noted at least in describing the basic layout of the common rooms. Does this mean that non-binary people have to live in a separate dormitory, apart from the houses? Or do they have to cohabitate with the boys and girls? If the latter, who decides which they live with? How about binary trans people if neither of the gender affirmation spells are available?

Glossing over the administrative difficulties, there’s the magic itself to consider: the girls’ dormitory won’t allow boys in. Is that because it detects whether the person is a girl, or whether they’re a boy? If the latter, non-binary people could enter, but for the former they couldn’t. But how does it decide what constitutes a boy/girl? Would a trans girl be detected as a girl, or as a boy? And the magic doesn’t stop there: unicorns are happy with girls approaching them, but not boys: do they detect gender identity, or do they go off physical attributes? How do they deal with non-binary people?

Ultimately, these questions can’t be answered from textual evidence, but they are interesting to think about.

Closing thoughts

This discussion has focused only on trans people, but these questions could easily be extended to intersex individuals, or those with even different identities. These are the most obvious questions that came to me from reading the Harry Potter series, and no doubt there a million more to explore. Whether or not there’s textual evidence, it’s fun to ask questions and conjecture answers.

Harry Potter and Trans Issues