When comedy sides with tyranny

Mel Brooks recently spoke against politically correct comedy.
Mel Brooks recently spoke against politically correct comedy. Photo: pbs.org

‘Triggered’ is such a weird insult, isn’t it? ‘Sorry, snowflake, did I trigger you? Did I make you feel an .
emotion in response to an event? Did my awful actions make you react with sadness or empathy, like you’re supposed to when you’re not made of pure evil? Oh, I do beg your pardon… Did my behaviour cause you to retaliate in a way that might suggest you’re somehow human? Cucked!!’

People who delight in causing offence are so tedious. Why not just play nice? Surely a world of happiness is better than constant misery? At this point I must declare a conflict of interest: I like being happy, which is why I promote happiness. I am in the pay of Big Joy. Bear this in mind whenever you read my columns. It’s actually why I wasn’t allowed to stand as a member of parliament: the ombudsman told me that my belief in making the world a nicer place was incompatible with the regular cash rewards from the arms trade.

Recently we have had more dull old men telling us that our sensitivity to offence is ruining culture – like Hollywood’s Mel Brooks, who opined that ‘stupidly politically correct’ sensibilities will lead to the ‘death of comedy’. (In fairness, anyone who’s ever seen one of my stand-up specials might also conclude that comedy is dead.)

So, I take it Hollywood’s Mel Brooks is a freedom-of-speech champion, fearlessly saying anything in the pursuit of funny? Not so. Asked if anything was off-limits for comedy, Hollywood’s Mel Brooks replied: ‘I personally would never touch gas chambers, or the death of children or Jews at the hands of the Nazis’. So in other words: ‘Political correctness is a curse on comedy, and we should joke about anything – apart from things which personally offend me, Hollywood’s Mel Brooks’. Okay old man, thanks for joining in. Your flawed and defective opinion is noted.

Now as it happens, I agree with Hollywood’s Mel Brooks. Jokes about gas chambers are horrible, and people shouldn’t tell them. The difference though, is that I would extend that kindness not just to things that affect me personally. Maybe by not making sexist or racist jokes. I like the idea of not bullying people. Does this make me a better person than Hollywood’s Mel Brooks? That’s not for me to say, but… yes.

Of course, there’s a chance this isn’t what Hollywood’s Mel Brooks meant by ‘political correctness’. Well, then Hollywood’s Mel Brooks should choose his words more wisely. Because when you’ve got a pussy-grabbing president in Trump – who won power not least because he frequently promised his inflamed voters that he wouldn’t be politically correct – well, frankly, it sounds a lot like Hollywood’s Mel Brooks is, unintentionally, siding with tyranny.

Because, truth to tell, one person’s ‘loss’ of freedom-of-speech is balanced by the millions of oppressed people whose lives have been improved. If you are committed to fighting sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism and tyranny – embrace political correctness. At worst, you won’t be able to tell your garbage-trash jokes to your idiot friends. At best, you’ll make the world a nicer place. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a nice trade-off.

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and activist. Follow him on Twitter: @chris_coltrane. Download his podcast from TheLoliticsPodcast.com.

Er… what is neoliberalism, exactly?

 Workers take to Greek streets against cutbacks
Workers take to Greek streets against cutbacks. Image by Flickr user http://underclassrising.net

When I’m not writing fan fiction about the heat-death of the universe, there are two things that play on my mind. The first is that almost every crisis currently facing humanity is caused by neoliberalism. The second? Almost no-one knows what neoliberalism is.

I mean, that’s weird, right? Neoliberalism is literally the system we live under – and yet, if you go into a cafe and ask random people what they think neoliberalism is, you’ll get thrown out. ‘Stop bothering my customers,’ Franco will say. ‘Why do you keep doing this to me?’

Even finding a consistent definition is hard. Of the people who know what it is (which I’m assuming includes you, because you read New Internationalist – unless, like me, you nod along to the articles, hoping no-one will actually challenge you on any of it) most agree on neoliberalism’s features. Free market, privatization, shrinking the state, lowering taxes, reducing regulation, replacing schools and hospitals with champagne bars, and so on.

But try asking people why someone would be a neoliberal, and you’ll get a thousand different answers. For example, critics might claim that under neoliberalism, things are only worthwhile if they make money. In that respect, my comedy is the least neoliberal thing that has ever existed.

Conversely, advocates might say ‘the free market is more efficient’, or ‘the state is a burden’. Anything other than admitting that they watch dystopian cyberpunk movies where the police have been privatized, and see it not as a warning, but a vision of a glorious future.

So, who to believe? It doesn’t help that neoliberalism’s meaning is almost impossible to guess. A friend of mine assumed it meant a ‘new kindness’. ‘Because, you know, liberal means open-minded.’ That noise you hear in the distance is our Australian readers thinking about Tony Abbott, and laughing hysterically.

But can you blame her? Even neoliberals avoid using the word, because they claim that nowadays it’s mainly used as an insult. I quite like that the word both describes a belief system, and simultaneously insults that same belief system. It’s the kind of efficiency that the free market can only dream of.

Related: 10 economic myths we need to junk

As it happens, it suits neoliberals not to use the word. When no-one knows what it is, it’s so much easier for our political class to act as if all our big crises – global tax avoidance, climate change, the 2008 financial crash, privatization of healthcare, jobs outsourced, communities abandoned, and the white nationalism that thrives in those conditions – are somehow blips, self-contained anomalies, rather than all rooted in neoliberalism. Not dissimilar to how I claim that my constant lateness is a unique one-off, rather than rooted in me smashing it hard on Mario Kart.

How happy, then, that the tide is turning. More than 12,800,000 people in Britain recently voted for an unashamedly leftwing manifesto – and while fewer than one per cent of them could tell you what neoliberalism is, they know that things are broken. A world where $32 trillion is stored in offshore tax havens, where our public services get sold to the highest bidder, and where deregulation leads to tragedies like Grenfell Tower – people feel, instinctively, that things needs to change. People might not know the technical words, but they know the answers. Neoliberalism is now facing its final years. My friends: it’s time to nationalize neoliberalism.

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and activist. Follow him on Twitter: @chris_coltrane. Download his podcast from TheLoliticsPodcast.com

The shame of Harrods' Arctic ice water


Flickr user Lorenzo G under a Creative Commons Licence under a Creative Commons Licence

Depression is so debilitating. I wish I could turn it into creativity, like the artists whose melancholy we seem to romanticize. Sylvia Plath wrote so many heart-rending poems. Rachmaninov composed music of such beauty. The best thing I’ve done when depression hit was to draw a sad face in some ice cream and then have a lie down for 48 hours. At peak performance I might even write a tweet. As a body of work, it somehow doesn’t feel quite as profound. And I suspect, unlike Plath and Rachmaninov, it won’t last through the ages. The ice cream keeps melting, for a start. Also, I keep eating it.

It is hard to work out whether you’re medically depressed when the world is actually awful. I mean, with the state of things in 2017, it would be weirder NOT to be permanently sad, right? For example, in February hyper-luxury tat purveyors Harrods started stocking bottles of water – for £80 ($100). Eighty pounds. Eighty. EIGHTY! Why aren’t you screaming yet? Eighty poxy pounds. Eighty!! (Wow, this is a great way to meet my word count. Journalism is so easy!)

Why, you might wonder, does it command such a high price? Is the water haunted? Did the Queen shower in it? Does the water have a degree in applied mathematics? The actual answer is arguably even stupider: this water is bottled from Arctic ice. You know: the ice that is depleting thanks to climate change – caused, ironically, by extravagant consumerism.

The brand describes itself as ‘Limited Edition Bottled Water’. Limited Edition! That is some way to dress up the fact that they are stealing depleted Arctic ice. ‘What makes it a limited edition?’ ‘Well, soon the planet will be so hot there’ll be no ice left!’

‘And hey: if you like that, why not try our new limited-edition courgettes!* Get them while you can! No, really, get them while you can – we’re 10 years away from the food wars.’

To add extra salt to the wound, their website offers this tasting guide: ‘With an exceptionally light mouthfeel, [the brand] has a unique terroir – perfect for pairing with fine foods.’ Any fine food in particular? Nope – any food, as long as it’s fine. And do you know why this food pairs well with literally any food? BECAUSE IT’S WATER.

In a world where WaterAid says that 663 million people live without safe water, there are people who will pay £80 for one bottle of melted ice. Shame on every single person who buys this truly needless ‘luxury’. I hope every sip burns onto your retinas a permanent image of the villages your selfishness could have helped.

In a tiny act of defiance, we did a fundraiser at Lolitics (my London comedy club – you should come some time!) where we raised exactly £80 – and we gave it all to WaterAid. I can’t tell you what a boost it gave me to remember that actually, on the whole, people aren’t dreadful. For every person that makes you hate humanity, there are a dozen more with kindness in their hearts; they just rarely make it into a news cycle hell-bent on making us miserable. When things get tough, it can be easy to forget that actually, on the whole, people are pretty awesome.

* Zucchini for our North American readers.

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and activist. Follow him on Twitter: @chris_coltrane. Download his Lolitics Podcast at chriscoltrane.com for regular brilliant political stand-up comedy, for free.

My Daily Mail badge of honour

Chris Coltrane on stage

Chris Coltrane on stage - the punters might like his stand-up, but the Daily Mail is not amused. Richard Cooper under a Creative Commons Licence

I know that you would usually flick straight to the back of your New Internationalist to devour my extremely good world-news column in which I offer my famous opinions, such as ‘Terrorists should just pack it in’, ‘Capitalism is bad’, and ‘If things were better, then they’d be better’. These are the fearless, controversial hot takes I have built my name on, and I will never apologize for them.

But, just this once, will you let me be self-indulgent? Because, in among the true hell-scape that was 2016, Lolitics (the London comedy club I run and podcast) had a moment of triumph.

International readers will know Britain’s Daily Mail by reputation: racist, sexist, homophobic, it actively campaigns for a return to a fictional time when Britain benevolently colonized the world. Its online version is the most-read English-language website on the entire internet. I believe New Internationalist is at number two, but I’ve not fact-checked that. (You may be wondering how a publication as poisonous as the Daily Mail can become so popular. Well, allow me to let you in on a little secret: people are garbage.)

The Mail regularly pens hate-pieces against activists, charities and general do-gooders. After all, there’s nothing worse than doing good. In fact, so widely loathed by said do-gooders is the Mail that it is considered a badge of honour to be hated by it. Activist friends of mine have had entire pages written about them. I’ve often wondered if I would ever get that honour myself...

So: 6 November 2016. Scene: living room. Enter housemate. ‘Chris, you need to look at the Daily Mail’s website immediately.’ And there, to my amazement and sheer delight, was the headline on their front page: ‘EXCLUSIVE: The comedy club that’s BANNED irony and stops acts bantering with the audience to preserve their “safe space”.’

Over the next 1,000 words, the Mail described to its 56 million readers how my tiny club was the pinnacle of leftist hypocrisy. How dare I refuse to give rightwingers a voice! How dare I peddle such humourless political correctness! It was the most surreal moment of my life. From their wild outrage you would think that Lolitics took place at Wembley Arena, rather than above a pub where 40 people turn up on a Tuesday.

Frankly, I’m proud to deny stage time to rightwingers. The entire planet is theirs. My comedy club is a tiny, gentle alcove. I have people who come to my club that don’t usually go to live comedy, because most comedy clubs are awful. Rape jokes, sexism, transphobia abound. Knowing that I not only offer those people a safe space, but that it infuriates the racists at the Daily Mail, makes me very proud indeed.

Thanks to the article, November’s gig was one of the busiest and loveliest yet. The hit-piece on me resulted in a few angry bigots turning up – but also a flood of new fans. In all honesty, the Daily Mail has given me an awesome, radical personal brand that I fear I can’t maintain.

If you fancy being hated by the Daily Mail too, come to the club sometime – or give the podcast a go. You’ll be making a reactionary newspaper furious. Thus, coming to my comedy counts as activism.

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and activist. Follow him on Twitter: @chris_coltrane. Download his Lolitics Podcast at chriscoltrane.com for regular brilliant political stand-up comedy, for free.

Proud to preach

Donald and Melania Trump

Telling an audience what Trump said and then pull a follow-up joke is like trying to impress someone who has just seen a ghost by telling them you won a tenner on a scratchcard, writes Chris Coltrane. Marc Nozell under a Creative Commons Licence

This dispatch comes from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, aka The Destroyer of Dreams.

I’m here with my new stand-up show, ‘Socialist Fun-Times’. In fully communist Scotland, a country I am deeply in love with, a show with a name like that is a ludicrously easy sell. Especially because the few rightwingers that live here tend to disappear for August. I like to think they flee because they’re scared that the influx of art might make them fundamentally question their incorrect belief system. Sadly, in reality it’s because they can rent their house out for three times the monthly mortgage payments.

Anyway, it’s probably for the best that they leave. After all, 99 per cent of art is not made for them. Rightwingers get 50 Cent, Geri Halliwell and Phil Collins; the Left gets everything else.

Sometimes you get accused of preaching to the converted at an arts festival, but frankly I’m proud to preach. Some people specialize in changing people's minds. My talent, if I have any, which I absolutely do not (see previous columns for proof, plus this one), is to take lefties that feel lonely and sad, and top them up with the hope of a socialist utopia. I do this in exchange for vast sums of money.

Edinburgh has been very kind to me this year: included in The Scotsman’s list of the 21 Best Ever Jokes At The Fringe was one of mine. Best ever! Weirdly though, there was no Peter Cook or Stephen Fry: the list only went back about 10 years, which coincidentally is when corporations started sponsoring the official list of top jokes. What are the chances! Well, regardless, I guess it’s official: I’m funnier than Peter Cook.

I’m glad I have at least had one joke that stands the test of time. World news changes so quickly nowadays that I’ve had entire drafts of my show that I’ve had to just delete. It’s genuinely difficult. It’s the kind of struggle that I imagine doctors and fire-fighters and aid workers have to deal with, though obviously my struggle is more painful, and real, and valid.

It’s also hard to make jokes about the news when it’s already so absurd. Modern news comes pre-satirized. Of course, we’ve always had tricksters and absurdists. Dick Cheney lying about Iraq. Tony Blair becoming peace envoy for the Middle East. But 2016 feels unique for the unstoppable Katamari of stupid. The mere act of telling an audience what Trump has said is enough to shock them so much that any follow-up joke just bounces off them. It’s like trying to impress someone who has just seen a ghost by telling them you won a tenner on a scratchcard.

I genuinely worry about what this is doing to the world. I think that when the news seems perpetually ridiculous, when politicians seem permanently incompetent, people lose all faith in the system – a faith vacuum that the far right often swoops in to fill. We need competence more than ever. In the next few generations, climate change will force humanity to face any number of existential crises. Instead, we have a US presidential candidate who claims he’s fit for the job because he has a massive penis. The most unpredictable man in politics might soon have his fingers on the nuclear buttons. My only hope is that his hands are so small that his tiny baby fingers won’t have the strength to actually push them.

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and activist. Follow him on Twitter: @chris_coltrane. Download his Lolitics Podcast at chriscoltrane.com for regular brilliant political stand-up comedy, for free.

Regulation Top Trumps


Corporations just love redistributing wealth, right?

I’m fascinated by the tricks used to convince us of the benefits of deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

For example, proponents talk about removing the ‘regulatory barriers’ that restrict the ability of corporations to generate profit. But what they call ‘barriers to trade’, we call the fabric of society! Labour laws, environmental laws, privacy laws – we put these barriers up for a very good reason. It would be like removing flood barriers because the flood has calmly convinced us that we can’t reasonably expect it to destroy our homes and fields when there’s a massive wall in the way.

They claim that a European household of four would be 500 euros better off, due in part to the price reductions that TTIP will bring. Because, as New Internationalist readers will know, big businesses just love passing their savings on to customers. They’re quite benevolent, really: corporations simply jump at the chance to redistribute a little wealth. Didn’t you know that ‘FTSE 100’ is an anagram of ‘Karl Marx’?

What they forget is that this ‘wealth’ is being created because the regulations that protect our rights, our health and our planet are being stripped away. We’ll be 500 euros richer, yet so desperately poorer. Like someone who has just earned $1 million by selling their dad, or someone who has won a competition on Fox News.

Proponents argue that TTIP and the TPP harmonize regulation, so that there’s one rule for every trader. But – does this even need to be said? – in this dreadful game of Regulation Top Trumps, the laxest regulation wins. Previously banned chemicals in food will suddenly be abundant. Quotas will nosedive. It’s a drive to the bottom. It’s like saying: ‘Some people in the world are healthy, but some have cholera, some have cancer, and some are blind. This inequality simply can’t carry on. That’s why we’re proposing: cholera for everybody!’

In October 2015, a leaked draft revealed that European Union negotiators utterly failed to ‘reinforce environmental protections’. Colour me shocked. Really? The vested interests of TTIP lied to us? Do you know, sometimes I start to suspect that these multibillion-dollar corporations that employ teams of lobbyists to push their profit-driven agenda might not have my best interests at heart.

Proponents claim that this is all the stuff of fantasy. Conspiracy hyperbole. Perhaps. Except, did you know that documentation on the TTIP agreement will be kept secret for 30 years? It’s not exactly the kind of news that inspires confidence, is it? ‘This plane has three fire exits. Sadly, we can’t tell you where they are, as it may hinder the fire’s ability to burn you.’

I’ve said this before in my column, and I’ll say it again: when the facts are hidden from us, democracy fails. How are we to make a decision on whether these trade deals are truly good for us? Well, here’s a hint: one TTIP fact we do know (from our May 2014 issue) is that ‘US trade delegations have more than 600 corporate advisers with unlimited access to drafts’.

Will you forgive me for being controversial? This is just a hunch, but – just this once – I think I’ll believe the activists.

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and activist. Follow him on Twitter: chris_coltrane. Download his Lolitics Podcast at chriscoltrane.com for regular brilliant political stand-up comedy, for free.

Our shadowy corporate overlords

man in shadow

Michael under a Creative Commons Licence

The good thing about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is that simply mentioning their names takes up almost half my word count for this column. Sure, they’re a catastrophic assault on democracy – but they also make my job phenomenally easy. Therefore, I for one welcome our new shadowy corporate overlords.

TTIP presents the activists among us with the twin problems of being so boringly bureaucratic that no-one cares, yet so ludicrous that as soon as you try to spread the word, you sound like a conspiracy theorist.

For example, take the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which not only further handsomely boosts my word count, but also defies belief. An ISDS gives private investors the ability to sue governments for introducing legislation that harms their profits. But there’s a reason laws related to air quality or employment rights exist: to protect us and make life nicer! An ISDS makes as much sense as letting ISIS sue France for making terrorism illegal.

The Guardian notes a similar example: ‘An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300 million for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.’ Which is completely fair, isn’t it? I mean, be reasonable: how are murderers expected to generate shareholder value with all this red tape in the way? In the gold industry, sometimes people need to die. That’s just a fact. And besides, would you rather be dull and alive, or wearing jewellery and dead? Exactly. Gimme that bling with a sweet side of poison!

In what world does it make sense to hand over democratically accountable power to non-accountable corporate interests? Companies argue that these laws will hurt their sales. But that’s the whole bloody point. We’re stopping you from doing terrible things! You shouldn’t get compensation for that.

A better-known example of ISDS is cigarette giant Philip Morris claiming $25 million compensation from Uruguay after it announced plans to increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packets. In any sane world, we’d be suing them! It’s like a thief taking a pub to court for putting up signs telling people to beware of pickpockets. ‘I’m suing you for lost earnings. How do you expect me to steal people’s wallets with all these warnings around the place?’

ISDSs aren’t exactly popular. In fact, 97 per cent of responses to a recent European Union survey on ISDSs were negative. You’ve got to admit, that’s quite high. In fact, the opposition is so strong that I’m a trifle worried a corporation will sue us all for hindering their ability to take us to court.

Do you know what? I say: let corporations sue us. We’ll just refuse to pay. What are they going to do, invade us? I’d like to see a cigarette company try. Okay, maybe a company like BAE Systems actually could. But the point is, there has to be a way to resist it. Each country should start its own investor courts. For every penny a company tries to claim for lost profit, we counter-sue for lost lives, for a poorer environment, for untold misery. Believe me: if El Salvador did that, they really would have a gold rush on their hands.

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist. Follow him on Twitter: chris_coltrane. His show ‘Activism Is Fun’ is a free download at chriscoltrane.com

How to make room for refugees

It’s amazing what excuses we’ll come up with to avoid helping refugees.

For example, it has been argued that we in Britain haven’t the money to help. But last year our unelected House of Lords spent $385,000 of taxpayers’ money on champagne. That’s the equivalent of five bottles per Lord! I know it’s only a fraction of what’s needed, but my goodness, it’s a start. Let’s scrap the champagne bill and spend it feeding those who need it. And while we’re reforming, let’s turn Parliament’s wine cellar into housing for refugees.

(I warn you, this will involve some hard and serious work – specifically, making room in the wine cellar by drinking all the champagne. But I honestly believe that together, we can find the courage and tenacity to see this merry mission through to its end.)

Another excuse: one helpful Internet Man™ informed me that they can’t be genuine refugees if they can afford smartphones. Um, mate… you know they’re on the run? They’re not at home. A landline’s not much use to them. And also, there’s no international law that if your country is invaded by ISIS, you have to swap your 21st-century phone for a Nokia 3210.

But my favourite excuse of the lot has to be this: ‘Britain is full! There’s no room left! It’s packed. Packed!! Look down at the floor. Can you see it? No, it’s just a sea of feet! That’s how full we are. It takes me five hours just to get in the shower every day, having to fight past everyone. I ordered a pizza the other day. Two years, it took. I mean, I got it free because it took more than 30 minutes, but still, it wasn’t nice. We’re full!!’

Isn’t it odd how people who claim their country is full never have a problem with people having babies? If there’s no room for foreigners, surely there’s also no room for children? I mean, I know that babies are smaller than foreigners to begin with, but they grow bigger.

Second, Britain is not even slightly full by any measure you choose. For example, it has 700,000 empty homes. And that’s not to mention all the empty shops, the empty offices, plus the vast empty chasm of nothingness inside Prime Minister David Cameron’s heart.

Britain is the very opposite of full. If anything, we have too much space. In Surrey, there’s more land given over to golf courses than to houses. Building houses on those golf courses would achieve three good things. It would give refugees a chance at a decent life. It would annoy people who like golf. And, most importantly of all, it would create the beginnings of the most epic Crazy Golf course in the world. Add an actual windmill and a couple of Stonehenges, and it’s done.

We have so much space in our country, and chances are that you do too, wherever you are. Having said that, I do have one idea: let’s deport anyone who claims their country is full. You’re awful and you’re of no value to us. Britain IS full – of racists. Let’s have ourselves a little spring clean.

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist.
Follow him on Twitter: @chris_coltrane
His show ‘Activism Is Fun’ is a free download at chriscoltrane.com

Money-making and morality are seldom bed-fellows

Comic Relief probably just decided to launch a ‘War on Poverty’, but didn’t think through the details.


At the end of last year, the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that anti-poverty charity Comic Relief had invested millions of dollars in tobacco and alcohol companies, and $1 billion in the arms manufacturer British Aerospace.

This is an understandable mistake to make. Comic Relief’s management team probably just decided to launch a ‘War on Poverty’, but didn’t think through the details. So instead of fighting hunger with food, Comic Relief could now be eradicating world hunger by killing hungry people. It’s a modern strategy for an age-old problem.

Besides which, who can blame them for investing in an arms company? We’ve all done it. Especially at Christmas – a time of peace and goodwill, but also a time for getting drunk and making morally inconsistent investments in the stock market.

The news was taken as a shocking betrayal by the charity’s supporters. But it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone with an understanding of 21st-century capitalism, where investing and morality rarely share a bed.

For example, it has been claimed that if Comic Relief only made ethical investments, good causes would have lost out on the $33-million profit the investments brought in. This is given as an argument in favour of investing in companies that make weapons and cigarettes, whereas I think it’s an argument that proves, once and for all, that capitalism is utterly ridiculous! What sort of system forces us to invest in bombs that kill children, because, if we don’t, we won’t have enough money to feed and educate other children? It’s like a church raising money to repair their leaking roof by having a sponsored ‘Let’s Burn Down The Old Lady’s House’ day.

When you complain, they reply: ‘Look, we’ve been promised $5,000 by people sponsoring us. If you don’t let us burn down that old lady’s house, you –YOU! – are stopping us from being paid money this community vitally needs. Now chuck us the petrol, or get lost.’

This is similar to the argument made by rightwingers who say we shouldn’t clamp down on tax avoiders, because if you tax them they’ll just go overseas and pay even less.

Okay, first, all their money’s already overseas. That’s kind of the problem. And second, how will they go overseas? If we clamp down on energy companies that are dodging tax, how will they leave the country? Are they going to take all the power stations with them? For a start, they wouldn’t get them through customs:

‘Anything to declare?’

‘No. Oh, apart from Britain’s entire gas and electricity infrastructure.’

Luckily, I have an idea that will allow us to end poverty without investing in weapons: overthrow capitalism! Take all the money from the billionaires, give it to the people of the world, and eradicate poverty and hunger overnight. Simple as that.

All it takes is for someone to be brave enough to take that first step, and start kidnapping the rich. And I don’t even mind being the one that does it. But I’m going to need some motivation. I’ll do it, as long as enough people sponsor me for $5 each.

And unlike Comic Relief, I’m very open in saying that I’ll spend every single penny on booze, cigarettes and weapons of mass destruction.

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist. See his website and follow him on Twitter: chris_ coltrane.

Why success should be measured in chocolate-chip muffins

Britain’s Chancellor George Osborne says the 0.6-per-cent rise in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is proof that ‘the British economy is on the mend’ and that austerity is working. Which is weird, considering we’ve also learnt that food-bank usage has tripled. Austerity is working to fix Britain, in the same way that a chainsaw works as a serviceable bread knife.

The government says there’s ‘no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks’. Which is true. It’s probably just a coincidence. I expect no-one needs food banks, because everyone’s 0.6-per-cent richer, but people just love being seen at them. They’re highly fashionable. That’s why everyone wears their best cocktail dresses there, sharing selfies of themselves on Instagram next to a big pile of beef jerky.

You’d think 350,000 people requiring food parcels to avoid starvation might actually show that austerity was a heartless system that persecuted the poor. But that’s the problem with us tree-hugging lefties. We spend so long having ‘compassionate feelings’ and ‘caring for the vulnerable’ that we forget what really matters: consumption!

Of course, GDP is a terrible way of judging a country’s success. The idea that you care only about financial gains, but not pollution, education, or even the amount of human happiness, is almost offensive. It’s like making an online dating profile that says ‘I made $250,000 last year. Pretty impressive, huh? PS Please don’t ask about my criminal record, the weird smell in my fridge, or why I cry uncontrollably in my sleep. It isn’t important. Only one thing matters: $250,000! Please marry me.’

GDP in the US is higher than most European countries, but Americans get less holiday time. Which Europeans must hear with a chuckle, as they say ‘Yes, America, you are succeeding and we are failing. Now go back to your job, while I work on my tan.’

Similarly, Obama has referred to GDP increasing while ignoring rising unemployment. In other words: hey, millions of people are without work, but spending on drones is at an all-time high. Yes We Can!

One pro-GDP argument is that judgements about happiness and wellbeing are too subjective to calculate accurately. This is easily overcome by remembering that New Internationalist readers are right about all things, and therefore whatever we believe is definitely correct.

Besides which, there are plenty of variables to judge happiness. Imagine how delightful it would be if we judged the success of a country by the number of people who have learnt a second language; or the number of cakes made per km². You know for a fact we’re doing okay if those numbers go up. I want to see economic reports that say ‘Spain was declared the country with the least reality TV, while Brazil confirmed it has the highest chocolate chip-to-cake ratio in its muffins. Meanwhile, Britain proudly announced that 100 per cent of its Iain Duncan Smiths were thrown into the Thames this year. That’s a 100-per-cent increase! Let’s hope they can maintain that excellent achievement.’

Anyway, we can feel smug, because we already live our lives in ways that GDP would punish. We recycle, we buy ethically, we buy food locally. When the government finally sees sense and starts judging society based on ideals we already hold dear, we can say: ‘You’re very welcome.’ Let’s just hope that smugness doesn’t count as a negative indicator, otherwise we might be back to square one.

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist.
Follow him on Twitter: chris_ coltrane


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