Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- When even free-trade warrior Barrie McKenna can only respond incredulously to a message campaign on behalf of the wealthy, you know it's gone too far. So here's McKenna answering the contrived outrage over the NDP's proposal for a slight increase in income tax on the wealthiest Ontarians:
The vast majority of Canadians agree with Ms. Horwath. More that 80 per cent approve the idea of a tax on the wealthy and two-thirds are ready to take a personal tax hit, according to a new poll of 2,000 people by Environics for the Broadbent Institute, a left-leaning think tank. Seventy-seven per cent worry that the growing income gap is “a big problem” for society.

The unease felt by many Canadians is rooted in an uncomfortable reality. Recent work by economists Mike Veall of McMaster University and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley show “an explosion in the earnings of the top 1 per cent” in Canada from the early 1980s to 2007. The top 1 per cent of Canadians pocketed nearly 14 per cent of all income in 2007, compared with 8 per cent in 1982.
Governments everywhere are in austerity mode. The middle class is being squeezed by stagnant incomes, pension clawbacks and the steady erosion of government entitlements, such as Old Age Security.

Basic fairness suggests all segments of society should share the burden.
- Meanwhile, Karen Foster notes that concerns about fairness across generational lines may reflect the need for more equitable wealth distribution in all age groups:
The middle class is shrinking. In the top income bracket and the class it represents, there are fewer people too, but they have more money. These changes are partly due to economic restructuring - toward service sector and knowledge jobs and away from manufacturing, for example - as well as to the expansion of finance (derivatives, etc.) as a wealth-generating but exclusive enterprise.

But the changing structure and impact of class is also tied to how we redistribute wealth in this country, and how we go about covering the costs of the social programs we believe we should all have access to. Setting aside market conditions for a moment, each of the so-called generations, when they stepped into the world of work, did so in the context of fundamentally different social welfare states.

Since the pivotal 1970s era, the governing ideology around social programs and wealth redistribution has shifted. It has moved away from collectivizing costs toward individualizing fiscal responsibility; from spreading prosperity around toward ensuring one's earnings only go to the causes one deems worthy. Once our government answered to citizens; now it caters to "taxpayers." Where economic policy once revolved around the question of how we might take better care of each other, today it is driven by the belief that no one should be made to take care of anyone else. The crumbling social welfare regime induced tectonic shifts in the moving intersection of class and generation.

Thus, it's not that generation doesn't matter in the context of the changes outlined here. It's that generation can't be considered apart from its context, nor can it be made meaningful without the other categories with which it intersects.

While the question of which generation is more selfish than the other is captivating, it might be time to ask when and why selfishness became the foundation for Canadian economic policy, and what can be done to change it.
- David Frum explores how Lyndon Johnson managed to push through many of the progressive policies which are now under attack by the Republicans' hard right wing.

- Mia Rabson is the latest to point out that the Cons' process in slashing federal jobs has seemingly designed to maximize the resulting pain and uncertainty for Canada's civil servants. But then, Mike de Souza reports that the Cons have never been interested in good advice - such as the utterly neglected suggestion that they not cheerlead for the tar sands.

- Finally, while the Charter has been in the news over the past few days as it reaches its 30th anniversary, it's particularly noteworthy that the Canadian public is still solidly behind its underlying values even as the Cons push for total surveillance and indiscriminate lock-'em-up policies on both crime and immigration.

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