Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Doug Saunders points out that we have a relatively simple choice between seeking to exact revenge on criminal offenders and actually reducing crime:
We know exactly why Norway has such lower recidivism numbers. Prisoners, being under constant observation, are very easy to study, and they’ve been studied like mad. Cambridge University criminologist Friedrich Lösel recently compared scores of studies in a dozen countries and found they reached almost identical conclusions.
He found that what causes prisoners to reoffend at lower rates, everywhere, is basic education, vocational and employability programs, anger management and therapy while behind bars (or, in Norway, no bars). On the other hand, things that cause prisoners to reoffend more after release include longer sentences, strict discipline, deterrent “shock incarceration” programs and regular sanctions (such as withdrawal of privileges).
In other words, we have a stark choice: We can punish people more, or we can reduce crime more. One cancels out the other. Sadly, though, it is a sense of anger and vengeance that motivates policy decisions in most countries these days.
- Gerald Caplan observes that there are indeed radical foreigners spending large amounts of money to silence Canadian voices when it comes to the oilsands by highlighting both the ownership interests and the propaganda factory funding of the Koch brothers.

- Tim Kiladze writes that economic bubbles tend to develop as a matter of herd behaviour even when participants have perfect information about what investments are really worth - making it all the more dangerous to have corporatist governments eager to play into the hype of indefinite, single-industry growth.

- John Moore nicely sums up how Quebec's protesting students are only seeking a fair shake compared to the system which allowed their parents an affordable education. But I'll particularly highlight his point as to how those quickest to demand sacrifices from young people (and others) are typically the most privileged themselves:
We hear a great deal these days about how we have to be reasonable about the times we live in. Corporate officers pulling in massive salaries and bonuses even as their companies lose money say average working men and women have to understand that the age of job security, pensions and even a middle-class wage are behind us. Have any of them offered to take the lead by surrendering even a fraction of their benefits? Are Federal Labour Minister Lisa Rait and Quebec Premier Jean Charest prepared to trim their gold-plated pensions to set an example to the students and workers they condescendingly lecture about the “new reality”?
Today’s youth face a grim future not of their own making. Is it any wonder that they’re angry about it? What they are asking for is what previous generations so eagerly gobbled up for themselves. If those generations now believe their entitlements were too generous, then, perhaps, in the spirit of sharing the burden, they might want to give some of them back.
 - Finally, while I don't agree with all of Chris Selley's take on the Quebec protests, he's at least right in pointing out that activism is a natural outcome when people have reason to doubt that democratic outcomes will reflect their concerns:
It is often said that if young people want to make a difference, they ought to vote. The hackneyed nature of the observation belies the gobsmacking truth of it – assuming, that is, that governments are actually capable and willing to give voters what they want. In the May 2011 federal election, for example, just 39% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 cast a ballot. That likely represents something like two million unused votes. Add in 25-to-34-year-olds, who voted at a 45% clip, and you’re up to about four million votes, or roughly a quarter of the total ballots cast. Young people would not have to vote monolithically to increase their clout hugely. But if they voted predominantly left-wing, they might change the political and policy landscape at a stroke. Presumably tuition fees would then increase at a slower rate, if at all – again, assuming political parties actually respond to their supporters.

So, what are young Quebecers’ options in this regard? Well, Mr. Charest and his Liberals are the enemy, tired and perhaps more than a bit corrupt – we shall see what Justice France Charbonneau’s inquiry finds. There is the separatist Pauline Marois and her Parti Québécois, which backs the protesters. But then, 15 years ago, as education minister in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government, she was the one proposing tuition hikes. You don’t have to be very cynical to suspect she’s being a bit cynical. François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, urges the students to compromise. Why not just spit in their faces?


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