Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- While there's room to question whether we should accept spending as self-definition in the first place, Zoe Williams is right to make the point that arbitrary restrictions on benefits serve to put yet more barriers to full social participation in front of the people who can least afford them:
Replacing cash with vouchers has a number of damaging effects. First, it's infantilising. Crisis loans delivered this way take on the shape of pocket money or charity. Second, it's stigmatising, as asylum seekers on the Azure card often point out – people don't want strangers to be able to make judgments about what they're buying, and whether they should be buying it. People want privacy in their financial transactions. Call them crazy. Third, it erodes the idea that the public purse is something we all created together and, in a crisis, are entitled to draw on it. Yes, I'm talking about a culture of entitlement – culture is a culture of entitlement. Modern civilisation is built upon pooling resources and being entitled to a share in them.

Fourth, and to my mind most important – though all of these effects are vitally important – something very significant happens when you expel people from the sphere of money. In the moment of exchange, everyone is equal; you don't have to prove that you're worthy of that purchase, your status is bestowed by the fact that you can pay for it, and you are worth as much in that moment as anybody else who can pay for it. There's a fillip of power in the process; it's why people who like shopping like shopping, and it is especially important when – for some reason that is probably financial – you spend a lot of the time feeling powerless. Give people a voucher instead, and they are not equal. Asda may be getting the same amount of money for the same amount of food, but charity and condescension have crept into the transaction – or maybe pity. But nobody wants their groceries served with pity.
I see those pragmatic arguments now as a Maginot line, and food stamps marched in over the undefended territory of human dignity. When you relegate people to a world outside money, you create a true underclass: a group of people whose privacy and autonomy are worth less than everyone else's, who are stateless in a world made of shops.
- But then, the corporate sector seems to have decided that self-worth gets in the way of its profit motive. And so the future of the labour movement - discussed by Richard Littlemore - figures to be an important factor in determining whether human dignity has any place in public policy discussions.

- Meanwhile, Paul Wells writes that Stephen Harper has led Canada to a world outside meaningful budgets, as heavily-advertised (but ill-defined) "plans" have replaced any semblance of accountability for public spending.

- Finally, Tim Harper expands on the Cons' decision to be the lone pariah state which can't be bothered to cooperate in documenting and combating desertification:
At a time when a parade of federal ministers (including Baird) and provincial premiers, including Alberta Premier Alison Redford, have been invading Washington to tout this country’s supposed “green credentials” in a bid to win presidential approval for the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision like this simply blows up all that work.

Walking away from a convention that is dealing with a problem that has been at least accelerated by climate change reinforces the world’s view, including a widely-held view in Washington, that the Harper government is all about resource development and exports, barely paying lip service to climate change.
The Canadian move comes on the eve of an April 9 UN meeting bringing scientists, governments and civil society organizations together in Bonn. It is billed as the first ever cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought.

We’re not coming.

Three days ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $51 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of the Sahel, citing a “complex crisis of drought, flooding, failed harvests, and disrupted livelihoods.’’

Baird pulled us out of the UN program trying to prevent it.

Wonder how green we look to Kerry now?


  1. The first point is certainly spot on, and economists have been saying it for years--Milton Freidman woudl say that people are for the most part capable of judging their own needs and public assistance should be paid-out with that in mind

  2. Well, they may or may not be, but certainly claiming they aren't makes efficient market theory completely incoherent, since it depends on the idea that everyone spends their money perfectly.