Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tanya Gold discusses how the UK Cons - like other right-wing parties around the globe - are seeking to minimize the effectiveness of government by declaring that anybody who can benefit from social support is inherently undeserving:
How many benefits have been unfairly removed or reduced? But there is meaning behind this farce; it was no mistake. This is a rehearsal for the future of the welfare state, as seen through Tory spectacles – they are resentful at paying for anything. Need is now irrelevant.

The PR for the project, enthusiastically pursued by the Tory press, is ongoing, if unsophisticated. Its purpose is to incite so much contempt for benefit claimants in the wider population, and so much denial about who, and who is not, a benefit claimant, that we will dumbly watch children live in revolting conditions without complaint. Any kind of state intervention is now a blissful boon deserving of a kiss on the ministerial boot. Last week Alan Milburn, the government's luckless adviser on social mobility, said it was "vanishingly unlikely" that the government will meet its child poverty targets. No it won't; of course it won't. Far better to change the way child poverty is measured or, in common speak, stop counting the bodies.

"Benefit queen" stories are dripped on the media, courtesy of DWP moles, as if they were representative; and Ukip, that wonky opportunist, jumps on the bandwagon, seeking to make benefit claimants pay for necessities by electronic card, so they cannot squander their bags of taxpayer gold on Sky TV, cider, ciggies, condoms and, presumably, membership of the Communist party of Great Britain. The project chugs on, fuelled by distortion and lies, denouncing the weak, praising the strong – the changes to childcare funding announced last week will largely benefit the wealthy. Who is surprised?
- Meanwhile, if we didn't already have enough examples of the Harper Cons doing exactly the same thing, Jane Kittmer's story epitomizes anti-socialism in action - as in keeping with the Cons' orders to slash EI payments, a new mother diagnosed with breast cancer is being denied benefits.

- Alice nicely details why voters are headed to the polls in Labrador for a by-election. And the NDP looks to be well prepared in choosing Harry Borlase as its nominee.

- Glen McGregor finds that the Stepher Harper-based branding of all federal government activity which was controversial a few years ago is now standard operating procedure. And Alison highlights a particular egregious example.

- Finally, Joseph Schwartz notes that while the corporate press is offering grudging recognition that egalitarian Scandinavian economies have outperformed the rest of the developed world, it's also going out of its way to keep omitting crucial points about why they work so well:
[The Economist] praises Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway for accomplishments often touted by social democrats—low poverty rates, egalitarian distribution, and efficient public services. But the magazine argues that these are now “centrist” societies because they balance their budgets, allow for consumer “choice” within their public services, and nurture risk-taking entrepreneurs. The Economist sheepishly admits that these countries funnel over 50 percent of their GDP through the public sector (versus a meager 30 percent in the United States and 36 percent in Great Britain). But Adrian Woolridge’s “special report” places inordinate emphasis on how the Nordic nations’ have trimmed their (still) generous paid leave, sick day, and disability benefits, while touting Sweden’s switch from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution public pension plan.

The Economist never once mentions that the Nordic economic model of growth-with-equity derives from the continued existence of a powerful labor movement (union density is above 70 percent in each country, versus 11.3 percent in the United States and 17 percent in Great Britain). Nor does it tell us that the historical dominance of social democracy means that Nordic conservative parties resemble Obama-style Democrats. Even as social democratic parties move in and out of government, the “Nordic model” draws heavily upon the egalitarian values of its labor movement and social democratic parties.

The publics in these countries trust government because the social democrats built their welfare state upon a vision of comprehensive and universal social rights. All members of society receive publicly financed health care, child care, and education. The central government ensures that these goods are financed equitably and are of high quality—so the upper-middle class remains loyal to these services and gladly pays the high taxes to support them. The Nordic nations long ago recognized that means-tested programs end up being poorly funded and unsustainable because they are often opposed by those just above the poverty line. (The vicious politics of “welfare reform” in Britain and the United States depended upon only the poor being eligible for child-care support from the state.)
The feature also fails to mention the crucial role that trade union power and policy played in the creation of the Nordic model. From the 1950s onward, Nordic unions adhered to a “solidaristic wage policy” bargaining strategy, fighting for higher-percentage wage gains for the lowest-paid workers. The aim was both to decrease wage differentials between skilled and unskilled workers and to force corporations to transition out of inefficient industries. Unions opposed a “race to the bottom” model of capitalist development in favor of a high-wage, high-productivity model grounded upon union power.


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