Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot writes about the absurdity of the right-wing choice to promote inequality in the name of competition among the wealthy when the ultimate results are worse for everybody:
The capture by the executive class of so much wealth performs no useful function. What the very rich appear to value is relative income. If executives were all paid 5% of current levels, the competition between them (a questionable virtue anyway) would be no less fierce. As the immensely rich HL Hunt commented several decades ago: "Money is just a way of keeping score."

The desire for advancement along this scale appears to be insatiable. In March Forbes magazine published an article about Prince Alwaleed, who, like other Saudi princes, doubtless owes his fortune to nothing more than hard work and enterprise. According to one of the prince's former employees, the Forbes magazine global rich list "is how he wants the world to judge his success or his stature".

The result is "a quarter-century of intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening when it comes to his net worth listing". In 2006, the researcher responsible for calculating his wealth writes, "when Forbes estimated that the prince was actually worth $7 billion less than he said he was, he called me at home the day after the list was released, sounding nearly in tears. 'What do you want?' he pleaded, offering up his private banker in Switzerland. 'Tell me what you need.'"

Never mind that he has his own 747, in which he sits on a throne during flights. Never mind that his "main palace" has 420 rooms. Never mind that he possesses his own private amusement park and zoo – and, he claims, $700m worth of jewels. Never mind that he's the richest man in the Arab world, valued by Forbes at $20bn, and has watched his wealth increase by $2bn in the past year. None of this is enough. There is no place of arrival, no happy landing, even in a private jumbo jet. The politics of envy are never keener than among the very rich.
In order to grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, and Edwardian levels of inequality are almost fetishised.
Can we not rise above this? To seek satisfactions that don't cost the earth and might be achievable? The principal aim of any wealthy nation should now be to say: "Enough already".
- Meanwhile, Andrew O'Hagan writes about Margaret Thatcher ultimate legacy in leaving the U.K. a "greedier and seedier place". And Frances Russell points out the futility of a race to the bottom on taxes.

- Haroon Siddiqui and Stephen Gordon discuss the damage the Harper Cons have done to Canada's census. And Jennifer Ditchburn writes that rural Canada will be particularly hard hit by a lack of reportable data to allow for evidence-based policy.

- But then, Jonathon Gatehouse reminds us that Harper is generally eager to make sure that facts don't find their way into public debate - as evidence by his muzzling of federal scientists. And Andrew Coyne notes that the Cons' abhorrence of pure research makes little sense even from the most restrictive of libertarian viewpoints.

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