Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Doreen Massey observes that our political vocabulary has largely been hijacked by corporatist language:
At a recent art exhibition I engaged in an interesting conversation with one of the young people employed by the gallery. As she turned to walk off I saw she had on the back of her T-shirt "customer liaison". I felt flat. Our whole conversation seemed somehow reduced, my experience of it belittled into one of commercial transaction. My relation to the gallery and to this engaging person had become one of instrumental market exchange.

The message underlying this use of the term customer for so many different kinds of human activity is that in all almost all our daily activities we are operating as consumers in a market – and this truth has been brought in not by chance but through managerial instruction and the thoroughgoing renaming of institutional practices. The mandatory exercise of "free choice" – of a GP, of a hospital, of schools for one's children – then becomes also a lesson in social identity, affirming on each occasion our consumer identity.

This is a crucial part of the way that neoliberalism has become part of our commonsense understanding of life. The vocabulary we use to talk about the economy is in fact a political construction...

There are loads of other examples of rarely scrutinised terms in our economic vocabulary, for instance that bundle of terms clustered around investment and expenditure – terms that carry with them implicit moral connotations. Investment implies an action, even a sacrifice, undertaken for a better future. It evokes a future positive outcome. Expenditure, on the other hand, seems merely an outgoing, a cost, a burden.

Above all, we need to bring economic vocabulary back into political contention, and to question the very way we think about the economy in the first place. For something new to be imagined, let alone to be born, our current economic "common sense" needs to be challenged root and branch.
- Daniel Altman delivers a blistering rebuke to austerity economics. But there's also a more positive path available, as Todd Aalgaard reports on Andrew Cash's work to recognize and address the needs of workers with little or no job security:
Cash has long advocated for the rights of freelancers, temp workers, contract workers and part-timers in a cross-section of industries, many in the cultural sector. Now, as a parliamentarian, he’s morphing his concern into a private member’s bill to be introduced this spring in the House of Commons. 

The gist of the legislative bid is a call for expanded access to EI, improving the pension system for part-timers, restricting the laying off of workers and rehiring them as “independent contractors,” income averaging for those with variable incomes, and ending the misuse of unpaid internships.

“We’re talking about the fact that in a city like Toronto, almost 50 per cent of the people who live here cannot access stable, full-time jobs,” Cash explained to me some days before the meeting, shivering in an unseasonably chilly May breeze.

He was referring to studies like the one published just three months ago by McMaster U and the United Way, which found that insecure work in the GTA has increased by 50 per cent in the past 20 years. A similar report last year by the Law Commission of Ontario revealed how provincial legislation has failed to keep up with this major shift in the workforce.

“The bill is about the issue of quality of employment,” he said, pointing out that most in these insecure categories aren’t paid what they’re worth, receive no protections, have no pensions or other benefits and simply can’t sustain a household.
- Jennifer Ditchburn finds yet another example of the Senate protecting its own rather than applying clear spending rules, as a Conservative-controlled steering group within its internal economy committee suppressed concerns about Pamela Wallin's travel claims. And the combination of the Cons' abuses of power and the Libs' desire to slap a new coat of paint on the same old patronage machine can only help the NDP's cause in presenting an ethical alternative.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg writes about Stephen Harper's lack of concern for his own party's election fraud:
The Conservative Party claims that it shares the general outrage on the use of fraud in the last election.
But the Party's actions belie that claim.

Not only did the Party seek to derail the robocall voter suppression court case, it has been notably uncooperative with Elections Canada's investigation of that fraud, and it has failed to respond to the Chief Electoral Officer’s concrete proposals for reforms designed to put and end the sort of abuses that happened in 2011.

Judge Mosley pointed out that prior to 2011 we in Canada did not have a history of U.S.-style voter suppression tactics.

Both Mosely and the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, have noted that the use of fraudulent phone calls pretending to be from Elections Canada, and other tricks, in order to prevent people from voting, is a very dangerous and disturbing new phenomenon in Canada.

If the Harper government does not put a package of election reforms before Parliament by the fall of this year or, at the very latest, early in 2014, it will be too late to institute needed changes before the next federal election in 2015.

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