Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Josh Eidelson and John Schmitt take a look at the guaranteed annual income which will be voted on in Switzerland - and the sole barrier to a similar discussion in the U.S. (and likely in Canada):
What is a universal basic income, and why are we hearing more about it now?

The proposals that are floating around the world vary a lot. But the basic idea is, no matter what you do, if you’re a resident — or in some cases, a citizen — you get a certain amount of money each month. And it’s completely unconditional: If you’re rich you get it, if you’re poor you get. If you’re a good person you get it, if you’re a bad person you get it. And it does not depend on you doing anything other than making whatever effort is involved to collect the money. It’s been a topic of discussion for several decades. Why is it happening right now? I think it’s obvious that it’s a reaction to the high level of economic inequality that we’ve seen. Most European countries haven’t had big increases in inequality at the same scale that we [in the U.S.] have, [but] some of them have had much more than they’re used to.
So what are the merits of universal basic income?

We have a system that has high unemployment, high underemployment. This would allow people to survive and to live, with dignity, assuming that other systems stay in place. It puts a floor under wages — people could say, “I don’t have to do that job if you’re not going to pay well.” People could pursue a lot of activities that are not particularly well paid but that have a lot of social use or personal satisfaction: art, creative work, volunteer work, working with people who have disabilities.

So if we were a very rich world, which I think we are to a certain degree, it would be a remarkable way to make sure that people could maximize their ability to express themselves but also maximize their ability to participate in the communities that they live in in a full way. Stay home and take care of kids if that’s what you want to do. Take care of your parents when they’re old and sick.

People sometimes refer to this as a kind of “Star Trek” economy — you just said, “Replicator, make me a ham sandwich.” There wasn’t any social conflict around production and consumption. And that, I think, is that kind of ideal in which this kind of a thing could play out. We are probably there in terms of the economics. We are very, very wealthy — we could afford to do this. But we are not there in terms of the politics.
 - And Scott Stelmaschuk joins the chorus calling for an adult conversation about taxes which might spur a discussion of the merits of more effective social programs.

- Chris Turner discusses the Cons' war on science:
This is a government interested mainly in what Canadians use and spend, and only passionate about those parts of Canada it can develop and sell off. It cares little about Canadians as citizens and even less about protecting Canada’s shared public goods and standing on guard for its natural capital.

Harper’s true agenda, pretty much all along, has been to dismantle the government’s great traditions of natural science and environmental stewardship, which until recently made Canada a world leader in both fields. This is a government waging a quiet legislative and administrative war on science — especially those fields of science dedicated to gathering and analyzing data on the health of Canada’s natural environment — and it has undone a century of good work with alarming efficiency since the passage of its sweeping omnibus budget bill in June 2012.
The government’s war on science was well underway by the time of the omnibus budget bill — the long-form census long gone, a crime bill passed with little recourse to the data gathered by criminologists, scientists publishing papers on environmental topics already being muzzled — but the bill was its full-scale launch. It has proceeded apace since — and inspired the unprecedented scene of lab-coated scientists marching through the streets of Canadian cities in protest from Ottawa to Victoria.

So what is the nature of this war on science? Above all else, it is a sustained campaign to diminish the government’s role in evidence-based policy-making and environmental stewardship in three simple ways: reducing the capacity of the government to gather basic data about the status and health of the environment and Canadian society; shrinking or eliminating government agencies that monitor and analyze that evidence and respond to emergencies; and seizing control of the communications channels by which all of the above report their findings to the Canadian public.

The ultimate goal is equally clear: to induce in the federal government a sort of wilful blindness, severely limiting its ability to see and respond to the impacts of its policies, especially those related to resource extraction.
- John Geddes highlights the wide-open question of whether the Cons will allow Elections Canada to do its job of ensuring fair elections - especially when fraud within the Cons' own campaigns worked to Stephen Harper's advantage in 2011.

- And finally, Tonda MacCharles comments on how our Mostly Competent Government utterly bungled its latest Supreme Court appointment - to the point where our top court will be left with one less member than it's supposed to have.

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