Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- The Economist discusses research by Miles Corak and others on intergenerational inequality. And interestingly, other studies seem to suggest Corak has actually underestimated the barriers to social mobility:
THE “Great Gatsby curve” is the name Alan Krueger, an economic adviser to Barack Obama, gave to the relationship between income inequality and social mobility across the generations. Mr Krueger used the phrase in a 2012 speech to describe the work of Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa, who has shown that more unequal economies tend to have less fluid societies. Mr Corak reckons that in some places, like America and Britain, around 50% of income differences in one generation are attributable to differences in the previous generation (in more egalitarian Scandinavia, the number is less than 30%).
As late as 2011 aristocratic surnames appear among the ranks of lawyers, considered for this purpose a high-status position, at a frequency almost six times that of their occurrence in the population as a whole. Mr Clark reckons that even in famously mobile Sweden, some 70-80% of a family’s social status is transmitted from generation to generation across a span of centuries. Other economists use similar techniques to reveal comparable immobility in societies from 19th-century Spain to post-Qing-dynasty China. Inherited advantage is detectable for a very long time.

A second method relies on the chance overrepresentation of rare surnames in high- or low-status groups at some point in the past. If very few Britons are called Micklethwait, for example, and people with that name were disproportionately wealthy in 1800, then you can gauge long-run mobility by studying how long it takes the Micklethwait name to lose its wealth-predicting power. In a paper written by Mr Clark and Neil Cummins of Queens College, City University of New York, the authors use data from probate records of 19th-century estates to classify rare surnames into different wealth categories. They then use similar data to see how common each surname is in these categories in subsequent years. Again, some 70-80% of economic advantage seems to be transmitted from generation to generation.
That said, I do wonder whether a "rare surname" starting point would pick up factors which might be better classified as relating to family reputations and connections than wealth - though the advantages presented by those factors obviously serve to create an unfair playing field as well.

- Meanwhile, Tim Dickinson notes that the wealthy in the U.S. have stacked the deck even further in their favour with the help of the Republican Party - as a massive increase in high-end incomes since 1997 hasn't been matched with much added contribution to the greater good by way of tax revenues.

- And speaking of stacked decks, Max Paris reports on the oil industry's (thus far successful) lobbying to avoid any significant greenhouse gas emission regulation.

- Crawford Kilian reviews Paul Wells' The Longer I'm Prime Minister while noting that Stephen Harper may have planted the seeds of his own demise.

- Finally, Stephen Maher points out that the Cons' attitude toward law-breaking by their own allies would be better applied to the criminal justice system in general:
The Conservatives’ tough-on-crime message, delivered at every opportunity, is a message about the criminal as other, like the late Anthony Smith and the other guys in hoodies in that photo of Ford outside a crack house. They are evildoers who need to be punished.

The Tories, like Ford himself, oppose supervised injection sites for drug users, which save lives and reduce crime. They give voters what they want: the emotional satisfaction of punishing wrongdoers.
This government has imposed mandatory minimum sentences across the board, not just on violent criminals but also on pot growers.

It sounds tough, but taking away discretion from judges costs us more, does nothing to make us safer and leads to injustices.

Consider the case of Leroy Smickle, a gainfully employed 27-year-old with no criminal record who in 2009 had the bad luck to be caught posing with a loaded handgun for a Facebook profile pic, and found himself looking at three years in prison. Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy ruled that the sentence would be “fundamentally unfair,” and declared the minimum unconstitutional. The Crown appealed, demanding that he serve his three years.

Flaherty shed tears for the Fords because he knows them and knows they’re suffering, because whatever the tawdry facts of the case, he feels for them.

We should show as much compassion for Leroy Smickle and his family.

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