Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Angelina Chapin highlights the drastic impact a guaranteed annual income would have on Canadians currently living in poverty:
To set and meet goals, you have to think long-term. When you’re poor, you can’t focus on the future (and Bill Gates wasn’t raised poor, by the way). You worry about finding boots, not pulling up your straps. The best way to “motivate” poor people is with programs that help lift their gaze from the ground to the horizon. A guaranteed annual income program would do that.

The idea is simple: in place of a complicated welfare system, give people enough money to live above the poverty line in their region (Ontario’s Low Income Cut-Off was $22,229 for a single person in 2011). No strings attached. The less you make, the more guaranteed income you receive.
Just getting on social assistance is a commitment to poverty. To receive it in Ontario, you can’t have more than $1,657 in liquid assets, which could mean selling a car or giving up savings to qualify. There are at least five administrative steps to continually get welfare. Once you’re in the social assistance system, there’s not much incentive to leave.
As soon as a welfare recipient starts making any real income, social assistance benefits, subsidized housing and prescription drug money are all cut to some degree. The GAI program would still guarantee any employed person below the poverty line a top-up to, you know, encourage rather than punish their progress.

Many critics of the GAI, ironically, suffer from their own inability to think long-term. They complain about the initial costs, which in Canada could be anywhere from $30-to-$50 billion per year, according to Basic Income Pilot founder Jesse Helmer. But over time, the recipients’ lifestyle changes drive the price down. Citizens for Public Justice estimates that a GAI income could reduce crime costs by $1-2 billion and health-care costs by $7-8 billion annually.

If we could just accept the mound of data showing poor people aren’t degenerates who don’t set their alarm clocks early enough, there would be more support for programs that give people enough money to think ahead.
- But as Paul Krugman notes, the need for more thought about the bigger picture is as much a problem at the top of the income distribution as at the bottom:
Rising inequality has obvious economic costs: stagnant wages despite rising productivity, rising debt that makes us more vulnerable to financial crisis. It also has big social and human costs. There is, for example, strong evidence that high inequality leads to worse health and higher mortality.

But there’s more. Extreme inequality, it turns out, creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality — and simultaneously gives these people great power.
But every group finds itself facing criticism, and ends up on the losing side of policy disputes, somewhere along the way; that’s democracy. The question is what happens next. Normal people take it in stride; even if they’re angry and bitter over political setbacks, they don’t cry persecution, compare their critics to Nazis and insist that the world revolves around their hurt feelings. But the rich are different from you and me.

And yes, that’s partly because they have more money, and the power that goes with it. They can and all too often do surround themselves with courtiers who tell them what they want to hear and never, ever, tell them they’re being foolish. They’re accustomed to being treated with deference, not just by the people they hire but by politicians who want their campaign contributions. And so they are shocked to discover that money can’t buy everything, can’t insulate them from all adversity.
- In a similar vein, Carol Goar criticizes Chris Alexander as the latest Con to try to win political points by attacking the health of some of the most vulnerable people in Canada:
“There was hope that the government might decide to change the discourse,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees.

It gradually dissipated. The last thread snapped a week ago when Alexander lambasted Ontario for its “scandalous” decision to provide medical care to “bogus” asylum seekers.

“It’s irresponsible,” he railed. “It’s also unfair to for taxpayers.”

His tirade set a new low in intergovernmental relations. It signalled that any Canadian office-holder who showed compassion, tried to mitigate the harm Ottawa is doing or defended the values jettisoned by Stephen Harper’s regime was open to attack.
In the short term, (Dench) and her colleagues will continue to stand up for refugees, reach out to sympathetic Canadians and do what they can to soften public opinion. Their hope is that the 2015 election will bring a change of government and a change of heart.

They’ve given up on Alexander. He had the talent, the knowledge, the international experience and the diplomatic skill to be an exemplary minister of citizenship and immigration. He chose instead to use his power to crack down on sick, vulnerable people.
- Meanwhile, Robert Reich points out that the more successful the privileged are in suppressing the well-being of those below them in the short term, the more likely we are to see wrenching changes in the longer term.

- Finally, Stanley Tromp reports on the findings of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about the transportation of tar sands products - featuring much-needed recognition that the Cons and their oil-sector cronies have done nothing to evaluate the new and real risks of shipping dangerous products through sensitive areas. And Transportation Safety Board chair Wendy Tadros confirms that outdated tanker cars create a risk of more Lac-Mégantic-style disasters, while Greg Gormick calls for a combination of public investment and better regulation to ensure rail safety.

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