Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Eduardo Porter writes about the rise of inequality in the U.S., while Tracy McVeigh reports on the eleven-figure annual cost of inequality in the UK. And Shamus Khan discusses the connection between inequality and poverty - as well as the policy which can do the most to address both:
While a tiny fraction of Americans enjoy almost all the spoils of our national growth, the majority of Americans have a radically different experience. About 40 percent of Americans will live in poverty at some point in their lives, and many more will scrape by, living paycheck to paycheck. The universality of this experience suggests that there is something other than personal attributes (or as some would have it, personal failings) that explain the condition of poverty. The attributionalists need to redirect their sanctimonious moral grandstanding and think more carefully about social and structural causes for poverty. It’s only then that we will uncover effective strategies to deal with it.

Programs that focus on the “culture of poverty” and the alleged “attributes” of poor people don’t get to its root cause, which is, quite simply, that millions of people don’t have enough money. Poverty is not a fixed trait; we can easily make people less poor by giving them enough money so that they’re no longer poor.

...In imagining the poor as moral failures, we have created an elaborate system of government surveillance, security and regulation, infantilizing and demonizing those who are suffering. Instead, we might look to policies like a guaranteed basic income or a negative income tax, in which we give people money and treat them with the dignity their humanity entitles them to.

That can be achieved by giving them the means and the freedom to choose. Not only would it help those who are suffering get by, but rather than treating them like social degenerates, it would trust and empower them to make their own financial decisions. Given how much responsibility the more fortunate among us have for the problems plaguing the poor, it is the least our society can do.
- But of course, tax avoidance by the people and corporations who take the most can only serve to exacerbate initial inequality while draining away resources needed to fund basic social programs. And as Joseph Stiglitz writes, trade deals like the TPP which only further entrench corporate control over the economy also figure to make matters worse:
Tariffs around the world are already low. The focus has shifted to “nontariff barriers,” and the most important of these — for the corporate interests pushing agreements — are regulations. Huge multinational corporations complain that inconsistent regulations make business costly. But most of the regulations, even if they are imperfect, are there for a reason: to protect workers, consumers, the economy and the environment.

What’s more, those regulations were often put in place by governments responding to the democratic demands of their citizens. Trade agreements’ new boosters euphemistically claim that they are simply after regulatory harmonization, a clean-sounding phrase that implies an innocent plan to promote efficiency. One could, of course, get regulatory harmonization by strengthening regulations to the highest standards everywhere. But when corporations call for harmonization, what they really mean is a race to the bottom.

...Corporations everywhere may well agree that getting rid of regulations would be good for corporate profits. Trade negotiators might be persuaded that these trade agreements would be good for trade and corporate profits. But there would be some big losers — namely, the rest of us.
- Mind you, it doesn't take a trade agreement to demolish regulation in the public interest under a government which is happy to sell out public safety at the first invitation. And the Cons' willingness to let railroads paper over spills of hazardous materials offers yet another reminder they're firmly in that camp.

- Finally, Mark Lemstra reminds us that while the Wall government's "lean" scandal is bad enough as a matter of waste and mismanagement within our current health care system, it reflects a warped view of public health as well:
(W)hat business are we in? Are we in the business of health, or are we simply in the business of health care provision? Do we have a ministry of health, or do we only have a ministry of health care? If we are in the business of health, would it not be correct to divert funding from services that do not influence health outcomes to services that do? In fact, how can the government say that Lean management is important, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the assessment of the chief of medicine from the hospital where Lean was derived that health care can only impact 10 per cent of outcomes? Even if someone argues that it would be draconian to reduce health care funding by 90 per cent, would it not be rational to reduce health care funding by at least 50 per cent? If not for reasons of cost, how about to avoid doing harm? Brossart and Vachon correctly note that one in 13 Canadians are harmed in hospitals, with many dying. In fact, unnecessary clinical intervention has now surpassed heart disease and cancer as the No. 1 cause of death. Should this not be a valid reason to reduce unnecessary health care intervention? Let's forget about health outcomes and remind ourselves what Lean management really is. In their article, Brossart and Vachon ask readers to visit the website At the time of writing this column, the top two Lean success stories listed on the website were Wash Basin Blues and No Parking Zone.
The biggest danger of Lean management is not wasting tens of millions of dollars in reviewing such things as wash basin and wheelchair placements. It is that it diverts focus and allows us to continue to waste billions of dollars on intervention that will not improve health outcomes. Even Lean management consultants now concede this point.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:11 PM