Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Elias Isquith interviews Matt Taibbi about the complete lack of morality underlying Wall Street and the regulators who are supposed to protect the public interest from banksters run amok. Paul Buchheit reviews some compelling evidence that poorer people are more ethical than the wealthy - suggesting that extreme wealth and inequality may themselves serve as an indicator of social dysfunction. And Charles Blow writes about the absurdity of blaming poor people for forces beyond their control:
That construct, that the poor are in some way deficient, is a particularly poisonous and unsupportable position. And, by extension, the proposition that people can simply love and marry — traditionally only — their way out of poverty is supremely condescending.

This position, cloaked in an air of benevolence and good will, is in fact lacking in understanding of the lives of poor people and compassion for their plight.
Poverty is a demanding, stressful, depressive and often violent state. No one seeks it; they are born or thrust into it. In poverty, the whole of your life becomes an exercise in coping and correcting, searching for a way up and out, while focusing today on filling the pots and the plates, maintaining a roof and some warmth, and dreading the new challenge tomorrow may bring.

We should extend the conversation about tackling poverty, but that conversation should not be governed by the belief that poverty in resources is synonymous with poverty of values.
- But as the Observer notes, workers (and particularly the most vulnerable ones) have come to be seen as prey rather than people by the corporate lobby and right-wing political leaders alike:
For the past 30 years, one of the big aims of policy has been to make the labour market more flexible. Trade unions have been curbed, industries have been privatised, welfare reformed and employment protection reduced. The balance of power between labour and capital has been tilted decisively in favour of the latter.

The evidence of this is all around. There are 1.3m jobs on zero-hour contracts; wages can barely keep pace with price increases, even with unemployment coming down at a fair lick. Around 80% of the jobs created in the past year have been for the self-employed, with the suspicion that many of those "running their own business" are doing so involuntarily.

This is the flexible labour market in action. It is what has distinguished the UK economy from some of the more heavily regulated economies in the rest of Europe. Supporters of the reforms of the past three decades say the flexible labour market is the reason the jobless rate is around half the average for the eurozone. Critics say that the smashing of organised labour and the triumph of management is bad for workers, bad for growth and ultimately bad for employers.
(I)n the long term there is a clear choice. Either the power of labour will be increased by full employment, stronger trade unions and collective bargaining or the flexible labour market will arrive at its ultimate destination: a form of capitalism that cannot function without excessive debt; is marked by low wages, low investment and low productivity; and which eventually ends up eating itself.
- On the subject of workers being used as prey, Kathy Tomlinson reports on the use of Canada's temporary foreign worker program as an extortion racket - and the complete lack of regulatory action even after that flagrant abuse of employer authority was reported to federal officials. And Alison duly mocks the attempt of business groups to pretend that Canadian workers somehow stand to benefit from being pushed aside in favour of more pliable replacements.

- Kaylie Tiessen and Kayle Hatt write about Tim Hudak's desire to turn Ontario into a low-wage profit haven by slashing public services and the jobs that go with them. 

- Finally, Murray Dobbin highlights how Stephen Harper has put Canada on the road to ruin. And Carol Goar notes that the Cons have gone out of their way to prevent the public from knowing exactly what damage they've wrought:
Two things are noteworthy about [the Cons'] pattern of disinformation.

One is that it has lasted so long. Until recently there was no systematic questioning of the “facts” dispensed by Harper and his associates.

The other is that it is locked in. The Tories have downsized Statistics Canada, the country’s chief information gathering agency, so severely that future governments will have to rely on blunt — and sometimes unreliable — tools to monitor socio-economic developments.

Half of the agency’s workforce is gone. Hundreds of its programs have been dropped. The mandatory long-form census has given way to a voluntary household survey. It would cost tens of millions of dollars to reverse these changes — and any government that tried would face resistance from taxpayers conditioned to regard number-crunchers as a needless public expense.
StatsCan is shrinking from a public information agency into an in-house research bureau for the government. It has curtailed its consultations with entrepreneurs, academics and non-government organizations. It has narrowed its focus. “We found the agency primarily consults with the federal, provincial and territorial governments” the auditor said. “In order to ensure the continued relevance of its data, Statistics Canada should obtain, document and analyze ongoing feedback from the full range of its users.”

StatsCan disconsolately agreed and said it would broaden its future consultations.

What emerged was a picture of a highly professional agency forced to cut corners and lower its standards.

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