Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Benjamin Shingler reports on the push for a basic annual income in Canada. And Christopher Blattman notes that cash serves as a valuable treatment for poverty wherever one diagnoses the disease:
The poor do not waste grants. Recently, two World Bank economists looked at 19 cash transfer studies in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost all showed alcohol and tobacco spending fell or stayed the same. Only two showed any significant increase, and even there the evidence was mixed.

You might worry handouts encourage idleness. But in most experiments, people worked more after they received grants.

You might also worry that the poorest of New York are different. The average person in Uganda is impoverished; it’s easy to believe he would make good decisions with cash. But a homeless person in New York is not average. Substance abuse is pervasive. Maybe panhandlers here are different from the global poor.

I used to believe this. Now I’m not sure. A few years ago, I started working in Liberia’s urban slums. My colleagues and I sought out men who were homeless or made their living dealing drugs or stealing. Many abused alcohol and drugs. We tested different programs in a randomized trial of a thousand men. One thing we tried was giving out $200 in cash.

Almost no men wasted it. In the months after they got the cash, most dressed, ate and lived better. Unlike the Ugandans, however, whose new businesses kept growing, the Liberian men were back where they started a year later. Two hundred dollars was not enough to turn them into businessmen. But it brought them a better life for a while, which is the fundamental goal of any welfare program. We also tested a counseling program to reduce crime and violence. It worked a little on its own, but had the largest impact when combined with cash.
- Mark Esposito writes about the connection between growing inequality and the loss of opportunity for young workers who don't come from privileged backgrounds:
(W)hatever the main factor underpinning high youth unemployment, income inequality undoubtedly exacerbates the problem. Simply put, many jobs – particularly the most lucrative ones – are available almost exclusively to young people from wealthy backgrounds.

In the UK, for example, only 7% percent of children attend private schools. But roughly half of the country’s chief executives, and two-thirds of its doctors, have been privately educated . This trend is expected to persist, with the next generation of doctors likely to be born into families that rank among the wealthiest 20% of the population.

There are several possible reasons for this pattern. For starters, the highest-status positions require the most prestigious educational background – and that costs money. Moreover, many internships – a prerequisite for the most attractive jobs – are unpaid, making them unfeasible for graduates whose families cannot afford to support them.

But money is not the only requirement. In many cases, sought-after jobs and internships – and even admission to top educational institutions – are far more accessible to those who are within the employers’ personal or professional network. When the job market rewards whom you know more than what you know, young people with well-connected parents have an obvious advantage.
With financial status serving as the key determinant of opportunities, young people from poorer backgrounds are becoming increasingly discouraged – a situation that can lead to social unrest. Unless all young people have legitimate prospects of improving their social and economic status, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen, creating a vicious cycle that will be increasingly difficult to escape.

The good news is that efforts to alleviate youth unemployment will reduce income inequality, and vice versa. The society that emerges will be more stable, unified, and prosperous – an outcome in which everyone, rich or poor, has a stake.
- Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer discuss the need for unions to build and maintain a strong political movement which goes beyond the boundaries of any one political party. And Josh Israel highlights a few of the U.S. labour groups who are moving beyond traditional organizational models.

- Finally, Michael Harris summarizes Stephen Harper's legacy, while raising important questions about whether Canadians want to be defined by tyranny:
The new prime minister ushered in his majority government with a performance that both confirmed and contradicted some of his earlier pronouncements. It was true, as he once predicted, that the country was becoming unrecognizable through fundamental changes pushed through in his majority. Many of them had to do with the effective deconstruction of Canada’s democratic institutions. It was untrue — outrageously so — that he would be the prime minister of all Canadians, as he claimed after his election in 2011.

As the country quickly discovered, Harper was the Great Divider, pitting one group of citizens against another, a tactic singled out and criticized by former prime minister Joe Clark. He was the champion of a voracious corporate sector, the practitioner of bully-boy diplomacy, and the generous patron of the police and security establishment.
It is no accident that Canadian politics has been infected with Republican tactics, from vicious attack ads to the stealthy and illegal use of robocalls to undermine democracy. It is no mystery that Canadians have seen their pensions diminished, have lost mail delivery, veterans offices and libraries, and after 2017, face cuts in support of medicare. Society is not Harper’s client — corporations and business elites are. In the interest of those groups, he has even used the country’s security establishment to spy on Canadians for the high crime of opposing his policies.

Harper once advised people to not listen to what a politician says, but to watch what he does. Beyond the clouds of spin and public relations thrown up by his government’s communications machine sits a truth very different from the image of ‘strong and stable government’.

The lasting impact of Stephen Harper’s time in public life will be a diminished Parliament, toxic politics, and a compromised electoral system that will make every citizen smaller … the legacy of tyrants.

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