Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Thomas Frank interviews Barry Lynn about the U.S.' alarming concentration of wealth and power. Henry Blodget thoroughly rebuts the myth that "rich people create jobs". And David Atkins goes a step further in discussing how hoarded wealth hurts the economy in general - with a particularly apt observation about how inequality erodes our social connections:
It is not an accident that trust in major institutions has declined on a linear track with rising inequality. Study after study has shown that trust in our fellow citizens and in institutions at large are dependent on the level of inequality and corruption in society. This stands to reason: people know when they're getting the short end of the stick, even if they can't agree on why. Conservatives wrongly blame government spending and regulation. Liberals rightly blame disproportionate rewards going to the very wealthy. Not surprisingly, then, high levels of inequality also create strong partisanship within society as politicians and pundits alike ratchet up the rhetoric of blame. As both secular and religious institutions seem equally powerless to address increasing economic and social insecurity, the social fabric begins to fray and people tend to self-segregate in many ways, including politically. Economic tension and social tension tend to go hand in hand.
- And David Sirota writes about the effect of corruption on policy-making - with some all-too-familiar priorities looking like the more sure sign that political decisions are being made based on cronyism rather than the public interest:
One analysis comes from researchers at Indiana University and University of Hong Kong. They compared data from 25,000 convictions in public corruption cases with state spending data. As Governing magazine reports, the researchers document that the most corrupt states like Tennessee “tended to spend money on construction, highways, and police protection programs, which provide more opportunity for corrupt officials to use public money for their own gain.” Governing adds that those “states spend less on health, education, and welfare, which provide less opportunity for officials to collect bribes.”
- Meanwhile, Eric Bombicino wonders whether we're letting our public sector get slashed precisely because it does its job effectively:
(A)pathy, like happiness or love or suicide, is a complex thing with many sources, but based on my highly scientific process of talking to people at parties and coffee shops over the last two weeks, I’ve noticed a particular sort of apathy emerge:
I call it, “things are working” apathy.
“Look man, democracy is working for me, my garbage gets picked up, roads are in decent repair, and I can walk into a hospital and get an operation in a relatively short period of time: things are working.” Fair point, and an interesting one: the success of democracy has afforded some the luxury of apathy.
Over the weekend, an old high school buddy, after notifying me of his apathy because “things are working,” took me through a lengthy diatribe on the one political viewpoint he does hold: how much his small business pays in taxes. After this riveting session on payroll taxes and deductibles explained in mind-numbingly unnecessary detail, I asked him what level of taxation he would find fair. 
He repeated his earlier point: it needs to be lower, the government “takes” (read: confiscates) too much of his money. I then pointed out that since he wanted lower taxation across the board, he would want less government and government services. A perfectly defensible position…if you want less government.
He said he loves those things the Canadian government provides: healthcare, education, infrastructure, the social safety net. (In fact, they all play a role in the foundation of his apathy: that “things are working.”) 
We then stared at each other for a long time. He took a sip of his drink. And then repeated he was paying too much in taxes.
I found this fascinating. He didn’t want less government; he didn’t see small government as equaling a bigger economy. He simply wanted lower taxes. Full stop. No belief system or ideology is at play here; just a void of ignorance.
The irony here is plainly cruel. This void of ignorance created by his contentment with how “things are working” motivates him to want to destroy those very things.
- But Stephen Pimpare notes that upwards of a third of U.S. households have faced poverty in just a three-year span from 2009 to 2011, meaning that there isn't much distance between a large number of people and the worst effects of corporatist policy. Which makes it all the more inexplicable that policy based on hatred of the poor still seems to be the norm - as Kim Redigan points out in response to Detroit's mass disconnections of people from their municipal water source.

- Finally, Edward Greenspan and Anthony Doob rightly lambaste the Harper Cons for their nonsensical crime and justice policies. And Hannah Spray's story on Trevor Machiskinic offers a compelling example where mandatory punishments and inflexible precedents lead to an obviously flawed result based on the background to an offence.

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