Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Anne Manne discusses how extreme wealth leads to narcissism and a lack of empathy, while pointing out that to merely recognizing the problem goes some way toward solving it:
Outside the lab, Piff found that the rich donated a smaller percentage of their wealth than poorer people. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans, those with earnings in the top 20%, contributed 1.3% of their income to charity, while those in the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their income. The trend to meanness was worst in plush suburbs where everyone had a high income, and never laid eyes on a poor person. Insulation from people in need, Piff concluded, dampened charitable impulses.

Poorer people were also more likely to give to those charities servicing the genuinely needy. The rich gave to high-status institutions such as already well-endowed art galleries, museums and universities, while Feeding America, which deals with the nation’s poorest, got nothing.

These qualities are not set in concrete. "We’re not suggesting rich people are bad at all," said Piff, "but rather that psychological effects of wealth have these natural effects.’ It is, he said, a function of greater prosperity, rather than innate qualities of rich people.

Piff found that when shown images of children in poverty, the wealthy could behave more empathetically. Like the long campaign for the NDIS, which sensitised people to the plight of those with a disability or those caring for them, people can respond to good political leadership which primes them for generosity rather than meanness.
- And Darlena Kunha writes about the experience of poverty and income insecurity from the standpoint of a family which once believed itself to be beyond that risk:
The reality of poverty can spring quickly while the psychological effects take longer to surface. When you lose a job, your first thought isn’t, “Oh my God, I’m poor. I’d better sell all my nice stuff!” It’s “I need another job. Now.” When you’re scrambling, you hang on to the things that work, that bring you some comfort. That Mercedes was the one reliable, trustworthy thing in our lives.
The most embarrassing part was how I felt about myself. How I had so internalized the message of what poor people should or should not have that I felt ashamed to be there, with that car, getting food. As if I were not allowed the food because of the car. As if I were a bad person.

We’ve now sold that house. My husband found a job that pays well, and we have enough left over for me to go to grad school. President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.

But what I learned there will never leave me. We didn’t deserve to be poor, any more than we deserved to be rich. Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I was my harshest critic. That the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it.
- Kaylie Tiessen argues that Ontario shouldn't let a change in its credit outlook be used as a means to further trash the province's economy through austerity and tax slashing. And Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew's report on the treatment of Canadian banks offers a compelling indication as to why we shouldn't take the ratings agencies seriously at all - as the same firms which consistently gave perfect ratings to what proved to be derivative time bombs are now downgrading the outlook for Canadian banks merely because they might have to stand on their own two feet.

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman points out that inflation hysteria serves primarily to ensure that the wealthy benefit at the expense of everybody else.

- Finally, PressProgress questions just how much further the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants to go in eliminating employment insurance - though I'd suspect that zero social safety net for anybody would be just fine for one of the most extreme anti-social organizations in the country. And Andrew Stevens studies the abuse of temporary foreign workers (and resulting decline in service-sector wages) in Saskatchewan.

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