Saturday, August 02, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Rick Perlstein observes that Ronald Reagan's most lasting contribution to American politics may be his admonition not to recognize flaws or past sins which might require serious responses - and that democratic discourse in the U.S. and elsewhere has yet to recover:
(T)he baseline is this moment in 1973 when the Vietnam War ends, and that spring, Watergate breaks wide open, after basically disappearing from the political scene for a while. You have this remarkable thing, where Sam Ervin puts these hearings on television. And day after day the public hears White House officials sounding like Mafia figures. That same spring, you get the energy crisis, and you hear officials say that we’re running out of energy when heretofore, nobody knew you could run out. That’s a blindsiding blow to the American psyche. And then there’s the oil embargo, suddenly a bunch of Arab oil sheiks decide to hold America hostage, and succeed. So the way I characterize that is that we had this idea of America as existing outside of the rules of history, as a country that can’t do any wrong. Suddenly we begin to think of ourselves as just another country, not God’s chosen nation. I have a quote in the preface to the book by Immanuel Kant, who defined the Enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” basically the process of leaving childhood and becoming a grown-up. And that’s what we’re seeing in America in the 1970s.

This is a remarkable juncture, and you could see it in popular culture. Like “M*A*S*H,” and how it takes on militarism. People were insistently following the Watergate hearings, which were enormously complex. And America is really beginning to take on big problems, thinking about what it would mean to conserve energy, to create energy independence. Then everything takes a turn, Reagan is introduced, and he says don’t worry about this stuff. America is that shining city on a hill...
Leaders are for calling people to their better angels, for helping guide them to a kind of sterner, more mature sense of what we need to do. To me, Reagan’s brand of leadership was what I call “a liturgy of absolution.” He absolved Americans almost in a priestly role to contend with sin. Who wouldn’t want that? But the consequences of that absolution are all around us today. The inability to contend with climate change. The inability to call elites to account who wrecked the economy in 2008. The inability to reckon with the times when we fall short.
- But Lucy Mangan writes that it's becoming more and more difficult to avoid the truth about deliberate social exclusion - with "poor doors" looming as just the latest example of deliberate attempts to insulate the wealthy from any interaction with their fellow citizens. And Rick Smith wonders whether the Cons' over-the-top hostility toward the environment may finally push Canada toward far stronger policy than we've ever had before even under governments who paid lip service to the issue.

- In a similar vein, David Crane discusses the stark divide between the Cons' economic spin and the real insecurity of far too many Canadians. And Andrew Jackson points out that needless austerity is destroying jobs even as the unemployment rate increases. 

- CBC reports on the utter failure of Alberta's power deregulation to do anything other than drive up consumers' bills by tens of billions of dollars. But unfortunately, the Saskatchewan Party never saw a failed Alberta scheme it wouldn't insist on copying - which is why it's pushing ahead with P3 schools after even the Alberta PCs have learned better.

- Finally, Chris Dillow tests the question of whether poverty should be seen as resulting from individual ability or inescapable social context - and rightly concludes that it's futile to rely solely on improving the former without addressing the latter:
The "poverty is individual" brigade would say that some form of Say's law would lead to the creation of sufficient good, well-paid jobs to eliminate poverty. The "poverty is structural" band would say that this won't happen, because inequality, deskilling and unemployment are inherent structural features of capitalism, which would condemn some to (relative) poverty even if we were all smart and employable.

What's the empirical evidence here? Immediately, we run into a problem. The research on the links between human capital and aggregate growth, whilst large, is not conclusive (pdf). On the one hand, Erik Hanushek among others thinks there might be big macro-level payoffs to higher cognitive skills. But on the other, there's lots of scepticism about the link between education and growth. Bryan Caplan's reading of the evidence is that the response is "low" - and Middendorf and Krueger and Lindhal agree (pdf). This is consistent to the private payoffs to education being due to signaling - which implies that it is one's relative, not absolute, level of education which determines one's income. If so, better education for all won't raise incomes much.

All this said, two bits of evidence - on top of my priors! - makes me side with Matt in believing that mass upskilling won't eliminate relative poverty.

1. Graduate over-education is significant in most countries. This suggests that Say's law doesn't work; good jobs haven't increased fully in response to a supply of educated workers.

2. There's no correlation between inequality in human capital and in incomes, either across countries or over time. This is inconsistent with human capital-based explanations for inequality, but consistent with the view that inequality is due to inequalities of power.

Personally, I suspect that the "poverty is individual" view owes a lot to ideology: system justification and the just world fallacy cause people to blame the victim.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:41 AM

    Having some memory of the times and issues covered in this,and some back ground that was useful too it ,I can concur with your approach and conclusions. However-one of the walls that has being constructed for us to hit is in my opinion, Education vs schooling. This was the case before the 1970's by milleinia. Education must be self directed and yes the surroundings matter. Schooling and the survivial of this institution-the certificate is proof of being able to withstand it somewhat functunially-no more.The editing out of reality based work some from these times in matters still vital to us,is frightening and not accidental. But in the longer view this has being done before,so we are fore armed IF aware. Its a very big word-if.
    Todd Millions 712Eastend