Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- thwap nicely summarizes how we've allowed our economy to rely on (and feed into) the whims of a small group of insiders, rather than being harnessed for any sense of public good:
(W)hat's changed today is that the wealthy clearly have more money than they know what to do with. And it's rendered our economies top-heavy. Financialization and financial speculation. Which does nothing for ordinary people. Tax-cuts to wealthy and the corporations just go into the banks and into speculation. Tax-increases to the wealthy and the corporations can help mitigate government deficits without harming the economy themselves. Because the wealthy aren't doing anything productive with the money we've been allowing them to miser. We'll get more bang for the buck taxing and spending than we will allowing them to hoard it and gamble with it.
- And Toni Pickard makes the case for a guaranteed annual income to ensure that Canadians can rest assured they won't fall into deep poverty.

- Sarah Treanor compares Norway's use of its oil wealth to that of the UK, and concludes that trust is a major factor in the development of a sovereign wealth fund which now offers massive benefits to an entire country:
"For this kind of system to work, you need to have an enormous level of trust," says Prof Cappelen. "Trust that the money isn't going to be mismanaged - that it's not going to be spent in a way you don't like.
"We trust the government. We believe our tax money will be spent wisely. once you start trusting that others are contributing their share then you are happy to contribute yours."

So is Norway rich because of Norwegians high level of trust, or are its citizens trusting because they are rich?
"I think it is both," says Prof Cappelen. "High levels of trust make economic growth easier." 
- But of course, trust and security need to be based on reasonable expectations as to how our public officials will act - and there's not much room for optimism based on the ones holding power at the moment. On that front, Iglika Ivanova points out that our tax system has been systematically warped to favour the wealth over the past 50 years, while PressProgress documents the sharp decline in EI benefit availability for unemployed workers. Doug Nesbitt takes a look at the pattern of Canadian governments and other employers looking to demolish retirement security for their workers past and present. David Sirota reports that Chris Christie is just one of many U.S. governors instead using pension funds as a means to reward political supporters with big-money, zero-accountability investment contracts (h/t to David Dayen). And David Cay Johnston notes that a tiny "prosperous class" is taking the vast majority of U.S. wage gains, leaving effectively nothing for upwards of 90% of workers.

- Finally, Murray Dobbin weighs in on the need to value and promote kindness, rather than celebrating ruthlessness in politics and business alike:
The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections, because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies. As Fred Guerin writes in Truthout, "Obedience, docility, amorality and careerism will be duly rewarded. Those who can regularly suspend any desire they have to think from the perspective of another, or on behalf of a more universal or common good will be promoted."

Guerin is getting at the real roots of our crisis in democracy. It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, say Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."

Is there an antidote to this death-culture? Can we reclaim our capacity to think beyond our immediate self-interest and regain our political agency -- our ability to act as citizens and not just consumers? Can we begin to create a shared space where we can actually imagine a future worth having, talk about big ideas and recover the notion that we can act in concert for the broader good?

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