Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- The Tyee's recent series on important sources of inequality is well worth a read, as Emily Fister interviews Andrew Longhurst about precarious work and Sylvia Fuller about the role of motherhood.

- David Cole asks just how corrupt U.S. politics have become, while Frances O'Grady observes that U.K workers don't believe for a second that their employer can't afford to pay living wages. Robert Reich sees Detroit as a prime example of wealthy individuals shirking their responsibility to pay for the public goods they enjoy. And Joseph Stiglitz notes that gross imbalances in political influence result in markets and other institutions serving only the privileged few rather than the general public:
What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call “ersatz capitalism.” The problem may not be with how markets should or do work, but with our political system, which has failed to ensure that markets are competitive, and has designed rules that sustain distorted markets in which corporations and the rich can (and unfortunately do) exploit everyone else.

Markets, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. There have to be rules of the game, and these are established through political processes. High levels of economic inequality in countries like the US and, increasingly, those that have followed its economic model, lead to political inequality. In such a system, opportunities for economic advancement become unequal as well, reinforcing low levels of social mobility.

Thus, Piketty’s forecast of still higher levels of inequality does not reflect the inexorable laws of economics. Simple changes – including higher capital-gains and inheritance taxes, greater spending to broaden access to education, rigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws, corporate-governance reforms that circumscribe executive pay, and financial regulations that rein in banks’ ability to exploit the rest of society – would reduce inequality and increase equality of opportunity markedly.

If we get the rules of the game right, we might even be able to restore the rapid and shared economic growth that characterized the middle-class societies of the mid-twentieth century. The main question confronting us today is not really about capital in the twenty-first century. It is about democracy in the twenty-first century.
- On the bright side, people can generally recognize corruption where it exists, as Thomas Frank points out what happens when corporate scams are put to the test in court: a California jury refused to accept a prosecution argument that mortgage lenders cared whether loan applications were accurate (in a trial aimed only at punishing borrowers while painting banks as victims). But Yves Smith makes clear that the greediest of the greedy are only getting more insistent on securing perpetually larger rents over growth in equity.

- Alison writes that a botched war after he first tried to push Canadian troops to Iraq over public objections, Stephen Harper has finally managed to get that done - while scrupulously ignoring any of the lessons that should be obvious from the U.S.' previous disastrous stay. And Peter Bergman and David Sterman observe that the politicians shrieking about North Americans being recruited into foreign fighting forces are doing so without any basis in reality.

- Finally, Michael Spratt slams the Cons' counterproductive spin on crime:
How can a government so keen to combat lawlessness make such a botch of its own laws? How can a government composed of law-and-order types be so astoundingly ignorant of how the law actually works?

The answer seems obvious: This government doesn’t really care about fighting crime, about victims, about respecting our most fundamental law — the Constitution. What they do care about is politics — and for Stephen Harper, wrapping himself in his crime-fighter cape is a lot more important than passing laws that work, or make sense.

That the Conservatives are indifferent to the pursuit of justice is something demonstrated by their actions, not their words. They cut the Department of Justice’s research budget by $1.2 million. According to an internal government report, the Justice Department’s research budget was slashed just as an internal report for the deputy minister was warning its findings “may run contrary to government direction” and have “at times left the impression that research is undermining government decisions” and is not “aligned with government or departmental priorities.”

Why stop at suppressing the dissenting opinions of the experts when you can stifle them altogether?

1 comment:

  1. Stiglitz is fooling himself. His vision of a "market economy" without politics is an impossibility, as someone as smart as him would know perfectly well if he allowed himself to. The appeal to some mythical "real" capitalism, as opposed to the kind we've had for as long as capitalism has existed, is an old refrain but an empty one.
    Ultimately, you cannot appeal to selfishness as your operating principle and then expect those operating by it to just "play by the rules" because you claim it would be best overall, ie for altruistic non-selfish reasons. Cheating or rewriting the rules is always more profitable than abiding by approximiations of perfect competition, and it's what the system was founded on. Marx called it "primitive accumulation", ordinary people call it "stealing", and it's going on today on a large scale.