Saturday, December 06, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Reviewing Darrell West's Billionaires, Michael Lewis discusses how extreme wealth doesn't make anybody better off - including the people fighting for position at the top of the wealth spectrum:
A team of researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study, by a coalition of nonprofits called the Independent Sector, revealed that people with incomes below twenty-five grand give away, on average, 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent. A UCLA neuroscientist named Keely Muscatell has published an interesting paper showing that wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy: if you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s. (An inability to empathize with others has just got to be a disadvantage for any rich person seeking political office, at least outside of New York City.) “As you move up the class ladder,” says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.”

There is an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here. But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: it triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen. 

Or even a happy one. Not long ago an enterprising professor at the Harvard Business School named Mike Norton persuaded a big investment bank to let him survey the bank’s rich clients. (The poor people in the survey were millionaires.) In a forthcoming paper, Norton and his colleagues track the effects of getting money on the happiness of people who already have a lot of it: a rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness. That’s not all that surprising; it’s what Norton asked next that led to an interesting insight. He asked these rich people how happy they were at any given moment. Then he asked them how much money they would need to be even happier. “All of them said they needed two to three times more than they had to feel happier,” says Norton. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that money, above a certain modest sum, does not have the power to buy happiness, and yet even very rich people continue to believe that it does: the happiness will come from the money they don’t yet have. To the general rule that money, above a certain low level, cannot buy happiness there is one exception. “While spending money upon oneself does nothing for one’s happiness,” says Norton, “spending it on others increases happiness.”
- Lucinda Platt discusses the devastating effects of poverty on childhood development - while noting that more than half of children experience poverty at some point.

- CBC News reports on the continued growth of food bank use in Saskatchewan - a fact which seems to be entirely in keeping with Brad Wall's plans. And Will Chabun reports on a new CCPA/Parkland Institute study showing that the Sask Party's determination to privatize liquor sales will make it far more difficult to fund adequate social programs or other public priorities in the future. 

- Meanwhile, thwap highlights how we face both constant demands to borrow for the sake of meeting consumer expectations, and severe punishments for giving in to that pressure.

- Kathleen Mogelgaard examines what's needed for a climate change summit to be successful. And the Cons' familiar distraction tactics (with the obvious goal of continuing to facilitate pollution from the tar sands) have absolutely no place in accomplishing anything useful - while their international lobbying to avoid having anybody else make up for the Cons' negligence may not be working out as planned.

- Finally, Ian Welsh writes that while it might seem obvious that police violence should be discouraged and punished, the complete lack of consequences for police officers killing civilians reflects an authoritarian culture working as intended rather than a failure of the system in its present form.

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