Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Oliver Milman reports on research showing how humanity is destroying its own environmental life support systems. And our appetite for exploitation is proving a failure even from the standpoint of the pursuit of shortsighted greed, as David Dayen considers how the recent drop in oil prices - and consequent market forces limiting further production - may affect a financial sector relying on constant expansion.

- Michael Harris offers another look at the real Stephen Harper to counter the barrage of selective imaging we'll see throughout the year. And Bob Hepburn discusses the need to make sure that neither Harper nor a successor runs roughshod over Canada's democracy.

- Rebecca Rolfers interviews Angus Deaton about the connection between corporatism, inequality and poor health:
Q. In your latest book, you take the unusual approach of combining health and income inequality into well-being. Most economists deal with them separately; how do health and income inequality combined relate to economic and social progress?

I think it’s important to recognize that progress is an engine of inequality, and a key fact about progress is that it opens up gaps between people who lead the progress — and therefore benefit from it — and the rest. The principle [sic] criterion for concern about inequality is whether there is a natural spread of the benefits of progress, so that eventually, everyone is better off, or whether the benefits are and remain concentrated among a privileged few. In the realm of health, innovation and social health practices (e.g., avoiding germs, quitting smoking) generally spread in ways that improve life expectancy. I view the greater risk to economic, social and even political welfare to be income inequality.

Q. Can you explain some of the similarities and distinctions between health and income inequality?

Some health inequalities are due to improvements in health technology and knowledge. If those things first go to the better-off and the better-educated and later spread to others, then that is a temporary inequality and not a problem. It’s like the green shoot in the garden: it means spring will come and everything will be green. But if that shoot is just one plant and nothing else ever grows, that is a problem. The same is true of health inequality. If the benefits of health innovation and access never spread, we wouldn’t be very happy about it. Progress tends to come at the price of inequality, at least initially; but eventually we expect that progress to be broadly shared.
- David Climenhaga points out that Alberta's oil development has resulted in nothing of the sort, to the point where the province is now effectively giving its resources away to keep corporate profits up. And CBC reports on research showing the high levels of poverty in Alberta long before resource prices started to fall.

- Finally, Michael Geist weighs in on how the Cons' copyright law has been turned into a distribution mechanism for fraudulent corporate trolling. And even the National Post's editorial board sees that preference for rent-seeking over consumer rights as a bridge too far.

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