- Robin Sears offers his theory that the upcoming federal election could represent a meaningful referendum on competing visions for Canada - and Paul Wells seems to expect much the same. But while that might make for a useful statement of the actual consequences of electing the anti-government Cons as opposed to having a progressive coalition materialize, it's hard to see a clash of visions represent the core of the campaign - particularly when the party currently in power won't admit to its active hostility toward social programs and the environment, while another major party seems to be planning to hold off on deciding what it believes in until it has no choice but to do so.
- In the alternative, Crawford Kilian suggests that we should make 2015 the year to mock the Harper Cons in advance of the impending federal election.
- In keeping with that theme south of the border, Dylan Matthews identifies the worst argument for wealth inequality yet. And Danny Feingold interviews Bill de Blasio about the growing recognition that inequality affects everybody.
- Meanwhile, Michael Lewis again discusses the psychological dimension of wealth inequality:
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 25 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."- Finally, Frances Woolley nicely summarizes how our relationship to possessions affects economic theory.
[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.