Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Sunday reading.

- Nicholas Kristof writes about the empathy gap which causes far too many wealthier citizens to devalue those who don't have as much. Jesse Singal observes that the primary effect of wealth on well-being is to reduce downside rather than improve happiness - signalling that we might be best served pursuing policies aimed at improving financial security across the income scale. And Lucy Mangan discusses what's missing from the people who refuse to understand the effect of poverty - particularly when they're best positioned to do something to alleviate it:
Politicians, for example, are apparently completely baffled by Poor People’s propensity to do harmful things, often expensively, to themselves. (That’s politicians of all stripes – it’s just that the left wing wrings its hands and feels helplessly sorry for Them, while Tories are pretty sure They are just animals in need of better training.) The underclass eats fast food, drinks and smokes, and some of its more unruly members even take drugs. Why? Why?

Listen, I always want to say, if you’re genuinely mystified, answer me this: have you never had a really bad day and really wanted – nay, needed – an extra glass of Montrachet on the roof terrace in the evening? Or such a chaotic, miserable week that you’ve ended up with a takeaway five nights out of seven instead of delving into Nigella’s latest?

You have? Why, splendid. Now imagine if your whole life were not just like that one bad day, but even worse. All the time. No let-up. No end in sight. No, you can’t go on holiday. No, you can’t cash anything in and retire. No. How would you react? No, you’ve not got a marketable skills set. You don’t know anyone who can give you a job. No. No.
I don’t understand how the people in charge of us all don’t understand. If you are genuinely unable to apply your imagination and extend your empathy far enough – and you don’t have to do it all at once; little by little will suffice, but you must get there – then you are a sociopath, and we should all be protected from your actions. If you are in fact able and choose not to, then you’re something quite a lot worse.
- But if the privileged can't be convinced to care about fellow human beings in their own right, Larry Elliot notes that they're at least taking notice of the economic costs of inequality. And Tony Berman theorizes that we've reached the point where there's no avoiding some action to level the playing field when it comes to standards of living.

- Unfortunately, neither empathy nor common sense is forthcoming from the Fraser Institute, which is determined to undermine incomes and increase workplace discrimination by undermining the public-sector employers which have made some progress on both fronts.

- And the Saskatchewan Party too seems determined to spend its political capital making life worse for the people who have least - with a new attack on affordable housing serving as just the latest example. Which only matches the track record of other right-wing governments who promise to sell off social housing in order to increase the available stock - only to deliver only on the part which privatizes incomes without benefiting renters.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert discusses how historical two-party systems have eroded in both Canada and the UK, while highlighting the stark difference in reaction by most Canadian parties (though not all) to the possibility of minority government:
A poll published earlier this month reported that one-third of U.K. voters feel they were better served by the coalition than they would have been by a majority government.

The experience has undeniably provided supporters of smaller parties with an added incentive to stick to their original choice, in the hope that they could secure a position of influence in a hung Parliament.

Meanwhile in Canada, Harper and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are about to spend the next campaign on the same anti-coalition page.

Harper will again plead that the only way to ensure that the Conservatives are not robbed of an election victory by a scheming opposition is to give his party an unassailable majority.

The Liberals will continue to rule out — as Trudeau did in a year-end interview — the option of joining the NDP in a coalition government, the better to convince New Democrats seeking regime change to move over to them.

The losers will be the voters who will once again be held hostage to a winner-take-all approach to parliamentary democracy.

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