Saturday, June 06, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Saturday reading.

- Joseph Heath looks at the spread of the McMansion as an ugly example of competitive consumption which benefits nobody. And Victoria Bateman discusses the need to question the assumptions underlying laissez-faire policymaking:
Science and technology are central to rising prosperity, but, as cases such as the internet and GPS technology demonstrate, progress is just as much a result of state funding and risk taking as it is of private sector endeavour. Since the Enlightenment, innovation has been a collective endeavour – and long may it continue. However, this comes with two warnings. Firstly, and as Mariana Mazzucato argues in The Entrepreneurial State, whilst the state has historically provided funds, it has received very little direct reward. The result has not only been unfair to the tax-payer, but has also meant too few resources to help fund the next series of scientific advances. Secondly, the state needs to be careful not to limit the freedom of scientists. Since the Enlightenment, much has been achieved by letting scientists explore avenues which would not have looked profitable in advance. Here, the current system of state funding leaves much to be desired.

In explaining prosperity, not only do economists all too often marginalise the contribution of the state, they also neglect society. As I have argued elsewhere, the rise of the West followed in the footsteps of tremendous changes in society, including in the position of women. Society can, it seems, have a significant effect on economic growth. In turn, economic growth can affect society. If the growing pains that come with rising prosperity are left to fester, permanent damage can be done. We need to work hard to make sure that those that receive the highest rewards from economic growth are not able to lock-out others. Whether it is the super-rich that are able to pass on advantages to their children, reducing downward-mobility, or the areas that lose out from structural change (such as industrial communities in the 1980s), economic growth can put in place vicious circles that lead to a broken society and a waste of talent. We always need to work hard to repair the damage done if we want to sustain progress.
- Joanna Roberts interviews Johan Swinnen about food and nutrition insecurity, with particular emphasis on the reality that the problem is one of unequal distribution rather than a lack of food being produced. And Andrew MacLeod notes that if we want to recognize food and other essentials of life as rights, then we need to recognize a concurrent responsibility on government to ensure that it's available.

- Meanwhile, Madeline Ostrander highlights new research showing how childhood poverty affects an individual's brain development for life. Which thoroughly refutes the argument that it's possible to provide a fair opportunity to any individual without eliminating poverty and reining in inequality - and offers reason for our governments to make a priority of providing the essentials of life from day one.

- But instead, the Cons' response to refuse to use even money they've actually budgeted - and indeed go out of their way to dodge any responsibility for child welfare - for the First Nations people who fall under their jurisdiction.

- Finally, Amartya Sen discusses the dire economic consequences of austerity. And Susan Campbell observes that the U.S. offers an important cautionary tale on that front, while Robert Reich points out that the U.S. wasn't intended to develop into the aristocracy it's since become.

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