Saturday, August 01, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ezra Klein talks to Bernie Sanders about how to build a more fair economy in the U.S. and around the globe. And Lynn Parramore interviews Tony Atkinson about the options available to rein in economic inequality - and why we should be working on putting them in place:
LP: Some of the possible prescriptions you discuss, such as a basic income for all citizens, may sound radical, but you point out that they are actually already implemented as policy in many countries in various ways. Are ideas like basic income getting more attention and traction now?

TA: Definitely. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the book, in different places, say, “Oh! I never knew we could do that kind of thing.” It’s a tragedy, in a way, that our political system has become very narrowly focused and not willing to at least debate these ideas.

The basic income is very close to the idea Thomas Paine put forward in the 1790s. (Paine’s proposal, by the way, is on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration). That proposal is something that I and many others think is really interesting, which is that everyone, on reaching the age of 18 or so, should receive a capital payment. It would be like a negative capital tax. That idea was also proposed years ago in America by Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale.

A capital payment, or capital grant, would contribute to solving the problem of the intergenerational distribution of income, which is something I stress in the book. That is a serious problem, which I found, for example, in discussions with Korean journalists and economists. They are very worried about generational divide — concerned that the older people have benefitted from growth and the younger people are struggling to find jobs and so on. Some of the measures I propose are designed to take money away from my generation and give it to younger generations. The capital grant certainly would do that.

LP: You’ve been a strong critic of claims that we can’t afford to do much about inequality. How do you react to such claims?

TA: I think that the question about whether we can afford it has two dimensions. One is the extent to which addressing inequality involves redistribution —whether in involves some people, like myself, paying higher taxes to finance a more effective system of social protection, for example. On the other hand, it’s a question about how far these measures and other measures would tend to reduce the size of the cake, to put it in a rather hackneyed metaphor.

The second argument is the one I spend more time discussing, which is to say that in the kinds of economies in which we live, there are a number of directions in which we can both make the distribution fairer and contribute to making our economies more efficient and more productive for everyone. That’s very much within the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s way of looking at the world because I’m really saying that the economic model we’ve had to think about is one in which intervention tends to reduce the size of the cake. Yet if you think about a different economic model, you have to allow for the fact that there are corporations with monopoly power. You have to allow for the fact that we have workers who have very little countervailing power, and so on. There are, in fact, ways in which the current situation is inefficient.
- Thomas Mulcair tells Christopher Majka why he's committed to combating inequality in Canada:
For the first time in our history, the current generation is going to have less than their parents and their grandparents. That's never happened before in the history of Canada. We're far too wealthy to just stand by and watch that happen -- there's no reason for it. There's no reason for having 800,000 kids going to school hungry in the morning in Canada. That's a shame that we don't have to put up with. There's no way we have to put up with third world conditions on Canada's First Nations reserves. And I for one do not consider it inevitable that the seniors who built this country should wind up living in deep poverty. We're going to change that. My job, as a social democrat, has always been to decrease inequality in our society. That's our priority.
- Meanwhile, Stephen Harper offers his own idea of how the economy should operate - involving increasing individual debt which is rebranded as "consumer confidence" rather than an unfortunate necessity.

- Finally, Dana Nuccitelli writes that contrary to the spin of climate change denialists, we're actually learning by the year just how accurate global warming projections have been. And Ethan Cox argues that instead of criticizing people for failing to go far out of their way to opt out of the dirty energy economy we're stuck with, we should be working collectively on a cleaner, fairer society for everybody.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

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