Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tony Atkinson offers reason for hope that it's more than possible to rein in inequality and ensure a more fair distribution of resources if we're willing to put in the work to make it happen:
(T)he present levels of inequality are not inevitable; we are not simply at the mercy of forces beyond our control. If we want to reduce inequality, and that is a big “if”, then there are steps that we can take. They are not necessarily easy and they have costs. We would have to discard economic and political orthodoxies. If our leaders are serious about tackling inequality, then they have to move outside their comfort zone and to consider a wider agenda. But there are concrete measures that can be tried if we are serious about tackling inequality.

At the same time, I should emphasize at the outset that, while I make far-reaching proposals, I am not seeking to go to the opposite extreme: from dystopia to utopia. Rather, I am concerned with a reduction in inequality below its current level — that is with the direction of movement, not the ultimate destination. My reading of the current state of opinion is that many people feel that present inequality is excessive, while having different views about how much they would like to see it reduced. My book is directed at this broad coalition, allowing the reader to choose how far they wish to go along the road described.
Reviewers have accused me of being nostalgic for a bygone-era that never will be repeated. But much of the book is concerned with how the world has changed and how it will change in the future. I devote considerable space to the role of technology and robotisation; I stress how the labour market is changing so that we can no longer focus on “jobs”; I discuss the shifting relation between the ownership of wealth and the control of capital. These developments potentially have profound distributional implications. But they are not necessarily grounds for pessimism. The citizens of OECD countries today enjoy a standard of living that is much higher than that of their great-grand-parents. The achievement of a less unequal society in the period of the Second World War and subsequent post-war decades has not been fully overthrown. At a global level, the great divergence between countries associated with the Industrial Revolution is closing. It is true that since 1980 we have seen an “Inequality Turn” and that the 21st century brings challenges that I have not discussed — such as population ageing and climate change. But the solutions to these problems lie in our own hands. If we are willing to use today’s greater wealth to address these challenges, and — crucially — to accept that resources should be shared less unequally, there are indeed grounds for optimism.
- David Dayen argues that we need to revive the use of antitrust law to rein in corporate abuses. And CBC exposes another galling example of pharmaceutical profiteering, as an off-patent drug needed to treat childhood epilepsy on an urgent basis saw its price rocket from $33 per vial to $680 after a multinational purchased its previous manufacturer.

- But David Schneiderman points out that the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other corporate control agreements are instead designed to tie government hands - and makes the case that we need a serious public debate before signing on.

- Anne Farries discusses how ill-advised austerity has affected basic public protections such as firefighting - and the problem extends well beyond Farries' focus on rural Cape Breton.

- Finally, Andrew Potter nicely sums up the Harper Cons' philosophy as setting up provincial firewalls from the federal level - rather than allowing for the exchange of money and knowledge necessary for a federal system to function.

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