Saturday, January 02, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses the connection between concentrated wealth and extreme anti-social political behaviour:
Wealth can be bad for your soul. That’s not just a hoary piece of folk wisdom; it’s a conclusion from serious social science, confirmed by statistical analysis and experiment. The affluent are, on average, less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder.

And it’s obvious, even if we don’t have statistical confirmation, that extreme wealth can do extreme spiritual damage. Take someone whose personality might have been merely disagreeable under normal circumstances, and give him the kind of wealth that lets him surround himself with sycophants and usually get whatever he wants. It’s not hard to see how he could become almost pathologically self-regarding and unconcerned with others.

So what happens to a nation that gives ever-growing political power to the superrich?
(T)he biggest reason to oppose the power of money in politics is the way it lets the wealthy rig the system and distort policy priorities. And the biggest reason billionaires hate Mr. Obama is what he did to their taxes, not their feelings. The fact that some of those buying influence are also horrible people is secondary.

But it’s not trivial. Oligarchy, rule by the few, also tends to become rule by the monstrously self-centered. Narcisstocracy? Jerkigarchy? Anyway, it’s an ugly spectacle, and it’s probably going to get even uglier over the course of the year ahead.
- Meanwhile, Michael Snyder weighs in on how precarious workers are being treated as things rather than people by employers - and how the resulting lack of security is affecting them. And Frances O'Grady makes the case for a meaningful industrial policy to make sure that everybody benefits from economic development.

- Neil Irwin comments on new research showing that an individual's view of the economy is based on partisan preference - but that most people in fact know the underlying facts when they're given even a tiny incentive to get it right.

- Gordon Pape examines the real impact of the Libs' upper-class tax cut - with an individual making $216,000 getting a handout, while somebody making a tenth as much gets nothing.

- Finally, Margaret Wente confirms that her preference for a first-past-the-post electoral system is based on a desire to limit voters' input to a periodic referendum on the incumbent. And Erich Jacoby-Hawkins makes a noteworthy point about the first-past-the-post apologists bleating about refusing to accept a new electoral system without a a referendum:
(W)hat's funny about this likely change are the demands, mainly from supporters of the status quo, that any electoral system reform come only after a successful referendum vote where more than 50% vote for the change. This flies completely in the face of the underlying value of our current electoral system, the one they would have us retain, where decisions aren't made by a 50%+ majority, but by the "majority" of MPs elected with a mere 39% of votes.
The basic principle behind first-past-the-post is that whichever party forms a "majority" based on enough local riding pluralities gets to make (and change) the laws. Anyone who argues that such changes should instead require support of 50%+ of voters in a referendum is, in effect, arguing for proportional representation, because under PR, only laws that have more than 50% voter support will pass. So which do you want, the "powerful, stable" false majority governments that FPP elects, or a proportional system that actually reflects voter desires? Because you can't use the latter principle to argue against the former.

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