Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Elizabeth Kolbert comments on the psychology of inequality, and particularly how the current trend in which a disproportionate share of gains goes to a small number of wealthy individuals produces no ultimate winners: 
As the relative-income model predicted, those who’d learned that they were earning less than their peers were ticked off. Compared with the control group, they reported being less satisfied with their jobs and more interested in finding new ones. But the relative-income model broke down when it came to those at the top. Workers who discovered that they were doing better than their colleagues evinced no pleasure. They were merely indifferent. As the economists put it in a paper that they eventually wrote about the study, access to the database had a “negative effect on workers paid below the median for their unit and occupation” but “no effect on workers paid above median.”

The message the economists took from their research was that employers “have a strong incentive” to keep salaries secret. Assuming that California workers are representative of the broader population, the experiment also suggests a larger, more disturbing conclusion. In a society where economic gains are concentrated at the top—a society, in other words, like our own—there are no real winners and a multitude of losers.
(Payne) has come to believe that what’s really damaging about being poor, at least in a country like the United States—where, as he notes, even most people living below the poverty line possess TVs, microwaves, and cell phones—is the subjective experience of feeling poor. This feeling is not limited to those in the bottom quintile; in a world where people measure themselves against their neighbors, it’s possible to earn good money and still feel deprived. “Unlike the rigid columns of numbers that make up a bank ledger, status is always a moving target, because it is defined by ongoing comparisons to others,” Payne writes.

Feeling poor, meanwhile, has consequences that go well beyond feeling. People who see themselves as poor make different decisions, and, generally, worse ones.
Preschoolers, brown capuchin monkeys, California state workers, college students recruited for psychological experiments—everyone, it seems, resents inequity. This is true even though what counts as being disadvantaged varies from place to place and from year to year...

Still, there are choices to be made. The tax bill recently approved by Congress directs, in ways both big and small, even more gains to the country’s plutocrats. Supporters insist that the measure will generate so much prosperity that the poor and the middle class will also end up benefitting. But even if this proves true—and all evidence suggests that it will not—the measure doesn’t address the real problem. It’s not greater wealth but greater equity that will make us all feel richer.
- Timothy Taylor charts the state of inequality in countries around the globe. And Branko Milanovic comments on the farce that is a discussion of inequality at Davos by the people who have put in place the policies most responsible for its spread.

-  David Olusoga discusses the return of Victorian-era slums to the UK, while Lucy Pasha-Robinson reports on declining life expectancies arising out of austerity.

- Rajeev Syal reports on a study from the UK's National Audit Office showing how privatization has resulted in the government paying more to get less. James Bloodworth notes that the Carillion privatization model amounted to little more than a Ponzi scheme which depended on a continually-increasing flow of public money to enrich its executives. Tom Pride observes that one of the prime culprits in (and profiteers from) Carillion's collapse has been rewarded by being put in charge of nuclear safety. David Climenhaga discusses the connection between Carillion, the Klein government and Alberta's privatized highways which rely on a now-failed corporation for their maintenance. And Will Hutton rightly questions why we'd ever trust the corporate sector to manage public services again.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom questions Justin Trudeau's determination to keep the NAFTA dispute resolution provisions which have been used primarily to tie the hands of Canadian governments.

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