Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Yanis Varoufakis discusses the loss of freedom when one's whole life needs to be planned around corporate wishes and sensitivities:
A capacity to fence off a part of one’s life, and to remain sovereign and self-driven within those boundaries, was paramount to the liberal conception of the free agent and his or her relationship with the public sphere. To exercise freedom, individuals needed a safe haven within which to develop as genuine persons before relating – and transacting – with others. Once constituted, our personhood was to be enhanced by commerce and industry – networks of collaboration across our personal havens, constructed and revised to satisfy our material and spiritual needs.

But the dividing line between personhood and the external world upon which liberal individualism based its concepts of autonomy, self-ownership, and, ultimately, freedom could not be maintained. The first breach appeared as industrial products became passé and were replaced by brands that captured the public’s attention, admiration, and desire. Before long, branding took a radical new turn, imparting “personality” to objects. 

Once brands acquired personalities (boosting consumer loyalty immensely and profits accordingly), individuals felt compelled to re-imagine themselves as brands. And today, with colleagues, employers, clients, detractors, and “friends” constantly surveying our online life, we are under incessant pressure to evolve into a bundle of activities, images, and dispositions that amounts to an attractive, sellable brand. The personal space essential to the autonomous development of an authentic self – the condition that makes inalienable self-ownership possible – is now almost gone. The habitat of liberalism is disappearing.

The irony is that liberal individualism seems to have been defeated by a totalitarianism that is neither fascist nor communist, but which grew out of its own success at legitimizing the encroachment of branding and commodification into our personal space. To defeat it, and thus rescue the liberal idea of freedom as self-ownership, may require a comprehensive reconfiguration of property rights over the increasingly digitized instruments of production, distribution, collaboration, and communication.

Would it not be a splendid paradox if, 200 years after the birth of Karl Marx, we decided that, in order to save liberalism, we must return to the idea that freedom demands the end of unfettered commodification and the socialization of property rights over capital goods?
- Meanwhile, Noah Smith points out that any dogma about "efficient markets" is rapidly being refuted by economic experience.

- D.C. Fraser reports on Scott Moe's insistence that Saskatchewan's low-income workers survive on the lowest minimum wage in Canada.

- David Roberts writes about the importance of supply-side policies as part of a full strategy to rein in climate change - with the particularly important advantage of avoiding infrastructure lock-in. And Michael Harris notes that Justin Trudeau's determination to instead tie Canada to a dying fossil fuel industry may represent his political undoing.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail's editorial board makes the case for Alberta to join the rest of the country in funding public services through a sales tax.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:28 a.m.

    I disagree with the G&M's suggestion that Alberta impose a PST. Sales taxes are regressive burdening those who must spend all their income for basic needs. Sales taxes also hurt consumers - the engine of the economy.

    For years, Alberta has squandered its wealth with low royalties on its natural resources and the lowest income tax rates in the country. Both federal and Alberta governments provide more subsidies to oil companies than they collect in taxes.

    The lack of income tax revenue robs the treasury of resources to invest in infrastructure to rebuild the economy on a more sustainable basis. Lack of revenue prevents support of workers who are displaced by dead-ended industries. Workers who lose all their resources due to problems that they did not create lose their ability to be contributing, productive members of society.

    Alberta needs tax revenue but not out of the hides of those on the bottom.