Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Stephen McBride offers some important lessons on austerity from government responses to the 2008 economic crisis.

- Zoe Drewett reports on the rising level of poverty in the UK. Andrew Jackson points out how the Libs' measuring stick for poverty seems aimed at doing the bare minimum, and stands to leave many people behind. And Dawn Foster interviews Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson about the damaging effects of inequality on our health and well-being:
The Inner Level, their long-awaited follow up published earlier this year, looks at the more personal, individual effects of inequality: how the social effects of the gap between rich and poor impact on people. “We’re talking about how inequality affects our intimate lives, our inner lives; our mental wellbeing, our relationships with friends and family,” Pickett says.

The Inner Level examines a society that has dealt with 10 years of austerity, and seen almost every family impacted by stagnant wages, increased job insecurity, swingeing cuts and changes to the benefits system and public services nationally and locally, as well as a surge in problems with mental health across society. “It takes a whole argument and evidence about the effects of inequality to a deeper and more intimate level. In The Spirit Level we were dealing with things about society ‘out there’ – the size of the prison population, homicide rates, obesity rates and so on. But this takes it into the sphere of our social fears and anxieties,” Wilkinson says. “Worries about self worth: all the things that make social contact sometimes seem rather awkward and stressful. Your fears about self presentation and so on are all exacerbated by inequality.”

The problems scrutinised in the book – self doubt, social anxiety, stress, and fear of how we are seen by others – have an impact on day-to-day emotions for individuals, but also a wider impact on relationships, our ability to build functioning communities, and the health and wellbeing of entire populations. These issues are massively exacerbated by inequality, and a belief in meritocracy means that any failure is deemed a personal failure, the book argues. “The reality is that inequality causes real suffering, regardless of how we choose to label such distress. Greater inequality heightens social threat and status anxiety, evoking feelings of shame which feed into our instincts for withdrawal, submission and subordination: when the social pyramid gets higher and steeper and status insecurity increases, there are widespread psychological costs.”

The stress of poverty also influences the cognitive development of babies and children. Measuring the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in infants found that poverty, and the amount of time spent in poverty, can hamper the mental development of children. Pickett and Wilkinson find that “family income is a more powerful determinant of cognitive development than being brought up by single parents, or maternal depression”, and that if children are enrolled in support services like Sure Start and their equivalents in other countries, some of the effects of poverty are offset, and children’s educational and psychological performance improves.
Wilkinson and Pickett cite extensive statistical evidence that unequal societies are responsible for less fulfilling personal lives, and in turn harm public health, scupper educational progress, increase crime and lower life expectancy. “We debunk some of the myths that people use to explain why [society] is willing to tolerate greater levels of inequality, namely that inequality is a natural result of our human nature, that we are competitive, individualistic and out for ourselves – that’s the way we are, it’s just human nature and nothing can be done about it,” Pickett says. “That is not the case. We also provide evidence to counter the argument that actually we’re living in a meritocracy, and that inequality is simply a case of the capable and talented moving up, and those who are less capable, less clever, moving down.”
- Daniel Tencer reports on Canada's place among the riskiest housing markets in the world when comparing current prices to long-term averages. 

- Andrew Parkin and Erich Hartmann discuss the need for a national pharmacare program to be fair to provinces who have already made the effort to ensure residents have needed access to medications. And Thomas Walkom follows up on the work of the Institute for Research on Public Policy in showing how a pharmacare system could be put together.

- Finally, Bill Curry and Tom Cardoso report on the Libs' continued use of cash-for-access fund-raising events.

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