Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your Saturday.

- As pointed out by Paul Krugman, Kathleen Geier recognizes an obvious possible cause of a declining life expectancy for some less-wealthy Americans:
I will offer an alternative hypothesis, one which is not explicitly identified in the Times article: inequality. In the U.S., the period between 1990 and 2008, which is a period that saw such steep declines in life expectancy for the least well-off white people, is also a period during which economic inequality soared. Moreover, there is a compelling body of research that suggests that inequality itself — quite apart from low incomes, or lack of health insurance — is associated with more negative health outcomes for those at the bottom of the heap. One of the most famous series of studies of the social determinants of health, Britain’s Whitehall Studies, had as their subjects British civil servants, all of whom health insurance and (presumably) decent enough jobs. Intriguingly, these studies

found a strong association between grade levels of civil servant employment and mortality rates from a range of causes. Men in the lowest grade (messengers, doorkeepers, etc.) had a mortality rate three times higher than that of men in the highest grade (administrators).
I believe that inequality-related stressors are likely to be the determining factors in declining American life expectancies, as well. I’m surprised, in fact, that the Times article did not specifically identify inequality as a causal factor, because the health risks associated with economic inequality are well-established in the scientific literature. For decades, the United States has been making a series of political choices that has distributed wealth and power upwards and left working Americans not only poorer and sicker, but also feeling far more burdened and distressed, and experiencing far less security and control over their lives. The consequences of these choices have been devastating, and absent a dramatic reversal in our political course, they are likely to get even worse. Where inequality is concerned, Republicans have their foot on the accelerator, while the best the Democrats seem to be able to do is to (temporarily) put their foot on the brake.
- And Adam Davidson-Harden recognizes the need to reverse the trend of social backsliding arising out of increased inequality as a crucial reason why we need fight back against attacks on labour and other progressive forces:
If I was a betting man (which I'm not), I'd put my money behind the idea that the Ontario Liberals thought they could win a majority government out of declaring war on teachers in the recent round of byelections. Of course, they were wrong on that score, but they are still working on a strategy that banks on austerity as a key plank in their platform, from the Drummond report on.

The snake-oil consists of a fairly simple, business and bank-approved message: we can't afford social programs anymore. We need to retrench them and cut everything in the public sector. We don't have the money (repeat that last five times or more to get the general point). Meanwhile, Ontario sports some of the lowest corporate taxes in any developed economy.

Rolling over sends a message to the political prophets and priests of austerity. It says to them: 'well, maybe we have things too good after all. Maybe the rights, benefits and working conditions/learning conditions we've won are too much. Maybe we don't deserve them.' Rolling over under assault is giving up, and giving up is interpreted by employers and governments as simply acknowledging that they're right, that austerity is the default, inevitable, unavoidable, a universal fate of retrenching social programs.   
- Meanwhile, Althia Raj reports that Ontario is just one of far too many provinces with no interest in protecting its interests while negotiating the CETA. But it's worth noting that such agreements are normally designed to ensure the ongoing erosion of democratic power no matter who holds office at any given time: exemptions can't be added without other parties' agreement, but can be permanently destroyed by a single term of a right-wing government.

- Finally, John Geddes' profile of Tom Mulcair is well worth a read.

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