Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Broadbent responds to the Fraser Institute's attempts to minimize the importance of growing inequality:
Economists tell us the chances of finding and keeping a good job today depend more than ever on a high level of education and skills required by new technologies in the marketplace and the loss of unskilled jobs to developing countries. But we have largely failed to equip the unemployed and precariously employed with the skills they need to survive in a new economy. Nor have we adequately increased income supports like the Working Income Tax Benefit for those who work hard but still cannot get ahead.

We cannot dismiss growing inequality by pretending, as the Fraser Institute does, that all Canadians are still getting the equal chances that existed a generation ago. Gross income inequalities destroy equality of opportunity, and even the advantages of any rising incomes for the poor can be wiped out by a less progressive system of taxation or cuts in public investment. The gap between the rich and the poor, and the eating away of the middle class, are cementing the privileges of the most affluent and undermining the legitimate hopes of those who want to do much better.

Canadian values demand that we do something about rising inequality before we turn into a winner-take-all society with a permanent underclass. We are in this together, and that means we must once again care and share. 
 - Petti Fong reports on the Cons' choice to allow HD Mining's illegal whims to override a court order when it comes to the disclosure of temporary work permit records, while Dr. Dawg wonders whether this means we're officially granting China extraterritorial rights over Canada.

- Meanwhile, Will Campbell notes that civil servants pointed out the weakness of the Cons' voluntary drug shortage reporting long before patients started to suffer from a lack of notice that their medications were disappearing. And Mike de Souza's year-end feature reflects on the Cons' attacks on the environment.

- But let's listen to a couple of voices pointing out that we need to focus on what can be done to improve matters, not merely what isn't being done by our current rulers. Zoe Williams writes that defeatism ultimately helps the right-wing cause by ruling out the possibility of change for the better - and most of her message is readily transferable to the Canadian scene:
On the subject of benefits, can we pause to consider how incredibly low that figure of fraud is? In so many other areas of dishonesty – tax avoidance, expenses claims – the rot is never contained to a small core, it always spreads over time, it becomes peer-normalised and then grows exponentially, until the only people who aren't doing it are cranks. And yet, here we are, with this body of people among whom the number of fraudsters is tiny. On top of the honesty, consider in-work benefits, the number of people doing jobs that won't cover their rent, won't cover their childcare, won't put food on the table without government subsidy – working, in other words, for the sheer joy of work. This is a work ethic to die for.

The housing crisis is not a threat, it's an opportunity. We need more social housing, we need a more vigorous construction industry, and we need things for a government to invest in, rather than rounds of quantitative easing, delivering money into the hands of the top 5% and eroding pension annuities. We could climb out of recession on the back of this "crisis" at the same time as halting the hegemony of the private landlord, which is perverting wage spending-power and intensifying inequality. This is one of the few levers the government could actually pull to influence the economy.

UK education is ranked sixth best in the world, and not because Toby Young has set up a free school. The NHS is amazing: not because it's a socialist project, but because it is mind-blowingly good, and efficient, at what it does.

This government wants to govern a nation of crooks, fighting over the last crust of bread. In fact, we are an honest, industrious people with natural resources coming out of our well-educated, disease-free ears. Happy New Year.
 - And finally, Aaron Genest makes a more general case for basing our attempts to speak out and organize on optimism rather than fear:
I think that we (as campaigners) should be telling people up front that it will be a long haul. Tell them that the issues are complex, that interests for the status quo are well entrenched, and that, despite lots of people and investment, it may take years of continued effort before we see significant progress.  On any issue. This means, of course, that the fear-based approach to galvanizing action will fail.

As well it should.

Making people afraid, whether for good or for evil, is the wrong way to approach change. It makes them reactionary, less likely to recognize positive movement (on either side of an issue), and less likely to be taken seriously. It polarizes a debate. So while fear-based tactics are highly successful in getting people to click a Like button or to donate $10 right now, they harm the long term goal of creating an active, politically astute (populace) willing to have serious policy discussions at every level.

So let’s commit to the long game. Regardless of the issue, its apparent urgency, or the value of winning this particular fight, let’s take a page from Lessig’s #rootstrikers campaign. Always build to the next fight. Engage your supporters at the highest level you can and help them move into a more nuanced role. All the while, build your database, encourage engagement, foster discussion, and be up front about the longevity of the campaign. Frame things in terms of battles, if necessary, but never lose sight that they are only skirmishes in a greater theatre.

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