Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Krugman writes about the right-wing belief that "freedom's just another word for not enough to eat":
(Y)ou might think that ensuring adequate nutrition for children, which is a large part of what SNAP does, actually makes it less, not more likely that those children will be poor and need public assistance when they grow up. And that’s what the evidence shows. The economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach have studied the impact of the food stamp program in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was gradually rolled out across the country. They found that children who received early assistance grew up, on average, to be healthier and more productive adults than those who didn’t — and they were also, it turns out, less likely to turn to the safety net for help.

SNAP, in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.

Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.
- Greg Hluska explains his decision-making process in jointing the Yes side of Regina's wastewater treatment referendum:
I’m left thinking about fairness. You have the Federal government promising to help us with our infrastructure…but only if we choose a P3. When I look at the kinds of companies with experience in these kinds of projects, I notice that the vast majority are from Ontario. So, if we go P3, there will be fewer union jobs (thus lower wages for Regina residents) while we ship the profits off to Ontario.

And then, I look at the subject of risk, complete with its highly secretive equation. If you remove risk entirely from the equation, the P3 and traditional models are very close in terms of net present cost. That flies in the face of peer reviewed research that shows that P3s usually cost significantly more. If the Deloitte report numbers don’t jive with numbers from other similar projects, should we trust this highly secretive number attached to risk? According to peer reviewed research, audited P3s cost 16% more than traditionally tendered contracts. Yet, the Deloitte report indicates that a P3 would only cost 1.6% more than the traditional model would. In case you’re keeping track, that is an actual difference of over $60,000,000 in base construction costs.
(W)hen I weigh all of this, I have decided that I am going to vote yes, in opposition to the P3. I have lost trust in city council and simply cannot approve of a project that will affect our city for thirty years in light of such damning evidence.
- Meanwhile, Regina Water Watch highlights some more shady practices from the City to try to stack the deck in favour of the No side.

- Which leads nicely to Robert Reich's discussion of the myth of the free market, and the reality that markets as we know them are designed for the specific benefit of the wealthy few:
Governments don't "intrude" on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren't "free" of rules; the rules define them.

The interesting question is what the rules should seek to achieve. They can be designed to maximize efficiency (given the current distribution of resources), or growth (depending on what we're willing to sacrifice to obtain that growth), or fairness (depending on our ideas about a decent society). Or some combination of all three -- which aren't necessarily in competition with one another. Evidence suggests, for example, that if prosperity were more widely shared, we'd have faster growth.

The rules can even be designed to entrench and enhance the wealth of a few at the top, and keep almost everyone else comparatively poor and economically insecure.
If we want to reduce the savage inequalities and insecurities that are now undermining our economy and democracy, we shouldn't be deterred by the myth of the "free market." We can make the economy work for us, rather than the other way around. But in order to change the rules, we must exert the power that is supposed to be ours.
- Finally, Kady O'Malley points out the glaring gap between the Cons' spin about the Robocon costs ruling, and the actual decision which will result in the party's MPs paying costs to the electors who rightfully questioned the impact of Con-based fraud on the 2011 election. But I do have to question whether the Cons are particularly concerned about losing credibility now - especially if anybody was willing to accept that they had an ounce of it left to lose given their previous attempts to paint a finding that their database was used to commit election fraud as a win.

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