Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman highlights why inequality is indeed an issue which demands action - both for its own sake, and for its impact on other goals such as economic sustainability. And Bill Moyers discusses the difference between a government responsive to its people and one completely controlled by elites:
The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate. "The abuse of buying and selling votes," he wrote of Rome, "crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors."
Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests, and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do. Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.
I should make it clear that I don't harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy. Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson. Nor do I romanticize "the people." You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites. I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, "If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents."

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.
 - Andrew Sullivan makes a similar point in commenting on the impact of Pope Francis' discussion of market zealotry (h/t to Cathie):
(T)he way in which market capitalism has become a good in itself on the American right is, well, perniciously wrong. As soon as a system ceases to be a means to a human good, and becomes an end in itself, it has become a false idol. Perhaps the apotheosis of that idol worship was the belief – brandished on the degenerate right in the past decade or two – that markets are self-regulating. Of course they’re not, as Adam Smith would have been the first to inform you. Another assumption embedded on the American right is that more wealth is always a good thing. The Church must say no. This is a lie. Wealth is a neutral thing above a certain basic level of non-drudgery. Above that, it can be an absolutely evil, deceptive thing, distorting human souls, warping their dignity, vulgarizing their character. An American right that worships at the altar of both free markets and material wealth, and that takes these two idols as their primary goods, is not just non-Catholic. It is anathema to Catholicism and to the Gospels.
- Michael Valpy writes about the connection between extractive economics, inequality and social exclusion - while observing that those exact factors are serving to reinforce each other in Canada.

- Meanwhile, Matthew Hays offers a devastating look at how Canada is beginning to look from abroad - with Rob Ford serving only as the most prominent example of a crude, selfish and thoughtless persona. And Scott Reid points out the systematic elimination of any sense of shame from right-wing politics as a substantial part of the problem.

- Finally, John Geddes writes that the Cons' patently absurd attacks on improvements to the Canada Pension Plan are making it needlessly difficult to discuss how to ensure retirement security for Canadians. And Tammy Schirle and Kevin Milligan offer their own proposal to bolster the CPP.


  1. Dunno why you bothered to link that Schirle and Milligan piece. Their proposal isn't remotely progressive, or really an improvement at all. It looks kind of good because it removes, or boosts, the cap on CPP contributions. But it doesn't involve increasing what people in turn get from CPP at all, except for the people with high incomes who paid more in because the cap increased. It's just an expansion of the plan at the top end. What's the point?

    1. It certainly doesn't reflect what I'd see as an ideal change - which would indeed involve boosting income replacement percentages as well.

      But it does recognize the value of having a CPP which contributes meaningfully to retirement security for the majority of the income spectrum, rather than relying on optional and/or privatized equivalents to constitute a perpetually-expanding proportion of retirement savings. And I'll happily promote consensus on that point while pushing for more progressive distribution.