Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Nafeez Ahmed writes about the dangers of combining growing inequality and increased resource extraction:
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with "Elites" based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:
"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."
Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:
"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing."
- Which fits nicely with Charles Blow's argument that we can't count on increased growth or resource use to address burgeoning inequality.

- Meanwhile, William Broad discusses how other publicly-funded research is all too often being privatized and directed toward corporate interests or even personal whims rather than scientific purposes. And the Economist takes note of the spread of crony capitalism, while observing that resource-dependent economies are particularly prone to corporate domination.

- Dom Pittis points out that many businesses fully recognize the importance of an effective (and properly-funded) public sector:
Like other urban business groups, Lieba's members would be willing to pay to solve problems like traffic congestion and gridlock, he says. But that's not all.

"Strategic investment of tax dollars that will help benefit economic prosperity, quality of life, is good for businesses equally as residents," said Lieba. "Businesses aren't averse to paying taxes, maybe even paying more taxes where they see value for it."

And it's not just business willing to pay more tax. Graves says that EKOS polling shows that Canadians in general are changing their views on government spending. When asked whether they would prefer spending on health and education or low taxes, they choose the spending.
"Problems in the economy, particularly in the younger portions of the economy, don't seem to have been solved by the pursuit of austerity and diminished government.," [Graves] said. "It may be, in fact, that it is having the opposite effect.

"I like to make profits and like to make really good profits, but I also feel that there's nothing wrong with paying your share and that, in fact, a healthy economy works best when it has a good balance of fairness and profits."
 - Finally, Michael Harris writes that the Cons have built their stay in office on little more than U.S.-style political venom - while questioning whether that strategy figures to work much longer.

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