Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Michael Hiltzik writes about the efforts of the corporate sector - including the tobacco and food industries - to produce mass ignorance in order to preserve profits:
Proctor, a professor of the history of science at Stanford, is one of the world's leading experts in agnotology, a neologism signifying the study of the cultural production of ignorance. It's a rich field, especially today when whole industries devote themselves to sowing public misinformation and doubt about their products and activities.

The tobacco industry was a pioneer at this. Its goal was to erode public acceptance of the scientifically proven links between smoking and disease: In the words of an internal 1969 memo legal opponents extracted from Brown & Williamson's files, "Doubt is our product." Big Tobacco's method should not be to debunk the evidence, the memo's author wrote, but to establish a "controversy."

When this sort of manipulation of information is done for profit, or to confound the development of beneficial public policy, it becomes a threat to health and to democratic society. Big Tobacco's program has been carefully studied by the sugar industry, which has become a major target of public health advocates.

It's also echoed by vaccination opponents, who continue to use a single dishonest and thoroughly discredited British paper to sow doubts about the safety of childhood immunizations, and by climate change deniers.
- In a similar vein, Douglas Coupland points out that the promotion of poor health is a major money-maker for far too many industries. Joseph Stiglitz notes that the supposed benefits of technological innovations on actual standards of living may be far less than we'd think from the hype surrounding new products. Jacalyn Duffin writes that we can expect more shortages of generic drugs due to the Cons' refusal to place public health over big pharma's profits. And Stephen LaRose highlights Toronto's efforts to woo an NFL team which has no natural fit with the market as an example of how the free-market principles used to justify human suffering at the bottom of the income scale are readily tossed aside in favour of corporate vanity projects.

- Bruce Johnstone makes clear that too little, too late isn't enough to make up for the utter failure of the Cons and the Sask Party to look out for grain producers who can't get a bumper crop to market due to rail backlogs - no matter how much the Harper/Wall mutual promotion society tries to pretend otherwise.

- Finally, Paul Krugman calls out the Republicans for their absurd "let them eat dignity" rhetoric as an excuse for slashing social benefits for already-hungry people. And Michael Rozworski lists five important myths about a livable minimum wage:
4. There are better ways to reduce poverty. Perhaps a better way of putting this is that there are numerous ways to reduce poverty, all of which play their part. The minimum wage is only one of many tools in the shop, but it is one we should be using if it is available, especially in light of the arguments above. The minimum wage helps the lowest-paid workers not only achieve gains in income and move closer to escaping from poverty, it gives them more bargaining power in their highly-skewed relationship with employers. A minimum wage hike is best seen as part of a broad poverty-reduction strategy that includes all those other tools we'll be hearing about from right-wing opponents, like tax credits, and some tools they may not mention, like just EI and welfare rates, effective enforcement and strong social programs.

5. Economists are united in their opposition to minimum wage increases. If all the studies cited in the arguments above weren't enough evidence for the fact that the economics profession holds no monolithic position in the minimum wage debate, consider a public letter circulated in the U.S. Signed by over 600 economists, including seven past Nobel Prize winners, it argues that "increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labour market... [and] could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth." The debate is not a false one between hard-nosed economics and feel-good politics. There are many good reasons to raise the minimum wage and economic reasons are clearly among them.

Raising the minimum wage will not solve all the problems of the working poor. Some individuals may be negatively affected, but the net benefit not just to society as a whole but to the lowest-paid, and often hardest-working, individuals as a group is clear. Let's not allow the proposal to raise B.C.'s minimum wage to $13 become a be-all-end-all controversy that pits a false economics against the real needs of British Columbians. Let's hope instead that this proposal is just the start of a province-wide conversation about justice and fairness for workers.

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