Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sarah Ayres discusses the value of the social safety net as a matter of both social and economic policy:
A significant body of evidence supports the view that, far from creating a so-called poverty trap, the safety net actually reduces poverty, increases economic mobility, and strengthens our national economy. Moreover, studies have shown that many antipoverty programs, especially those that target children, offer an excellent return on investment to taxpayers.
An analysis by the Council of Economic Advisers shows that when safety net programs are taken into account, the poverty rate actually fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012—a reduction of more than one-third. This is important because it demonstrates that the safety net succeeds in raising people out of poverty, not trapping them in poverty.

The relationship between the poverty rate and the business cycle also suggests that anti-poverty programs successfully reduce poverty. If the safety net has no impact on poverty levels, one would expect that the poverty rate would closely track the business cycle—that it would rise or fall in proportion to changes in the unemployment rate. But the Council of Economic Advisers found that, despite record levels of unemployment during the Great Recession, the poverty level rose only 0.5 percentage points. And it concluded that the safety net “almost entirely eliminates cyclical swings in the presence of deep poverty.” This means that the safety net lifts people out of poverty during times of high unemployment and slow economic growth. Moreover, safety net programs serve as automatic fiscal stabilizers that boost spending during economic downturns, reducing the severity of recessions and benefiting everyone.

Finally, the fact that safety net programs serve a majority of Americans at some point in their lives indicates that, contrary to Rep. Ryan’s suggestion, receiving benefits does not doom a person to a life of poverty.
Finally, the safety net does not just benefit Americans who directly receive program assistance. Reducing poverty and increasing mobility through the safety net are smart investments in America’s economic growth. An analysis by Georgetown University economist Harry Holzer and his colleagues finds that poverty costs our economy 4 percent of gross domestic product per year, or more than $500 billion. This is the result of low productivity and earnings, poor health, and high levels of crime and incarceration among adults who grew up poor. Similarly, Brandeis University professor Donald Shepard and his colleagues have calculated that hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion per year in lost economic productivity, public education costs, avoidable health care costs, and food charity. Public investments in the safety net—specifically, programs that target poor children—have been shown to generate exceptionally high returns that benefit all Americans. For example, University of Virginia professor Chloe Gibbs; University of Chicago economist Jens Ludwig; and University of California, Davis, economist Douglas L. Miller estimate that Head Start produces a benefit-cost ratio of more than 7-to-1.

In short, a large body of research reveals that America’s anti-poverty programs have successfully lifted millions of families out of poverty and into the middle class.
- And in a similar vein, Erika Eichelberger busts ten myths about poverty in the U.S.
- Daphne Branham writes about the dangerous sense of entitlement which leads people to think that any pool of money which could possibly be available to them should be exploited to the fullest. And Sean Davidson offers up a prime example, catching the resource sector complaining that it will no longer be subsidized quite as much in sending Canadian workers out of the country.

- Paul Krugman takes aim at the "skills gap" myth as yet another zombie lie used to justify punishing workers rather than encouraging widely-shared development.

- Karl Nerenberg wraps up last weekend's Progress Summit.

- And finally, Dan Leger discusses how the surveillance state is attacking individual privacy rights (with the help of some friends in the corporate sector):
Bell’s “Law Enforcement Database” is a customer information clearinghouse being tapped by police agents. Fifty times a day, 19,000 times a year, the Canada Border Services Agency obtains information from telecom providers. It doesn’t need a warrant and there’s no way for the public to find out what it’s after.

The government pays a dollar or two for each search, chump change for Bell but a tangible sign of the company’s co-operation.

The snoops can get your personal information without any notification, unless the matter is going to court. In that case, you are informed, which produces the illogical result of potentially guilty people being informed their privacy has been violated while the rest of us remain blithely unaware.
Worse, there is no clear evidence of any oversight. The companies, or at least Bell Canada, “provide such information tens of thousands of times every year without court oversight and perhaps without even internal oversight if access to a database is granted.”

Geist describes this “pervasive warrantless disclosure” as “deeply troubling and . . . an abdication by telecom providers of their responsibility to safeguard the privacy of their subscribers.”

The fact is, we don’t know what the state security organs are doing with the information. We only know they are getting it.

Meanwhile, the Harper government is pushing ahead with Bill C-13, which updates current laws on intercepting private communications, supposedly in part to protect kids from cyber-bullying. But there’s way more to the bill; cyber-bullying is just a sideshow.

What C-13 really gets at is personal privacy. It provides blanket immunity for telecom providers in any court cases arising from activity on their networks. Traditionally, telecom companies would at least make a show of protecting subscriber information, there’s now an incentive for them to just roll over and produce the goods.

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