Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Emily Badger discusses Robert Putnam's work on the many facets of increasing inequality in the U.S.:
For the past three years, Putnam has been nursing an outlandish ambition. He wants inequality of opportunity for kids to be the central issue in the 2016 presidential election. Not how big government should be or what the “fair share” is for the wealthy, but what’s happening to children boxed out of the American dream.

His manifesto, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” will be published Tuesday. It places brain science, sociology and census data alongside stories of children growing up on both sides of the divide. Many of the findings draw on the work of other researchers who have long studied families, education or neuroscience. But Putnam has gathered these strands under a single thesis: that instead of talking about inequality of wealth or income among adults, we ought to focus on inequalities in all of the ways children accumulate — or never touch — opportunity.

The gaps he identifies have been widening on both ends: Better-off families are spending ever-more money on their children. They’re volunteering even more at their schools. Their children are pulling away as Mary Sue falls further behind, and her original mistake was simply, as Putnam puts it, that she chose her parents badly.

“Our Kids” picks up many of the themes from “Bowling Alone,” now 15 years later. That book cautioned that Americans were increasingly withdrawing from each other and civic life. Church attendance was in decline. So was union membership, voter turnout, trust in government and participation in civic groups from the Boy Scouts to bowling leagues. As a result, Putnam argued, Americans were losing the kind of “social capital” that helps us solve big, collective problems (how do we pay for our schools?), as well as small, daily ones (who will watch my child tomorrow?).
The poor children in “Our Kids” are missing so much more than material wealth. They have few mentors. They’re half as likely as wealthy kids to trust their neighbors. The schools they attend offer fewer sports, and they’re less likely to participate in after-school activities. Even their parents have smaller social networks. Their lives reflect the misfortune of the working-class adults around them, who have lost job prospects and financial stability.
Putnam doesn’t dispute that we need to fix families to fix poverty.

But he pairs that with the economic argument more often advanced on the left: that declining real wages and the disappearance of blue-collar jobs have undermined families. That no amount of marriage promotion can repair broken homes when fathers can’t find work, mothers can’t afford day care and the utility bills are past due.

“Bob Putnam’s work helped me understand a key insight,” Ryan says by e-mail. “Poverty isn’t just a form of deprivation; it’s a form of isolation, too.”
- David Korten rightly questions whether corporations need the vast new set of rights promised to them under a new and even more biased set of trade agreements including the TPP. And Frances Russell writes that corporate think tanks have distorted how we talk about our society.

- Meanwhile, George Monbiot comments on the need to start planning to keep fossil fuels in the ground to reduce the damage caused by climate change - including through international agreements:
(T)hroughout the 23 years since the world’s governments decided to begin this process, the delegates have uttered not one coherent word about constraining production.

Compare this to any other treaty-making process. Imagine, for example, that the Biological Weapons Convention made no attempt to restrain the production or possession of weaponised smallpox and anthrax, but only to prohibit their use. How effective do you reckon it would be? (You don’t have to guess: look at the US gun laws, which prohibit the lethal use of guns but not their sale and carriage. You can see the results on the news every week.) Imagine trying to protect elephants and rhinos only by banning the purchase of their tusks and horns, without limiting killing, export or sale. Imagine trying to bring slavery to an end not by stopping the transatlantic trade, but by seeking only to discourage people from buying slaves once they had arrived in the Americas. If you want to discourage a harmful trade, you must address it at both ends: production and consumption. Of the two, production is the most important.

The extraction of fossil fuels is a hard fact. The rules governments have developed to prevent their use are weak, inconsistent and negotiable. In other words, when coal, oil and gas are produced, they will be used. Continued production will overwhelm attempts to restrict consumption. Even if efforts to restrict consumption temporarily succeed, they are likely to be self-defeating. A reduction in demand when supply is unconstrained lowers the price, favouring carbon-intensive industry.
- Dene Moore reports on B.C.'s plan to hand massive quantities of water over to corporate giants for negligible returns.

- Jim Bronskill reports on SIRC's direct acknowledgment that it already lacks the capacity to properly monitor CSIS - even before the Cons distort matters even further through their terror bill. Thomas Walkom rightly notes that the Libs' choice to go along with C-51 for political convenience figures to completely undermine their core messages. And Nora Loreto argues that the public needs to meet extreme legislation with equally strong action.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert writes that the Cons' plan to pull on threads of fear and bigotry can only unravel Canada's social fabric. But I'm not quite sure why she thinks Stephen Harper - he of the desire to make sure people wouldn't recognize Canada by the time he's done with it - would have a problem with that outcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment