Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Lonnie Golden studies the harm done to workers by irregular schedules. And Matt Bruening comments on how Missouri, Kansas and other states are passing draconian restrictions on benefits by trying to get the middle class to envy the poor.

- Meanwhile, Scott Santens expands on the connection between increasing automation and a basic income which could ensure that people displaced from jobs by technological advancement aren't left without a livelihood. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh talks to Guy Standing about a basic income as a means of relieving against reliance on precarious work:
What is the “precariat”?

The precariat consists of a growing proportion of our total society. It is being habituated to accept a life of unstable labour and unstable living. Often they’re unable to say what their occupation is, because what they’re doing now might be quite different from what they were doing three months ago. (They) have to do a hell of a lot of work that doesn’t get counted (i.e. job training, travel time, job applications). People in the precariat find themselves in the situation where the level of their education and qualifications is almost always higher than the sort of labour that they’re going to be able to obtain. This is the first time in history when an emerging part of our citizens are losing rights. (With) many of the benefit cuts, there is no due process. I think that leaves scope for tremendous amounts of injustice.

You warn that the precariat is also very vulnerable to poverty traps.

People in the precariat rely very heavily on money wages. You cannot apply for benefits until two weeks after you’ve lost a job, for example.The gap between losing a job can be months, not weeks or days. Now, if you think about it, that means there’s very little incentive to take a low-paying job, especially as you could then subsequently be unemployed again.

For you, a big part of the answer is a guaranteed basic income for all. Why?

In terms of social justice you could say, look — everybody should receive a dividend from the investments of past generations to give us the security to develop our capabilities. But in addition, a basic income would be a modest way of redistributing income, because we’ve got chronically unequal societies. There is no other way in which the precariat could obtain basic security.
- But Sunny Freeman notes that the Cons are in fact likely to push more Canadians into debt and other poverty traps if their false balanced budget law has any substantive effect. And Seth Klein warns against following the path toward a zombie policy whose harms are well known.

- Mike Blanchfield reports that the Cons have turned Canada into one of the most miserly countries in the world when it comes to supporting international development. And Michael Harris writes that despite hundreds of millions of dollars in ad spending trying to convince us otherwise, the Cons don't rate any better on competence than they do on ethics or values.

- Finally, Lauren Dobson-Hughes argues that an election campaign is the wrong time for civil society groups to try to influence public policy, while offering an alternate suggestion as to how the spotlight of a campaign can benefit social causes:
An election campaign should be *the* place for civil society organizations to engage. To shape public opinion, to highlight the problems we face, to represent their members, and to push candidates to prove they’re worthy our votes. It says something about the state of democracy that election campaigns are essentially, a policy discussion vacuum.

So where is the value in elections campaigns, for civil society? I’d suggest elections are a much better tool for invigorating your base, educating them and providing them with an outlet for their passions. They can attend all-candidates debates, write letters to the editor, host policy discussions amongst themselves, and identify potential champions of their issues. This is democracy in action. Its impact on political decision-making is debatable, but as a means of empowering Canadians to engage politically, it can be very effective.

And perhaps therein lies the disconnect. Civil society wants to engage in elections. They feel they have (and should have) a crucial role to play. In many cases, they are deeply involved. And yet, their involvement appears entirely unconnected to any impact.

This sounds awfully cynical. And that’s not the intent. But if you’re going to engage as a civil society organisation, do it with your eyes open.

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