Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Branko Milanovic answers Harry Frankfurt's attempt to treat inequality as merely an issue of absolute deprivation by reminding us how needs are inherently social:
“[Under necessities] I understand not only the commodities that are indispensable for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.” (Book 5, Chapter 2)
Smith’s observation has far-reaching consequences. If our needs depend on what is socially acceptable, then they will clearly vary as between different societies. They will depend on the wealth of such societies or wealth of our peer groups. Consequently, our needs are (1) even in theory endless (because development has no material limit), and (2) they are thoroughly relative. We cannot distinguish between that part of the needs which is presumably due to ourselves, our “real” needs that, according to Professor Frankfurt, determine whether “[we] have good lives, and not how [our] lives compare with the lives of others” and the other part which is presumably due to the environment.

It is futile to try to distinguish between the two. We do not know what are our needs until we live in a society and observe the needs of others. So, pace Professor Frankfurt, we cannot just imagine that others do not exist as he enjoins us to do. All our needs are social.
- Meanwhile, John Rentoul reports on a new poll showing just how many social needs are going unmet in the UK, as two-thirds of people don't see themselves having any meaningful influence in shaping their own society. And Robyn Benson comments on the Cons' silencing of anybody who has anything to say beyond their own talking points.

- Guy Boulton discusses new research into the link between poverty and brain development. And Amy Traub points out that equal pay for women would go a long way toward reducing poverty in the U.S.

- Lobat Sadrehashemi, Peter Edelmann and Suzanne Baustad highlight how the Cons' rushed policy on refugees is designed to prevent valid claims from being fully assessed. And Dean Beeby takes a look at the Cons' costly broken promise of a database to track missing persons.

- Finally, Rick Salutin writes that whatever its end result, Donald Trump's presidential run should offer us a disturbing indication as to how anti-democratic leaders can use democratic systems to take power.

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