Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Murray Dobbin argues that the Trudeau Libs' response (or lack thereof) to wealthy tax cheats will tell us what we most need to know about their plans for Canada.

- Meanwhile, Tonda MacCharles reports on Justin Trudeau's plans to abandon Canada's longstanding commitment (however neglected in practice) to providing a fair level of foreign aid. And Tom Boggioni exposes the U.S.' use of foreign aid threats to try to keep cancer medicine unaffordable in Colombia.

- Sarah Neville points out how workplace power imbalances can create an environment ripe for sexual harassment and other forms of employee abuse. And David Graeber theorizes that part of the current gap can be explained by the proliferation of what he describes as "bullshit jobs".

- Benjamin Radcliff examines the relationship between political systems and happiness economics, and finds that social democracy is the system most conducive to well-being:
The policies most conducive to human wellbeing turn out to be essentially the same ones that Einstein himself originally suggested: those associated with social democracy. In reviewing the research in 2014, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a political scientist at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey, found that ‘societies led by leftist or liberal governments (also referred to as welfare states)’ have the highest levels of life satisfaction, controlling for other factors. Looking across countries, the more generous and universalistic the welfare state, the greater the level of human happiness, net of other factors.
If commodification is so harmful to humans, while the greater market system itself contributes so much to human society, the obvious solution is to maintain the essential features of the market while introducing public policies that serve to ‘decommodify’ workers and their families. Simply put, a society is decommodified to the extent that individuals can maintain something like a middle-class existence if they are unable to successfully sell their labour power as a commodity due to illness, old-age, disability, the need to care for a family member, the desire to improve one’s position through further education, or simply the inability to find (good) jobs when times are hard. The greater the level of decommodification, the easier it is for more people to survive without winning in the labour market.

The creation of a social safety net (the much-maligned ‘welfare state’) is essential to decommodifying people. It assures that those unable to find work will be provided with a minimum income, coupled in its most expansive form with other programmes that limit the extent to which one’s wellbeing is dependent on income – such as ‘family allowances’ (ie child support payments provided by the public), subsidised daycare and housing, and the availability of healthcare as a social right, ie as something (like police protection) that one receives because one is a citizen, not because one can pay for it.

Labour unions also play a vital role in helping decommodify people, by providing a degree of protection to workers against the arbitrary whims of employers; the higher wages and benefits of unionised workers tend to raise the wage floor for all. Finally, labour market regulations can cover all employees, even those not in labour unions. These protections, in some countries, protect all workers, assure them paid vacation and sick days, maintain high levels of workplace safety, and might even (as in codetermination schemes) provide workers with a say in how the business is managed. All this serves to not only reduce insecurity and other forms of stress, but helps contribute to an environment in which workers feel that they are treated with the dignity and respect all persons deserve.
- Finally, Bruce Johnstone observes that the Saskatchewan Party's corporatist economic philosophy - like that of so many other right-wing governments - is failing miserably even on its own terms.

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