Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Peter Whoriskey examines how inequality is becoming increasingly pronounced among U.S. seniors. And Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson discuss how inequality contributes to entrenching social divisions:
The toll which inequality exacts from the vast majority of society is one of the most important limitations on the quality of life – particularly in developed countries.  It damages the quality of social relations essential to life satisfaction and happiness. Numerous studies have shown that community life is stronger in more equal societies.  People are more likely to be involved in local groups and voluntary organisations.  They are more likely to feel they can trust each other, and a recent study has shown that they are also more willing to help each other – to help the elderly or disabled.  But as inequality increases, trust, reciprocity and involvement in community life all atrophy.  In their place – as numerous studies have shown – comes a rise in violence, usually measured by homicide rates.  In short, inequality makes societies less affiliative and more antisocial. 

If you look at some of the most unequal societies such as South Africa or Mexico, it is clear from the way that houses are barricaded, with bars on windows and doors and fences and razor wire round gardens, that people are frightened of each other.  That is dramatically confirmed by a quite different indication of exactly the same process: studies have shown that in more unequal societies a higher proportion of a society’s labour force is employed in what is classified as ‘guard labour’ – that is security staff, police, prisons officers etc.. Essentially, these are the occupations people use to protect themselves from each other.  
Important to understanding the effects of inequality is the way it affects mental health.  An international study has shown that more unequal societies have higher levels of status anxiety – not just among the poor, but at all income levels, including the richest decile.  Living in societies where some people seem extremely important and others are regarded as almost worthless does indeed make us all more worried about how we are seen and judged.  There are two very different ways people can respond to these worries.  They may respond by feeling overcome by a lack of confidence, self-doubt and low self-esteem, so that social gatherings feel too stressful and are seen as ordeals to be avoided and people retreat into depression.  Alternatively, and yet usually still a response to the same insecurities, people may go in for a process of self-enhancement or self-advertisement, trying to big themselves up in other’s eyes.  Instead of being modest about their achievements and abilities, they flaunt them, finding ways of bringing references into conversation of almost anything which helps them present themselves as capable and successful. 

But the real tragedy of this is not simply the costs of so much additional security or the human costs in terms of increasing violence.  It is, as research makes very clear, that social involvement and the quality of social relations, friendship and involvement in community life, are powerful determinants of both health and happiness.  Inequality strikes at the foundations of the quality of life.  Status insecurity and competition makes social life more stressful: we worry increasingly about self-presentation and how we are judged. Instead of the relationships of friendship and reciprocity which add so much to health and happiness, inequality means we prop ourselves up with narcissistic purchases or withdraw from social life.  Though this suits business and sales, it is not a sound basis for learning to live within the planetary boundaries.  
Dr. Dawg, the Star's editorial board and Sadiya Ansari each criticize the Quebec Libs' bigoted attack on women who wear niqabs. And Emmett Macfarlane highlights why Bill 62's deliberate discrimination isn't likely to survive a challenge in court.

- Danyaal Raza offers some lessons for the U.S. from his experience working in Canada's health care system. And Gillian Steward writes that Donald Trump's actions to strip health insurance from Americans shows how important it is that Canada didn't settle for anything less than universality.

- Meanwhile, Ian Welsh argues that Barack Obama missed an important opportunity to reshape the U.S.' economy through both stimulus legislation and executive action.

- Finally, Susan Scutti reports on new research showing that exposure to air pollution in the womb has life-long consequences for a person's health. And Bob Weber reports on new research showing that methane releases from Alberta's oil industry may be far worse than previously assumed.

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