Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Aditya Chakrabortty writes about the consequences of the UK's choice not to fund its or social infrastructure:
We are right in the middle of an infrastructure breakdown – we just haven’t named it yet. You’ll know what I mean when we list the component parts. More than 760 youth clubs have shut across the UK since 2012. A pub closes every 12 hours. Nearly 130 libraries were scrapped last year, and those that survive in England have lopped off 230,000 opening hours.

Each of the above is a news story. Each stings a different group: the books trade, the real-ale aficionados, the trade unions. But knit them together and a far darker picture emerges. Britain is being stripped of its social infrastructure: the institutions that make up its daily life, the buildings and spaces that host friends and gently push strangers together. Public parks are disappearing. Playgrounds are being sold off. High streets are fast turning to desert. These trends are national, but their greatest force is felt in the poorest towns and suburbs, the most remote parts of the countryside, where there isn’t the footfall to lure in the businesses or household wealth to save the local boozer.
When it comes to transport or energy or sewage, Britain has a National Infrastructure Commission that monitors the country’s needs and guides parliament on where to direct spending. After all, the quality of such hard infrastructure influences where multinationals set up shop: it is money-making. But parks and libraries don’t generate cash. Social infrastructure has no lobby, no registry of assets and certainly no government agency. No Whitehall official monitors how much of it has closed or withered away – that relies on civil society groups to file freedom of information requests or badger town halls with survey. Everyone knows we need it, yet just as our economic model prizes shareholder returns over investment in the National Grid, so our politics relies on drawing in the voters with unfeasibly low taxes. Until one day, something breaks and all hell breaks loose.

So here is a suggestion for Jeremy Corbyn or Nicola Sturgeon or Adam Price or whoever else fancies it. Talk about the importance of social infrastructure. Promise to set up a commission explicitly to audit what we have and help protect it. Commit public money to it, alongside gentle pressure on the private sector to do its bit. That way, we can publicly mark the public institutions we all know we need – and show the esteem due to the people who keep them going and use them. The spirit we need is that summed up by the librarian who rhapsodises to Klinenberg about his branch: “The library really is a palace. It bestows nobility on people who can’t otherwise afford a shred of it. People need to have nobility and dignity in their lives. And, you know, they need other people to recognise it in them too.”
- Chris Varcoe reports that the UCP's corporate tax giveaways are predictably leading to no economic benefit to anybody other than shareholders and executives. And Jessica Elgot reports on UK Labour's plans to give municipalities the power to restore abandoned shops to public use.

- Andrew Mitrovica highlights the significance of Justin Trudeau's ethical violations. The Globe and Mail's editorial board lists the many failings which went into the Libs' attempt to twist laws and constitutional principles to serve SNC-Lavalin. And Andrew Coyne zeroes in on the deception involved in Trudeau's interventions - including toward the Attorney General he'd appointed to uphold the rule of law.

- Ben Smee reports on a prime example on the contempt fossil fuel spokesflacks have for the lives of people affected by a climate breakdown. And Rick Salutin calls attention to Canada's appalling support for anti-democratic corporate repression in Honduras.

- Finally, Oliver Franklin-Wallis discusses the limited effectiveness of plastic recycling.

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