Monday, May 23, 2011

Trickle Up Economics and the Perversity of Cuts to Public Health Care

It's common knowledge that throughout Canada, the UK, and the US continued economic growth has not translated in increased living standards for the masses. For example, in the US the economy has doubled in size over the last 30 years, but the median wage has remained stagnant when adjusted for inflation.

In fact, the lion's share of the gains caused by economic growth accrue to the top 1% of revenue earners. As a result, pursuing continued growth within the present economic conditions only serves to exacerbate rising inequality, which in turn only exacerbates a degradation of the public's health, which in turn increases expenditures on public health care.

What I truly find perverse in the political rhetoric prevalent in both the UK and the US is the fixation on making cuts to public health care as a means to addressing the fiscal woes caused by the collapse of the financial markets, which both countries came to rely on for generated economic growth, and the subsequent global recession that ensued.

The securities markets have recovered thanks to the trillion dollar bailouts supplied by the public purse. However, the real economy peopled by wage earners has not. The timing of austerity measures could not be worse for those in need and yet cutting back on public expenditures to those in need seems to have gained the status of received wisdom.

What doesn't make its way onto the political agenda is a realignment of fiscal policy to reflect our present fiscal reality. In short, financiers, the corporate sector, and the political class (see the documentary film, The Inside Job) perpetrated the largest Ponzi scheme in history upon unsuspecting public and now behave as if nothing extraordinary happened.

Where's the payback?

There won't be one because of the colossal failure of collective memory and the capacity of the traditional media to frame the current state of affairs so that the only option is to cut public expenditures aimed to help those who are the victims of a financial fraud that defies the imagination.

Faced with an unmanageable debt load, the governments in place could raise taxes on those who could afford to pay and to the corporations that don't pay them, but that would reduce financial contributions much needed to wage successful electoral campaigns, so the institutional lock is on and the population has no way out but to see a significant reduction in living standards for the bottom 90%.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that inequality of income correlates to a host of societal ills that require public funds if they are to be addressed. However, it appears that faced with the choice of reducing the wealth of the very well off in order to address the societal problems that inequality brings about, keeping in mind that the reduction of inequality itself can have a beneficial effect, and doing nothing other than leaving more and more people to fend for themselves in underperforming sectors of the economy, there is considerable will for the latter.

Consequently, politicians will continue to portray themselves as managers of THE economy bolstered by economic data selectively aggregated that supports the ruse when in reality the economic trajectory of the haves and the have nots will only to continue to widen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We Are All Protestants Now, Slouching Towards the Apocalypse

Well, not exactly all of us, but with Conservatives now in the driving seat in the UK, Canada, and the US, a Protestant derived mindset is firmly in control of the Anglo-American Empire as we leave behind the gains that secular humanism brought about for the great "unwashed" masses.

When trying to name this mindset, the term Cultural Calvinism is often applied. Of all the protestant sects, it is the doctrines of the Calvinistic creed that have had the greatest impact upon the English speaking societies. Importantly, the ideas are no longer anchored to a particular faith or dogma. Instead, they have drifted to permeate large parts of socio-economic discourse, and, as a result, have become more insidious with regard to how they exercise control, framing socio-economic debates unbeknownst to the participants.

In a nutshell, Cultural Calvinism is founded on the belief that human society is essentially God's creation and that we should not interfere with God's plans for each and everyone of us. People get what they deserve, especially the rich whose wealth demonstrates their favored status in the eyes of God. The less well off must be content to toil away at their callings/jobs, and the wretched of the earth must be purged of their imperfections and be punished for their sins.

Once one understands the extent to which Cultural Calvinism permeates English-speaking cultures, a great deal of the mind boggling inequality actually makes sense from within the framework and of course looks like a bunch of self-serving bullshit on behalf of the rich and powerful from the outside.

From the perspective of the rich, there's probably no better self defense that to invoke God's name to fool people into thinking that the existing social order has been sanctified by the All Mighty and that to seek change is an invitation to invoke God's wrath.

Never underestimate the gullibility of the masses and the extent to which they'll by into the schtick. Just ask Bernie Madoff.

So, looking at the collapse of the financial markets, the onset of the Great Recession, and the austerity measures taken to slay the dragon of budgetary deficits, events are unfolding pretty much to the liking of Cultural Calvinists.

The great transfer of wealth is just God's way of rewarding his favored ones. Those who lost their jobs, homes, or both deserve what they got. Consequently, no prosecutions against those who were responsible for humanity's greatest financial swindle and little or no relief for the afflicted.

In fact, the building of more prisons to "house" the less fortunate at public expense is just what the good Lord wanted.

Moreover, catastrophic climate change is in reality the apocalypse, which according to the word of God will usher in the second coming.

By all means should we ratchet up the economy as fast as she can go so we can bring more wealth to the Elect and bring the chosen few closer to that day when they will meet their maker and enter into paradise.

If the rest of the world goes to hell in a hand basket, it's all part of the master plan, and if you don't get it, there's no special place for you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In Canada It's All Part of the Game

The Canadian federal general election has come and gone and from what I can gather most Canadians are pretty well satisfied with the results: a majority government, the centre left in opposition, the blasted sovereignists almost swept completely off the electoral map, and Canada's first Green MP elected. Something for everyone.

You might object that once again the voting system generated significant distortions that left large swaths of the population under represented, in particular, the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens. But hey, that's the way the ball bounces. One election the voting system favors you and in another you are on the wrong side of the distortions.

You might think that given the history of the vagaries of the electoral system that Canadians would be apt to put into place a fairer voting system in which everyone's vote was given equitable treatment. But that's not the case. In fact, the vast majority of Canadians are not bothered at all with the fact that the voting system is inherently unfair.

Indeed, the vast majority of Canadians accept that an election is not a democratic exercise but a game played between rival clans. To them, it's the winner-take-all aspect of the game that makes interesting to play. Hell, it would be boring if we knew in advance that a party showing 35% of the vote would expect to receive 35% of the seats in Parliament.

Play the game, place your bets, take your chances.

The idea that an election is far too important to be framed with a gaming metaphor appropriately named first-past-the-post is beyond them. If the game entails the systemic elimination of millions of voices in Parliament, so be it. Only the sore losers complain about the rules.

Democracy? What's that?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Huge Distortions of the Popular Vote Mire Canadian Election Results

How is it that a supposedly developed country, a member of the G-8, endures a medieval electoral system?

The Conservatives's quest for what Canadians erroneously refer to as a majority government was fulfilled, largely due to an outrageous distortion of the popular vote in Ontario. As well, the newly formed NDP opposition had its number of seats bolstered by an even more outrageous distribution of seats in Quebec.

In short, the election was decided in Canada's two most populous provinces. Effectively, the massive vote splitting in Ontario was more than enough to offset the massive vote splitting in Quebec. The principle victims of this democratic charade were the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. What goes around comes around.

Taking a closer look at the results, one can easily see how the voting system and not the electors determined the formation of the government and the opposition.

In Ontario, the Conservatives received 44.4% of the popular vote, yet received 68.9% of the available seat, a classic example of coming up the middle when two other parties split the outstanding 50% of the vote. With regard to the allocation of extra seats as a result of the plurality method, the Conservatives received an extra 27 seats. To put this in perspective, the total number of extra seats allocated to the Conservatives nation wide in the 2008 election was only 30.

In Quebec, the distortion of the popular vote is even more spectacular. The NDP won 42.9 % of the vote, yet garnered 77.3% of the seats. In this instance, the allocation of extra seats totals 26. In other words, instead of receiving 32 seats in Quebec, which would be the number in proportion to the number of votes, the NDP was awarded 58 seats. The transfer can be attributed to the huge under representation of the Bloc Quebecois: the Bloc captured 23.4% of the vote but received only 5.2% of the seats.

Instead of having an election where the electoral results reflected the manner in which people actually voted, Canadians witnessed once again the application of a voting method that generates wild deviations from democratic norms.

I think the question that needs to be asked is how much longer are Canadians going to sit back and let their political class make mockery of the very notion of democracy. In my case, I have taken the issue to Court and am waiting on a decision from the Quebec Appeal Court with regard to the constitutionality of the first-past-the-post system.

While in deliberation, I hope the three judges take note of the antidemocratic nature of the latest federal election.