(125) The realities of inequality

We’ve been enjoying Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.  It takes a hard, statistics-driven look at economic inequality and the character of society.  The bigger the gap between the top and bottom twenty per cent of a given population the worse off that society will be in virtually every way.  Not just by some tiny margin either and not just in terms of major health issues or raw life expectancy data.  The more unequal your society the more people in jail, the more mental illness, the lower the level of happiness and the poorer general funcitoning it will see.  The Spirit Level is quite something, it empowers in great detail the arguments against inequality and poverty in a world where the rich have left us all in the dust.  Much of this is known to us through experience,of course, anecdotally or in fragementary ways.  Not any more.  The findings under consideration also break down from the national level to that of provinces and states …and even by neighbourhood!
Canada, for its part, appears in the charts and graphs as a middling, mediocre country.  Our inequality not as bad as that of the UK or the US but we have more than western and northern Europe or Japan and so the negative effects of inequality and poverty register more than all but the most heartless readers here will feel comfortable with.  The countries with the least inequality do better across the board with statistics indicating better child welfare, better health, better everything from more reading to less bullying in schools.  Powerful ammunition this is indeed for fighting back against the people and policy makers who think all we need is to cut this taxe or reduce that regulation.

Dr. Wilkinson has been appearing in the media in support of the book quite a bit.  We at suburban-poverty.com could listen to him all day.  Here are some links:

The Equality Trust

TED Talk

Richard Wilkinson In Canada Huffington Post Canada

(124) Locked out

Keep calm and carry on… unless you are a working person and live in the UK.  Here’s a piece from the Guardian columnist Eva Wiseman.  It contains several of the main threads we’ve been discussing around here.  The item puts in personal terms what it all feels like and asks where is it all going?  Apparently, to live in Ms. Wiseman’s part of London and rent comfortably you need an income of nearly seventy-thousand pounds a year.  The pound has come down a bit over the years (something to do with running out of North Sea oil) but that’s still roughly two-hundred-bazillion Canadian dollars, …a lot of sterling to hand over to a landlord just for the privilege of living someplace.
Locked out of the property market

(123) Housing voucher shifts in America

The pair of commentators making up the Freakonomics franchise have enjoyed quite a bit of success and a high profile for a while now.  They made people a little uneasy with the assertion in their last book that prostitution is a clever career choice for women as long as they remember to go about it in some kind of nice middle-class kind of way.  Yeah, whatever.  Suburban-poverty.com thought they’d have made more effort to apply their quirky perspectives to the matter at hand.  This item from last fall citing Brookings Institution work seems to be about it, at least since the 2007-2008 crash.  You can confirm suburban poverty in the United States by looking at where housing vouchers are being spent.
The suburb as the slum: housing voucher shifts in America

(122) Goodbye National Council of Welfare

A lot of the coverage of the last Canadian federal budget focussed on government layoffs and cuts to the CBC.  Less attention has gone to the axing of what is called the National Council of Welfare.  This is a small government advisory body that concerns itself with “any matter relating to social development.”  With a broad, progressive mandate like that you know you are dealing with something created before the present age of neoconservative ignorance.  Since 1969 the council has communicated with ministers about:

  • income security programs
  • child benefits
  • the tax system
  • income adequacy
  • employment programs
  • the justice system
  • social services, such as child care and child welfare
  • the cost of poverty
  • specific populations such as children, lone-parent families and seniors

You’d have to wonder why such a focus is so offensive to the present government that they’d ditch an agency that provided them with insight into these areas.  Can we assume that the Harper Tories, therefore, don’t care much about these things?

The second last item on the list above should be a bit of an eye catcher: the cost of poverty.  NCW has published findings that show spending to reduce poverty would be expensive but would save Canada money because of the costs associated with poverty. This includes everything from crime to healthcare for mental illnesses caused by poverty.  Duh!   The neoconservatives project this image of being sensible, businesslike, no-nonsense types.  If there were any truth in such imagery they would be all over NCW’s findings and doing everything they can to reinforce the council, not shut it down.

The dollars and sense of solving poverty

(121) Scotland

If I told you about a country with beautiful scenery composed of mountains and coastlines, surrounded by oceans on three sides and blessed with oil wealth you could pick Scotland or Canada …and be right with either!  Liking a drink, Celtic place names and a middle class under pressure and at risk of evaporating are other things these two countries have in common. 

Reporting on Glasgow is this blog posting from the Socialist Courier.  The really funny part is how this item is from the archives, having been published in 1981! 
Getting the blues in suburbia

(120) No brakes!!!

With poverty, the fun just never stops.  Now, the automobile in North American popular culture is viewed as a great cultural leveller and class unifier.  Montreal’s Department of Public Health just spent four years looking at motor vehicle accidents and guess what they came up with?  The poorer your neighbourhood the more vehicular, pedestrian and cycling accidents take place and the more serious the nature of them.

“Gentlemen, start your engines!”

Wealth and traffic accidents: study shows poorer people many times more likely to be hurt

(119) Ed Broadbent on inequality

It’s quite heartening to see Ed Broadbent reemerging into Canada’s public realm through the creation of an institute with a major focus on economic inequality.  Even those adhering to neo-conservative thought must surely find it refreshing to come across perspectives other than their own.  Of course, that may be asking too much but  Mr. Broadbent appears intent on backing up his take on inequality, and the harm it does, with strong arguments, research and statistical evidence.  Not just the right has a tradition of vehemence, argumentativeness and truthfulness don’t you know!

At suburban-poverty.com we have high hopes that Mr. Broadbent will be successful getting the word out.  A reversal of the brain-washing, the opinions-disguised-as-the-truth, the elistist contmept and laissez-faire social policy that have been so much a part of the national life for the last three decades is long overdue.  Indeed, we remember in our teens some three decades ago, that in Canada Scandinavia-style social democracy was viewed as a perfectly rational option for the nation by a great many people.  Things turned out rather differently it would seem.  The inequality we have here now and, above all, the way it is viewed as inevitable by so many tells us that.

But efforts like that of economicinequality.ca and now Mr. Broadbent, however, show us that perhaps Canada is not a complete write off yet?  “Ready, aye ready …already!”

Broadbent Institute

(118) A word from HUD

Since suburban-poverty.com takes a global view of its namesake issue it is a little surprising we have not mentioned H.U.D.  Apparently the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has had, shall we say, its ups and downs over the years.  Either way they have made themselves felt and been a factor shaping urban and suburban life in America for some time now.  In the winter of 2012 their Policy Development & Research people produced this item called Meeting the Challenges of Suburban Poverty. 

HUD  [Evidence Matters]

(117) Across America’s neighbourhoods: sprawl & income inequality

Dating from 2006 but still worth a mention for our purposes is this working paper from the research division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  Yeah, you guessed it, the more cities sprawl, the worse the income inequality gets.  We are glad you have been paying attention…

Urban decentralization and income inequality: is sprawl associated with rising income segregation across neighbourhoods?

Photo: Richgellis via Wikimedia Commons

(116) F-35s, inequality & Ed Broadbent

Look at this stupid thing!  They call that a fighter plane?  For starters, it looks like a toy carved from a dirty bar of soap with a set of bus wheels stuck underneath.  Naming this glorified laptop after the American P-38 Lightning of the Second World War shows just how desperate the military industrial complex has become.  The cost overruns are not even really the problem, they are apparently quite normal where this type of project is concerned.  The lack of competitive bidding is also secondary to suburban-poverty.com.  There will even be jobs if the purchase goes through, always a good thing, and Canada needs defence gear in a dangerous, resource-hungry world.  What pisses us off, besides how lame looking this thing is when put up against the diversity of flying machines the world has come up with over the last hundred years, is the relationship between this weapon system and poverty and inequality.  How can we have the money for this and precious little else?  If we have Yankee wars, Yankee ghettos and Yankee justice then we might as well have Yankee fighter planes screaming through the skies protecting the glory of it all, yah, is that it?
Linda McQuaig mentioned the F-35s today in her column in the Toronto Star.  She seems dead against them across the board and she mentioned how the $10bn in cost overruns (so far!) have left the Tories blubbering despite their projection of an image of fiscal sensibility.  The latter is a ticket Tories and Reformers and Republicans have been cashing at election time for decades now.  We’ll forever wonder why.
Ms McQuaig, a lefty, also mentioned the Tories’ recent demolition of a modest program of financial support to a partly volunteer-run initiative that maintains internet access in public libraries.  This was done in the name of austerity and financial sensibility.
Not only were the Super Hornet, SAAB and Eurofighter products left out of consideration but their planes are totally hot looking and some of them have two engines!!  The latter is somewhat important when you are flying over the second largest country in the world.  The toy above only has one.  What happens when you are thousands of kilometers from a runway and you lose an engine?  Goodbye zillion dollar killing machine, that’s what.  Certainly, suburban-poverty.com finds itself mostly in agreement with Ms. McQuaig, who established herself as a package of intelligence, wit and truthfulness in our books some time ago.
Reaching even further back in time was an article on the very same page of the same newspaper, Canada’s largest, from Ed Broadbent.  We remember our childhood when Mr. Broadbent was leader of the opposition and our working class Scottish parents would nod approvingly whenever he was on the news and would vote for him.  He never got to be PM, perhaps back then the people felt they were still going somewhere and didn’t really need him.  Either way, Mr. Broadbent came out swinging at economic inequality in Canada.  His take is backed up by public opinion research.  It seems inequality has begun to worry Canadians on a number of levels.  It seems they are sober about realizing they have to remain willing to pay taxes to preserve fairness and the quality of life. Like Ms McQuaig’s piece it makes for interesting reading.  Does it take a genius, or a Toronto Star editor, to place inequality and F-35 Lightnings on the same page?