Tags: poverty*

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  1. nailing the evil ways of oligarchs hardly demolishes left-wing arguments in favor of an unconditional, universal basic income which, so far, is the only policy being mooted as a way of universally guaranteeing the most basic right of all: the right to material existence. Moreover, basic income, while not a universal panacea, is one way of strengthening vulnerable members of society in their struggle against the oligarchs.

    Then again, the respected Marxist economist Michael Roberts has a different take in his recent blog (which we’ll cite at length to cover all the points):

    But what to do, as jobs are lost to robots? Some liberal economists talk of a ‘robot tax’. But all this would do is slow down automation – hardly a progressive move in reducing toil. The idea of universal basic income (UBI) continues to gain traction among economists, both leftist and mainstream. I have discussed the merits and demerits of UBI before. UBI is advocated by many neoliberal economic strategists as a way of replacing the ‘welfare state’ of free health, education and decent pensions with a basic income. And it is being proposed to keep wages down for those in work. Any decent level of basic income would be just too costly for capitalism to afford. And even if UBI were won by workers in struggle, it would still not solve the issue of who owns the robots and the means of production in general.

    A more exciting alternative, in my view, is the idea of Universal Basic Services i.e. what are called public goods and services, free at the point of use. A super-abundant society is by definition one where our needs are met without toil and exploitation ie a socialist society. But the transition to such a society can start with devoting socially necessary labour to the production of basic social needs like education, health, housing, transport and basic foodstuffs and equipment.

    Roberts’ text provides a good starting point for getting to the nitty-gritty of some key aspects of the debate about basic income.

    1) A basic income can be financed in several different ways. The difference between left- and right-wing proposals is easily ascertained by asking who gains and who loses. A left-wing proposal would entail progressive tax reform which brings about a major redistribution from the richest citizens to the rest of society. Hence, in a financing proposal resulting from an extensive study which is detailed in the final chapter of our book Against Charity, we specify that, with our version of basic income, the richest 20% would lose and the other 80% would gain. This would mean a redistribution of income which, in Gini Index terms, would become one of the most egalitarian in the world (about 0.25).

    2) Any basic income that contemplates dismantling the welfare state is a right-wing ploy. The fact that Milton Friedman—who, in fact, rather than basic income, favored a negative income tax (NIT) which is similar to basic income in some ways but also significantly different in others—and other more recent right-wing economists are ostensibly basic income supporters has led some left-wing critics to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Friedman wanted the NIT as a sop when he was aiming to dismantle public social services in the United States but it’s pretty reductionist to conclude from this that all basic income supporters want to do away with welfare. Far from it,

    Poverty is viewed as a personal aberration. The norm is having a job and earning a respectable living, which flies in the face of today’s reality that having a job is no guarantee against poverty, as the burgeoning numbers of working poor testify.
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  2. “There are already brick and mortar post offices in most neighborhoods, so my idea was that people could bring cash to the post office, they could hold it for them and give them a digital account,” she says.

    Such a system would be appealing to the fintech folks, who might pick up hundreds of thousands of new customers by linking to these postal accounts, and shouldn’t bother the banks, which have been avoiding dealing with this segment of the population for years. But Baradaran says she still gets a lot of pushback on it from economists and academics, mostly middle- or upper-class people who see the proposition of having to stand in line at the post office to bank as untenable.

    “But that’s because they’re not the ones it’s for,” Baradaran says. “It’s not for people who are already living comfortably with a bank account and direct deposit, who can just bank through the mobile app on their phones. It’s for people who have none of that.”

    “Unless you’re poor, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to be poor,” Baradaran says. “And a lot of people don’t realize that if you go into any water office or electric utility office in the country right now, there’s a line of people in there waiting to pay their bill in cash.”
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  3. poverty is such a burden on the brain it can actually hurt our ability to execute fundamental life skills. Researchers say the mental burden is like losing 13 IQ points or an entire night's sleep.

    And Shah believes the constant concern with finances that low-income people showed during his study is part of the "cognitive fatigue" that past research has addressed.

    "Scarcity or poverty requires you to be more locked in. It requires you to be more focused, and you can do that for a while, but eventually, you're just not going to be able to give all of the bandwidth that you need to those problems. ... It's not that poor people are somehow different; it's that they're in a different situation," Shah said.

    Shah believes these findings should force lawmakers to reconsider how they think about assistance.

    "Providing cash assistance or some other assistance, it doesn't just deal with the immediate financial problem. It also frees up some mental bandwidth, as well to say I don't have to worry as much about this," Shah said.
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  4. Southern Europe is still angry

    And it is angry at the European Union, in particular France and Germany, for a perceived lack of solidarity on the euro and on immigration and refugees.

    There was a warning when Alexis Tsipras won in Greece during the height of the euro debt crisis, with his promises to change the European Union. And while he got slapped down by Brussels and became somewhat tamed in the national interest, anti-European feelings are alive in the southern countries of the bloc, as well as in the authoritarian-lite governments of Central and Eastern Europe.

    Leaders in Brussels and Paris would have been heartened earlier on Sunday when the Social Democrats in Germany voted to remain in a coalition government with Ms. Merkel, keeping her in power and allowing Germany to try to work with Mr. Macron on overhauling the eurozone. But that may be harder after the Italian vote.

    As the French leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, said in a Twitter message on Sunday, “The European Union is going to have a bad night.”
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  5. Whenever a BPL (below poverty line) ration card-holder like Ali goes to the PDS outlet, the shopkeeper asks for the family’s ration card number and punches it into a small machine. The device then displays the list of family members and the person present has to authenticate this with his or her fingerprints. The dealer gives the rations according to the number of persons the machine shows. But Ali's name had disappeared from the online list of names in his family’s ration card. "I went many times and my name was not there,” he says. “When they punch in our number, five names should show up. But only four do, mine is missing. Only if the name is there, the fingerprints work. Otherwise they don't work."
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-03-02)
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  6. By using algorithms to "triage" the neediness of poor people, system designers can ensure that the people harmed by the system are the least sympathetic and least likely to provoke outrage among those with political clout.

    Algorithmically defined guilt is also a problem because of the real problems agencies are trying to solve. In Allegheny, your child's at-risk score is largely defined by your use of social services to deal with financial crises, health crises, addiction and mental health problems. If you deal with these problems privately -- by borrowing from relatives or getting private addiction treatment -- you aren't entered into the system, which means that if these factors are indeed predictors of risk to children, then the children of rich people are being systematically denied interventions by the same system that is over-policing poor children.
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  7. we should be moving in the exact opposite direction. When you die, your wealth reverts to the public. It can be used to pay for roads and bridges and disaster relief and Social Security and Medicaid and education and childhood food programs and all of the other things that we as a society all need. Hell, if you really want to make it politically palatable, earmark estate tax revenues for only the most popular government programs. That’s fine. Make the subways work! Make the subways free! Free school lunches! Free state college! Free homeless shelters! Etcetera. Make the benefits of transferring private wealth to the public easy for everyone to see. We’re not monsters here. We’re trying to help the maximum number of people. From the perspective of the public good, there is no reasonable argument against this. It promotes equality of opportunity and helps to prevent the very sort of overaccumulation of power that undermines our democratic ideals. And just to cater to our nation’s collective fantasy that we each harbor of one day becoming rich, keep a little exemption. You can give a million bucks to your kids. That’s fine. No kid needs, or deserves, more than that anyhow.

    The Republican cries of dismay on this topic seem somewhat inconsistent. We tell poor people to work their way up with pure grit, but we tell rich people that their right to produce a century’s worth of wastrel heirs who never have to work a day in their lives is a sacrosanct matter of freedom. Hmmm. In reality, a 100% estate tax would be a great motivator for rich people to donate all of their wealth to charity before they die. At least then they would get to bask in the narcissism of it all. This would be infinitely preferable to our current system in which rich people donate all of their wealth to offshore tax shelters.

    You worked hard? You made good investments? You got real lucky, and you got real rich? Great. Enjoy it while you can, and then rest secure in the knowledge that when you’re gone, all of the proceeds of your luck or labor—justified and unjustified alike—will go towards the public good. That’s something for you to feel good about as you pass away, even if you were a real bastard most of the time.
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  8. what happened to cause such a profound shift in the human psyche away from egalitarianism? The balance of archaeological, anthropological and genomic data suggests the answer lies in the agricultural revolution, which began roughly 10,000 years ago.

    The extraordinary productivity of modern farming techniques belies just how precarious life was for most farmers from the earliest days of the Neolithic revolution right up until this century (in the case of subsistence farmers in the world’s poorer countries). Both hunter-gatherers and early farmers were susceptible to short-term food shortages and occasional famines – but it was the farming communities who were much more likely to suffer severe, recurrent and catastrophic famines.

    Hunting and gathering was a low-risk way of making a living. Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers in Namibia traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species, each of which had a slightly different seasonal cycle, varied in its response to different weather conditions, and occupied a specific environmental niche. When the weather proved unsuitable for one set of species it was likely to benefit another, vastly reducing the risk of famine.

    As a result, hunter-gatherers considered their environments to be eternally provident, and only ever worked to meet their immediate needs. They never sought to create surpluses nor over-exploited any key resources. Confidence in the sustainability of their environments was unyielding.
    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.
    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. Photograph: James Suzman

    In contrast, Neolithic farmers assumed full responsibility for “making” their environments provident. They depended on a handful of highly sensitive crops or livestock species, which meant any seasonal anomaly such as drought or livestock disease could cause chaos.
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    And indeed, the expansion of agriculture across the globe was punctuated by catastrophic societal collapses. Genomic research on the history of European populations points to a series of sharp declines that coincided first with the Neolithic expansion through central Europe around 7,500 years ago, then with their spread into north-western Europe about 6,000 years ago.

    However, when the stars were in alignment – weather favourable, pests subdued, soils still packed with nutrients – agriculture was very much more productive than hunting and gathering. This enabled farming populations to grow far more rapidly than hunter-gatherers, and sustain these growing populations over much less land.

    But successful Neolithic farmers were still tormented by fears of drought, blight, pests, frost and famine. In time, this profound shift in the way societies regarded scarcity also induced fears about raids, wars, strangers – and eventually, taxes and tyrants.
    Fruits and tubers gathered by the Ju/’hoansi.
    The Ju/’hoansi traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species. Photograph: James Suzman

    Not that early farmers considered themselves helpless. If they did things right, they could minimise the risks that fed their fears. This meant pleasing capricious gods in the conduct of their day-to-day lives – but above all, it placed a premium on working hard and creating surpluses.

    Where hunter-gatherers saw themselves simply as part of an inherently productive environment, farmers regarded their environment as something to manipulate, tame and control. But as any farmer will tell you, bending an environment to your will requires a lot of work. The productivity of a patch of land is directly proportional to the amount of energy you put into it.

    This principle that hard work is a virtue, and its corollary that individual wealth is a reflection of merit, is perhaps the most obvious of the agricultural revolution’s many social, economic and cultural legacies.
    From farming to war

    The acceptance of the link between hard work and prosperity played a profound role in reshaping human destiny. In particular, the ability to both generate and control the distribution of surpluses became a path to power and influence. This laid the foundations for all the key elements of our contemporary economies, and cemented our preoccupation with growth, productivity and trade.

    Regular surpluses enabled a much greater degree of role differentiation within farming societies, creating space for less immediately productive roles. Initially these would have been agriculture-related (toolmakers, builders and butchers), but over time new roles emerged: priests to pray for good rains; fighters to protect farmers from wild animals and rivals; politicians to transform economic power into social capital.
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  9. Why do Nomads live like this?

    We live in a culture where if your number didn’t come up, you’re a bad person, you’re lazy, you should be ashamed of yourself. It eats away at people. It makes them more exploitable.

    What are the challenges they face?

    I talked to one couple, Barb and Chuck. He had been head of product development at McDonald’s MCD, -0.84% before he retired. He lost his nest egg in the 2008 crash and Barb did, too. One time, Barb and Chuck were standing at the gas station to get $175 worth of gas and the horror hit them that their account had $6 in it. The gas station gentleman said ‘Give me your name and driver’s license and if you write a check, I will wait to cash it.’ He waited two whole weeks before he deposited it.

    These jobs can be rough physically, right?

    I know someone in his 70s who walked 15 miles on a concrete floor, sometimes for 10 hours. Your feet can get messed up, you can get repetitive stress injury and a tendon condition. The Nomads talked to me about soaking their feet in salt baths at night and being too tired to go out. When I went to the sugar beet harvest, it was 12 hours a day in the cold, shoveling. Oh my God, my body hurt! And I was 37!

    Tell me about Amazon’s CamperForce program, which hires thousands of Nomads.

    It began in 2008, within months after the housing collapse. Amazon contracts with an RV park and pays the CamperForce to do warehouse work loading and packing and order fulfillment. From the outside looking in, you’d say: ‘Why would you want older people doing this? The jobs seem suited to younger bodies.’ But so many times, the recruiters in the published materials talk about the older people’s work ethic and the maturity of the workforce and their ‘life experience,’ which is a code word for ‘Hey, you’re old.’

    You write that sometimes the Nomads are exploited. How?

    I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Forest Service and learned that some of their workers aren’t getting paid for all their hours. They weren’t allowed to invoice.

    Some of the Nomads had to work alongside robots, such as in the Amazon warehouses. How was that?

    The robots were making them bonkers. This is isolating work and there’s one scene in the book where a robot kept bringing a woman in her 70s the same thing to count.

    What needs to change to prevent people from having to become Nomads or to help them live better if they are?

    For one thing, Amazon should pay its workers more and give them better working conditions. It’s laughable that the workers get a 15-minute break when they have to spend it walking to the break room. It’s completely insane.

    Nomads need a voice, but at the same time, it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll organize for better working conditions because they’re vulnerable and always on the move.
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  10. the new World Bank poverty figures may tell a very different story from what has been suggested elsewhere: The numbers in poverty outside China rose during the heyday of neoliberal policies, and began to fall as the grip of those policies was loosened after 2005.
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