Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Wealthy Consider the Poor, or, the trials of Noblesse Oblige

Couple of (slightly dated) articles in the Globe from Globe, Friday May 6 I'd like to comment on. The links are:
And an article from Christine Blatchford whom I use primarily to get my blood flowing when caffeine fails. Outrage is a great stimulant:

Both of these talk about the horrors of poverty and how it impacts society at large. The first article is useful reading in and of itself, though probably not that surprising. Poor, homeless people are a drag for everyone. They rely on emergency services more, they buy less (which is not ideal in a consumer economy), they have more trouble getting jobs because they have no resources.

If you're on the left this is no surprise. We know all this stuff. Even on the right people are willing to acknowledge this. But what really gets to me, is the framing of the article. That the wealthiest suffer because of the poor. And that because of this, horrid loss of income for the wealthiest, that they should consider things like a guaranteed income for the poorest. Apparently the program initiated in a few communities in the 70s has yielded great results (though no reference is given).

So, if you're rich, you should care about the poor because it means you'll get richer.


As for the Blatchford article. She laments how this woman dies, in an underfunded community housing site, due to the fact that only one or two social workers went 'above and beyond' the call of duty. As though this poor woman was the only person in need. Indeed she paints a picture of an unfeeling bureaucracy in a field where the burnout rate is exceptionally high, and is generally considered underfunded and frankly, where the renumeration for workers is not particularly great.
But that's Blatchford all over. Only looking at the individuals in a narrowly defined crisis. Not considering the systemic inequalities that drive these situations. Not in any real sense. She blames the ground level workers for not caring enough. For not being truly exceptional.

Well, that's because they're human. And there's no saying that they're not exceptional in other circumstances. Just not this one.

The common thread, in my mind, between the two articles is the manner in which they paint anyone not in the professional upper middle class framework either as incompetent (Blatchford) or as an investment opportunity (Paperny and Grant). Not as people.

And in the Paperny and Grant article, I'm willing to play ball with that, if it works.

I just don't like it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Creating Narratives

So now the election is over. The conservatives won, but so did, on a relative scale, did the NDP. We have come to a clear delineation between two world views, collective and individual.

One the one hand, I think that this is a good thing. The Liberals, for so many years, have been the 'safe' bet. The compromise that we could all live with. No narrative, per se, but rather the balance point defined by desire and fear. Desire to do the right thing, and fear of paying too much.

 Our Nation, has not really chosen a narrative, like the Peacekeeper or Medicare or Balanced Budgets, rather they've pushed their way into our consciousness from the fringes - usually the NDP or Reform. To their credit though, it was the Liberals who brought all of these things to fruition on a national scale. But these successes were accompanied by a certain arrogance that rankled. Especially in the moment. And sometimes they failed. Look at the National Energy Program. And in the end, we could see the achievement only at the moment of culmination, or sometimes, only after it had become entrenched.

But in these last few years, we've gone from compromise to muddle.

So the Liberals now, are spent, and about bloody well time, I say. Now we have a Left/Right dichotomy in the House while I embrace the clarity this may bring, I fear that our story may become the American story. Only two ways are seen, and to entertain ideas from the other end of the spectrum is naught but treason.

The single largest benefit of a multi party system is that new ideas flow. Ideas force their way into the public narrative to create innovative public policy. I think that this Parliament will be useful, help us to once again have a clear Narrative from both ends, to show us distinct policies to help us define ourselves. Define our choices, costs and benefits.

Just keep in mind, please, that Policy is not just about solving problems, it's also an opportunity to dream, to see not just a safer future, but a better one.