Increase Austerity, and Welfare Becomes More Popular!

New Orleans   Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare.  Finally!  Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.

The biggest takeaway seems simple.  If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.

In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits.  Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches.  This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.

In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist.  After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015.  But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now.  Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years.  More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives.  That’s huge!

Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either.  A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018.  It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down.  Praise, lord!

It’s not all cheery in old England of course.  The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad.  The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.”  They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.

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Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.

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Access for the People?  Free Streaming and Smart Feature Phones

New Orleans       There was a brief blurb that went across my screen the other day.  ACORN Canada was taking another national action demanding “Internet for All” in the long running campaign we have waged to increase access to the internet for lower income families.  We’ve made progress there. Way more than we have in the USA and many other countries.  A low cost $10 to $15 a month program for high speed has now been extended on a voluntary basis to most of the major internet providers in Canada, thanks to the intercession of the Canadian Radio & Television authority which handles internet access much like the FCC does in the US.  Given the resistance of companies like Canadian Bell, it was a win and showed some progress.  In most countries including the USA, we have less to show, even as there is universal consensus that the digital divide is creating huge barriers that are exacerbating inequality.

There is some good news from an unlikely quarter:  not a smart phone, but a smart feature phone.  75 million were shipped in 2017 to India, Africa, and Indonesia with 84 million expected to roll this year.  In India, where 60 million have now been sold, the phone is called JioPhone and put out by the giant local company Reliance.  The phone can be purchased for $20 and many can keep their monthly payments to as little as $2.50 making them affordable for very low-income families and workers.  As any would expect, they are slower and less powerful, but recognizing the cost and access to electricity, part of that is because they have a much longer battery life on a single charge.  The phones are manufactured largely by Hong Kong-based KaiOS Technologies.  Google of course has invested in KaiOS, according to the Wall Street Journal.  An Indonesian model is reportedly going to go on sale for $7.  A model is being designed for Brazil.  We need one for the USA and the rest of the 3.4 billion people worldwide without internet access.

Beat ‘em at their game, I like it.  Another instance of this kind of shrewdness has to do with streaming, and it’s crazy clever.  I caught notice of this new streaming service when four monopolistic US broadcast networks combined to sue something called Locast.  As described in the Times, Locast “is available through a free app that relays broadcast feeds online.  It has more than 200,000 users in 13 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.”  The founder, David Goodfriend, formerly with the Obama administration and now a law professor, found a loophole in the law allowing this service.  “Under federal law, broadcast stations must provide their signals free to the public, making networks …easily available through the use of an antenna.”  Remember always, friends, that the airwaves are public property licensed to broadcasters, not private property!  “Locast argues that its service complies with copyright law because as a nonprofit entity, it is allowed to act as a so-called signal booster for the broadcasters’ programming.”  Wow, isn’t that the bomb!  I wonder if AM/FM and our radio stations couldn’t figure out how to do this as well, but that’s another question for another day.

My point is that in this bleak area there is hope that the disrupters and the monopolies might still be hoisted by their own petard once there is a realization that people come first, and their demands for service and streaming are huge and must be met at an affordable level.

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