Wed

Nov

2510:42

Our worst addicts are in parliament

 
Bad habits drive us to do things that are counterproductive and unhealthy, when a better way of living is staring us in the face. This repetitive behaviour is frustratingly prevalent in the minds of lawmakers who overlook society's real problems while fightin over the next quick fix

Humans thrive on routines, it makes days more manageable and easier to understand. Structure is enormously satisfying, like a good pop song — verse, chorus, verse (optional bridge), chorus, verse, etc.

You know what’s coming, and it feels good. Repetitive behaviour can still be downright harmful. People develop harmful routines all the time. Whether that be watching Real Housewives instead of reading a book, or developing a sizeable affinity for heroin. Both are somewhat unfortunate.

It is frighteningly easy for routines to become addictions and repetitive obsessions, and politics seem to be especially susceptible. It isn’t just that it is tedious when politics seem to be unable to let go off an issue that has been discussed ad absurdum, but also that more often than not our politicians are circle jerking the wrong thing.

During this year’s election we beat to death the topic of immigration and refugees. It seemed to be the only thing the parties wanted to talk about, yet a last year YouGov study found that only 17 percent of Danes found immigration to be the most important issue. Our politicians were stuck in a loop that only they, and a vocal minority, wanted to be in.

The same goes for the discussion about unemployment benefits, a seemingly inexhaustible debate about a marginal adjustment of something everyone agrees should exist. An agreement was finally reached last month, which mainly involved whipping the newly graduated and putting an extra 300 million kroner a year into the unemployment insurance, dagpenge scheme.

That’s a miniscule amount in an economy with a nominal GDP of 2.2 trillion kroner. For you and I, and the unemployed, 300 million kroner is a lot of money. But for the state it correlates to something like my monthly cheese budget. It would be interesting to see how much the process of arriving at this conclusion cost us.

It wouldn’t matter if people waste their time discussing peanuts, if not for the fact that we rightly expect these particular people to talk, and in fact try to rectify, really crucial problems.

Last month two separate, yet similarly, worrying reports were released by two very different authors. One was by multinational financial service corporation Credit Suisse, which found that 0.7 percent of the global adult population owned 45 percent of the global wealth. The second report found that Denmark too was not immune from rising inequality. Since 1985, the top 10 percent have seen their share of total post-tax income rise from 17.9 percent to 22.5 percent, while the bottom 80 percent have seen their share of the pie shrink. These numbers correlate with figures from Eurostat, which show that between 2008 and 2012 Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe, 12 percent.

Before the Great Recession of 2008 it was not encouraged to discuss inequality in polite society. The Soviet Union was dead and with it all ‘left-wing’ economical measurements. This was despite warnings by notable economists such as John Kenneth Galbraith who, in the mid-twentieth century, noted that high levels of inequality played an influential role in the Great Depression.

Several books have been published on inequality in recent years, most notably Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. His book became such a hip bestseller that it is doubtful any single person has been more influential than he has in raising the issue. Piketty argues that rising income inequality and wealth distribution threatens both social and economical stability, bringing the world back to the age of aristocrats and robber barons. This line of thinking has now been adopted by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that cites equal distribution of wealth as one of its key issues.

So while inequality sky-rockets and the world is getting worried, Danish politicians are not just busy talking about something else, they are in fact taking active steps to decrease equality. Cutting unemployment benefits harms the poorest, while cutting the top income tax rate, as the government manifesto calls for, benefits the richest. How many times do we need to hear that inequality – or even climate change – is the greatest threat to Western civilization before they take time out of their busy schedule, tinkering with unemployment insurance or citizenship rules, and actually make some legislation to prevent society getting severed in half through a growing disparity between the rich and poor.

Now I’m not saying that our politicians are heroin addicts who can’t get off the sofa because they’re hooked on binge watching Real Housewives. But like addicts, they’re stuck making bad decisions over and over and over again. 

Commentary

By Elias Thorsson

Managing editor. @Eliasthorsson elias@murmur.dk

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