Thursday, February 11, 2016

New column day

Here, expanding on this post as to Nathan Cullen's proposal to make sure the outcomes of all plausible electoral systems are taken into account in designing a new one.

For further reading...
- Again, Cullen's proposal was reported on here, and discussed by Aaron Wherry here.
- Meanwhile, the Libs have presented a wide range of possibilities as to both the process and possible outcomes of electoral reform without indicating one way or the other whether they'll work with a proportional committee.
- And for those who haven't yet reviewed the Broadbent Institute's report (PDF) on both public opinion and electoral results under different systems, it's well worth a read.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Sally Goemer writes that extreme inequality is a cause of economic instability for everybody. And Tom Powdrill discusses the importance of organized labour in ensuring the fair sharing of income, while Steven Hill points out the harmful effects of precarious work.

- Sheila Regehr and Roderick Benns are hopeful that we're headed toward a basic income in Canada, while Molly McCracken notes that a secure income is the best defence against hunger.

- Tom Parkin observes that the Trudeau Libs have predictably started to ignore the principles and policies they trumpeted to win over progressive voters. And Duncan Cameron points out that the NDP can take on the cause of challenging corporate power as a matter of both egalitarian principle and political opportunity.

- Michael Geist discusses how the Trans-Pacific Partnership will interfere with Canadian cultural policies. And Jim Stanford finds that Canada's bilateral trade deal with South Korea has fallen far short of what was promised - leading to increased imports but decreased exports.

- Finally, Emily Peck comments on the connection between improved paternal leave and greater upward mobility for women in the workplace.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Dayen examines the different treatment granted by businesses to well-connected elites compared to everybody else, and says it's understandable that voters are looking for leaders who understand their side of the divide. And Robert Reich highlights the dangers of trying to appeal for votes by telling people nothing they do will lead to meaningful political change.

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman examines how the Republicans - like Canada's Cons - have deliberately trapped themselves in a time loop which will accept no new evidence or developments.

- Tom Jacobs writes about the connection between inequality, obesity and poor health - as childhood deprivation tends to lead to increased food consumption when it's possible later on.

- Paul Mason offers three questions we need to answer in order to meaningfully address a lack of affordable housing.

- Martin Regg Cohn answers the misplaced spin that an increase in public pensions is anything but an economic boon - as it ultimately helps both present-day investment and long-term income security.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan provides a few suggestions to restore some semblance of civility and functionality in Parliament.

[Edit: fixed link.]

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Downward facing cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Alice Martin offers three basic reasons why unions are as necessary now as ever, while PressProgress weighs in on the IMF's findings showing the correlation between unions and greater equality. And David Ball points out that there's a long way to go merely to reverse the damage the Cons deliberately inflicted on the labour movement in Canada.

- Peter Taylor-Gooby writes about the importance of job quality as well as quantity in assessing our economy. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the Libs' apparent lack of interest in young workers as they impose a system which facilitates the continued use of unpaid interns.

- The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is assembling a must-read set of reports on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And Murray Dobbin discusses the desperate need for real public input and debate before Canada gets locked into the most restrictive corporate rights agreement yet.

- Stephen Kimber argues that rather than focusing on smaller measures such as making prescription drugs available to seniors, we should be working on implementing national pharmacare for all. And Matthew Herder notes that we should also have far more access to information about the effectiveness of the drugs we do use.

- Finally, Peggy Mason asks and answers the right questions about the Libs' expansion of military operations in Iraq and Syria - as once again, Canadian troops are being sent into harm's way by a government which lacks any idea what they're supposed to accomplish.

Monday, February 08, 2016

On warped incentives

CC offers one noteworthy takeaway from Jenni Byrne's attempt to deflect blame for the Cons' election loss:
But let's follow what this line of thought means for Canada's electoral system. Would any rational electoral system encourage a party to promote one of its competitors for the purpose of arranging the votes it can't win (particularly one which is further away on the political spectrum), rather than trying to earn support for itself?

To be clear, Byrne's type of calculation isn't necessarily limited to the Cons. But it surely speaks to the perverse incentives embedded in a first-past-the-post system - and offers us reason to think carefully about the goals we should want parties of any ideological background to pursue instead.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Richard Eskow summarizes the basic facts about inequality in the U.S. Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that it's impossible to fully explain or address that problem without factoring in ongoing racial disparities. And Sean Trembath writes about James Daschuk's work in tracing health disparities among indigenous peoples back to Canada's colonial policies, while Cheryl McKenzie reports on the challenges in combating poverty.

- Greg Kaplan and Giovanni Volante point out that income insecurity isn't limited to poor households, as plenty of higher-earning families effectively live paycheque to paycheque at best

- Mike De Souza discusses the connection between TransCanada's firing of whistleblowers and a pipeline explosion.

- Andrew Mitrovica asks why nobody is prepared to tell Canadians the truth about the unauthorized  disclosure of tax data to CSIS. And Tonda MacCharles reports that the Libs are being even more obstinate than the Cons in trying to deny compensation to people who were wrongly detained and tortured.

- Finally, Lana Payne rightly argues that we can't move on from revelations of systematic sexual harassment without first doing everything we can to eradicate it.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Heather Stewart discusses the possibility of a 20-hour work week to better distribute both work and income. And without going that far, Andrew Jackson suggests that our public policy priorities should include a needed shift in time on the clock from people who are working excessive hours to ones who lack for work:
Today, the job market is even more sharply polarized between those who are unemployed or underemployed (such as the one in four part time workers who want more hours), and those who are employed in mainly full-time and permanent jobs who often work very long hours. Data from Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey (CANSIM Table 282-0154) tell us that in any given week, one in five workers (21%) worked overtime (defined as hours in excess of normally scheduled hours) for an average of 8.2 hours, or more than one extra day per normal work week.

Unpaid overtime, mainly worked by salaried professionals, not least in public services, affects 11% of all employees. Paid overtime, mainly worked by hourly paid blue collar workers in industries like construction, transportation manufacturing and resources, affects 9% of all workers. These numbers have increased a bit since the late 1990s.

Theoretically, redistribution of working time could all but wipe out both unemployment and involuntary part-time employment, assuming a perfect overlap of skills and needed experience between those working long hours and those working no or less than desired hours. While this is unrealistic, redistribution of working time could still put a significant dent in the unemployment rate.
More use of work sharing today could help cushion the impact of the slump in resource prices on jobs in the hard hit mineral and energy industries. Even today, many workers in the Alberta oil and gas industry regularly work long hours. There is growing interest in using work sharing to avoid layoffs, and, even more creatively, government, employers and unions might develop programs to use temporarily reduced working hours for training in order to upgrade workers skills which will be needed in the next upturn.

The new Liberal government should also consider the many proposals which have been made over the years to amend the federal labour code so as to limit very long hours of work and to provide employees with more flexible working time options.
- Josh Eidelson discusses Bernie Sanders' sharp critique of welfare plans which try to coerce people into dead-end jobs. Bill Curry reports on Jean-Yves Duclos' openness to a basic income at the federal level. And Stanislas Jourdain notes that Quebec is now working on developing a guaranteed income for its citizens.

- Alan Broadbent and Elizabeth McIsaac call for Toronto to start funding its poverty reduction plan. And the Star argues that we should make affordable access to the Internet available to everybody as a necessary element of social participation.

- Michael Geist optimistically offers some suggestions as to how the Libs could deal with the Trans-Pacific Partnership now that they've signed it without consultation, while Scott Vrooman laments their apparent intentions of ignoring Canadians' concerns. And Erik Loomis offers some valid concerns about the TPP from a U.S. perspective.

- Finally, Patricia Lane discusses how a proportional electoral system could lead to far better governance for Canada.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

On double majorities

Nathan Cullen's proposal for party representation on the Parliamentary committee reviewing electoral reform has received plenty of attention. But it might actually go much further than advertised to validate the results of the committee's work and legitimize a more fair electoral system.

One can view Cullen's proposal as reflecting a proportional system for allocating committee seats. But it doesn't mean for a second that any change to Canada's electoral system would come about only based on that structure.

Whatever the committee comes up with will still have to be dealt with through legislation in a Parliament in which the Libs have a majority. And that means what Cullen has suggested would in fact serve to confirm the legitimacy of any new system under all plausible interpretations of the results generated by the current one.

By way of explanation, it's fairly clear that the range of options under serious consideration includes three primary types of electoral system. Two of them - first-past-the-post (to the extent it's seen as an option in light of the Libs' promise to scrap it) and ranked ballot - would both have resulted in Lib majorities based on 2015 voting patterns. (Of course, we don't have direct information about what voters' alternative preferences would have been in 2015. But if one ignores the simulated results prepared based on alternative data, that's not a problem capable of being remedied without conducting an election under a different system.)

That leaves the proportional representation option, where the first-choice preferences of Canadian voters would indeed result in exactly the representation proposed by Cullen. [Correction: double-checking the math, a pure proportional allocation of the seats would result in the Cons having one additional seat and the Greens not receiving one - which certainly looks to be a justifiable change to Cullen's proposal.]

And there could be a substantive complaint about legitimacy if what can be fairly criticized as a false majority under one system is used as the sole basis either for preserving that system, or for imposing another one.

Cullen's suggestion then responds to that concern. But I'll argue that it also implicitly answers the question of what more than a bare Parliamentary majority should be required to make electoral reform legitimate beyond reasonable complaint.

As I've noted before, it would be utter folly to demand unanimous support among all parties or MPs before any change could be implemented. But in assessing our electoral options, there's no reason to question the validity of a system which would be able to earn majority support in Parliament regardless of the structure in place at the time the election process is amended. (And similarly, there's no plausible basis to insist on retaining a system which can be replaced based on that multiple-majority support, no matter how much one party shrieks about wanting to preserve its advantages.)

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Libs will follow through on Cullen's proposal. But if they do, it should ensure both a more inclusive discussion of Canada's electoral system, and a more legitimate result.

[Edit: Fixed wording, and see correction above.]

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Robert Atkinson discusses the need for corporate tax policy to encourage economic development rather than profit-taking and share inflation. And Jim Hightower notes that it's an anti-democratic corporate mindset that led to the poisoning of Flint.

- Stephen Tapp offers some noteworthy ideas to ensure the public can meaningfully discuss our federal government's fiscal choices.

- Steven Chase finds that a majority of the public would prefer that Canada prioritize human rights over profits in deciding whether or not to supply military equipment to Saudi Arabia. But in case anybody was under the illusion that the Libs were going to pay attention to either public opinion or their own promises, Robert Fife reports on their plans to extend and exacerbate Canada's combat operations in the Middle East.

- The Star rightly calls for an end to the Cons' legacy of secrecy. But there too, there's little reason to think the Libs are offering anything more than show and symbolism.

- Finally, Bruce Johnstone comments on the Saskatchewan Party's dishonesty when it comes to the state of Saskatchewan's economy and fiscal picture. And the provincial auditor's view that a big-money giveaway to land developers was "not a normal transaction" looks to reflect just one more set of shady choices.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Musical interlude

Iris - Closer To Real

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Ben Oquist laments the fact that trickle-down economics and destructive austerity remain the norm in Australia no matter how thoroughly they're proven to fail. Alvin Powell discusses the burgeoning inequality of opportunity in the U.S. And an anonymous tutor to the super-rich writes that even they don't ultimately benefit from gross inequality or social exclusion:
Seeing the human side of the 1% has caused me to view them less as a faceless symbol of injustice and more as people with their own, sometimes relatable, struggles. The feelings that are evident – anxiety, disconnect, isolation – are universal. And that’s promising. Recognising the humanity in the “other” – even the “enemy” – does not mean I do not judge them, but it does give me a chance to transcend the inequality and start conversations about change.
Educational inequality, the housing crisis, economic poverty all have narratives of villains and victims, winners and losers. But, having slept with the “enemy”, I feel more sincerely than ever that when you live with vast, systemic disparity, no one truly wins. And while I don’t believe in the system that creates jobs like mine, tutoring the super-rich has been valuable. I now believe more strongly than ever in the potential of empathy between people from different backgrounds, with different outlooks. And as a result – ironically – more strongly than ever against the social segregation inherent in private schooling. 
- Meanwhile, Alex Morash points out the need for far more coverage of inequality and poverty as part of economic reporting in order to start reversing the trend. And Carmela Fragomeni reports on Hamilton's lack of progress in trying to reduce poverty.

- Raksha Vasudevan highlights the need for a national food policy based on the importance of social health. And Nick Falvo examines what we could and should be doing to combat homelessness in Canada.

- Alison calls out the Trans-Pacific Partnership as setting up an economic casino where the house always wins, while PressProgress points to Bernie Sanders' argument as to how it will continue eroding the middle class. And Maude Barlow notes that after-the-fact amendments to Canada's latest agreement with Europe only look to further entrench corporate control.

- Finally, Michael Winship interviews Naomi Klein about the devastating effects of climate change which go far beyond the globe warming up.