Thursday, September 29, 2016

New column day

Here, on how a recent spate of announcements signals that contrary to their campaign commitments in both theme and detail, there's been little difference between the Trudeau Liberals and the Harper Conservatives in substance.

For further reading...
- The point is one being made by plenty of other observers as well in various contexts, including Ross Belot, Karen Mahon, Terry Milewski, Jeremy Nuttall, Lawrence Martin and Tom Parkin.
- By way of a reminder, the Libs' election platform is here (PDF), and my review of it is here.
- For more on the individual stories, Laura Payton reports on the Libs' decision that Stephen Harper's emission targets are good enough for them, as well as on Jane Philpott's announcement that the Cons' health funding levels won't be revisited. And on the former point, Derrick O'Keefe laments the Libs' liquid natural gas "carbon bomb", while on the latter the Council of Canadians calls out the lack of action toward a national prescription drug plan.
- Andrew Kuraja reports on the Site C permit approval, while Jorge Barrera contrasts that position against Jody Wilson-Raybould's supposedly committed activism against the very same project.
- Kristy Kirkup reports on the Libs' delay in complying with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's orders on services for on-reserve children.
- And finally, Alison Crawford reports on Wayne Smith's decision to resign as Statistics Canada's Chief Statistician due to political meddling in its operations.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Valerie Strauss discusses the disastrous effects of corporatized education in the U.S. And Alex Hemingway examines how B.C.'s government (like Saskatchewan's) is going out of its way to make it impossible for a public education system to do its job of offering a bright future to all students.

- CJEM reports on a new survey showing just how many Saskatchewan residents are on the edge of a financial cliff if not already on the descent - with more than a third of those surveyed already unable to pay their bills, and over 60% having at best minimal ability to absorb any additional expenses.

- Colin Freeze and Jim Bronskill report on Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien's annual report - with Freeze focusing on his call for legislation governing metadata, and Bronskill on the total lack of regard for Canadians' privacy in the analysis and application of Bill C-51.

- David Bush critiques the Canada Post Task Force's study which looks to set the stage for worse service at higher prices, rather than seriously evaluating options such as postal banking which could reverse both of those outcomes.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne suggests that the Senate's authority to disrupt public business should match its non-existent legitimacy. And Carlito Pablo reports on Maxwell Cameron's view that we should expect decisions to be made by representatives elected through a fair and proportional system.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Into the dark

Apparently provincial finances have joined monthly job reports as areas where if there's nothing to be spun in the Saskatchewan Party's favour, Brad Wall is making a concerted effort to hide what's going on from the public. (Go on, just try to find the government's monthly jobs release containing this news - in contrast even to this.)

But what's worse is that if the Sask Party really thinks it can get away with government-by-putting-fingers-in-ears-shouting-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you, there figure to be plenty more bad-news areas going unreported.

[Edit: fixed links.]

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato makes the case for a progressive message of shared wealth creation:
A progressive economic agenda must have at its heart an understanding of wealth creation as a collective process. Yes, businesses are wealth creators, but they do not create wealth alone. Workers, public institutions and civil organisations are also wealth creators. Their collective actions can increase the investments required to drive long-run growth and productivity. But this will happen only if the private and public sectors find a way to share the risks and rewards of the 21st century.

This demands moving away from the idea that the public sector merely facilitates the private sector, or picks up the downside in an economy where the risks are borne by a “flexible” workforce and the rewards hoarded by corporate giants. Instead, we must consider how responsibilities can be shared for the bold investments that are needed. The current situation has led to an overly financialised private sector – with company profits being spent not on reinvestment, but on gimmicks to bolster stock options such as share buybacks – and to a public sector that is told to create the conditions for growth and let the private sector do the steering and profit-making.

Some separate economic from societal problems, stating that we must address the former before we can tackle the latter. But the future for progressives lies in advancing the two together. It is through applying our minds to societal and environmental issues that we can lay the foundations for future prosperity. The means is “mission-oriented” policy, where an objective – such as landing a human being on the moon or decarbonising the economy – can offer a fresh direction for the entire economy. Meeting challenges such as climate change by steering the economy in a green direction requires more than a “nudging” mentality. “Nudging” assumes business already wants to invest in new areas and merely requires incentivising through reductions in tax or regulations. But the animal spirits of business must be created, not assumed. This requires a more active market-shaping and market-creating framework that sparks business excitement about new investment.
- George Monbiot is the latest to point out that if we have any hope of meeting the global climate targets set in Paris, we need transition away from extracting fossil fuels immediately. But Derrick O'Keefe reports that the future of our planet hasn't been considered important enough for the Trudeau Libs to hold off on approving a liquid natural gas climate bomb.

- Aditya Chakrabortty writes that the systematic degradation of working conditions and employee rights goes far beyond the sectors where they're most visible.

- Michelle Zilio notes that the recent fabricated controversy over Maryaf Monsef's country of birth serves mostly to highlight how capricious Canada's citizenship laws are. And Ian MacLeod highlights the federal Privacy Commissioner's latest annual report which finds an almost total lack of interest in protecting Canadians' personal information.

- Finally, Catherine Hall discusses how the shameful legacy of slavery is still echoing in the right's efforts to dehumanize minorities around the globe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats on the go.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- John Quiggin argues that public services and corporate control don't mix - no matter how desperately the people seeking to exploit public money try to pretend otherwise:
Market-oriented reforms, particularly in the provision of human services like health, education and public safety, have begun with a working system and replaced it with a string of failed experiments.

Here are a few examples from recent news stories around the English-speaking world:
Sooner or later the advocates of reform will have to answer the Edison-Blair question: “What works?” And what works is traditional public provision. Through all of these failed experiments, the public sector, much-maligned and chronically underfunded, has carried on with the hard work of educating young people, treating the sick and providing the vast range of services needed in a modern society, on a the basis of an ethic of service to the entire community, and not merely those who can pay for premium service.
- Similarly, Andre Picard discusses the importance of a stewardship model for medicine, rather than allowing health needs to be governed solely by profit motives. And Martin Regg Cohn points out how the social guarantees provided by the Canada Pension Plan are only increasing in importance as workplace pensions become less secure.

- Robin Sears notes that progressives need to acknowledge the importance of effective public management, rather than waving away legitimate criticisms of government spending. But I'll argue that at the very least, right-wing anti-government spin should also be met with some of the many examples of the even worse consequences of leaving key issues in private hands - whether through privatized programs, or through complete abandonment to the corporate sector.

- Jason Warick reports on Winona Wheeler's message that all Canadians need to take responsible for reconciliation with First Nations. Ashifa Kassam writes about Grand Chief Stewart Phillip's lack of interest in empty gestures. And David Akin reports that the Libs' first wave of housing announcements falls well short of meeting even the most immediate needs.

- Finally, Branko Milanovic theorizes that inequality tends to be cyclical based on past changes in the relative wealth associated with rent as opposed to labour. But while he offers some useful theories as to how inequality might be reduced in the future, there's plenty of need for public action to bring them about (particularly a political turn toward more progressive systems of taxes and benefits).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Owen Jones offers his take on how the UK's Labour Party should proceed following Jeremy Corbyn's most recent leadership victory - and while the exact circumstances may not apply to the NDP's upcoming leadership campaigns, his ideas as to how to combine the interests of base supporters and softer voters are well worth keeping in mind. And Jeremy Nuttall discusses Niki Ashton's continuing efforts to advance one of Jones' ideas by giving millenial workers a voice in an economy currently designed to exploit them.

- Yves Smith highlights the gross falsehood of corporate spin trying to push for even lesser business contributions to the society that makes profits possible.

- Tim Richter and Ryan Meili rightly argue that Canada's housing crisis should be seen as a public health emergency. And the Times Colonist highlights the importance of better addressing homelessness and housing issues in Victoria in particular.

- Duncan Pike points out why anybody concerned about an intrusive surveillance state should take the time to weigh in on the federal government's security consultations. And Brendan O'Connor reports on the equally-worrisome and rapidly-growing use of private surveillance the U.S. (largely supported by public funding).

- Finally, Murray Mandryk offers a handy example of "make it awkward" in action by calling out Brad Trost's regressive Conservative leadership campaign.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Tim Harford discusses how insurance and other industries are built on exploiting people who are risk-averse due to the inability to absorb substantial costs as "money pumps" for those who have more than they need:
(L)et’s step back and ask ourselves what insurance is for. Classical economics has an answer: people are risk-averse, which means that they will pay good money to reduce the variability of outcomes they face. If home insurance guards against the loss of a million pounds when my house burns down, I’m happy to buy the insurance even though the insurance company expects to make a profit from it.
But this risk aversion emerges from the fact that money is worth more to poor people than to rich people. Gaining a million pounds would make me rich but losing a million pounds would make me poor. I should not gamble a million pounds on the toss of a coin, because the million pounds I might lose is more precious to me than the million pounds I might gain.
As so often with classical economics, this is an excellent description of how we should behave. It is not such an excellent description of how we actually do behave. Risk aversion can only explain why we insure large risks. It cannot explain why we insure small ones. 
A money pump is a person whose irrationalities can be systematically exploited for financial gain. The simplest money pump is a person who prefers an apple to a doughnut, prefers a doughnut to a chocolate bar, and prefers a chocolate bar to an apple. Just offer them an apple in exchange for their doughnut plus a penny. They will accept. Then offer them a chocolate bar for their apple plus a penny. Then offer them a doughnut for their chocolate bar plus a penny. They end up with their original doughnut and are three pence poorer. Repeat for ever.

Money-pump arguments are sometimes deployed to object that people cannot be irrational, otherwise they would be bankrupted by money pumping. But economists are increasingly coming to realise that, instead, we should be looking for money pumping in action.

Given our anxiety about small risks, what would the money pumping look like? It would be an insurance policy focused on the narrowest possible slice of risk. It would be sold alongside another product or service, often at the last moment. It would be marketed by creating anxiety and then offering the product to make the anxiety go away. In short, it would look like the collision damage waiver, the extended warranty, and PPI. These bespoke slices of insurance are among the largest money-pumping projects in the modern economy. No wonder the banks abandoned their principles to join in.
- Jared Bernstein and Lori Wallach highlight (PDF) the need for an international trade regime which serves the public interest, not only the greed of the people who already have the most. And Yves Smith theorizes that the public backlash against corporate-centered trade deals may lead both to changes in how international trade is managed, and the identity of the countries at the forefront of developing the standards to be pursued.

- Needless to say, the Libs' devotion to the current trade model figures to exclude Canada from that group for the foreseeable future. And the Alberta Federation of Labour laments the Libs' determination to exploit foreign labour at the expense of both easily-abused temporary workers, and the Canadians who would otherwise fill the positions.

- Derek Thompson makes the case for a long-overdue round of trust-busting to reduce corporate power over innovation and economic development.

- Finally, Ed Finn writes that our health system should focus far more on maintaining wellness rather than responding only once an illness develops.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Deep thought

Memo to those commentators perpetually seeking any available excuse to compare Brad Wall to historical leaders: now would be an ideal time to point out his government's turn toward the Reaganesque.

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Naomi Klein discusses how Canada's longstanding - if far from inevitable - identity as a resource economy is standing in the way of both needed action on climate change and reconciliation with First Nations:
In Canada, cultivation and industrialization were secondary. First and foremost, this country was built on voraciously devouring wildness. Canada was an extractive company – the Hudson’s Bay Company – before it was a country. And that has shaped us in ways we have yet to begin to confront.

Because such enormous fortunes have been built purely on the extraction of wild animals, intact forest and interred metals and fossil fuels, our economic elites have grown accustomed to seeing the natural world as their God-given larder.

When someone or something – like climate science – comes along and says: Actually, there are limits, we have to take less from the Earth and keep more profit for the public good, it doesn’t feel like a difficult truth. It feels like an existential attack.
The trouble isn’t just the commodity roller coaster. It’s that the stakes grow larger with each boom-bust cycle. The frenzy for cod crashed a species; the frenzy for bitumen and fracked gas is helping to crash the planet.
Today, we have federal and provincial governments that talk a lot about reconciliation. But this will remain a cruel joke if non-Indigenous Canadians do not confront the why behind those human-rights abuses. And the why, as the Truth and Reconciliation report states, is simple enough: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

The goal, in other words, was to remove all barriers to unrestrained resource extraction. This is not ancient history. Across the country, Indigenous land rights remain the single greatest barrier to planet-destabilizing resource extraction, from pipelines to clear-cut logging.
- Susan Delacourt highlights Charlie Angus' frustration with the Libs' Teletubbie political style, while Tony Burman notes that Middle East relations represent just one more area where Justin Trudeau's actions couldn't be much further from his rhetoric. 

- But Ethan Cox' report on an Indigenous treaty alliance also signals what may the most effective response - as rather than allowing the Libs to feign friendship while pursuing another agenda, First Nations are presenting a united and direct contrast to Trudeau's plans. And Doug Cuthand points out the widespread protest against the Dakota Access pipeline as the latest and largest example of that solidarity being put into action.

- Meanwhile, Marc Lee signals what we might expect from a federal climate change action plan based on the working groups currently reviewing the options.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on a needed push to ensure that child care funding is used to create not-for-profit spaces. And Ashifa Kassam points to Wellington's loss of water rights to Nestle as a prime example of what happens when corporate dollars trump public needs.

- Finally, Alon Weinberg discusses why now is the time to implement a proportional electoral system in Canada. And Craig Scott makes the case for mixed-member proportional over the other options under consideration.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Musical interlude

Tame Impala - New Person, Same Old Mistakes

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Scott Sinclair, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Stuart Trew study the contents of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Sinclair and Trew also highlight why Canadian progressives should oppose the deal, while Howard Mann notes that the same criticisms, including a gross transfer of power to the corporate sector and the absence of any concern for developmental and environmental issues, apply to all of the new generation of corporate rights agreements. But the Council of Canadians notes that not only are the Trudeau Libs pushing ahead with every single trade agreement currently on the table, they're also trying to lay the groundwork for a similar deal with China - even if it comes with both a blind eye to human rights violations, and an obligation to approve a tar sands pipeline.

- Bill McKibben examines how new climate data shows that we need a nearly immediate transition away from dirty energy in order to meet the Paris conference commitment to rein in global warming. And Seth Klein and Shannon Daub call out the new form of climate denialism - which pays lip service to the science of climate change, but attempts to detach it from any policy steps to improve matters.

- Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson argue that there's no reason to keep hewing to neoliberal orthodoxy when decades of evidence show how it exacerbates inequality and harms health:
Even before the 2008 global financial crisis, neoliberalism was causing what the University of Durham’s Ted Schrecker and Clare Bambra have called “neoliberal epidemics.” As Schrecker and Bambra and many others have shown, income inequality has profoundly damaging and far-reaching effects on everything from trust and social cohesion to rates of violent crime and imprisonment, educational achievement, and social mobility. Inequality seems to worsen health outcomes, reduce life expectancy, boost rates of mental illness and obesity, and even increase the prevalence of HIV.

Deep income inequality means that society is organized as a wealth-based hierarchy. Such a system confers economic as well as political power to those at the top and contributes to a sense of powerlessness for the rest of the population. Ultimately, this causes problems not only for the poor, but for the affluent as well. 
Careful analysis of statistical data debunked the idea that stressed executives are at a higher risk for heart attacks. Now, it has debunked the 1980s myth that “greed is good,” and has revealed the extensive damage inequality causes. It was one thing to believe these myths decades ago, but when experience and all the available evidence show them to be mistaken, it is time to make a change. 

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error,” said the Roman philosopher Cicero. Now that we know how inequality harms the health of societies, individuals, and economies, reducing it should be our top priority. Anyone advocating policies that increase inequality and threaten the wellbeing of our societies is taking us for fools.
- And Ashley Quan points out how a basic income could alleviate many of the harms caused by precarious financial situations.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom rightly notes that a federal crackdown on extra-billing under the Canada Health Act is long overdue.