Friday, April 20, 2018

Musical interlude

The Stills - Hands On Fire

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PressProgress crunches the numbers on tax loopholes and finds that more and more revenue is being lost to the most glaring loopholes every year. And Andrew Jackson hopes for a sorely-needed response from the federal government to rein in tax avoidance by the wealthy.

- Sam Cooper reports on Vancouver's embarrassing status as a poster child for criminal money laundering.

- Wanda Wyporska highlights the importance of fighting for greater equality rather than allowing it to overtake social cohesion and individual well-being.

- Anna Patty reports on a new study showing how an improved minimum wage could create jobs in addition to boosting standards of living in Australia. And Scott Brown writes about the B.C. NDP's first steps toward including all workers in basic employment protections (including the right to a minimum wage).

- Mark Winfield warns of the risks of panicking about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, though Mike De Souza reveals that the Libs have made a habit of leaping into reckless action at Kinder Morgan's behest. And Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood writes that we should be focusing on a just transition for both resource sector workers and their communities, while Mitchell Anderson discusses how the Trans Mountain expansion would only exacerbate a trend seeing refinery jobs leaked south of the border.

- Finally, CBC reports on Justin Trudeau's lack of interest in following the UK's ban on single-use plastics.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Constant discusses a new study showing that the positive effects of minimum wage increases for low-income workers actually grow over time. And Sheila Block highlights how a $15 increased minimum wage stands to offer far more to workers than Doug Ford's tax tinkering.

- Meanwhile, Pam Weintraub writes that anxiety and stress arising from traumatic experiences have repercussions spanning multiple generations.

- Natalie Appleyard points out the amount of work to be done to address the multiple forms of precarity and poverty faced by Canadians. But Andrew Coyne examines the Parliamentary Budget Office's report on the cost of a national basic income and concludes we could realistically end extreme poverty for an additional three percent on the existing GST.

- Kelly Grant reports on the conclusion of Parliament's Standing Committee on Health endorsing a true national pharmacare program (rather than the patchwork planned by the Trudeau government).

- Finally, Rachel Browne investigates the unconscionable racial divide in arrests for cannabis possession which systematically pushes minorities into the criminal justice system. And the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation examines the lack of housing resources for people trying to reintegrate after being incarcerated. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ann Pettifor discusses the trend toward financialization which has led to regular economic disasters - and suggests the public is well aware it's getting left behind in the policy choices which have created it.

- ScienceDaily takes note of the strong connection between education levels and longevity.

- Sarah Jones calls out the U.S. Republicans' constant steps to withhold food from people who need it - including children who have to attend school hungry as a result. And Andrew Sniderman and Vincent Larochelle discuss the unfairness of mandatory surcharges which impose lasting debts on people with no ability to pay them.

- David Suzuki points out the regular occurrence of dangerous oil spills around the world while highlighting the risks of any Trans Mountain expansion. Martin Lukacs writes that it's Indigenous protestors against pipeline expansion who are actually defending the national interest. And Kai Nagata asks for suggestions as to how we could better use $8 billion of public money other than to subsidize a pipeline for the benefit of Enron alumni.

- Finally, Luke Savage comments on the contrast between Justin Trudeau's slogans and his actions while in power:
(I)t is the disparity between Trudeau’s rhetorical posturing and political execution that perhaps best illustrates the essential conservatism of his government. Social investment and Keynesianism, supposedly the defining pillars of Liberal economic strategy, have given way to corporatism and stealth privatisation.

Even as Trudeau performatively condemns corporate elites, his supposed war on inequality has amounted to tinkering with income tax brackets while opposing a $15-an-hour minimum wage for federal workers. The legalisation of marijuana looks increasingly like a cynical revenue-raiser for avaricious former politicians and ex-cops, rather than a deserved reprieve for those criminalised by the previous system. And while Trudeau’s government was talking up feminism and human rights abroad, it was also signing the export permits for $15bn-worth of armoured vehicles – including some labelled “heavy assault” – to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cuddling cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Krugman writes that a transition to a clean energy economy is well within reach - as long as politicians don't put the interests of oil money over our economic and environmental future. But Gordon Laxer notes that NAFTA already limits Canada's ability to take the steps which would do most to rein in our harm to the planet.

- Meanwhile, Peter Martin makes the case for a sugar tax and other Pigovian taxes - as adaptations to avoid a tax may produce substantial benefits in important policy areas such as public health:
Announcing the sugar tax in the 2016 budget, Britain’s (Conservative) Treasurer George Osborne said five-year-olds were consuming their entire body weight in sugar every year.
His hope was that the drinks above each threshold would cut their sugar until they were below it. It’d cut their tax from 24 pence per litre to 18 pence, or from 18 pence to nothing. They had two years in which to do it.

Within months, Tesco said it would reformulate its entire range to escape the levy. Lucozade Ribena followed, also for its entire range. It meant halving the high sugar contents of Lucozade and Ribena.

Then Sprite halved its sugar content, Fanta fell from grams 7 to 4.5, and 7 Up from a scary 11 grams to 7 grams.

By the time the tax arrived last week, Britain had more than halved its initial estimate of what the tax would raise, cutting its estimate for takings in the first year from £520 million to £240 million ($439.6 million to $952.5 million).

The government-owned Behavioural Insights Team reckons around 750 million litres of drink has been reformatted, which would save a welcome 30,000 tonnes of sugar per year, all before day one.
There’ll be more change now the tax is in place. Retailers will more prominently display the cheaper drinks that are lower-taxed, producers will shift their marketing to products they are able to sell for less, and customers comparing prices will be more likely to pick the cheap ones. More manufacturers will cut their sugar content as a result, and even those that don’t will sell increasing amounts of their zero-sugar products and less of those with sugar.

After a while, the sugar tax might raise very little. Which was the idea. The universal truth about tax is that people don’t like paying it. It can be put to good use.

Australia did it with petrol. From 1994 we more heavily taxed leaded petrol, pushing up the price by 2 cents per litre to encourage drivers to switch to unleaded. We do it with tobacco, and, imperfectly, with alcohol.

What’s great about so-called sin taxes (or "Pigovian taxes") is the double pay-off. Taxing more the things we want less of, including things that kill people, allows us to tax less the things we want more of, such as jobs, income and savings.
- Matt Bruenig points out that the wage gap between women and men is substantially larger than usually assumed when part-time and unpaid work is taken into account, then examines the gap across the income spectrum.

- Robert Devet comments on the need for both fair laws which protect workers, and effective enforcement which prevents employers from flouting the rules.

- Finally, Adrienne Tanner argues that British Columbia needs a public inquiry to investigate the role of money laundering in driving up housing prices. And Christopher Cheung looks to Singapore for an example of a targeted property flipping tax.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tom Parkin discusses the Libs' identity politics - and how they endanger people's substantive interests both in what the Libs fail to do, and in the predictable reaction from right-wing populists:
For Liberals, identity politics is a distraction from economic policies that are very hard on many people. Trudeau won’t increase the federal minimum wage. He sells off public assets through his Infrastructure Bank. Ignores looming personal debts. Weakens private pension plans. Lets Sears default on their promises to workers. Cuts Canadians’ healthcare funding. Spends billions on tax cuts that give the biggest benefit to incomes over $90,000.

There’s no solution to economic insecurity and inequality — it’s just extend old policies that don’t work and pretend everything’s alright.

So it should be no surprise if Canadians — especially poor and working class people who are most affected — now reject Trudeau and, with him, the empty identity politics he uses as cover.
The hollowness of liberal identity politics has Trudeau recognizing the wrongs of colonialism, sexism and racism — then letting the people who have all the power and money keep all the power and money. That’s the hijacking of the political left.

But liberal identity politics also empowers the most enduring form of identity politics — conservative identity politics.

If we are all essentially different and stranded on our little islands of identity, then the point of the alt-right is proven: we are all just tribes in a constant state of war. So every time Trudeau says it’s our differences that make us stronger, he sets the table for the alt-right to feed at. And they gorged.
Since the last economic recession there’ve been two great games — the economic game of extend and pretend and the distraction game of identity politics. Both urgently need credible replacements.
- Meanwhile, David Gray-Donald documents how the right-wing hate machine targeted Nora Loreto for daring to mention the disparity in public reactions between tragedies. 

- Mark Rank offers a reminder that immediate investments in eliminating child poverty produce dramatic returns over time. And Cherise Seucharan writes about the need to expand public health care, rather than allowing profiteers to take it over.

- Jeffrey Sachs writes that we should be investing in sustainable, clean infrastructure, not throwing public money into fossil fuels.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom points out Donald Trump's predictable decision to favour the wealthy over everybody else through the Trans-Pacific Partnership - and how it renders futile any attempt to rely on NAFTA to protect citizens from corporate control.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Nick Falvo offers a useful summary of the federal-provincial framework on housing - including its lack of any specific mention of homelessness and supportive housing among other deficiencies.

- Meanwhile, Justin McElroy reports on the Horgan government's plan to ensure more rights for tenants, including by applying significant penalties to landlords who evict tenants in bad faith to seek higher profits.

- The Journal of the American Medical Association studies the U.S.' severe health disparities (and the social factors which contribute to them). And Laura Donnelly reports on the NHS' recognition that a health care system which pushes seniors into unsuitable settings may cause lasting damage.

- Philip Newell reports that among his other attacks on the public interest, Scott Pruitt is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to stop tracking the ancillary benefits of its work - including its effect on health and survival.

- Finally, Juan Manuel Herrera examines (PDF) the effects of Ontario's increased minimum wage, including improved wages for low-income workers with no substantial impact on employment. And Marilisa Racco discusses the continued pay equity gap between men and women.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

On the social environment

Having written my column this week on one of the more glaring areas of increasingly alarming neglect from the Saskatchewan Party under Scott Moe, I'll take a moment to point out the other single policy change that I find most striking.

D.C. Fraser has reported on a reduction in funding to climate change programming, with that choice having been the subject of some commentary. But a cut in what was already a pathetically small budget line for ministerial operations stands out particularly in the light of one of the few (if tiny) additional revenue sources the budget actually includes:
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced the PST exemption on both light used vehicles and Energy Star appliances will be discontinued. 
The Finance Ministry says energy savings already provide a strong financial incentive to buy Energy Star appliances. The removal of this exemption is expected to generate $3 million in revenue.
That explanation is especially noteworthy in treating individual financial considerations as effectively the only reason to value energy-efficient appliances. 

Never mind the seemingly obvious advantages of energy conservation for the purposes of reining in climate change, or minimizing the load on the province's power system. Moe has decided that he doesn't care about those issues - and only wants people making positive consumer choices where (and to the extent) they're based on purely individual financial considerations. 

Of course, that position is entirely on brand with the Saskatchewan Party's hostility toward any policy oriented toward broader environmental issues. And indeed, the removal of incentives for greener consumer purchases can be seen as a mirror image of Moe's intractable refusal to discuss responsible carbon pricing (or any other form of greenhouse gas emission reduction).

But by singling out energy efficiency for higher taxes even while applying his party's boilerplate anti-tax rhetoric elsewhere, Moe is making clear that his party is determined to make the complete rejection of environmental responsibility into a foundational principle - a view which is also consistent with the slashing of the province's already-meager climate change branch. And voters who recognize that we have a common interest in a liveable environment have every reason to push back.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Simon Enoch offers his take on Saskatchewan's latest budget - including what little the Saskatchewan Party has learned, and how much it's still getting wrong:
(W)hile the 2018 budget is more measured in that it doesn’t replicate a 2017 budget that saw cuts and tax increases land disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor while simultaneously lavishing multiple tax breaks on corporations, it certainly doesn’t do the more vulnerable in our province any favours. The province is suspending the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement (SRHS), which will force the poorest in the province to devote even more of their meagre earnings towards rent. This continues the government’s myopic focus on wrenching cost-savings from programs explicitly designed to support the poorest in the province. While the government did increase education spending by $30 million, it restores little more than half of the $54 million that was cut last year. School boards will be forced to find even more “efficiencies” in the classroom, even as student enrolment expands.  As we have seen in the past, these “efficiencies” seem to fall disproportionately on special needs supports and programs.

If there is a small sliver of a silver-lining in this budget, perhaps it’s the government’s growing recognition that austerity during a downturn is bad economic policy. It’s better to allow positive economic growth fight your deficits than deep cuts that can jeopardize positive economic growth, a point the CCPA Saskatchewan Office has been at pains to make over the past few years. After two years of negative economic growth, the economic assumptions in the 2018 budget are betting that a return to positive economic growth will do much of the heavy lifting of fighting the deficit. While this is welcome, it further throws into question the wisdom of the 2017 budget cuts and the government’s embrace of austerity, all evidence to the contrary.
- Bruno Caprettini, Fabio Schmidt-Fischbach and Hans-Joachim Voth study the connection between U.S. welfare spending and a willingness to volunteer support for World War II efforts - signalling the reciprocity of expectations between governments and citizens.

- Mike De Souza reports that Justin Trudeau was warned by the civil service that it was pushing the Trans Mountain expansion too quickly and without adequate consultation. And Gary Mason points out how Trudeau's bungling of the issue could cost him support among all kinds of voters no matter what ultimately happens with the pipeline proposal.

- Tom Korski exposes the Libs' commissioning and placement of state-sponsored "news". And Alex Boutilier reports on what may be the most appalling suppression of actual government records yet, as Library and Archives Canada wants to wait eighty years to respond to a single access-to-information request.

- Finally, Lana Payne offers a warning about the spread of anti-social, right-wing populism across much of Canada.