Monday, May 02, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Ben Schiller talks to Joseph Stiglitz about the link between technology and inequality - and particularly the lack of current incentives to work on improving standards of living rather than capturing windfalls. And Don Pittis suggests that we should focus on building up new ideas, rather than constantly caving to the demands of corporate behemoths.

- Chris Buckley points out how Ontario's labour laws are falling far short of meeting the needs of vulnerable workers.

- Meanwhile, Charlotte Helston responds to the spin that it's somehow easy for a homeless person to "just get a job". And Andrea Hill reports on the human cost of homelessness in La Ronge - with a community of 3,000 people seeing multiple deaths every year due to a lack of support services.

- Derek Leahy discusses Marc Jaccard's view that regulation, not pricing, is the most important element of an effective plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the oil industry is doing everything in its power to avoid a meaningful discussion of its role in overheating our planet - including threatening Canadian universities, and flooding the airwaves with advertising which far exceeds climate change coverage.

- Finally, Robert Shiller discusses the importance of public attitudes and stories in shaping economic outcomes. But it's worth noting that Shiller's point should lead us to seek to avoid veering off toward either irrational exuberance or excessive pessimism - not to try to operate in denial of the real weaknesses which have led to previous recessions.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Robert Frank comments on the connection between recognizing the luck and social support which lead to one's own success, and being willing to fund a state which will ensure opportunities for everybody:
I've seen even brief discussions of the link between success and luck temper the outrage many wealthy people feel about taxes. At an intuitive level, it's not puzzling that successful citizens like Schwarzman might view mandatory taxation as unjustified confiscation of what's rightfully theirs. But extensive public investment was an essential precondition for the economic prosperity of those very same tax protesters, and we can't have public investment without taxes.

Sensible views about taxes or any other subject do not reliably triumph over less sensible ones in the short run. But we should all take comfort in the fact that the long-run historical narrative bends toward truth. One reason is that when evidence for a particular view becomes compelling, the number of people who embrace it tends to snowball. Beliefs are contagious.

Public opinion shifts one conversation at a time. In my own recent conversations with highly successful people, I've seen opinions change on the spot. Many who seem never to have considered the possibility that their success stemmed from factors other than their own talent and effort are often surprisingly willing to rethink. In many instances, even brief reflection stimulates them to recall specific examples of good breaks they've enjoyed along the way.

So I hope you'll talk with your friends about their experiences with luck. In the process, you may persuade them to support a more ambitious program of public investment. But even if not, you'll almost surely hear some interesting stories.
- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby writes about RESP grants as just one example of how programs labelled as helping people in need actually benefit higher-income families. But on the bright side, Bryan Mullan reports that a small investment by the Canada Revenue Agency in investigating tax evasion produced three times the expected return in public revenue.

- Karthik Ramanna and Allan Dreschel discuss the corporate war against accountability. And Chris Sagers points out that antitrust law represents a readily-available - but seldom-used - option to address the growth of unrestrained corporate power.

- David Dayen rightly asks what social purpose hedge funds serve - and suggests that it's time both to redirect public assets which currently prop them up, and to stop giving them special regulatory treatment. 

- Finally, Andrew Jackson highlights the Parliamentary Budget Officer's attempts to wring information out of a Lib government whose first inclination was to be even more secretive than its predecessor - and finds that the information eventually produced shows stagnation or cuts in social investments. And CBC offers a reminder of the potential of open government.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Martin Lukacs highlights the Canadian public's broad support for the Leap Manifesto - and the opportunity available to any party willing to put its contents into practice. And Shawn Katz is hopeful that the NDP will seize the opening. But Bill Tieleman points out that the best intentions won't get anywhere if they're not translated into electoral and political progress.

- Lana Payne discusses what we should expect from a government in an economic downturn - with one of the key needs being some reason for hope to develop something more, rather than scolding about how we'll have to make do with less indefinitely.

- Scott Aquanno and Jordan Brennan point out the inherent tension in setting target inflation rates, while rightly reopening the question of whether we should put the interests of capital ahead of those of wage-earners. And Eric Morath notes that wage growth is the missing piece of a U.S. economic recovery.

- Meanwhile, David Dayen weighs in on the growing body of evidence that the arguments against a more reasonable minimum wage have no basis in reality.

- Finally, Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach offer a broad outline of a policy agenda to reduce poverty and improve opportunities across the income spectrum.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Musical interlude

Radical Face - Welcome Home

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Michael Klare writes about the future direction of the oil industry - which looks to involve cashing out quickly than building anything lasting:
At the beginning of this century, many energy analysts were convinced that we were at the edge of the arrival of “peak oil”; a peak, that is, in the output of petroleum in which planetary reserves would be exhausted long before the demand for oil disappeared, triggering a global economic crisis. As a result of advances in drilling technology, however, the supply of oil has continued to grow, while demand has unexpectedly begun to stall.  This can be traced both to slowing economic growth globally and to an accelerating “green revolution” in which the planet will be transitioning to non-carbon fuel sources. With most nations now committed to measures aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases under the just-signed Paris climate accord, the demand for oil is likely to experience significant declines in the years ahead. In other words, global oil demand will peak long before supplies begin to run low, creating a monumental challenge for the oil-producing countries.

This is no theoretical construct.  It’s reality itself.  Net consumption of oil in the advanced industrialized nations has already dropped from 50 million barrels per day in 2005 to 45 million barrels in 2014. Further declines are in store as strict fuel efficiency standards for the production of new vehicles and other climate-related measures take effect, the price of solar and wind power continues to fall, and other alternative energy sources come on line. While the demand for oil does continue to rise in the developing world, even there it’s not climbing at rates previously taken for granted. With such countries also beginning to impose tougher constraints on carbon emissions, global consumption is expected to reach a peak and begin an inexorable decline.According to experts Thijs Van de Graaf and Aviel Verbruggen, overall world peak demand could be reached as early as 2020.

In such a world, high-cost oil producers will be driven out of the market and the advantage — such as it is — will lie with the lowest-cost ones. Countries that depend on petroleum exports for a large share of their revenues will come under increasing pressure to move away from excessive reliance on oil.
- Meanwhile, Murray Dobbin discusses how the Libs are helping Saudi Arabia to continue and expand its human rights abuses. The CP notes that they're also following in the Cons' footsteps in limiting workers' ability to refuse unsafe work. And Alison calls attention to the farce that is the Libs' excuse for public consultation on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

- Patrick Cain reports on the plummeting number of tax evasion prosecutions in Canada. (And it's worth noting that the starting point hardly represented an obvious deterrent to begin with.)

- Brian Hutchinson points out the odour of corruption emanating from Christy Clark's donor-funded income. And Sarah Mills highlights Brad Wall's similar payments for service.

- Finally, David Walters offers a look at the options and choices facing families at several points on the income spectrum - though it's worth pointing out that the people included in article skew far higher than the U.S.' actual income distribution.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

New column day

Here, on the Conference Board of Canada's environmental report card - and the conclusions we should draw from both Saskatchewan's last-place finish, and the typically appalling response from the Wall government.

For further reading...
- Brendan Haley discusses the steps needed to reach a cleaner and more equitable economy - featuring a focus on transitioning how workers are able to use their existing skills and training rather than propping up dirty resource industries.
- Mike de Souza reports that the minimally-discussed Line 3 pipeline expansion has received NEB approval to expand export capacity to the U.S. And Justin Ling writes that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has concluded Canada is almost certain to miss every greenhouse gas emission target we've set - meaning that Canada's D grade in the Conference Board's report card isn't much to write home about.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Allan Woods looks into the pitiful responses to states of emergency declared by First Nations, as well as a decade and a half worth of neglect of cries for help from Pikangikum First Nation in particular. Kristy Kirkup reports on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's latest order requiring the federal government to stop dragging its heels in providing social services. And Kate Heartfield rightly argues that we need to treat Third World conditions on First Nations as matters of injustice which require correction - not merely a basis for charity.

- Meanwhile, Richard Wolff discusses the U.S.' example of racial disparity as an example of how discrimination and capitalism can feed off of each other.

- Heather Mallick looks at the development of pay-for-plasma schemes as the latest example of the commoditization of anything that can be exploited.

- Marco Chown Oved reports on the missing $40 billion which have been diverted offshore from Canada in the last year.

- Gary Mason reports that Christy Clark's big-money fund-raisers are translating directly into increased income for her due to a party top-up beyond her salary as premier, then rightly questions the ethics involved in that income stream.

- Finally, Donald Savoie summarizes what Canadians governments are doing well in their current form (which is unfortunately mostly limited to managing communications), and what they could do better by paying attention to the public services they're supposed to be delivering. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Fred Dews highlights Alice Rivkin's suggestions as to consensus policies which can reduce inequality while facilitating economic development. And Sheila Regehr looks at how a basic income can work in practice, while Monica Oss reminds us that investments in reducing poverty and inequality can often be recouped in reduced health care costs alone.

- But Sean McElwee echoes Bernie Sanders' point that we're far less likely to see policy choices which reflect our common interest when we don't have sufficient voter turnout to demand them:
(P)olitical scientist Anthony Fowler notes that when compulsory voting was implemented in Australia, the increased voter turnout by 24 percentage points and the result was increased vote and seat shares for the Labor Party of 7 to 10 percent. Fowler used several methods to examine what the impact of universal turnout might be in the United States. One method used is to compare on-cycle gubernatorial elections (ones that coincide with a federal election) with off-cycle elections. He finds a stunning result: On-cycle gubernatorial elections increase turnout by 17 points, and Democratic vote share by 6 points, enough to shift many elections.

Voter turnout would also influence policy. In a new study at the state level, political scientists Christopher Witko, Nathan Kelly and William Franko confirm this analysis. They find that states with higher levels of class bias in turnout have higher levels of economic inequality because high levels of class bias limits the power of progressive policymakers and reduces the liberalism of economic policymaking. This relationship was also discovered in a recent paper by James Avery, who finds, “states with greater income bias in turnout have higher levels of income inequality.”

In an early study on the influence of class in turnout, Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find that higher turnout among the poor (and thus lower class bias) leads to higher spending on welfare programs. Economists Timothy Besley and Anne Case find that,
“Less costly voter registration— through motor-voter rules, or through day-of-polling registration—is generally associated with higher taxes, higher spending, and larger family assistance and workers’ compensation payments.”
- Mike de Souza reports on Imperial Oil's longtime knowledge that the oil industry has been engaged in anti-social environmental destruction. And Arthur Neslen exposes Chevron's express intent to use new trade agreements to try to prevent governments from developing new policies including fracking regulations.

- Finally, Larry Brown discusses how the Trans-Pacific Partnership fits into the business lobby's desire to take power out of the hands of people and the governments we elect. Paul Dewar points out the need to crack down on child labour and other other international abuses, rather than entrenching them as part of a corporate-driven system. And PressProgress points out Statistics Canada's latest estimates showing that corporate Canada has hidden $270 billion in offshore tax havens.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Social cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Harry Leslie Smith writes about how an increasingly polarized city such as London excludes a large number of its citizens from meaningful social participation:
(A)usterity has diminished the opportunity of the young and shortened the lives of the old. Even libraries – the life blood of any community – have been savagely cut in many London boroughs leaving senior citizens with one less free space to gather, learn and socialise. London may be a great city to live in if you are an elderly member of the elite. But for everyone else it is a trap where upon retirement you must sell your home, if you are lucky enough to own, and move on to greener pastures – or if you are a renter with few options and many connections to this city, you must remain like the poor of yesteryear, watching a pension that might do you well in Halifax only stretched to the third week of the month.
London may become a city shorn of any diversity because extreme wealth will drive all those out but the rich and those who serve them. It would be a great tragedy if London lost its elderly not through the natural passage of time but through the brute ugliness of a one-sided economy. We have to remember that London without old people isn’t a city, it’s just a factory floor, a place where you work and shop, with no history, no past or future, just an endless present tense in pursuit of money.
- Meanwhile, the Economist discusses how austerity inevitably imposes far greater burdens on the poor than on the wealthy. And Truthout notes that those additional stressors lead to a measurable increase in suicides - meaning that lives are on the line when governments choose to stop doing their job of protecting the public.

- Eman Bare writes about the impact of ballooning student debt in delaying young workers' independence.

- Charlie Smith reports on the CCPA's study (PDF) showing the health and service risks of corporate medicine. And Lizanne Foster sets out the typical plan to turn public education into a profit centre at the expense of students and the public.

- Finally, Michal Rozworski and Louis-Phillipe Rochon offer some cautionary notes about a basic income as a solution to inequality. And Andrew Flowers surveys what we know - and don't know - from past and developing trials of the idea.