Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Carol Goar comments on the CEP/CAW plan to merge and work toward a far more active type of unionism:
Both the CAW and the CEP — of which I am a member — gobbled up smaller unions to reach their current size. But neither achieved the critical mass to keep growing or to revitalize the labour movement.

This time they’ve come up with a more ambitious — but much riskier — formula. They aim to create a new union unlike anything labour activists or the public have seen in the past.
  It would be “a fighting force for all workers,” not just its own members.
  Its reach would extend beyond traditional workplaces. It would organize temp workers, contract employees, immigrants in precarious jobs, the self-employed and the unemployed.
  It would be open to all “who share the vision of a stronger, larger Canadian social union,” including artists, entrepreneurs, homemakers, community activists and seniors.
  It would offer support and services to non-members engaged in disputes with their employers.
  It would inspire — embarrass if necessary — umbrella bodies such as the Canadian Labour Congress and the Ontario Federation of Labour to be bolder, more active and more forceful.
For those curious, I tend to agree with Goar that a more ambitious, higher-stakes push is a necessary step in ensuring the relevance and effectiveness of the labour movement. With the basic social contract which allowed unions to focus more narrowly on securing their positions within large unionized workplaces now under vigorous attacks from the Cons, their cronies and the corporate sector, it looks to me to be a losing strategy to cling to shrinking fiefdoms rather than engaging a greater range of workers to again shape a broader social agenda. And it's by showing the benefit of collective action for its members that unions can help make the case to apply similar principles in society at large.

- Meanwhile, George Lakoff sounds a warning against using frustration with "low-information voters" as an excuse for failing to effectively frame and promote progressive values.

- Janyce McGregor discusses the conflicting pressures on the Cons in deciding whether or not to force through the Gateway pipeline. Meanwhile, Calvin Sandborn asks whether the Cons plan to learn anything from Enbridge's track records of major spills and pathetic responses, while Iain Hunter highlights the steps they've taken to avoid doing anything of the sort.

- Finally, Peter Wilby comments on how strict intellectual property laws (which of course the Cons only want to make worse) are creating perverse incentives for businesses to innovate only in the field of contrived rent-seeking schemes rather than actual product improvement:
The US drugs industry, say Light and Lexchin, spends only 1.3% of revenues (excluding taxpayer subsidies) on basic research to discover molecules that could lead to genuinely new medicines. It spends far more on maintaining profits – among the highest of any industry, after tax – and on PR, marketing and lobbying. There is an innovation crisis, but largely of the companies' own making.

For years nearly all original drugs brought to market have been based on research either at taxpayer-funded institutions, mainly universities, or in small biotechnology companies. Big companies, such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (recently fined $3bn by US regulators for aggressive and misleading marketing), are essentially rent-seekers. They do not create wealth and add social benefit, but enrich themselves through control of resources, as landowners have done for generations. And what has happened in "big pharma" – long marked down by the left, and some on the right, as an unacceptable face of capitalism – mirrors what has happened across the British and US economies. The innovation crisis is not confined to the drugs industry.
Technologists tweak vegetables and fruits to make them last longer, look better and travel more easily, without regard to flavour. Bankers develop new trading "products" that, however you cut it, are still about borrowing and lending. We have digital radio and high-definition TV, though not everybody thinks either improves on what existed before. For many companies, skilful marketing of products that aren't significantly different from what preceded them has replaced innovation. It's cheaper and less risky to convince customers that something is ground-breaking, even when it isn't, than develop something truly innovatory.

In short, rent-seeking is now far more lucrative than innovation that delivers social benefits. The big rewards go to directors and executives of large companies – and financial traders, the ultimate rent-seekers who impose an unproductive tax on invention, investment and hard work across the world.

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