Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to end your Saturday.

- Jim Stanford looks in detail at the aftereffects of free trade with the U.S., and finds rather little to cheer:
In sum, the promise that free trade would induce more trade, productivity growth, and higher incomes (following traditional Heckscher-Ohlin mechanisms) is not remotely supported by the aggregate economic data. FTA defenders will critique this argument on many grounds. They say we should compare this data to an unknowable counterfactual (namely, where Canada would be in 2012 without the FTA), rather than to the pre-FTA reality. They will parse detailed sub-sector data to find evidence that productivity grew relatively faster in those industries which experienced larger tariff reduction, compared to other sectors. (Daniel Trefler has done much work in this vein – but it doesn’t negate the fact that overall Canadian productivity has languished.) These arguments do not alter the finding that the FTA has not been associated with more trade, higher productivity, or higher incomes – contrary to the promises made when it was implemented. And hence the promises now being made that more FTAs (with Europe, Korea, India, or the entire Trans-Pacific region) will do just that, must be viewed with disbelief.

So it is not the “free trade deniers” (like myself) that inhabit a fantasy world. No matter how loudly Trade Minister Fast asserts that only an economic illiterate would dare to question the virtues of free trade, it’s his side of the debate that relies on faith, rather than fact.
- Far too many people seem to be treating Paul Wells' piece about the decline of the Libs as an ordinary "rivals crowding the centre" message. But the more significant part of Wells' analysis looks to be this one:
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives reliably depict the Liberals as high-taxing statists who cannot imagine leaving a dollar in your pocket when they could spend it on daycare or a fancy census instead. Intriguingly, (Paul) Adams argues nearly the opposite: that the Liberals’ long-standing “progressive impulses” were “quietly muted in a largely collaborative project” between Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin during the almost nine years Martin served in Chrétien’s cabinet.

The Liberals’ 1993 Red Book included promises to renegotiate NAFTA, to boost immigration levels and to create 50,000 daycare spaces. None was implemented. To Adams (whose book argues, probably in vain, for a Liberal-NDP merger), the result was that the Liberals blew their credibility as defenders of activist government.

“As you stare at the wreckage of what was arguably the most successful party in the history of the democratic world, there are various explanations for its utter demagnetization in 2011,” Adams writes. “Some of them were very long-term. But one of them, surely, must have been its wilful refusal to differentiate its policies from those of the Conservatives.”
- Meanwhile, David Dayen notes that a similar problem has developed among Democrats in the U.S. - and there unlike in Canada, voters haven't enjoyed another option to express their desire for progressive change:
Obama comes at the end of a 30-year cycle of narrowing and narrowing what passes for the liberal agenda. The landscape was so different in the 1970s that Nixon was calling for a guaranteed income. Now when Democrats are really feeling bold, they highlight policies that they are proud to reveal were based on Republican ideas of just a few years earlier, things like the Heritage Foundation’s health care plan or the market-based solution of cap and trade.

I would disagree that liberalism – although that’s probably the wrong phrase – has disappeared. It’s just become hidden beneath a thicket of campaign contributions from wealthy donors. The decline of unions as a political counterweight means that Democrats chase big money, and not surprisingly they respond to big money concerns. Issues like poverty, hunger, and need go unremarked upon on the national stage, even while they remain core concerns at the community level.
(T)he agenda at the upper echelon of the Democratic Party has narrowed over the past 50 years, and it’s not like the safety net is so stable and robust that there’s nothing more to do. In fact, our social safety net is among the tiniest in the industrialized world. But poor people don’t have lobbyists, and that’s how Washington works these days. 
 - While the Cons' enforced mindlessness has continued since Parliament resumed, at least one NDP strategy to challenge the subservience of Con MPs looks to be earning some positive reviews.

- Finally, Dennis Gruending weighs in on the Cons' decision to make Christianity the exclusive religion available to Canadian prisoners.

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