Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Simms and Stephen Reid note that the corporatist dogma that everything is done more efficiently in the private sector has no apparent basis in reality:
The myth of private sector superiority says that the private sector is efficient and dynamic, the public sector wasteful and slow; that the more we can get the private sector to run things the better. That the head of a massive public enterprise like the Olympics can so blithely discount what underpins it demonstrates its reach. In fact, while billboard adverts said we had commercial sponsors to thank for every minute of pulsating Olympic action, as little as 6% of costs were met from sponsorship.

The myth is effectively government policy. In 2010 David Cameron spelled out his priorities for government which were to use, "all available policy levers," to make it easier for the private sector to "create a new economic dynamism". The following year Cameron announced that he was "taking on the enemies of enterprise", which included the "bureaucrats in government departments" and the "town hall officials". The chancellor, George Osborne, claimed it wasn't just that the one sphere was generally better than the other. He argued that the public sector was "crowding out" the private sector and needed cutting back.

But, what of the evidence of private sector efficiency? Public subsidy to Britain's railways rose dramatically following privatisation. Famously, the failure of Metronet Rail's contract to work on the infrastructure of London Underground was estimated to have cost the public purse more than £400m. Meanwhile, it was recently revealed that the single remaining state-run mainline rail service requires less public subsidy than any of the 15 privately run rail franchises in Britain.

Healthcare is typically much more expensive in countries with heavily privatised systems. As the figure below demonstrates, in 2008, the United States, with predominantly private healthcare, spent around $7,000 per person on health. The NHS spent around half that sum per person, yet, judging by outcomes such as life expectancy at birth, the NHS did just as well.
Private sector dynamism versus public sector inefficiency has been the dominant political narrative of the last few decades. It has supplied the excuse for repeated, one-directional upheaval in many of the services that we rely on, and which are essential to our quality of life. At best, evidence of private sector superiority is missing. At worst, such lazy assumptions can cost lives as well as money. The public sphere in its broadest sense can be more efficient, more effective and better for human dignity. That is not to argue against innovation. On the contrary, innovation is desperately needed to reintroduce the human element to how things are run.
And lest there be any doubt, the anti-public-sector dogma is also the official public policy of both the Harper Cons and many provincial governments.

- Haroon Siddiqui continues his call for a moratorium on temporary foreign workers lest we end up with a two-tier society. Mark Carney issues his own warning about importing temporary workers for the purpose of driving down Canadian wages. And Karl Fiecker goes into detail about the Cons’ TFW pipeline:
The latest estimates suggest close to 500,000 people are in Canada with temporary work permits, the vast majority of whom have little prospect of becoming permanent residents. This is equivalent to the entire paid labour force of Nova Scotia.

Much attention has focused on the government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which under the Harper government has doubled in size since 2006. This program alone accounts for the nearly 340,000 temporary workers present in the country at the end of 2012.

Most surprising has been the tremendous growth in the pipeline called the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa option, which is likely what RBC/iGate used in trying to displace Dave Moreau and his colleagues.

The ICT visa option allows employers to avoid the oversight of the Labour Market Opinion (LMO) process, which requires employers to meet just six rules. Two of the rules are to assess if the employer attempted to hire or train available workers within Canada and to require assurances any imported worker will receive substantially the same wages and benefits.

Since coming to power, the Harper government has boosted the use of these LMO-exempt visas from 70,000 in 2006 to 120,000 in 2011.

How did this happen and why did we know so little about it?

For one thing, the temporary worker pipeline is not mentioned in the government’s ubiquitous "Canada's Economic Action Plan" ads, even though it is clearly one of the cornerstones of a policy to drive down wages and working conditions and make the country an even "friendlier" place for business. In fact, 30 per cent of all net new jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011 were filled with temporary workers from outside the country.

Curiously, the day after CBC told Moreau's story to the country, detailed information on the number of approved passes granted to employers to import temporary workers was pulled off a government website. At a moment when the national media was paying attention to the issue, it was difficult to document the trends in the use of the program.

But make no mistake: the rise in the use of this program has relied on systematic changes to increase the pipeline of temporary workers into all areas of the economy, starting with the inclusion, in Budget 2007, of these few words: "Employers may recruit workers for any legally recognized occupation from any country."
- Dave Coles documents the regressive policy included in the Saskatchewan Party’s Bill 85.

- Finally, Kathleen Monk catches the Fraser Institute trying to set Canadian progress back 50 years, and reminds us just what that would entail:
(I)f you and I were to jump into the DeLorean piloted by Dr. Emmett Brown and travel back to 1961 Canada, here’s what we would find:
  • No Medicare
  • No Canada Pension Plan
  • Meagre Old Age Security benefits that gave us high levels of poverty for seniors
  • A post-secondary education system that was open only to the rich and the very, very, talented
  • And, significantly for my gender, the pay gap between men and women was wider than the James Bay.
On top of that, back in the Fraser Institute’s version of the good old days, the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter consumed 56.5% of the family budget compared to 36.9% today with most of the difference going to taxes.

Somehow the Fraser Institute have turned falling food and clothing prices (over time) into a bad thing.


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