Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Not surprisingly, this week's revelations about Pamela Wallin have set off plenty more discussion about what's wrong with the Senate and its current beneficiaries. Andrew Coyne recognizes that the problem lies in the design of an institution based on patronage and unaccountability rather than being merely an issue of who's getting appointed, while Andrea Hill discusses how the Senate breeds a sense of entitlement. Rosie DiManno sees Wallin as a prime example of that phenomenon in action, while Tim Harper writes about Stephen Harper's role in establishing his appointees' expectation that they'd be above any rules so long as they served his partisan interests. And Michael Bliss joins the chorus calling for abolition as the best way to end the abuse.

- Jenny Uechl points out Robyn Allan's observation that just as the public is likely to pay most of the bill for MMA's destruction of Lac-M├ęgantic, we're all likely to be on the hook for the costs of pipeline failures based on how the corporate sector prefers to do business:
"Lac M├ęgantic  shows that companies are making money doing things that cause huge risks, and when they cause an accident, they don't have the money to pay for the damages, so the public is left on the hook," said Allan, commenting on liability regimes. 
"That's a reprehensible situation, and it's the standard --  it certainly has been with pipeline companies." 
Allan drew public attention to Enbridge's "limited liability partnership" structure during the Northern Gateway joint review panel hearings earlier this year. Among the many points covered in her study, she noted that Enbridge set up Northern Gateway so that revenues from the pipeline would go to Enbridge shareholders, but the liability responsibility stopped with Northern Gateway, leaving the parent company protected.
 - Which makes it all the more important that we have fair assessment processes which reflect the public interest rather than mere rubber-stamps - as the Star's editorial board notes

- The Washington Post reports on how the NSA's surveillance has led to thousands of breaches of U.S. law over the past few years, while Amy Minsky writes that the RCMP has simply taken to ignoring its legal obligations to provide access to information. And the trend of outlaw law enforcement regimes offers all the more reason to doubt that spending billions of dollars on dangerous drones represents an even faintly defensible use of public money.

- Finally, Erin Weir points out Chrystia Freeland's platitude-laden economic message. And Matt Fodor and Michael Laxer suggest that it's long past time to instead have an adult conversation about taxes and public services:
As Hugh Mackenzie notes: "Nations that have the most highly developed systems of public services pay for them with all kinds of taxes, including sales taxes and payroll taxes that everyone contributes to because everyone knows there is no such thing as a free lunch."

The Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark and Norway all have a Value Added Tax (VAT) of around 25%, far higher than the GST/HST, which finances the welfare state.  The Nordic model is notable for its reliance on transfers, which do the heavy lifting in terms of countering inequality.  While personal income taxes are higher than in Canada, they also pay much higher levels of consumption and payroll taxes.  Yet the net impact of the tax-and-transfer system is progressive. Rather massively so. In part, this is for the obvious reason that because the affluent spend more, the net impact of consumption taxes are progressive if they are spent on human need.

Indeed, the redistributive power of public spending – on healthcare, education, pensions and an array of other public services – should not be ignored.  A CCPA report, Canada’s Quiet Bargain, found that more than two thirds of Canadian households receive more than 50 percent of their income in public services, a far better deal than the market and far more than they pay in taxes. This was even more true before the tax-cutting mania of the past two decades.

The taxation of private consumption can fund the provision of public goods (such as parks, public transit, public housing, etc.) that are more ecological than private goods. Furthermore, public goods provision has the effect of decommodification which is as important as progressive taxation in terms of moving toward socialist relations in capitalist societies.

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