Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- John Cassidy offers ten options to reduce income inequality. And Andrew Coyne concurs with the first and most important suggestion that income supports sufficient to provide a stable living to everybody would make for the ideal solution.

- Meanwhile, Frances Russell is the latest to write that the Cons' income-splitting scheme is only designed to exacerbate the gap between the rich and the rest of us. Miles Corak notes that even Republicans can't avoid recognizing that equality of opportunity is fading in the U.S. - though he recognizes their inclination to avoid acknowledging the role of inequality as a cause. Logan Sachon interviews a few members of the precariat about about the extreme obstacles facing people who have to juggle part-time and temporary jobs for lack of full-time opportunities. And in an interview with Josh Eidelson, John Schmitt discusses how the U.S. has chosen inequality and worker suppression as the basis for its economic policy over the past several decades:
Workers today are a lot older than they were in the 1960s or the 1970s, and they are enormously better-educated than they were in the 1960s or 1970s. The fact that most workers are doing barely better, and some workers are doing worse than their counterparts from 40 or 50 years ago … suggest that the problem is that the way the economy converts people’s skills, people’s experience, people’s education and their training, into good jobs is what has deteriorated over this period. Not people’s underlying skills, or work experience, or education.

And I think it points to something completely different — and I think it’s absent from a lot of the discussion as [to] the reasons why we have economic inequality, and the reasons why we have these continuous problems with mobility and opportunity. And that has to do with bargaining power of workers. And you know, that I think is a piece that’s unfortunately missing from the president’s discussion of economic inequality, and it’s absent from his discussion of mobility and opportunity.

The way the economy has been restructured over the last three or four decades has removed the bargaining power of workers at the middle and the bottom. And it’s done that in a very systematic way.
It doesn’t stop there … Immigrant workers have almost no rights under our labor law … Because their position is so weak, it undermines the power of low-wage workers who were born here and have — barely — more rights … It creates a perfect set of circumstances for low-wage employers, because they can play immigrant workers against U.S.-born workers, in an environment where neither of them has very many rights. So businesses don’t have a big incentive to try and fix that situation …

We’ve had trade deals such as [the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership], which we’re discussing right now, which are basically organized to increase the power, economic power of corporations, and to undermine the power of their workers and consumers.

You know, we privatized state and local government functions at quite an alarming rate … The main advantage that the private sector has over the public sector is not that they’re more efficient at organizing school buses. It’s that they pay their workers less and they don’t give them benefits …

That discussion of bargaining power, and the politics and the policies around it, is firstly what’s going to be missing from the State of the Union address.
- Speaking of privatization, Travis Homenuk criticizes the Sask Party's plan to privatize food services in correctional centres. CBC reports that Ontario's highways are suffering from the poor performance of private maintenance operations - though it's far from clear that the imposition of contractual fines makes up for the injuries suffered by citizens due to contractor neglect. And Sean Shaw discusses how P3s are at best a matter of accounting and budgeting trickery rather than value for public money.

- But Matthew Taylor reports that the trend toward privatization is far from universal - as a cross-party group of UK MPs is working on legislation to keep public services public.

- Finally, the CP reports that the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has understandably given up on a federal environmental monitoring program. And while it's understandable that nobody would trust, say, a government which puts oil lobbyists on the public payroll to stop environmental research, there's all the more work to be done in ensuring that First Nations with much to lose (or gain) from tar sands development can engage in meaningful discussions with the next federal government.

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