Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Paul Krugman compares the U.S.' longtime recognition that concentrated wealth can do massive social harm to the Republicans' recent efforts to claim that raising any revenue from the rich is somehow un-American:
The truth is that, in the early 20th century, many leading Americans warned about the dangers of extreme wealth concentration, and urged that tax policy be used to limit the growth of great fortunes. Here’s another example: In 1919, the great economist Irving Fisher — whose theory of “debt deflation,” by the way, is essential in understanding our current economic troubles — devoted his presidential address to the American Economic Association largely to warning against the effects of “an undemocratic distribution of wealth.” And he spoke favorably of proposals to limit inherited wealth through heavy taxation of estates.

Nor was the notion of limiting the concentration of wealth, especially inherited wealth, just talk. In his landmark book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the economist Thomas Piketty points out that America, which introduced an income tax in 1913 and an inheritance tax in 1916, led the way in the rise of progressive taxation, that it was “far out in front” of Europe. Mr. Piketty goes so far as to say that “confiscatory taxation of excessive incomes” — that is, taxation whose goal was to reduce income and wealth disparities, rather than to raise money — was an “American invention.”

And this invention had deep historical roots in the Jeffersonian vision of an egalitarian society of small farmers. Back when Teddy Roosevelt gave his speech, many thoughtful Americans realized not just that extreme inequality was making nonsense of that vision, but that America was in danger of turning into a society dominated by hereditary wealth — that the New World was at risk of turning into Old Europe. And they were forthright in arguing that public policy should seek to limit inequality for political as well as economic reasons, that great wealth posed a danger to democracy.
We aren’t yet a society with a hereditary aristocracy of wealth, but, if nothing changes, we’ll become that kind of society over the next couple of decades.

In short, the demonization of anyone who talks about the dangers of concentrated wealth is based on a misreading of both the past and the present. Such talk isn’t un-American; it’s very much in the American tradition. And it’s not at all irrelevant to the modern world. So who will be this generation’s Teddy Roosevelt?
- And Thom Hartmann Shaw points out the damaging effects of outsourcing and privatization in the U.S.

- Daniel Weinstock laments the lack of a left-wing party with broad public appeal in Canada's most progressive province. And CK makes the case for Quebec Solidaire as the best option among the parties actually contesting the current Quebec election.

- Carol Linnett points to Jim Hoggan's discussion of our polluted public discourse. Joe Romm highlights the latest IPCC report as showing the long-term costs of environmental negligence. And Jacques Leslie writes that Canada is tarring its own reputation on the international stage by attacking sane climate policy at home and abroad:
(T)he Harper government has shown its disdain for scientists and environmental groups dealing with climate change and industrial pollution. The government has either drastically cut or entirely eliminated funding for many facilities conducting research in climate change and air and water pollution. It has placed tight restrictions on when its 23,000 scientists may speak publicly and has given power to some department managers to block publication of peer-reviewed research. It has closed or “consolidated” scientific libraries, sometimes thoughtlessly destroying invaluable collections in the process. And it has slashed funding for basic research, shifting allocations to applied research with potential payoffs for private companies.

With a deft Orwellian touch, Canada’s national health agency even accused a doctor in Alberta, John O’Connor, of professional misconduct — raising “undue alarm” and promoting “a sense of mistrust” in government officials — after he reported in 2006 that an unusually high number of rare, apparently tar-sands-related cancers were showing up among residents of Fort Chipewyan, 150 miles downstream from the tar sands. A government review released in 2009 cautiously supported Dr. O’Connor’s claims, but officials have shown no interest in the residents’ health since then.
The pressure on environmentalists has been even more intense. Two years ago Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (who this month became finance minister) declared that some environmentalists “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest” and “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists. And Canada’s tax-collecting agency recently introduced rigorous audits of at least seven prominent environmental groups, diverting the groups’ already strained resources from anti-tar-sands activities.
The government could defuse much tar sands opposition simply by advocating a more measured approach to its development, using the proceeds to head the country away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon, renewables-based future. That, in fact, was the policy recommended by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a nonpartisan, eminently moderate independent research group founded by another right-leaning prime minister, Brian Mulroney, in 1988. The Harper government showed what it thought of the policy when it disbanded the Round Table last year.
- Finally, Peter Loewen is the latest to weigh in against the Unfair Elections Act, with a particular focus on the many types of voters who will be disenfranchised for nothing even faintly approaching a valid reason. And Democracy Watch has some ideas as to how to change our electoral rules for the better - which are well worth some discussion even if they may not all be workable in practice.

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