Thursday, May 01, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Crawford Kilian discusses the growing influence of Thomas Piketty's observations about wealth inequality and the unfairness of a system which inherently perpetuates privilege:
What I take away is this: We are playing in a rigged game. The deck has always been stacked against us, and against our parents and grandparents, world without end. Why? Return on investment has always been higher than economic growth, and you can live well on just a fraction of that return while saving the rest for your offspring to inherit. They in turn will build the family wealth still more, Piketty explains. This is patrimonial capitalism, and it has nothing to do with education, skill or hard work -- only with whose legs you happen to have been born between.

For the bottom half of the population, he writes, "The very notions of wealth and capital are relatively abstract. For millions of people, 'wealth' amounts to little more than a few weeks' wages in a checking account or low-interest savings account, a car, and a few pieces of furniture. The inescapable reality is this: wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence."
Piketty sees a possible alternative: a worldwide universal, progressive tax regime. It would have to be worldwide to prevent the megarich from squirrelling their money away in the Cayman Islands or some other tax haven. (He suspects a lot more has already been hidden than anyone realizes.) This taxation wouldn't impoverish the one per cent, but it would give governments a better sense of just how rich everyone is -- and isn't. He suggests such a tax regime could begin regionally and eventually spread worldwide.

But that's just one economist's opinion. The rest of us, finally armed with Piketty's data, need to start debating what to do about the rich and the poor. We don't want a war to equalize matters, and revolutions tend to end badly.

But we need to make the one per cent understand that every dollar, pound and euro they make ultimately comes from the elaborate infrastructure the rest of us have created. They only exploit it. They are not the job creators; we are the wealth creators. They have no more right to a free lunch than we do, and high incomes warrant high taxes.
- Meanwhile, Tavia Grant reports on the OECD's finding that Canada is seeing income inequality spread even more quickly than other developed countries. Which means that there's a particularly obvious need for a policy response at home, while working out our options within the international community to address the global concentration of wealth and the abuse of tax havens.

- But of course, the Cons are more interested in exploring ever more exploitative practices to be inflicted on workers in Canada - such as the indentured servitude of temporary foreign workers examined by Andrew Stevens. And so Robyn Benson is right to note that there's reason for younger workers to worry about their future (while hopefully taking action to change it for the better):
Employer demands for a two-tier wage system is a fact of life in the present economy, condemning younger workers to a permanent low-wage existence. And abuses in the Temporary Foreign Workers program make even McJobs far less available to them. The Harper government’s expressions of shock when the abuses at come to light doesn’t hide the fact that it issued the permits in the first place—or that 75% of all new jobs over the past few years have gone to imported temporary workers.

Overall, workers in the 15-24 age group are facing high levels of unemployment, and employment prospects are getting worse. Despite popular accusations of “entitlement,” many young people have taken years to train for careers, and have the degrees to prove it, but now find themselves in low-skilled jobs because better work simply isn’t available.

It’s no surprise that many of these bright millennials are turning to unionization as a solution to the low-wage trap they have found themselves in. This is “bottom-up” pressure that is bound to pay dividends now and in the future for the workers who engage in it, and for society as a whole. Higher rates of unionization mean better, more secure employment, and the possibility of facing the future with confidence.

What is also badly needed in Canada, however—and what the new generation of workers isn’t getting from the present government—is a national jobs strategy that actually creates opportunities for young people to put their training, skills and intelligence to good use, in productive careers. Everyone would benefit from that, no matter what generation they are. But our youth, it seems, have a long way to go before that Spring arrives.
- PressProgress exposes Kinder Morgan's stunning argument that its pipeline expansion should be allowed in part because of the benefits of oil spills in creating cleanup work. Charles Pierce discusses the environmental devastation caused by unfettered tar sands development. And Mychaylo Prystupa takes a look behind one of the most prominent B.C. astroturf groups pushing for handouts to the resource sector at the expense of the environment and the rest of the population.

- Finally, Alice Funke offers a useful primer as to the nomination processes in Canada's federal political parties.

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