Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The New York Times editorial board chimes in on how Kansas serves as an ideal test case as to illusory benefits of top-end tax cuts:
The 2012 cuts were among the largest ever enacted by a state, reducing the top tax bracket by 25 percent and eliminating all taxes on business profits that are reported on individual income returns. (No other state has ever eliminated all taxes on these pass-through businesses.) The cuts were arrogantly promoted by Mr. Brownback with the same disproven theory that Republicans have employed for decades: There will be no loss of revenue because of all the economic growth!

“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in 2012. “It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”

But the growth didn’t show up. Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving. It has been below the national average in job gains for the three and half years Mr. Brownback has been in office. Average earnings in the state are down since 2012, and so is net growth in the number of registered businesses.
The evidence of failure is piling up around Mr. Brownback, whose re-election campaign is faltering because of his mistake. Yet he continues to cling to his magical ideology, pleading for more time. “It’s like going through surgery,” he told The Wall Street Journal last month. “It takes a while to heal and get growing afterwards.”

But it’s not clear the patient can recover from this surgery — the reserve fund, in fact, is likely to nearly run dry next year. As Kansas has clearly shown, states cannot cut their way to prosperity. They need to use every tool of government to nurture growth, and those tools require money.
- And in a similar vein, Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew reports on the growing recognition that Ontario will need some significant revenue increases to avoid the Wynne Libs' plan to sell off and slash public services.

- Meanwhile, Mark Serwotka duly mocks the claim that austerity reflect financial necessity rather than a desire to ensure that a still-expanding pie serves fewer and fewer people. Simon Tremblay-Pepin examines the effect of austerity in Quebec. And PressProgress connects the dots between more active government and happier people.

- Susan Wright discusses Alberta's farce of a climate change strategy - along with the minimal chance that a strong rebuke from the province's Auditor General will result in any change for the better.

- Finally, Dale Smith expands on the vital role played by political parties - and some of the steps needed to make sure they work as they're supposed to:
What people often forget is that parties represent different things in different arenas.  The parliamentary party is a facet that is important in the day-to-day operation of parliament, and serves some of the most crucial functions of all – maintaining confidence.  This is the underlying principle by which our system of Responsible Government operates – that the government of the day has the confidence of the Chamber, so that it can continue to govern.  It maintains confidence by means of arranging its followers into a party that will support it on matters of confidence – things like spending proposals or key government programs and foreign policy decisions.  It also means that the prime minister can continue to advise the Queen or Governor General, because he or she has the confidence of the Chamber.  So you can see why it’s a pretty big deal.
(I)n order to fix the problems, they require more engagement from people and not less.  The problem when no more than two percent of the population – one of the lowest rates in the democratic world – are members of a political party at any given time, is that it allows a small number of people within the party to exert undue influence.  This applies for things like policy development, candidate selection and nomination races – you need more people engaged, in order to push back against top-down control and to make themselves heard and to hold the party itself to account.
There is, however, a uniting factor in the problems that plague both the parliamentary and electoral party structures, which is the fact that a lack of civic literacy, combined with a lack of responsibility on the part of both voters and MPs, has created a system where everyone walks around going “not my problem.”  Voters don’t want to engage in parties, and MPs don’t want to claim their rights and responsibilities, seemingly more comfortable blaming others for their lack of action (not to mention backbone).  This was confirmed in the recent book The Tragedy of the Commons, which Delacourt also cited, but to a different conclusion.  What is most striking about that book is the way in which the former MPs that were interviewed were concerned with their own self-mythologizing, insisting that they were all outsiders to the system (almost to a single MP), and that the party made them do everything.  Except that each and every one of them could have said no.

What MPs and voters alike need is a crash course in civic literacy, so that they are armed with the knowledge that is necessary to push back against the power structures that have entrenched themselves in the leaders’ offices and party hierarchies.  You don’t like the way the party elite run things?  Ensure that you have a strong enough grassroots to push back.  You don’t like how the leader’s office treats MPs like puppets?  It only takes a handful of MPs to say no, because they can’t all be fired at once without some serious questions being raised.  All it takes is a little effort.  To simply declare that parties are the problem is facile and wrong, and abolishing them just throws the baby out with the bathwater.

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