Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom discusses why politicians have thus far failed to take any meaningful action on climate change. But it's also worth noting that the question of whether voters are pushing for change may not be the only determining factor in government decision-making.

Most obviously, debt and deficits (which are no less distant from the immediate interests of voters than climate change) are seen as demanding constant and immediate action even at the expense of anybody's apparent short-term political interests - with unpopular and destructive policy choices regularly defended based on the accepted belief that no responsible government can ignore a greater issue. And while the fiscal scolding may be based all too much on a general aversion to government rather than any sane ranking of priorities, a similar and more positive principle might develop in the area of climate change: leaving aside the exact means chosen, there's surely some value in arguing that the end of not damaging our planet should be part of any reasonable set of governing principles.

- Of course, "a secure living for all" would also fit neatly into that category. On that front, Guy Standing makes the case for a basic income, while Neil Irwin points out that (contrary to the spin of the right) strong social programs strongly encourage workforce participation:
(M)ore people may work when countries offer public services that directly make working easier, such as subsidized care for children and the old; generous sick leave policies; and cheap and accessible transportation. If the goal is to get more people working, what’s important about a social welfare plan may be more about what the money is spent on than how much is spent.

That is the argument that Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, a professor at the London School of Economics, offers to explain the exceptional rates of participation in the work force among citizens of Sweden, Norway and his native Denmark.

There is a solid correlation, by Mr. Kleven’s calculations, between what countries spend on employment subsidies — like child care, preschool and care for older adults — and what percentage of their working-age population is in the labor force.

Consider Marianne Hillestad of Steinberg, Norway. She teaches kindergarten; her husband, Ruben Sanchez, installs heating and ventilation systems. Day care for their three children, ages 4, 7, and 9, works out to about $1,100 a month; Ms. Hillestad estimates that if she had to pay a market rate, it would be nearly twice that, eating up most of her paycheck.
Collectively, these policies and subsidies create flexibility such that a person on the fence between taking a job versus staying at home to care for children or parents may be more likely to take a job.
- Following up on Thursday's column, Don Cayo chimes in on Canadians' broad public support to fight inequality. And Dennis Howlett makes the case for strong enforcement against tax cheats to ensure wealthier citizens pay their fair share.

- Finally, Brent Patterson notes that the Cons managed to prevent a toothless NAFTA panel from even examining the effect of fish farms on B.C. salmon stocks by voting against any review. And ThinkProgress highlights Enbridge's recent Regina spill as yet more reason to be dubious of pipeline promises.


  1. It's depressing as hell but I have to agree with Walkom. The point is time is not on our side on climate change. Our failure to take effective action on anthropogenic global warming has already brought us to one, perhaps several, tipping points - the natural feedback mechanisms that will drive runaway global warming. As Canadians we should be particularly ashamed because this is happening in our northern territories. The tundra fires, melting permafrost, natural CO2 and methane escape, sea level rise, loss of polar ice packs, black soot, ocean acidification - we are the Petri dish for all of those forces and they're happening now, in real time, as we look the other way.

    I wish I could recall the names but a prominent climate scientist was asked by a journalist what was the most important thing the reporter could teach his young son to prepare for climate change. The scientist replied, "teach him how to use a rifle."

    1. I don't think there's much doubt as to the seriousness of the problem, but I do think it's worth noting there are different means of trying to address it.

      In effect, Walkom lets our actual political leaders off the hook by saying that our they're inevitably bound to pursue short-term policies in the name of winning votes. And if one accepts that nobody in either the general public or the political class will ever do more than what pollsters say will win votes tomorrow, then we may as well pack up the entire political system and go home.

      But my response is that it's possible for a perceived long-term goal (such as deficit and debt reduction) to be treated as a necessary end within the political class itself. And once that goal is seen to transcend party lines, there's ample public support for the policies which would follow from it.

      Of course, the Cons are currently doing their utmost to stand in the way of any consensus on dealing with climate change (particularly where it might run contrary to profits in the oil patch). But there's room for change there, particularly if the otherwise-dubious "ecofiscal" push goes somewhere.