Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Economist argues that lower oil prices offer an ideal opportunity to rethink our energy policy (with a focus on cleaner sources). And Mitchell Anderson offers a eulogy for Alberta's most recent oil bender:
For now the latest Alberta bender is over, and it's time to take stock of certain destructive lifestyle choices. The budgetary cupboards are bare, yet Canada's allegedly "richest" province has an unfunded municipal infrastructure deficit of up to $24 billion. A badly needed new cancer treatment facility has just been delayed past 2020. The long-overdue plan to build or modernize over 230 schools by 2018 is threatened by an $11-billion "fiscal hole" in provincial finances.

According to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, "Alberta continues to have the lowest overall tax system in Canada, with the lowest fuel taxes, no sales tax, no health premiums, no capital or payroll taxes, and low personal and corporate income taxes. Albertans and Alberta businesses would pay at least $10.6 billion more in taxes each year if Alberta had the tax system of any other province."

While provincial finances are grim and real estate values are about to fall off a cliff, the real deficit is not economic but intellectual. Some observers have made the case that the free-market mindset that got us in this mess is actually a long-term project of powerful outside forces eager to acquire Canada's treasure trove of resources at rock bottom prices.

If so, this audacious endgame has been a stunning success. The anti-tax sentiment has intruded so far into the collective psyche of Alberta voters that they almost have Stockholm Syndrome, punishing any politician that threatens to raise resource rents. The last Alberta election almost saw a Fraser Institute alumna become premier. If there is an upside to the most recent downturn in Alberta, it is bringing into crystal clear focus the abject fiscal failure of decades of "free market" resource policies promoted by well-funded think tanks.
- Meanwhile, Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima sees inequality and climate change as the two most important policy challenges of 2015.

- Keith Humphreys explores the gap between the rich and the poor in rates of smoking cessation. And Charles Blow offers a reminder as to how expensive it is to be poor.

- Joe Fiorito rightly argues that there's no secret as to how to end homelessness if we have the will to make resources available to provide housing. And Jordon Cooper notes that while we may be more attentive to homelessness in the dead of winter, we should want to eliminate it year-round.

- Finally, Carly Weeks questions the appalling secrecy surrounding Canada's drug approval process. And Stefan Christoff discusses the Cons' latest crackdown on civil liberties.

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