Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Henry Mintzberg rightly challenges the myth of a "level playing field" when it comes to our economic opportunities:
Let’s level with each other. What we call a “level playing field” for economic development is played with Western rules on Southern turf, so that the New York Giants can take on some high school team from Timbuktu. The International Monetary Fund prepares the terrain and the World Trade Organization referees the game. Guess who wins.

The rules of this game have been written by people educated in the economic canon of the already developed West. The “developing” countries of the world are supposed to open up their markets to global corporations that stand ready to enter with their manufactured goods.
Now, just as the international economic agencies are waking up to the consequences of their levelling, a new set of rules is making the playing field even more level: companies can take on government themselves.

Thanks to intense lobbying, a host of bilateral trade agreements provide for special courts of arbitration that enable private companies to sue sovereign countries. This has been made necessary, so the argument goes, to protect companies from governments that renege on contracts. Fair enough.

But instead, these courts are being used by global companies to do something quite insidious: stop legislation, even on matters relating to health, culture, and environment, that they claim to reduce their current or expected profits. “Today, countries from Indonesia to Peru are facing investor-state suits.”1 In fact, companies needn’t go that far: just by threating [sic] such lawsuits, which may require legal costs the countries can’t afford, some countries have been bullied into cancelling proposed legislation. And, by the way, in this version of the game the goals are scored at only one end: governments cannot use these courts to bring claims against the companies.
- And thwap reminds us of the essential connection between democratic mechanisms and popular activism as a counterweight to the outsized influence of wealth.

- Meanwhile, Charles Rusnell reports on both Alberta's appalling instructions forbidding workers from participating in the province's election campaign even on their own time without management notice and approval, and its hasty retreat only after the attempt to silence the province's civil servants was exposed.

- Michal Rozworski highlights the complete lack of policy merit behind the Cons' false-balance bill, while Frances Russell points to Manitoba's experience in particular as demonstrating its damaging effects. And Karl Nerenberg offers a few suggestions for alternative legislation which might actually do some good.

- Finally, Amira Elghawaby discusses why Canadian Muslims have particular reason to worry about the elimination of civil rights under the Cons' terror bill. And the Canadian Journalists for Free Expressions are keeping up the pressure against C-51.

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