Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Atrios offers a reminder as to how means-testing tends to make social programs more vulnerable to attack without making our overall tax system more progressive:
We already means test through the tax code. It's called progressive taxation. There's no reason to add an entire additional layer of complexity and bureaucracy and verification to every new and existing government program out there. If we built the highway system today we'd probably toll it for everyone earning above, say, $100,000, but everyone earning less than that would have to get their income verified and a separate form and a special toll free card and would have to pay back the free tolls if they made too much money the next year blah blah blah. We'd have to contract out to private companies to hire "navigators" in order to guide people through the free toll application process. "Make the rich pay more" actually just means "make it harder and more costly for everybody else."

Usually this doesn't even "save" much money, even ignoring the individual cost of compliance and associated bureaucracy. Think rich people get too many nice things from the government? Raise their damn taxes. Don't use it as an excuse to make giving nice things to everyone else so complicated that it practically isn't worth bothering. The net cost of stopping a few Richie Riches from getting free state university tuition or pre-K is yuge. The cost of increasing taxes a tiny bit on rich people generally is essentially zero, except to the rich people in question of course.
- Ben Steverman highlights how the U.S.' Social Security disability benefit - like far too many other social supports - traps people in perpetual precarity by threatening to take away benefit from anybody seeking to earn income. But then, as Laura Ip notes, the norm for working Canadians is to be within two missed paycheques away from disaster - meaning that there's an urgent need to strengthen multiple strands of our social safety net.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the pathetic level of enforcement of employment standards in Ontario which has given rise to an epidemic of wage theft.

- Elizabeth McSheffrey reports on the Saskatchewan government's admission that it likely won't be able to fully clean up the mess from Husky's North Saskatchewan River oil spill, while Allison Martell and Rob Nickel note that two previous spills from pipelines in the area went unreported in the previous year. Jordon Cooper highlights the importance of effectively regulating pipelines while contrasting that goal against the Sask Party's desire to be seen as serving the oil industry. And Tristin Hopper's story on the onetime (and future?) plan to exploit the tar sands through a nuclear explosion should remind us of the damage the oil sector is happy to inflict for a perceived cheap buck.

- Meanwhile, the Associated Press points out the myriad of unprecedented environmental measures recorded around the globe in 2015. And George Monbiot observes that it's all too rare to see the scope of our climate crisis accurately portrayed in the media.

- Finally, Nick Falvo discusses the importance of improved data to address homelessness and other social problems. And Kathleen O'Grady and Noralou Roos make the case to make academic research more accessible to the people who can use it in practice.

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