Saturday, March 19, 2016

On evaluations

I've written previously about my view as to how NDP members should approach the review of Thomas Mulcair's leadership at the upcoming federal convention. And in the face of a blizzard of commentary which does little but to echo knee-jerk election post-mortems, I'll offer a couple of questions for discussion (before providing my own answers in a later post).

First, what should members expect and hope to see from Mulcair as leader of the third party?

And second, how have his actions since the 2015 election compared to those expectations?

While I'm interested in readers' views on those points, they can also be applied as a filter to expose punditry which doesn't deserve much attention. After all, anybody unwilling to think about what the NDP should be doing as a party - or to pay attention to what it's actually done - should probably be treated with skepticism in pronouncing judgment on either side as to Mulcair's leadership.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Nicholas Kristof points out how important a stable and effective public service looks from the standpoint of a country which doesn't benefit from one. And Chi Onwurah discusses how the UK Cons - like their right-wing brethren elsewhere - are determined to move in the wrong direction:
"Putting the next generation first” was George Osborne’s branding on this, his eighth budget. Young people have certainly been first in line for punishing cuts to maintenance allowances, housing and welfare, but little else. Back in August I wrote that the Labour Party must take on Osbornomics head on and challenge the narrative of perpetual austerity and the marginalisation of the state.

That remains our duty in the face of a budget that fails to answer big questions about the kind of economy that the next generation will live and work in.

As Jeremy Corbyn eloquently put it, this was a budget with social injustice at its very core.  The billions of pounds already reaped from the wholesale misery of the most vulnerable, were to be spent in the ways best designed to keep the Tories in power and Osborne heir apparent.
(T)he Chancellor’s forward plan is a small disempowered state with eviscerated client local government and a precariat too weak and disorganised to challenge a small, smug, leisured elite. It offers no hope for the vast majority and only the reassurance of the status quo for a lucky few. Obviously, the Chancellor made no mention of that.
- Meanwhile, Roderick Benns interviews David Calnitsky about the results we should look for and anticipate in testing a basic income. And Andrew Jackson writes about the importance of fitting the goals of a basic income into a multi-faceted social safety net.

- The Brookings Institution discusses one of the ways inequality tends to be self-perpetuating, as high school dropout rates are higher in less equal areas.

- Nora Loreto makes the case to start meaningfully challenging the benefits given to Canada's big five banks. (And it's worth noting that the creation of a more diverse financial sector would be just one more plus arising out of postal banking.)

- Finally, Susan Delacourt writes about the conflicting goals of centralized political branding and inclusive governance - and notes that the Trudeau Libs have followed the Harper Cons in emphasizing the former.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Musical interlude

Zeds Dead & Oliver Heldens - You Know

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Harry Leslie Smith writes about the problems with a U.K. budget and economic plan designed to avoid any moral compass:
Nothing better illustrates to me that Osborne is sailing us back to the harsh and socially unsustainable cruelty of the 1930s than his removal of substantial benefits from over 200k disabled citizens to pay for middle class tax relief. We cannot grow or sustain our middle class by starving our poorest members of society.

When he strips our most vulnerable of living a dignified existence through cuts to their benefits it doesn't make our economy stronger, it makes Britain a weaker nation because we have repudiated our greatest national asset: our belief in fair play.

No matter how much Osborne crows about saving the next generation from the vicissitudes of financial uncertainty, it won't happen through tax cuts or increasing the amount one can stash in an ISA, because the real threat to Britain's next generation is low wages and an economy that has become skewered to reward only our most affluent citizens.
Britain can't save its next generation if it doesn't invest in infrastructure all across this country.

Britain can't save its next generation unless it builds affordable homes on a a scale not seen since the days of Attlee and Harold Macmillian in the 1960s.

Britain can't save it's next generation if it doesn't introduce a real living wage instead of topping up the minimum wage.

And Britain most certainly can't save the next generation unless it reduces the cost of education and produces a viable action plan to put our young in gainful employment rather than stocking shelves on zero-hour contracts.

Sadly my fear is that George Osborne has condemned the next generation to the horrors my generation thought we had put to an end. We supported a Britain that believed in fair taxation, fair wages, fair benefits and the rights to all citizens – whether they be rich, poor or in-between – to a life that had both comfort and purpose.
- Meanwhile, Jeremy van Loon reports that the oil sector is still sitting on massive piles of unused cash - even as it demands handouts to clean up its messes. And Matt McClure points out Alberta's pile of unpaid corporate taxes which the NDP government is working on bringing into the province's public coffers.

- Anne Jarvis highlights the recent controversy over French's ketchup as a prime example of the importance of fighting for local jobs rather than allowing corporations to dictate the terms of economic development.

- And Ann Hui reports on the dangers to public health from a lack of CFIA food inspectors. 

- Finally, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is taking a much-needed look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including Jacqueline Wilson's analysis of its false environmental promises and Alexandre Maltais' review of its impact on cultural policy. But Jeremy Nuttall notes that the Libs are going out of their way to avoid allowing the public any real input into the deal.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

New column day

Here, on the contrast between a Saskatchewan Party platform (and government) dedicated to handing money to the people who need it least, and an NDP which plans to help where it's most needed with what limited resources are left since Brad Wall wasted a boom.

For further reading...
- CBC reported here on the stark difference in the parties' reactions to First Nations health emergencies.
- Murray Mandryk discusses the Saskatchewan Party's inexplicable plans to further inflate a housing bubble.
- And for general coverage of Saskatchewan's election campaign, I'll point for now to CBC and the Leader-Post - while encouraging readers to be on the lookout for new voices during the campaign.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Reich points out how perpetually more severe corporate rights agreements are destroying the U.S.' middle class. And Michael Geist concludes his must-read series by summarizing the dangers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and making the case against ratifying it).

- Jeremy Runnalls writes about the growing movement toward a basic income to combat poverty. And Carter Vance makes the case for a wealth tax to start narrowing the chasm between the wealthy few and the rest of Canada:
(I)ncome statistics from one year may not fully capture the financial state of an individual or household. One might appear "wealthy" according to year-end income, but have far less net wealth due to high debts or high living costs. Wealth measures have their flaws as well, in particular that they take into account non-liquid assets (such as a primary residence), but they are often a better guide when it comes to inequality.

Statistics Canada does not have full data prior to 1999 in terms of its Survey of Financial Security (SFS), which tracks and measures financial assets and debts within Canadian households. That said, the statistics we do have paint a rather alarming picture.

Median net worth (that is, household assets minus debts), actually dropped in absolute terms from 1999 to 2012 for the bottom 20 per cent of earners, while nearly doubling in the upper 20 per cent This means that the median net worth of the upper 20 per cent of income earners is now 25 times that of the lower-middle 20 per cent and nearly 1250 times (no, that is not a typo) the lowest 20 per cent. Commentators can deny the reality of income inequality all they want, but there's no fiddling with the hard numbers here.
Wealth inequality, then, affects everything it can touch and therefore demands a policy response all its own. Unlike many of our OECD brethren, Canada does not currently levy an inheritance, estate or wealth tax of any sort. Where they do exist, wealth taxes are increasingly under both rhetorical and technocratic threat.

Since governmental tax and transfer powers remain the only things that have taken some of the sting out of increased income inequality, it's well past time to put a similar dent in inequalities of wealth. Wealth taxes are one of strongest tools to combat the surfeit of economic and political power on the side of capital.
- Jody Porter reports on the ongoing gap in educational funding for First Nations students compared to other Canadian children. And the CP highlights the millions of dollars the federal government has spent fighting to get out of paying benefits to employees who get sick while on parental leave.

- Kathryn May notes that the Trudeau Libs are merely following the Harper Cons' plan to gut the sick leave program for federal public servants. And Elizabeth Thompson points out that there's been no change whatsoever from the Cons' push to hand hundreds of thousands of Canadians' bank records to the IRS.

- But on the side of progress, Zosia Bielski discusses the Manitoba NDP's move to ensure that paid leave is available for people fleeing domestic abuse. And Selina Chignall reports on Niki Ashton's new campaign to give a voice to young workers entering a precarious labour market.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Curved cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jonathan Sas offers a worthwhile read on the potential value of a basic income - as well the importance of retaining and strengthening a social safety net to go with it:
In the current rush to experiment with GMIs, let’s not forget the hard won battles to decommodify certain things we value like health care. There was good reason to take the provision of health services out of the market and there remains good reason to doubt that merely providing cash transfers to everyone is adequate as a social safety net.

Ongoing fights to protect all those in the labour market will also continue to matter. We need strong unions, fair benefits and working conditions for all. We need government administered programs like the CPP that ensure a defined benefit public pension at retirement, and accessible employment insurance.

GMI or not, Canada desperately needs a national child care program. (One can see how easily the provision of the GMI could be used in service of troubling social conservative designs to incentivize women to stay home and out of the labour force).  We also need national pharmacare and robust investment in other pubic services — community programs like support for mental health and drug addiction that a GMI will not, cannot, and should not be conceived of as a solution to.
What I am trying to get across here is that the GMI must be the baseline. Not some silver bullet solution. We cannot lose sight of other pressing social policy needs, nor provide a handy opening for more of our social architecture to be dismantled.

Whatever the result of GMI pilots, public provision remains essential to a just, equal and thriving society.
- The Canadian Labour Congress offers its list of priorities for the federal budget. And PressProgress points out a few ways to boost public revenues to fund a more fair Canada.

- The CP highlights the erosion of one of the federal government's most important social supports - as not only is Employment Insurance available to few workers, even those who receive it are seeing appalling delays in having their applications processed.

- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby notes that despite the Libs' campaign promises, there still seems to be far too much money available to harass the charities targeted for audits by the Cons.

- Finally, CBC reports on the three Saskatchewan First Nations forced to declare a state of emergency due to a mental health crisis. And Anna Desmarais reports on a protest against the use of isolation to shut away people struggling with their mental health.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jared Bernstein is hopeful that the era of expansive corporate rights agreements is coming to an end. Paul Krugman notes that there's no evidence anybody has gained economically from the spread of those agreements other than the wealthy few pushing them through. And Stuart Trew has some suggestions for Canadians interested in having their say on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

- Michelle Cheung reports that a longstanding lack of maintenance funding is resulting in the loss of desperately-needed social housing. And while Ontario's move to permit inclusionary zoning represents some progress, it's no substitute for maintaining the housing which should already be available.

- John Baglow discusses the double standard in tax treatment, as the Canada Revenue Agency has been sicced on charities and working people while leaving wealthy tax evaders alone.

- And Murray Brewster exposes how Canada's defence procurement structure encourages corporate abuses - with this looking like a particularly important point in response to the right-wing inclination to rely solely on outside knowledge:
One of the key findings was that the structure of the contracting regime “provides perverse incentives for industry to increase costs” – particularly in sole-source deals – and there is “limited expertise in government” to review industrial processes and validate the increases.

“Neither (procurement services) nor DND has a sufficient knowledge base of subject matter experts that understand the ‘Should-Cost’ of a project, nor does either have the ability to understand the production process or other technical matters which are important drivers of cost and risk,” said the study, which compared Canada’s system with Britain, Australia and the U.S.
- Finally, Laurel Collins rightly argues that the Libs should be repealing Bill C-51 immediately, rather than dragging their heels while an unnecessary surveillance state builds up. Andrew Mitrovica points out that even the few opportunities to ask questions about CSIS' activities are being wasted, leaving it to disrupt Canadians without accountability. And Thomas Walkom points out that Justin Trudeau has quietly agreed to even more unfettered information-sharing with the U.S.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

On controversial responses

A propos of nothing in particular, let's go over this a couple more times:
Colby Cosh's latest on the role of the "human search engine" in tracking down information about candidates and elected officials is worth a read. But it's worth keeping in mind that the search results only matter to the extent they're put to use.
I'm always leery about personal controversies being used as an excuse to disqualify people from participation in public life. And the high bar for excluding people from running seems like it should be raised even further when the party's vetting and nomination processes...resulted in an individual having been elected...
And again:
(A) hair-trigger response to candidate controversy may serve to cut off a story immediately. But the larger risk of alienating supporters should also be taken into account...
To be clear, nothing about the above is to condone any of the statements which has led to the removal of any of the Saskatchewan NDP's candidates.

But it is to say that there's a real danger in a party holding itself up as a guarantor for everything any individual candidate has previously said and concurrently creating the expectation of disqualification, rather than letting responsibility fall to the individual. And a campaign which is otherwise presenting some rather vital issues such as support for mental health and fair education opportunity for First Nations students seems to have been diverted off course by choosing the former option.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Tim Harford discusses John Maynard Keynes' failed prediction that workers would continue to win increased leisure time over the past few decades:
(I)t is worth teasing out the nature and extent of Keynes’s error. He was right to predict that we would be working less. We enter the workforce later, after long and not-always-arduous courses of study. We enjoy longer retirements. The work week itself is getting shorter. In non-agricultural employment in the US, the week was 69 hours in 1830 — the equivalent of working 11 hours a day but only three hours on Sundays. By 1930, a full-time work week was 47 hours; each decade, American workers were working two hours less every week.

But Keynes overestimated how rapidly and for how long that trend would continue. By 1970 the work week was down to 39 hours. If the work week had continued to shrink, we would be working 30-hour weeks by now, and perhaps 25-hour weeks by 2030. But by around 1970, the slacking-off stopped. Why?
The gap between the growth of the economy and the growth of median household incomes is explained by a patchwork of factors, including a change in the nature of households themselves, with more income being diverted to healthcare costs, and an increasing share of income accruing to the highest earners. In short, perhaps progress towards the 15-hour work week has stalled because the typical US household’s income has stalled too. Household incomes started to stagnate at the same time as the work week stopped shrinking.

This idea makes good sense but it does not explain what is happening to higher earners. Since their incomes have not stagnated — far from it — one might expect them to be taking some of the benefits of very high hourly earnings in the form of shorter days and longer weekends. Not so. According to research published by economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst in 2006 — a nice snapshot of life before the great recession — higher earners were enjoying less leisure.

So the puzzle has taken a different shape. Ordinary people have been enjoying some measure of both the income gains and the leisure gains that Keynes predicted — but rather less of both than we might have hoped.

The economic elites, meanwhile, continue to embody a paradox: all the income gains that Keynes expected and more, but limited leisure.
- Carol Goar laments the Libs' lack of action to build a national child care system. And Alex Steffen observes that the movement toward social progress has run into a well-funded but deeply destructive corporate effort to proclaim that change for the better is impossible.

- In a particularly stark example of the gap between the progress which can obviously be made and the excuses for refusing to make it, Tim Fontaine reports on the connection between poverty, inequality and alarming suicide rates among First Nations children - even as Jorge Barrera exposes the Libs' false claim that there's no money available to keep a promise to better fund education.

- David Roberts examines how solar power is rapidly becoming the cheapest option even compared to subsidized fossil fuels.

- And finally, Desmond Cole questions the indefinite detention of migrants to Canada.