Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Piketty discusses our choice between developing models of global trade which actually produce positive results for people, or fueling the fire of Trump-style demogoguery:
The main lesson for Europe and the world is clear: as a matter of urgency, globalization must be fundamentally re-oriented. The main challenges of our times are the rise in inequality and global warming. We must therefore implement international treaties enabling us to respond to these challenges and to promote a model for fair and sustainable development.

Agreements of a new type can, if necessary, include measures aimed at facilitating these exchanges. But the question of liberalizing trade should no longer be the main focus. Trade must once again become a means in the service of higher ends. It never should have become anything other than that.

There should be no more signing of international agreements that reduce customs duties and other commercial barriers without including quantified and binding measures to combat fiscal and climate dumping in those same treaties. For example, there could be common minimum rates of corporation tax and targets for carbon emissions which can be verified and sanctioned. It is no longer possible to negotiate trade treaties for free trade with nothing in exchange.
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It is time to change the political discourse on globalization: trade is a good thing, but fair and sustainable development also demands public services, infrastructure, health and education systems. In turn, these themselves demand fair taxation systems. If we fail to deliver these, Trumpism will prevail.
- Chris Hedges warns that the consequences of Trump's toxic campaign may be even worse than we expect once it becomes clear that his promises (both explicit and implicit) aren't going to be met. And Aditya Chakrabortty writes that the jobs currently under threat from neoliberal policies include most of the middle class in the developed world, not only the Rust Belt states which gave Trump his margin of victory.

- Angella MacEwen comments on the importance of listening to workers when developing international trade mechanisms. Michael Geist wonders whether the failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership will do anything to stem the tide of secretive agreements biased toward the corporate sector - though I'm less than optimistic given that prominent past failures seems to have led to little more than minor delays. And Adam Parsons notes that the theme of global cooperation and harmonization has conspicuously failed to produce anything of the sort when it comes to avoiding corporate abuses.

- Ben Schiller points out that solar installations end up helping all power users by providing additional energy when it's needed most - representing a noteworthy contrast to the anti-social effects of corporate dominance which Alberta's NDP is trying to reverse. And Sarah Emerson reports on a U.S. class action lawsuit seeking to hold governments to account for the future financial impacts of climate change on generations to come.

- Finally, Pamela Cowan reports on the work Saskatchewan doctors are doing to incorporate social determinants of health into patient care.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

New column day

Here, on how the impression that our votes for change don't produce the expected results can lead to the public putting up with a destructive alternative just to have an alternative at all.

For further reading...
- For background on Prince Edward Island's electoral reform plebiscite, see Susan Bradley's report on the results, Sara Fraser on the Liberal government's attempt to weasel its way out of enacting the voters' choice, and Kevin Yarr on Wade MacLauchlan's new announcement of a second vote in an effort to reverse the results of the first one.
- And while there are plenty of other sources on each of the other votes referenced in the column, I'll point out the BBC's report on Colombia's rejected peace deal to go with past links on Brexit and the U.S. election, respectively.

On decision points

Needless to say, it's disappointing that there now doesn't seem to be any prospect of a shift to a more proportional federal electoral system without a referendum. But the NDP's move to build a consensus among the opposition parties on a referendum offering a choice between mixed-member proportional representation and first-past-the-post makes sense given the apparent alternative.

After all, the Libs' surprise mass mailout on electoral reform could only have been intended to set them up as the sole arbiter as to public preference. And they've surely already written up their talking to the effect that if one squints just right, the steady stream of "we want PR!" received in response could be interpreted to mean "we want whatever Justin Trudeau sees as best for his own career prospects!".

That left multi-party cooperation as the only possible counterbalance to the Libs' attempt to take full control of any decisions. And while acceding to the Cons' desire for a referendum in exchange for agreement on PR as an option leaves open the possibility of a broken promise to end first-past-the-post (while also creating all kinds of logistical questions), it at least leaves the best possible reform on the table based on public support.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Kevin Connor reports that the more Ontario voters are exposed to the realities of public-private partnerships, the more they're turning against the idea - with a quarter or less of respondents seeing any upside to handing public services over to businesses. Tony Keller writes that Canada's history of corrupt infrastructure projects designed to enrich government supporters goes back at least to the Pacific Scandal. And David Dayen highlights why there's every reason to be suspicious of Donald Trump's privatized infrastructure plan for the U.S.:
This report from Peter Navarro, set to be one of Trump’s leading economists, lays out the blueprint. The government would sell $1 trillion in revenue-producing bonds, needing only to supply an equity cushion to ensure everyone gets paid. Navarro estimates around $140 billion in government funding when all is said and done, which you could easily get through repatriation.

Investors would get a tax credit to entice them to buy bonds, and Navarro claims that the tax revenue from new jobs created by the projects makes up for that cost. He also wants to contract out these projects, building in a 10 percent profit margin for the private contractor. Navarro claims that construction costs are higher when built by the government, and the private sector is more efficient.

Does this sound familiar? It’s the common justification for privatization, and it’s been a disaster virtually everywhere it’s been tried. First of all, this specifically ties infrastructure—designed for the common good—to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees.
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(T)he stock market may love this idea. But it’s designed to funnel money to big investors and contractors by essentially letting them purchase public assets. This could impoverish the people these projects are supposed to help, allow corporations to choose investment destinations, and further climate disasters. And given the likelihood of profit-gouging, there’s no guarantee it even has a net benefit for workers and communities over time.
- Richard Adams reports on the UK social mobility commission's conclusion that today's younger workers represent the first generation in recent memory facing worse income and career prospects than preceding ones. 

- Monika Dutt examines the evidence on two-tiered health care, and concludes that a for-profit stream only exacerbates the wait times and lack of resources in a public health care system.

- Finally, Kyle Curlew reminds us how Bill C-51 is designed to intrude on Canadians' rights. And Andrew Mitrovica points out that Canada's hands are far from clean when it comes to state spying on journalists trying to report in the public interest.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Karl Nerenberg examines new research from the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards showing how workers have seen hardly any benefit from four decades of productivity gains which have filled corporate coffers:
(I)n Canada, the productivity of labour -- the amount workers produce per unit of effort -- went up by over one per cent per year over the 38 years between 1976 and 2014.

The average worker's earnings, however, barely budged over that same period. The rise in wages was less than one tenth of one per cent per year. Put differently, the rise in productivity was more than ten times that of earnings.

We do not have comparable statistics for the U.S., but it would be a fair bet they are not that different.

The anecdotal evidence that a great many Americans are working harder, but getting nowhere economically, is abundant.
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Thr growth of globalization has "allowed capital to seek the highest returns globally and, at the same time, has brought workers in Canada's traded goods sector into competition with the workers of low-wage countries." In other words, trade deals do indeed benefit corporations, but they often also weaken workers' rights with a race to the bottom.

Robotics and computer technology, the study's authors note, have tended replaced people with machines, eliminating production-line work, "computation-intensive white-collar work" and other routine technical tasks that once provided good middle-income jobs. Technological change has also weakened the bargaining power of workers, leading to an increasingly part-time, über-ized world.

And one of the biggest institutional changes has been a sharp decline in the unionization of workers. That decline has been steady in Canada, but much steeper and more dramatic in the U.S.
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The CSLS points out that the unequal distribution of income growth is neither an inevitable nor irreparable fact of life. The Centre's economists argue that it is not too late for "policy to be used to adjust that distribution." And the fact that productivity is growing, the study's authors say, should make the task of devising new politics easier, not harder.

"It is easier," the study says, "To ensure that everyone receives a larger slice of the pie when the pie itself is growing."

But that hopeful conclusion comes with a big caveat. The forces that cause stagnating middle incomes are, the study tells us darkly, "unlikely to disappear in the near future."
- Bill Curry follows up on Justin Trudeau's plans to exacerbate the problem by treating infrastructure as a profit centre rather than a matter of public service. Maryse Zeidler discusses the predictable cost to Canadians of selling off airports. And the CP reports that Trudeau's plans include changing the law to hand even more concessions to outside capital.

- Laurie Penny writes that the corporate establishment treated as a foil by Donald Trump's campaign message in fact stands to be the only beneficiary of his election - and that an essential part of responding to Trump's presidency will be to make clear whose voices are actually being suppressed.

- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin highlights Niki Ashton's work to engage with the young workers who are seeing the worst from an economic system designed to extract more wealth for those who already have the most.

- Finally, Andrew Mitrovica points out that a lack of historical accountability makes it obvious why Canada's security establishment seems to figure it can act with impunity - and that it's long past time for illegal actions to carry real consequences.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrew Nikiforuk highlights how Donald Trump's election is just one more predictable consequence of the end of shared growth - even as it figures to perpetuate that reality. And Andrew Coyne argues that Trump's win under the U.S.' warped electoral rules should thoroughly debunk the theory that systems designed to promote two-party rule will do anything to keep unfit candidates away from power.

- Meanwhile, Joshua Benton theorizes that the disconnect between political solitudes (and the media sources which get heard by them) between will only grow following Trump's election - while providing plenty of examples of the glaring misinformation which may have helped him take power in the first place.

- Larry Pynn reports on the results of British Columbia's environmental inspections, and finds that a majority of operations are failing to comply with their obligations.

- Similarly, Douglas Todd notes that a combination of unaffordable housing and missing public revenue can be traced to a gross failure of enforcement of the law. And Philip Lee-Shanok points out the hidden poverty lurking in Vaughan and other seemingly wealthy areas - with a complete lack of available housing (which in turns forces people into below-the-radar rental arrangements) looking like one of the primary culprits.

- Finally, Ian MacLeod exposes the massive amount of funding being directed toward the Communications Security Establishment - even as the federal government plans to sell off assets which assist the public rather than monitoring it.