Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne comments on the importance of the labour movement in ensuring that economic growth translates into benefits for workers:
The findings of a study released this month by the Canadian Centre for Study of Living Standards, an Ottawa-based think-tank, reinforces why there is a “pervasive sense among Canadians” in the so-called middle class that they are not getting ahead.

And the data supports this stagnation of the middle.

The study notes that while Canadians are more productive than ever, those productivity gains are not being shared. Indeed, median real hourly earnings grew by a measly 0.09 per cent a year between 1976 and 2014, while labour productivity grew by 1.12 per cent a year.

Yet workers were promised they would share in those gains if they worked harder, worked longer, worked faster, worked leaner. And so they did that.
The study found the gap in earnings and productivity was because of three key factors: rising inequality (more share going to the top), the rising costs of consumer goods and a decline in workers’ share of the national income while the corporate or capital share is getting bigger and bigger.

The authors, economists James Uguccioni, Andrew Sharpe and Alexander Murray, note that “economic history and economic theory suggest that labour productivity growth should generate rising living standards for workers over time, so the gap between annual labour productivity growth and annual median wage growth is puzzling.”
The authors conclude: “the most plausible explanations for both the ‘hollowing out of the middle’ of the earnings distribution and the decline of labour’s share of income are globalization, technological change and institutional change.”

By institutional change they mean declining unionization. More and more economic research has been noting that the inability of workers to join unions, often because of regressive labour laws, is impacting not just how the economic pie gets shared, but economic growth and rising inequality.

A U.S. study by the Economic Policy Institute found that declining unionization resulted in lower wages for non-union workers. This isn’t a surprise, as unions often lift the floor for everyone.
- R.A. Washington notes that laissez-faire economic theory tends to miss the mark in describing reality due to its hand-waving away the significance of the consent of the governed when neoliberal governments implement policies designed to serve the market rather than the citizenry. And Rupert Neate highlights the inevitable result of allowing the populist right to get the upper hand, as a U.S. election decided largely by working-class insecurity figures to only further benefit the extremely wealthy at everybody else's expense.

- Daniela Vincenti reports on a study showing how CETA's environmental provisions are utterly ineffective, while its impact on democratic governance could be massive.

- D.C. Fraser, Pamela Cowan and Erin Petrow report on Brad Wall's decision to make a bad economic situation worse by treating a deficit as an excuse to cut already-suffering core programs in health, education and social services. Ashley Martin writes about the latest study showing that a quarter of Saskatchewan children already live in party even before the Saskatchewan Party takes an axe to existing supports. And the CP and CBC both report on the alarming vacancies in social work positions in northern Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Jonathan Freedland wonders whether the rise of the extreme right can be traced in part to the centre-left showing undue respect across the spectrum which is never reciprocated.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

On advance opportunities

And now, time to give credit to the Saskatchewan Party where it's due.

Some people are justifiably anticipating that thanks to Donald Trump, self-dealing will be the word of the year to come.
But if the rest of the world isn't going to see that as an expected governing principle until 2017, then Fred Bradshaw, Brad Wall and company can take a bow for being well ahead of the curve.

New column day

Here, on how the Wall government has Saskatchewan on the road to the same post-truth politics that laid the groundwork for the spread of fictitious "news" and Donald Trump's election.

For further reading...
- Dan Tynan, Craig Silverman and Terrence McCoy are among those who have reported on the development of a new strain of false media aimed purely at supplying the confirmation bias demanded by Trump supporters. 
- Tabatha Southey commented on the problem with public demand for fabricated news. And Rachel Giese discussed how Facebook's actions to enable or monitor posts from false news sites could affect Canada as well, while Van Jones warned that we're not immune from a Trump-style campaign.
- Finally, for a look at how the Saskatchewan Party government has handled the factual employment data supplied monthly by Statistics Canada, this search shows how the truth has been buried by what should be a neutral source of information when (and only when) it says absolutely nothing that can be spun for Brad Wall's benefit. And the single press release from this year shows how far Wall will stretch to try to claim some political advantage: of particular note, see the conspicuous lack of any mention of the year-over-year losses by industry which effectively match the cited gains.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Roy Romanow writes about the dangers of focusing unduly on raw economic growth, rather than measuring our choices by how they actually affect people's well-being:
At the national level, the picture that emerges over the past 21 years is a GDP rebounding post-recession but Canadians literally continuing to pay the price. From 1994 to 2008, the living standards domain rose 23 per cent. Then it plummeted almost 11 per cent and has yet to recover. Gains made on reducing long-term unemployment and improving the employment rate were lost. Income inequality is rising. And, despite increases in median family incomes, millions of Canadians struggle with food and housing costs. When living standards drop, community, cultural and democratic participation follow suit. Surely, this is not our vision of equality and fairness in Canada.

(Canadians) were hardest hit in the leisure and culture domain, which declined by 9 per cent overall. We’re taking less time enjoying arts, culture, sports — even vacations — the very activities that help define us as individuals. On the eve of Canada’s sesquicentennial, household spending on culture and recreation is at its lowest point in 21 years.

To begin to narrow the gap, we can build on strengths, such as the education domain. Since domains are highly interrelated, we know that when more people graduate from high school and university, there is a positive effect on health and on almost all aspects of social, economic, and community participation. Strength in community vitality shows Canadians feel they belong and readily help one another. Collectively, we sense that action is required. There is growing support for forward-thinking programs, such as basic income and upstream health care approaches that tackle well-being issues at their roots.
- Neil MacDonald highlights some of the obvious problems with the Libs' plan to go even further down that road with an infrastructure bank. And Dru Oja Jay argues that instead of pushing to put all major infrastructure development under the control of the existing financial sector, the Libs should be working on building a banking system that works for people.

- Carl Zimmer discusses the devastating effect global warming is already having on the Arctic region. And CBC reports on the massive health benefits of eliminating the use of coal power.

- Finally, Chelsea Nash reports on Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand's observation that there are necessarily tradeoffs between facilitating voting and centralizing information in the hands of political parties - and it should come as no surprise that the Cons are trying to prevent the former by claiming their entitlement to the latter. And Althia Raj reports that Thomas Mulcair is leading the charge to restore public funding in order to reduce the influence of big money in politics.


Brad Wall is perfectly happy to waste time tweeting his outrage at a business operating with both foreign and domestic suppliers.

But Brad Wall couldn't care less whether provincial money earmarked to clean up messes in Saskatchewan actually stays in the province - choosing instead to cut out local businesses entirely:
The province’s Saskatchewan Oil and Gas Orphan fund put out a request for proposals (RFP) in January looking for companies to, “successfully conduct the down hole abandonment(s) on oil, gas and industry related wells, flow line abandonments and well site decommissioning.
About 10 of the 15 companies that applied to clean those orphaned sites up were Saskatchewan-based, but the government chose four Alberta-based companies to do the work.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Curled cats.

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Star argues that Canada can't afford to leave tax loopholes wide open for the rich - as the Libs are doing in violation of their campaign promises. And Martin Lukacs notes that obscene giveaways to the rich seem to be the top priority for Justin Trudeau and company:
The politicians prattle about the private sector covering the risk of projects: the enabling lie that cannot for its life find evidence. Time and again, the costs of these public-private partnerships have instead been borne by the public. In Ontario over the last decade alone, their cost-overruns burdened citizens with an extra $8bn and racked up $30bn in public liabilities—the equivalent of $6000 per household. But perhaps Canadians are just too stupid to understand their merits. Stupid enough that 75 percent of them surveyed now oppose such privatization schemes. So stupid, indeed, that in many cases they have clamoured successfully for these services to be returned to public control.
Trudeau’s plan for a privatization bank would expand these local disasters to a national scale. Corporate and pension-fund backers have already announced they expect returns of 7 to 9 percent on their investments. How do you think that will happen? The only way that skimping ever does: higher bills, user fees, and hidden government subsidies. Diminishment in quality of service. Cuts in jobs and pay. No wonder some of Trudeau’s corporate advisors are offering their helpful advice free of charge: it’s regular people who will end up carrying the cost.

These costs are not an oversight of privatization but their objective: the inevitable result of opening up the public sphere to private profit-making. For more than thirty years in Canada, such measures have been a tool of an elite agenda promoted by successive Liberal and Tory governments: the transfer of wealth from the poorer to the wealthy, from the public trust to the private clutch. Is it any wonder why most people’s incomes and standard of living have stagnated, while those of millionaires has skyrocketed?
Because privatization serves the elite, it always spawns contempt for democracy. Take this revelatory example from a decade ago: a slide-show used by a Canadian legal firm as they promoted privatization projects in British Columbia. One slide describing the obstacles to privatization is entitled “Inherent diseases.” The obstacles? “Stakeholders,” “transparency,” and “public justification.” For corporations chasing endless profits, the basic value of democracy are not essential to a healthy, thriving society. They are a scourge to be avoided.

All this secrecy, euphemism and dismissive rhetoric is meant to obscure a single, glaring fact: the arguments in favour of privatization are rubbish.
- Sunil Johal and Jordann Thirgood examine the type of social safety net needed to keep workers secure in the face of increasingly precarious employment. And Valerie Tarasuk interviews Jim Oldfield about the effects of a basic income - including relieving against food insecurity and boosting individual health.

- Dale Maharidge chronicles some of the working poor people who are all too often cut out of any analysis of public policy choices. And Jose Ucelo rightly notes that wage theft against immigrants (and other vulnerable groups) winds up suppressing wages for everybody.

- Alex Hemingway points out that the most costly and inefficient parts of Canada's health care system are the ones that rely on for-profit and privately-funded goods and services. And Daniel Tencer points out that the Libs seem perfectly happy to exacerbate the problem out of sheer ignorance, as trade negotiators dealing with issues of drug prices have failed to take into account any additional costs arising out of giveaways to big pharma.

- Elizabeth McSheffrey reports on the causes of the Husky oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River, and finds that it could likely have been prevented.

- Finally, Althia Raj comments on the Libs' glaringly misleading spin on electoral reform.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Krugman writes about the dangers of Donald Trump's crony capitalist infrastructure plan. And Tom Parkin warns us that Justin Trudeau's Canadian equivalent is headed toward exactly the same results:
A private infrastructure bank means paying more for financing. It means getting less infrastructure. Fewer construction jobs. Less for land, materials and equipment. Lower economic spin-off.

Canadian Economist Toby Sanger recently compared 30 year private and public finance costs on a $100 million construction project. Public financing would cost $31 million. Private financing would add $164 million to costs. Who pays that money? Who gets it?
Privatization could mean airports and sea ports sold to consortiums from Abu Dhabi and China. And Trudeau’s bank would further concentrate wealth as money from Canadians is pipelined up to global investors.

Economist Thomas Piketty has made the case that excessive concentration of wealth isn’t just “economically useless,” it may lead to “political capture of our democratic institutions.” In 2014 he worried that, when institutions can’t address inequality and social problems, “it's always tempting to find other people responsible for our problems.”

Wall Street captured the Democrats and Republicans decades ago. [Piketty’s] next worry couldn’t have been more prescient.
- Jordan Press reports on Trudeau's attempt to soften the image of corporatism in order to push through still more concessions to big business. But Jen Moore's review of Todd Gordon and Jeffery Webber's The Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America reminds us of the damage being done to people and the planet by the mining industry with the assistance of Canadian governments.

- Meanwhile, Konrad Yakabuski notes that we should be looking to facilitate sustainable trade while eliminating giveaways to the corporate sector - not following Trump and Nigel Farage toward insularity and deglobalization.

- Adnan Al-Daini is right to highlight the good which can be done by a well-organized government. But he shouldn't crediting Theresa May as an example - particularly when she's furiously backtracking on her previous statements about including citizens and workers in corporate governance

-Finally, Kathy Vandergrift responds to the Trudeau Libs' obsession with deliverology by arguing that instead of focusing on narrow short-term measurements, we should be pursuing progressive realization which puts those types of goals in a far wider context.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Stephen Dubner discusses the importance of social trust in supporting a functional economy and society:
(S)ocial trust is …
HALPERN: Social trust is an extraordinarily interesting variable and it doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserves. But the basic idea is trying to understand what is the kind of fabric of society that makes economies and, indeed, just people get along in general. It’s clearly so critical for a whole range of outcomes.
Outcomes like economic growth.
HALPERN: This is a more powerful predictor of future national growth rates than, for example, levels of human capital or skills in the population.
Outcomes like individual health.
HALPERN: Basically, having someone or feeling that other people can be trusted or people you can rely on in your life is worth a great deal. It’s roughly the same positive effect in a series of studies as giving up smoking. And smoking is really, really bad for you so, you know, social isolation, essentially, is incredibly bad for your health.
- Meanwhile, George Monbiot discusses the role of neoliberalism - and its implicit assumption of a dog-eat-dog society - in laying the groundwork for Donald Trump's election.

- Max Fawcett makes the case for proportional representation in Canada's electoral system due to the tendency of winner-take-all systems to facilitate demagoguery while stifling diversity of representation. Gary Shaul writes that the Libs can't hold out much longer on electoral reform, while the Star's letters to the editor show that the strong preference for proportional representation of the public engaged on the issue isn't in doubt. Karl Nerenberg highlights that the U.S.' distorted election results only signal the need for a more fair system. And Andrew Coyne offers his take on what a national referendum on electoral systems might look like.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board at least argues that Canada shouldn't be too quick to hand over unaccountable surveillance powers to our state apparatus - though it's striking how the goalposts have moved from reviewing C-51 to discussing even more intrusions on civil rights. And Ewen MacAskill reports that the UK has passed "extreme surveillance" laws with virtually no pushback.