Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Larry Elliott suggests we shouldn't be duped into thinking that policy biased in favour of the corporate sector is a necessity rather than a choice. And John Falzon notes that inequality too is the product of political decisions rather than an inevitability, while Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman highlight how the U.S. is going out of its way to make matters worse.

- Andrew Stevens discusses the fight for a fair minimum wage in Saskatchewan - and the fearmongering used to oppose one. And Kate McInturff writes about the persistent race and gender income gaps.

- David Weil writes about the challenging future faced by millenials stuck in increasingly volatile work arrangements. And Sam Riches offers an inside look at the realities of trying to juggle multiple gigs while lacking any income security.

- Andrew Jackson points out the continually-increasing level of consumer debt in Canada, and notes the reality that there's little apparent overlap between the many workers facing large debt loads and the privileged few who are accumulating assets.

- Finally, Adam Kassam highlights the many ways in which private dollars - in the form of both fees and donations - are papering over gaps in public funding for health care.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Musical interlude

Fluke - Pulsed

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Marco Chown Oved, Toby Heaps and Michael Yow discuss the long-term transition away from meaningful corporate tax contributions to Canada's public purse:
For every dollar corporations pay to the Canadian government in income tax, people pay $3.50. The proportion of the public budget funded by personal income taxes has never been greater.

At a time when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made tax fairness a centrepiece of his government, the Toronto Star and Corporate Knights magazine spent six months poring over tax data to determine how much income tax corporations are really paying.

We found the amount of tax most big companies pay has been dropping as a proportion of their profits for years, and not only because the corporate tax rate has been cut repeatedly. Canada’s largest corporations use complex techniques and tax loopholes to reduce their taxes significantly below the official corporate tax rate set by the government.
The 2011-2016 audited financial statements of all large Canadian corporations (those worth more than $2 billion) reveal they paid an average of 17.7 per cent tax.

During that time, the average official corporate tax rate in Canada for this group of companies was 26.6 per cent.

That 8.9 per cent gap translates into tens of billions of dollars that could have been used to pay for the schools, roads, hospitals, police and paramedics we all rely on.
- And Chown Oved also reports on the strong public appetite to close tax loopholes and ensure that corporations pay their fair share.

- David Macdonald and Martha Friendly study the glaring gaps in cost and availability of child care across Canada, while Randy Shore reports on the CCPA's proposed path to $10 per day child care in British Columbia.

- Erin Anderssen reports on new research showing the desperate need for improved access to mental health care in Ontario.

- Mark Hancock offers his take on what progressive trade policy should include - including a focus on what's best for workers and citizens rather than businesses alone. And Stuart Trew and Scott Sinclair discuss the possibility of seriously evaluating the effects of the many trade deals already on the books, rather than rushing into more.

- Finally, Shawn McCarthy reports on the World Bank's decision to stop lending to oil and gas projects as part of the world's transition away from dirty energy. And the CP takes note of Alberta's massive wind power savings resulting from its concerted effort to make a quick shift to renewables.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

New column day

Here, on how Quebec's latest poverty plan falls far short of the "basic income" title it's received in some national coverage - and on how we should insist on political leadership toward the genuine article.

For further reading...
- CBC has reported on the new plan and the response it's received, as well as the draconian requirements Quebec has previously placed on recipients of social assistance.
- Andre Picard asks whether the new plan provides assistance to the right people, while noting how the system remains downright punitive toward some.
- And Nicholas Keung reports on the Ontario Human Rights Commission's research showing that recipients of social assistance face prejudice from a substantial proportion of the public.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- PressProgress points out Statistics Canada's latest numbers on Canada's extreme wealth disparity - with 60% of the population owning only 10% of the wealth while a lucky few amass gigantic fortunes. 

- Jordan Brennan discusses how a lack of labour conflict has led to low levels of both wage increases and inflation while ensuring that productivity gains accrue only to the wealthy. And Harrison Samphir examines how Skip the Dishes is one of the poster children for the suppression of workers' rights and interests through precarious work arrangements.

- Darryl Greer notes that the Paradise Papers have shed new light on the use of offshore tax havens. But Marco Chown Oved and Robert Cribb report that federal and provincial finance ministers are electing not to set up a publicly-accessible register of beneficial ownership to reduce the secrecy behind corporate holdings.

- Somini Sengupta reports on the massive amount of food which gets wasted (up to a third of what's produced around the globe, and more than that in wealthier countries), as well as the greenhouse gas emissions dumped into our atmosphere in the process.

- Finally, Christo Aivalis points out how the net neutrality debate should lead us toward a broader discussion of social goods in contrast to capitalist exploitation:
(W)hy does the NN debate matter for the Canadian left specifically, and the general left more broadly? For Canadians, it matters because while NN in Canada doesn’t appear to be under assault from the current government, ISPs in Canada have been emboldened by the victories of their corporate analogues south of the border. Further, the fight against NN has been recently picked up by former Industry Minister and runner-up for the Conservative leadership Maxime Bernier. In both Bernier and the ISPs views, NN is little more than state interference into the rights of consumers and companies alike.
This is where the socialist moment reveals itself on the question of Net Neutrality. While many defenders of a free internet have made the argument that NN is actually the free-market capitalist way to run the internet, and the non-NN position is a ‘crony-capitalist’ bastardization, the reality is that opponents of NN are sincerely defending the ideals of liberal capitalism. They are quite correct—by the letter of capitalist law—that ISPs should be more than allowed to partner with certain websites to prioritize bandwidth to that site, or should be allowed to flex their market muscles to restrict access to their competitors’ holdings.

Here’s the crux of the issue: many people see capitalism as synonymous with the free market. But what this episode has shown us, more than anything else, is that the free flow of information exists not because of capitalism, but in spite of it. Capitalism is not a system of free exchange; rather, it is a system of profit maximization for those who own the capital. In some cases this may coincide with what are understood as free markets, but in a great many cases capitalists profit most by restricting the freedom of others, be it their workers, their consumers, or democratic institutions.
The fight for Net Neutrality is but the first salvo in a longer battle over the age-old debates about democracy. The left has to realize that the first stage of this battle is on easily winnable grounds. Capitalists and their ideological brethren have lined up to fight NN as a barrier towards their profit-making enterprise, and socialists can make the case that if capitalism means antagonism to the very concept that manifests a free internet, perhaps the owners of private industry shouldn’t be trusted with other important aspects of our daily lives. Winning this second stage—questioning the undemocratic ownership of major industry in general—is a harder slog altogether, but it must be won. We cannot have a democratic society where the internet is either constrained by ISPs, or dominated by a scant few companies. We cannot choose. The people—either directly or through their duly elected representatives—must control their own public venues, and in the 21st century, the internet is undeniably one of those most important public spaces... 
This is a great opportunity for democratic socialists but only if the message is cast consistently and thoroughly that the fight for Net Neutrality is in reality a battle against capitalism’s logical conclusions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Nosy cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin duly slams the Libs for a "middle class" tax message being used to sell a giveaway to the rich:
Here’s the blunt facts: the tax cut by Finance Minister Bill Morneau gives $0 to anyone earning under about $45,000. Then the benefit starts phasing in. At $90,000, the benefit is $670. And every person earning over $90,000—even people with million dollar paycheques—gets the $670.

University of Laval economist Stephen Gordon recently pointed out that a $90,000 income is in the top 10% in Canada.

And according to Statistics Canada’s most recent full report of tax filing data, the middle point of Canadian incomes was $33,920 in 2015. That means half of all income earners are above $33,920, half are below.

The facts don’t lie. Morneau is giving $670 a year to everyone with a top 10% income. He’s giving $0 to actual middle income earners. His words are deceptive. It’s a tax cut for the affluent.

Of course, nobody would vote for an upper class cut taxes. So the Liberals said it was a middle class tax cut and hoped you wouldn’t figure it out.
- But Parkin does briefly go off the rails somewhat by focusing needlessly on debt rather than social costs. On that front, Paul Krugman offers a reminder that the right only cares about deficits as an excuse to avoid or destroy social supports. And Corey Robin's takeaways from the Republicans' plan signal the danger of allowing deficit hysteria to dominate the opposition message.

- And Gregori Galofré-Vilà, Christopher M. Meissner, Martin McKee and David Stuckler study how austerity politics were a major factor in the rise of the Nazi party.

- Patricia Aldana rightly argues that citizens need to start recognizing - and taking responsibility for - the damage Canadian-based exploitative resource companies are doing in Honduras and elsewhere.

- Finally, Brett Dolter offers his take on how the Saskatchewan Party's long-delayed excuse for a climate change strategy falls short of the mark.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Maia Szalavitz writes that the atmosphere of competition and status signalling which prevails in unequal societies is directly connected to increased homicide rates:
While on the surface, the disputes that triggered these deaths seem trivial – each involved apparently small disagreements and a sense of being seen as inferior and unworthy of respect – research suggests that inequality raises the stakes of fights for status among men.

The connection is so strong that, according to the World Bank, a simple measure of inequality predicts about half of the variance in murder rates between American states and between countries around the world. When inequality is high and strips large numbers of men of the usual markers of status – like a good job and the ability to support a family – matters of respect and disrespect loom disproportionately.

Inequality predicts homicide rates “better than any other variable”, says Martin Daly, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario and author of Killing the Competition: Economic Inequality and Homicide.
Obviously, potential murderers don’t check the local Gini Index – the most commonly used measure of inequality that looks at how wealth is distributed – before deciding whether to get a gun. But they are keenly attuned to their own level of status in society and whether it allows them to get what they need to live a decent life. If they can’t, while others visibly bask in luxury that seems both impossible to attain and unfairly won, those far from the top often become desperate.
- Meanwhile, Dominic Rushe discusses how Donald Trump's giveaway to the rich looks to exacerbate inequality while producing the same economic devastation wrought by Sam Brownback in his failed Kansas experiment.

- Karl Nerenberg reports on the federal government's failure to budget anywhere enough money to even theoretically end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves (let alone fund the operation of infrastructure after it's installed).

- Finally, Leilani Farha writes that we should push governments to fix the homelessness problems they've created by recognizing the right to housing. And the Star's editorial board discusses the importance of ensuring permanent homes for people facing homelessness, rather than limiting any policy response to temporary shelters.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey report that cash for access is the only way for anybody to raise issues with the U.S. Republicans' tax bills. And Ronald Brownstein views the tax debacle as conclusive evidence of the closing of Republican minds.

- Meanwhile, Mark Kingwell offers a needed rebuttal to the reactionary right's efforts to falsely criticize universities for exactly the type of closed-minded attitudes underlying its own movement:
Right-wing postmodernism flourishes by bulldozing dissent. The current occupant of the White House, and those leading rhetorical crusades in his shadow, are just late-model versions of real intellectual rot. It begins with thinking you can say whatever you want, because you have power and a Twitter or YouTube account. It ends with a comprehensive sense of entitlement that you can get away with anything.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," the current President said. Yes, he said that. He said that. It's a fact that he said it.

Universities are always easy targets. You can target this so-called useless course or that apparently trendy professor. You can mock new pronouns and novel ways of thinking. But here's what we mostly do: We insist that when people utter falsehoods and nonsense, or behave intolerably, they will be challenged, on the facts, with reasons and arguments.

It's indoctrination, sure – into critical thinking. Sorry if that upsets what you already believe. (Note: not in fact sorry.)
- Damian Carrington reports on the health effects of air pollution on fetal health. And Karl Nerenberg writes about the global connection between inequality and reproductive health.

- Ben Parfitt makes the case for an inquiry into B.C.'s fracking industry. And Paul Willcocks discusses why the Libs' Site C disaster needs to be shut down, not continued by John Horgan's government.

- Donna Borden comments on the need for low-income Canadians to have fair access to financial services. And Tamar Harris reports on a lawsuit against Rogers for breaking its promise not to subject participants in a low-income Internet service program to credit checks which could harm their credit scores.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom writes about the costs of Ontario's power privatization, as monopoly private providers have been able to exploit the regulatory system to claim illegitimate costs.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Christopher Ingraham discusses the U.S.' distorted distribution of wealth - and how both existing inequality and the Republicans' plan to exacerbate it run contrary to the values of the general public:
Among rich nations, the United States stands out for the extent of its wealth inequality. The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country's wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere. The American 1 percent gobble up twice as much pie (40 percent) as the 1 percent in France, the U.K., or Canada, and more than three times as much as the 1 percent in Finland.

This kind of extreme inequality is bad for the economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents a number of the world's richest countries including the United States, estimates that inequality has knocked nearly five percentage points off the economic growth in those countries between 2000 and 2015.

In high-inequality countries, people from poor households typically have less access to quality education. This leads to “large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility,” which directly harms economic growth, according to the OECD.

If you were designing a tax plan to reduce the extreme inequality in the United States, you'd probably try to find ways to redistribute some of the wealth from the richest households to the poorest ones. But the Senate GOP tax plan does precisely the opposite of that, according to the CBO: In the short term the richest households get the biggest tax cuts, while longer term the taxes of the poorest households actually increase.

Estate tax? Cut. Income tax rate for millionaires? Cut (at least in the Senate bill). Corporate tax rate? Biggest rate cut ever.

In the long term that probably means more of the pie for the super-rich, and less of it for everyone else.
- Noah Smith offers his suggestions as to how unions can start tilting the balance of power back toward workers, focusing on broader-based bargaining and increased direct service delivery. And Connor Wolf discusses how worker centers are already making a difference in shaping both workplaces and public policy.

- Michal Rozworski and Daniel Tseghay and Derrick O'Keefe each highlight why B.C. (among other jurisdictions) shouldn't be waiting to implement a more fair minimum wage. 

- Dean Baker makes the case for an economic system focused on forcing the rich to genuinely compete, rather than being able to rely on privileged treatment to retain and expand their wealth. And Meagan Day reminds us that class conflict is inevitable - such that the only effect of staying on the sidelines is to ensure that the upper class gets its way.

- Finally, Tim Harford discusses the dangers of "dark nudging" in the context of foreign interference in democratic politics. But it's worth noting as well how the principles behind "nudge" theory have also been adopted by the business sector to make it difficult to do anything but go along with corporate dominance and rent-seeking.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Robert Reich reminds us that sustainable economic growth is the product of bottom-up development, not a top-down trickle of wealth:
What’s the real formula for growth? Better access to education, healthcare, and transportation, all of which make workers more productive.

These more productive workers command higher wages. With higher wages, they purchase more goods and services. These purchases motivate companies to expand and invest, and create more and better jobs.

American experienced this virtuous cycle for thirty years after World War II. We invested unprecedented sums in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. We financed these investments through higher taxes on the rich and on big corporations.

The economy boomed and wages shot upward. The wages of the bottom fifth rose even faster than the wages of the top fifth. This unleashed consumer spending, which generated more growth.

The Clinton administration tried this formula on a much smaller scale in the 1990s, raising taxes on the top and investing in education and infrastructure. The economy boomed, 23 million new jobs were created, and for the first time since the late 1970s the typical American’s wage rose.
For years, Republicans have been selling tax cuts by lying that they spur growth, which trickles down to average Americans.

For just as long, Democrats have been selling fairness, but without explaining why a fairer economy is also more productive and prosperous.

It’s time for Democrats to make the case. It has the virtue of being true.
- Meanwhile, Simon Wren-Lewis comments on the importance of investing in our social and economic future, then reminds us why we shouldn't obsess over modest government deficits when human well-being is at stake.

- Norman Farrell reviews how the B.C. Libs and their corporate donors looted what had been a well-run and efficient BC Hydro.

- Finally, Juliette Garside discusses the EU's moves toward naming and blacklisting tax havens.

New column day

Here, on how the Saskatchewan Party's sad excuse for a climate change strategy (PDF) is really aimed at nothing more than excusing continued carbon pollution.

For further reading...
- I wrote just a couple of weeks ago about the Saskatchewan public's strong appetite for real action against climate change - making it all the more embarrassing to be stuck with a government which can't be bothered. And I've also written before about the problems with "intensity" emission targets - which are the only type to be found anywhere in the Sask Party's plan. 
- Andrew Leach charts the current emissions of Canadian provinces and industries. 
- Erin Flanagan offers the Pembina Institute's response.
- Murray Mandryk also sees the strategy as nothing but a sop to the oil industry. And Carl Meyer reports on the oil sector's deliberate refusal to cooperate with the global fight against climate change.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Rick Salutin writes that Ontario's provincial election shows that nobody is prepared to defend neoliberal ideas on their merits - which should provide an opening to start challenging them in practice. And Alice Ollstein examines how Donald Trump's corporate giveaway looks like an unmitigated economic disaster in the making.

- Phillip Inman notes that financial markets are in a similar position to where they were before the 2008 meltdown. And Robert Booth notes that the less-privileged in the UK are already facing as much homelessness and housing insecurity as they did during the most recent crash.

- Meanwhile, Jordan Press reports on a much-needed effort to ensure that lower-income Canadians receive the benefits available to them.

- Kristen Sze reports on California's dramatically-increased wildfire risks arising out of climate change, while Sarah Boseley notes that pollution is undermining the health value of outdoor exercise for people over 60. And Andrea Harden Donohue warns against accepting the premise that we're stuck with pipelines and/or coal.

- Finally, Anne Karpf points out how the most privileged people have managed to silence the real victims of entrenched power structures by feigning victimhood for themselves.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at home.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz writes about the need to learn from past mistakes in order to build a sustainable economy for the future:
To someone like me, who has watched trade negotiations closely for more than a quarter-century, it is clear that US trade negotiators got most of what they wanted. The problem was with what they wanted. Their agenda was set, behind closed doors, by corporations. It was an agenda written by, and for, large multinational companies, at the expense of workers and ordinary citizens everywhere.

Indeed, it often seems that workers, who have seen their wages fall and jobs disappear, are just collateral damage – innocent but unavoidable victims in the inexorable march of economic progress. But there is another interpretation of what has happened: one of the objectives of globalisation was to weaken workers’ bargaining power. What corporations wanted was cheaper labour, however they could get it.

This interpretation helps explain some puzzling aspects of trade agreements. Why is it, for example, that advanced countries gave away one of their biggest advantages, the rule of law? Indeed, provisions embedded in most recent trade agreements give foreign investors more rights than are provided to investors in the US. They are compensated, for example, should the government adopt a regulation that hurts their bottom line, no matter how desirable the regulation or how great the harm caused by the corporation in its absence.
American capitalism in recent years has been marked by unbridled greed – the 2008 financial crisis provides ample confirmation of that. But, as some countries have shown, a market economy can take forms that temper the excesses of both capitalism and globalisation, and deliver more sustainable growth and higher standards of living for most citizens.

We can learn from such successes what to do, just as we can learn from past mistakes what not to do. As has become evident, if we do not manage globalisation so that it benefits all, the backlash – from the New Discontents in the north and the Old Discontents in the south – is at risk of intensifying.
- Meanwhile, Martin Wolf comments on the Republican tax plan which is built to benefit nobody besides plutocrats. And Michelle Goldberg notes that there's every reason for millenials to hate a capitalist system which is creating nothing but obstacles to basic security and personal progress.

- Heidi Shierholz discusses the Trump administration's latest move to reward the worst of the worst exploiters, this time by allowing employers to pocket employees' tips.

- Brian Doucet and David Hulchanski both write that the Libs' much-ballyhooed "housing strategy" falls far short of earning that title.

- Finally, Mike Crawley reports on the massive amounts of consumer money going to Ontario's private power generators for inappropriate expenses. And Don Pittis discusses how Canada's electrical system is already far over the amount of generating capacity it needs - with the public purse bearing the cost of old and inefficient generation through corporate-friendly fixed contracts.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Murray Dobbin writes that corporate power is the greatest threat to our health and well-being - and reminds us that government focused on the public interest is a necessary counterweight:
The revelations of the Paradise Papers, the earlier Panama Papers and numerous articles in the western mainstream and alternative media demonstrate just one dimension, tax evasion, of an increasingly obvious truth: global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet. The deliberate starvation of government, climate change, grotesque inequality, Dickensian working conditions, environmental degradation, dwindling biodiversity, the slow (or not so slow) death of the oceans and the creation of the security state on corporations' behalf threaten not only the natural world but our capacity to democratically govern ourselves while maintaining some semblance of civilization.

The advent of the corporate state was truly unleashed when Canada and the U.S. introduced the first "free trade" agreement in 1989. In the 28 years since, hundreds of such agreements have been signed, all of them designed to erase borders for corporations and radically reduce the operational space for democratic governance.

Governments are the only institutions that can seriously challenge the power and reach of transnational corporations: they made them and they could unmake them. Only governments can curb their predatory nature, constrain their contempt for their workers, communities and the environment, and genuinely punish them when they openly break the law as part of their fiduciary "duty" to their shareholders.
- Kate Letterick reports on new research showing how people with disabilities disproportionately face deep poverty. And Laurie Monsebraaten and Sandro Contenta investigate how the child protection system provides minimal resources and supports for workers trying to meet desperate needs.

- Nick Falvo offers a look at the Libs' national housing strategy - though even his fairly generous take recognizes the large gap between rhetoric and action.

- Jacques Marcoux and Kristen Annable report on the lack of meaningful consequences for employers responsible for workers' deaths across Canada. And Adam Hunter points out that Saskatchewan's system of penalties for workplace fatalities stands out as being particularly weak.

- Finally, Matthew Yglesias discusses new research showing how inequality of opportunity leads to less innovation and progress for everybody.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Leadership 2018 Links

The latest from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign.

- Greg Nikkel reported on the Weyburn debate, but didn't note much by way of contrast in so doing.

- And local media also covered Ryan Meili's visits to Prince Albert and North Battleford, and Trent Wotherspoon's to Weyburn and the Battlefords.

- Alex MacPherson and D.C. Fraser's latest notebook discusses the impact of the Saskatchewan Party's retrograde candidates on abortion - though it's worth noting that contrary to their reporting, Meili and Wotherspoon both committed to improved access to reproductive services in response. 

- Finally, the Leader-Post and Star-Phoenix teamed up to write about the importance of widespread participation in Saskatchewan's leadership campaigns. And Jason Hammond rightly noted that we'd be better served with greater public engagement at all times.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Matt Bruenig proposes a social wealth fund as a fix for the U.S.' burgeoning inequality and income insecurity:
We seem stuck in the same policy equilibrium we have been in for decades, with conservatives denying that there is a problem and pushing policies that would make it even worse, liberals emphasizing the need for education and skills development, and leftists pushing for a unionized labor market and social-democratic welfare state.

Some of these ideas are good ones, which would make life better for vulnerable people. But they’d do little to directly target inequality in our society or to capture all the benefits that economic fairness brings.

The solution is simpler than it seems. There’s a tried and tested way, within the system we have now, of giving everyone a share in the investment returns now hoarded by the wealthy. It’s called a social wealth fund, a pool of investment assets in some ways like the giant index or mutual funds already popular with retirement savings accounts or pension funds, but one owned collectively by society as a whole. One that paid dividends not to the few, or even just to the shrinking middle class lucky enough to have their savings invested, but to everyone.
Creating a social wealth fund in which we all own an equal part is certainly not the only way to tackle wealth inequality directly, but it is one of the few ways that we know works well and is able to work within the system we now have. If policymakers want to get serious about trimming wealth concentration, and not just use these shocking statistics to promote the same old half-measures, then this would be a fair, effective and practical way to start.
- Meanwhile, Ed Pilkington reports on a UN mission addressing poverty in the U.S. And Danny Dorling and Stuart Gietel-Basten examine how the UK's increasing inequality and needless austerity is cutting into life expectancies.

- Pamela Duncan and Patrick Butler discuss the connection between lower-income areas and fast-food consumption. And Fatima Syed reports on rallies seeking to ensure that poverty isn't a barrier to access to financial services in Canada.

- The Star examines how Canadian governments are subsidizing environmental destruction by providing subsidies which far exceed the penalties corporations have paid for environmental violations. And Bill McKibben argues that a gradual shift toward dealing with ongoing carbon pollution (after decades of industry-funded delay) will prove to be a loss in the long run.

- Finally, Chris Parsons writes that we have every reason to be outraged about offshore tax avoidance - and particularly the policy choices which have allowed it to occur.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Toby Sanger discusses how the Trudeau Libs' obsession with privatized infrastructure only stands to put control over public services in the hands of corporate predators:
Corporations are sitting on hundreds of billions of excess cash in Canada and trillions worldwide — money they aren’t putting into productive investments. So corporations and other investors (including pension funds) desperately want to achieve higher returns. But economic growth is slow (because wage increases are so low and profits so high), which leads to fewer private-sector investment opportunities. So corporations are now turning to the cannibalization of public-sector assets and infrastructure through public-private partnerships or other forms of privatization, including the new infrastructure bank.

The great attraction of these public infrastructure investments for private finance is that high returns are effectively guaranteed for decades through ongoing government payments, and/or through tolls and other user fees. Most forms of public infrastructure involve some form of natural monopoly. This allows private owners to exploit them for monopoly profits — which is why they were established as public assets in the first place!

In another sordid twist, the briefing notes and presentation about the bank that were prepared for delivery by Trudeau and his ministers at a session for foreign investors were developed in conjunction with Blackrock officials, as Globe and Mail reporter Bill Curry revealed, using documents obtained through access to information. In effect, the Liberal government turned over the design and development of this bank to the very people who will profit most from it: the largest private sector and pension investment funds in the world.
Numerous critics have outlined major problems with the proposed bank
  • it will lead to massive privatization of public infrastructure;
  • projects will cost much more, so Canadians will get less bang for their buck;
  • projects will require significant increases in user fees, which will restrict access, and punish middle and lower-income earners;
  • there will be little transparency and public accountability required of the bank and its projects or for its use of public funds. Information will be kept secret and will not be subject to the more stringent transparency and accountability rules that govern public projects, while those who disclose information could be subject to fines and jail time;
  • the bank is restricted from having any representation on the board from the federal or any other governments, which means the bank will be controlled by private-sector interests, even though the legislation claims it will act in the public interest.
It is important to resist each privatization proposal and expose each project for who it will benefit and who it will hurt, but ultimately the pressure to privatize and cannibalize the public sector won’t abate until we achieve a more profound shift of power from concentrated private capital to a much more equitable economic order.
- Meanwhile, Rick Smith highlights the importance of modernizing our social programs to fit an economy in which workers are treated as disposable. And PressProgress examines how some of the same businesses extracting more profits than they know what to do with are simultaneously underfunding the pensions they've promised their workers.

- Miriam Katawazi reports on the persistent and widespread gender pay gap in Canada. And while the Star's editorial board hopes that transparency will make a difference, it's well worth noting that mere awareness of the gap has done little to reduce it in the absence of meaningful policy steps.

- Paul Krugman writes about the fundamental dishonesty behind the Republicans' looting of the U.S.' 99%. But on the bright side, Dogwood notes that British Columbia's NDP/Green majority has ended the type of disproportionate donor influence which has polluted American politics.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey comments on the reactionary right's false assumption that media outlets (and people in general) are as uninformed as its audience.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Friday, December 01, 2017

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - One Good Piece of Me

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Matt Bruenig examines the multi-million-dollar increase in the household wealth of the U.S.' top 1% over the past decade. And Ian Welsh discusses how the extreme concentration of wealth bleeds into political choices:
The corruption of vast inequality is that it makes some people powerful enough to overthrow democracy: in general (Citizen’s United) and in particular cases.

Most rich people are not good people. It is well established now, in the academic literature, that rich people have an empathy deficit, that they give less as a percentage of their wealth and income, and that (to put it unscientifically) they tend to become assholes. They don’t need to care what other people think, or about their welfare.

But even when they do try to do good, well, they don’t need to go through normal democratic processes: they just buy the results.
Money is power. When the government relies on rich individuals and corporations to do what should be done by government it takes longer and produces less welfare than it should, and it leads to capture by the rich of government.

A 90%+ top marginal tax rate and punitive capital and estate taxes aren’t necessary because “government needs the money”, they are necessary so that the rich don’t become so rich they buy the State.

And that includes the ones who try to do some good...
- Richard Partington writes about new OECD research on the threats to the UK's economy posed by household debt and stagnant wages. And Linda Nazareth discusses how retirement security is declining between generations in Canada.

- Makda Ghebreslassie points out that food banks and other band-aid solutions do nothing to address underlying insecurity and social deprivation.

- Andre Picard wonders whether Canada has forgotten the hard-learned lessons of the tainted blood scandal - particularly as to the dangers of cost-cutting and profit motives when health is at stake.

- Finally, amidst so many real problems in our midst, Michael Coren comments on the right's attempt to fabricate a campus free speech crisis which ultimately means little more than trying to ensure that only reactionary voices get heard.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

New column day

Here, on how the spin behind the Trump administration's push for a massive tax giveaway to the rich has no basis in economic reality - and how Canada shouldn't be suckered into following suit.

For further reading...
- Michael Linden examines the overall effects of the Senate's version of tax reform legislation, with income levels under $50,000 in income all coming out with net losses (which are worse the lower a household's income). Lawrence Summers challenges the attempts to fabricate a case for regressive tax slashing. And Steven Greenhouse discusses how the Trump tax plan will exacerbate the worst problems the U.S. already faces.
- Jim Tankersley points out the unwillingness of businesses to take up an invitation to convert lower taxes into higher wages. And Tolure Olorunnipa notes that some CEOs are already acknowledging that they'll use any windfalls for share buybacks rather than productive activity.
- Paul Krugman has reviewed both the leprechaun economics that result in much of a tax cut being delivered offshore, and the Schroedinger's tax hike in which Republicans claim they'll avoid increasing the deficit by letting some tax cuts expire, yet somehow simultaneously extend those tax cuts.
- Cristobal Young discusses the fact that high-wealth individuals are relatively unlikely to move generally, and particularly aren't sensitive to progressive tax rates.
- And for the type of commentary aimed at forcing Canada to follow the U.S.' self-destructive lead by handing free money to the corporate sector, one need never look any further than Jack Mintz

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Matt Bruenig writes about the U.S.' alarming growth in student debt - which combined with diminished career prospects is leading to dim future outlooks for far too many young workers. And Eric Grenier's look at the latest release of data from Canada's 2016 census shows a stark drop in the number of working-age people with full-time employment - which looks to have dropped below the number of people with post-secondary education in the same age group.

- Sarah Halibagherji discusses the Social Mobility Commission's latest report on the UK's postcode lottery which sees radically different opportunities available based the geography of a child's home. And Dean Beeby reports on the failure of Canada's Working Income Tax Benefit to reach many families which need it. 

- George Monbiot writes that dirty air is one of the major threats to children's health - yet isn't being addressed even through such simple steps as limiting exhaust fumes around schools. And Alexander Kaufman reports on a new study showing that corporations don't tend to live up to their promises of environmental responsibility.

- Andre Picard highlights the sad reality that infectious diseases in particularly vulnerable populations are all too often treated as a norm to be accepted, rather than a preventable problem whose resolution would benefit everybody.

- Finally, Nick Falvo offers some important considerations for Alberta's next provincial budget (which largely apply equally to any other exercise in managing public resources).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Doug Henwood interviews Brooke Harrington about the role of offshoring in hiding and concentrating wealth:
(W)hat does it say about the state of capitalism that these immense fortunes are sequestered; not so much engaged with expansion of the system but are being kept from the prying eyes of government or relatives?

People who claim to love capitalism and care about capitalism thriving should be very worried about this, because what this concentration of capital in an increasingly small group of people’s hands means is that the economic system is ossifying. It’s going backwards towards feudalism, where wealth was tied up generation after generation among a very small group of families. That’s exactly what we see happening now.

You may have seen that every year, Oxfam produces a study in which they count the number of people whose wealth exceeds that of the poorest 50 percent of humanity. In 2010, that number was above three hundred. In 2017, as of January, it was eight. The number of people who could fit into an extra-large golf cart now own wealth equivalent to the bottom 50 percent of humanity. That’s neo-feudalism, and we’re already seeing the consequences in the extreme decline of upward mobility in the US.

Now when you get an inheritance in the US, that doesn’t just benefit children or grandchildren of the original rich people. It has a knock on effect to the fifth or sixth generation. Meanwhile, most Americans, especially African Americans, have nothing; nothing but debt when they die. Whereas a very tiny group of people at the very top of the socioeconomic scale have billions to distribute to their heirs when they die. We’ve essentially re-feudalized ourselves.
- Meanwhile, Max de Haldevang points out how hidden wealth makes it difficult to trust publicly-available data about our economy.

- John Bargh writes about the connection between personal security and political orientation - with people living in fear representing easy targets for conservative themes.

- But Luke Savage notes that we can't afford to let complacency about existing institutions form the basis for left-wing politics. And Danny Westneat comments on the corporatization of political decision-making - epitomized by the appalling offers being made to Amazon to house its new headquarters - as an imminent threat to popular governance.

- Finally, Joe Romm reports on a new study showing that renewable energy is not only more affordable to build new than dirtier power sources, but becoming cheaper than continuing to operate existing coal and nuclear facilities.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cowering cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin writes that the Trudeau Libs and Bill Morneau have taken the side of wealthy shareholders over workers who want only the secure retirement they've already paid for through deferred wages:
Morneau should be requiring companies to tell Canadians’ pension regulator about their dividend plans. He should be setting processes and rules that get healthy companies to fully fund pensions — before there’s another Sears-type pension fiasco.

Instead, Morneau is sponsoring Bill C-27. True, it does help eliminate pension liabilities — but not by funding them. Morneau’s bill would help employers permanently shift potential liabilities onto workers by replacing defined benefit plans with “target” plans.

On pensions, tax havens and private infrastructure finance, Bill Moreau has shown he’s a rich guy’s rich guy. That’s what he was as leader of a C.D. Howe Institute, which is little more than a CEO lobby group. That’s what he is as Finance Minister. He can’t be gone soon enough.
- And Alan Freeman echoes the view that Morneau can't be kept in a position which he's used mostly to enrich his own class of vulture capitalists.

- Meanwhile, Chris Varcoe reports on the Notley government's push to make sure that federal bankruptcy law doesn't leave the public on the hook for the costs of remediating abandoned oil wells.

- Alex Hemingway discusses the role tax fairness can play in reducing inequality - and how to make that work in British Columbia's next budget. And Dean Beeby reports on the Canada Revenue Agency's first steps toward cracking down on tax avoidance in the country's wealthiest neighbourhoods.

- Finally, Ed Finn writes that citizen happiness correlates far more strongly with genuinely democratic and responsive government than with raw GDP.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ed Broadbent discusses how Bernie Sanders offers an example to emulate - and in some cases a source of ideas well beyond what Canada has implemented so far:
It was clear to everyone watching that Canadians, in fact,  have a few things to learn from Bernie Sanders. His speech was significant for two reasons.

First, he is an unapologetic social democrat who has inspired a whole new generation of voters with those values in a country where hyper-capitalism is king. The enthusiasm he has generated has carried over to young people here in Canada and around the world.

Second, Bernie urged us to keep on fighting, to maintain and improve our healthcare system. He knows Canadian healthcare is under constant threat not just from right-wing forces, but also from complacency. He told the audience to “speak loudly” about the virtues of universal healthcare, because our public system not only needs to be protected, but urgently needs to be expanded.  

Social democracy transformed politics in the post-World War II era. We provided a political framework based on the belief that markets should be regulated and put in the service of social aims, and that high levels of social and economic rights like pensions, healthcare, and employment insurance should be available to all. These policies and programs lifted tens of millions in Europe and North America out of poverty.

It was our generation of social democrats, and that of our parents, that fought for such government investments in the common good, the protection not only of political and civil rights, but also of social, and economic rights – these were the original Game Changers. Thanks to successful struggles here in Canada, crucial social programs are now at the heart of our identity - Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and accessible post-secondary education. All of these had their origin in the egalitarian philosophy of social democracy.

As a lifelong social democrat, I am deeply troubled by rising inequality and the emergence of far-right political extremism today. I came of age believing that such things were relics of the past. Sadly, we are witnessing their growth once again.  As in the 1920s, economic insecurity and severe income inequality are sowing the seeds of division and resentment.

It’s our responsibility to stand up to the right-wing politicians. We must show Canadians that we can solve our social and economic problems, not by the politics of division and exclusion, but by banding together and taking on directly the cause of our political and economic inequalities. 
- Nils Pratley comments on a shift toward the nationalization of services after people experience the inferior quality and higher cost of privatization, with a particular focus on the offshoring and environmental damage by Thames Water.

- Lana Payne highlights the fact that governments could build far more at a lower cost by financing projects directly rather than looking for excuses to enrich third parties. And Keith Schneider points out the failure of the megaproject model for infrastructure.

- Trevor Hancock writes that urban sprawl is an important public health issue, but one which is a long way from being meaningfully addressed.

- Finally, Andrew Nikiforuk examines British Columbia's massive methane emissions - and how they were covered up by the responsible regulator under the Clark Libs. And Sarah Cox notes that the province lacks many kinds of environmental data to make informed decisions about the risks to its water supplies.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Sexual harassment!
Tax evasion!
Employment standards violations!
Deliberate dishonesty!
And all in the service of a business model built on becoming too big to ban while operating as a regulatory-evasion company!

Yep, that sounds like the Saskatchewan Party's kind of business.

Which means the only question left is: how much public money will get handed out to allow Brad Wall (or his successor) a photo op?

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- David Climenhaga comments on the tendency of even progressive governments to unduly accept neoliberal frames and theories - with Rachel Notley's talk of "compassionate belt tightening" sadly serving as the latest example:
Premier Notley told reporters that her government spent money on infrastructure and services during the recession caused by the international collapse in oil prices, but now that the economy seems to be perking up at last, it's time to alter course.

This seems to make sense in a classic John Maynard Keynes, Economics 101, sort of way -- you know, spend in bad times, save in good. A couple of things are wrong with this explanation, however:

First, it's too soon. The recession isn't over. Spending is still needed to keep the economy off life support.

Second, and more important in the Alberta context, taxes here are artificially kept at nonsensically low levels -- too low to run a modern economy in a jurisdiction of this size and complexity -- because we refuse to tax individuals and corporations at a level that makes sense.

Everybody understands this. Certainly Notley does, as does her caucus. NDP supporters do too.
If ever there was a discredited economic doctrine, it's the harsh austerity, privatization, deregulation, government spending cuts, and lowest-common-denominator trade policies of the neoliberal counter-revolution that has sought to destroy the post-World War II welfare state, which resulted in the highest levels of prosperity in human history, and turn the clock back to the 19th Century.

And yet here we go again -- led by an NDP government no less -- down the rabbit hole of neoliberal prescriptions, which never work, always make things worse, and sow chaos and destruction for ordinary people while undermining democracy by making the uber-wealthy richer and more powerful.

It's a tribute to the success of the international neoliberal propaganda machine, I suppose, that doing the sensible thing and implementing modest increases to Alberta's taxes is simply not on, even for a well-intentioned social democratic government.
Alas, the modest common-sense tax increases Alberta needed from the NDP never came. Instead, the best we can hope for now is compassionate austerity, which when it doesn't work, risks becoming the conservative entrée to something harsher, and even less effective.
- And the Equality Trust offers its response to yet another UK budget which inflicts austerity rather than ameliorating inequality.

- Noah Smith writes about the crucial role of social redistribution in ensuring the prosperity is shared beyond the luckiest few. And Judy Paul writes that a basic income could go much further in allowing people to make positive life choices like finishing high school as adults, rather than being trapped by the need to scratch out subsistence-level incomes.

- Finally, Steven Greenhouse discusses the need for better scheduling protections for U.S. workers - and the developing movement to fight for them.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau and the federal Libs are focused mostly on further privileging the rich:
There’s lots of lamenting about the way the rich keep getting richer while ordinary folk struggle to keep their heads above water. Along with the lamenting, there’s usually some resigned muttering about how it’s all just part of today’s global economy.

But there’s a much simpler explanation: our governments keep passing laws that make the rich richer and ordinary citizens poorer.

An example of this is currently being played out in Ottawa as the Trudeau government — ostensibly a “progressive” government that champions the middle class — is moving forward with legislation aimed at stripping away pension benefits from potentially hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.
The Trudeau government defends its proposed changes on the grounds that workers must “consent” to having their pensions converted to the new riskier format.

But this is like the “consent” given by women who get groped by a powerful boss; employers can get their unionized workers to “consent” by locking them out if they don’t agree to the pension change at the bargaining table.

Certainly, Trudeau and Morneau seem comfortable with today’s corporate mantra that workers can no longer count on things in the new economy. Learning to live with risk is the new black.

The corporate keenness to foist riskier pensions on their workers is not driven by necessity. Corporate profits have risen significantly in recent years, even as companies have switched to the stingier pensions that transfer all risk to employees.

Even fabulously rich corporations are adopting the new pensions — not because they can’t afford to pay workers fixed pension benefits like they used to, but because they’d rather not be obliged to do so.
Risk may be good for those lower down the ladder, but for those at the top, guaranteed lifetime abundance still apparently has its place in the global economy. 
- And Cristobal Young points out that a look at actual evidence strongly challenges the claim that high-wealth individuals will leave jurisdictions with more progressive tax structures.

- Nick Hopkins notes that the UK Conservative government is choosing not to crack down ton tax avoidance, preferring instead to inflict austerity measures on the people with the least. And Jim Tankersley discusses a union-led push to test whether corporate tax giveaways will be passed along in the form of wages as claimed by Donald Trump and his band of merry looters (in the full knowledge that there's no plausible reason to think they will).

- The Globe and Mail's editorial board discusses why net neutrality is essential for consumer and business fairness, while Colin Horgan writes that the U.S.' policies may have a profound influence far beyond its borders. And Michael Byers makes the case that Canada should ensure the protection of net neutrality as part of its NAFTA bargaining position.

- Finally, Jonathan Thompson maps out the U.S.' hundreds of pipeline spills over just the last two years. And Erik Heinrich notes that it's far from clear who will ultimately foot the bill for spills in Canada - and that even pipeline proponents may have no interest in going ahead with projects if faced with the environmental risk.

Musical interlude

Delerium feat. Shelly Harland - Above the Clouds

Thursday, November 23, 2017

New column day

Here, on how the Saskatchewan Party's climate obstruction is entirely out of touch with the province's citizens.

For further reading...
- Abacus Data's national poll of attitudes toward climate change policy is here, with the separate chart pointing out the views of Saskatchewan and Alberta respondents looking to be particularly significant.
- And again, James Wilt has discussed the public's appetite to fight climate change here.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Karl Nerenberg writes about Bill Morneau's conflicts of interest - with particular attention to the NDP's justified criticism of legislation aimed at privatizing pension management to benefit forms like Morneau's. And Brent Patterson discusses a push back against the Manitoba PCs' plan to privatize public services through social impact bonds.

- Marc Lee comments on the need for investments in British Columbia's public transportation infrastructure.

- Donna Ferguson interviews Diane Reay about how the UK's education system is set up to perpetuate social status rather than to give working-class students a fair opportunity to succeed. 

- Anna Tims reports on the constantly-changing and unmanageable terms of work being imposed on workers in the gig economy. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the much-needed passage of improved employment standards in Ontario.

- Nathan Robinson writes that the left is winning the battle of ideas as U.S. conservatives in particular have stopped having anything constructive to say.

- And finally, Tammy Robert highlights the small number of big corporate donors who are exerting disproportionate control over the Saskatchewan Party's leadership campaign.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Larry Elliott interviews Joseph Stiglitz about the rise of Donald Trump and other demagogues in the wake of public anger over inequality and economic unfairness. And Stiglitz also joins a group of economists calling for an end to austerity in the UK.

- Phillip Mendonca-Vieira highlights how rent controls provide some needed stability for tenants who would otherwise face a constant risk of housing upheaval. Emily Mathieu and CBC News each report on some of the elements of the impending federal housing plan - though it looks to be noteworthy mostly for falling short of any intention to treat housing as a human right. And Kate Wilson writes about BCGEU's much more ambitious plan to ensure that housing is available and affordable in British Columbia. 

- Jessica Lindsay discusses the connection between poverty and mental health. And David Baxter reports on new research showing that over 24% of Saskatchewan's children are living in poverty.

- James Wilt writes about the widespread public support in Canada for strong action to rein in climate change. And Louise Dickson reports on Michael Byers' suggestion that the corporations who have profited by polluting our planet should be on the hook for the resulting costs.

- Finally, Richard Wood offers seven reasons to scrap the distorted results of first-past-the-post in favour of a proportional electoral system.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Corralled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Climenhaga writes that Canada needs a lot more of Jeremy Corbyn's critical analysis of an unfair economic system, and a lot less Justin Trudeau-style cheerleading for it. And Bill Curry reports on a new push to cut down on poverty at the national and provincial levels.

- Dave Kamper discusses how anti-union actors in the U.S. are focusing on draining organized labour of any ability to push for structural change. And Mindy Isser comments on the importance of deeper organizing to keep workers engaged while strengthening the union movement.

- David MacDonald, Cole Eisen and Chris Roberts study how private-sector defined benefit pension plans have been systematically underfunded, resulting in shareholders extracting deferred wages while endangering workers' pensions.

- Finally, Benjamin Fong writes that the excesses of capitalism are at the root of our climate crisis:
The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it’s systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue.
When a company makes a decision that is destructive to the environment, for instance, it is not because there are bad or unintelligent people in charge: Directors typically have a fiduciary responsibility that makes the bottom line their only priority. They serve a function, and if they don’t, others can take their place. If something goes wrong — which is to say, if something endangers profit making — they can serve as convenient scapegoats, but any stupid or dangerous decisions they make result from being personifications of capital.

The claim here is not that unintelligent people do not do unintelligent things, but rather that the overwhelming unintelligence involved in keeping the engines of production roaring when they are making the planet increasingly uninhabitable cannot be pinned on specific people. It is the system as a whole that is at issue, and every time we pick out bumbling morons to lament or fresh-faced geniuses to praise is a missed opportunity to see plainly the necessity of structural change.