Monday, October 09, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Christopher Thompson highlights how the use of monetary policy to fuel economic growth rather than a progressive fiscal policy alternative has served largely to enrich the already-wealthy. Rachelle Younglai and Murat Yukselir report on Canada's growing income gap, while Andrew Jackson points out how increased inequality has been paired with stagnant or worsening poverty levels.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the UK's choice between continuing with a rerun of '80s neoliberalism, or pursuing shared development. And John Quiggin offers some suggestions as to what the next socialist alternative might look like:
The middle of the 20th century was a unique period of sustained economic growth and broadly shared prosperity in developed market economies. The crucial feature underpinning this success was full employment, guaranteed by Keynesian macroeconomic management. In an economy with full employment, workers are no longer dependent on the goodwill of individual employers or the confidence of business as a whole. If one job does not suit, there is always another.

In these circumstances, the distribution of market income between wages and profits, and among wage-earners, tends naturally towards greater equality. Conversely, as we’ve seen since the 70s, when governments are driven by the need to please financial markets, ever-growing inequality is the inevitable result. The most striking evidence is the rising share of income going to the top 1%, as documented by Piketty and others.

The success of Keynesian stimulus in the immediate aftermath of the GFC and the disastrous outcomes from the shift to austerity after 2010 show that Keynesian economic management is as vital as ever. Going beyond crisis management, socialist governments would reinstate the commitment to full employment, and solidify it through policies such as a jobs guarantee, ensuring the availability of a full-time job for anyone who has been unemployed for some minimum period.

However, the technological and social changes that have taken place over the past 60 years mean that the traditional notion of full employment, focused on full-time jobs for male breadwinners, is no longer adequate. We need a more flexible approach, accommodating the more diverse patterns of life and work of the 21st century.

In this context, the idea of a universal basic income set at a level comparable to the age pension has considerable appeal. The ultimate goal would be to provide an unconditional payment lower than the return from working but sufficient to sustain decent living standards.
A socialist program would allocate much less economic activity to big business, and more to other forms of organisation. In deciding what kind of economic activity belongs where, a range of considerations are relevant. These include the scale of the activity, the extent to which it is possible and appropriate to charge market prices, the scope for competition and the relative importance of economic and non-economic motives.

In part this would imply reversing the neoliberal program of privatisation and marketisation. Large-scale capital intensive activities with limited scope for competition, such as the provision of infrastructure, would be returned to public ownership.
There is also much more room for voluntary and non-government activity. The neoliberal state, through contracting, competitive tendering and the audit culture, has sought to turn voluntary work and non-government organisations into low-cost providers of government services. In the process, much of the creative potential of civil society has been lost. Expanding the scope for voluntary social initiatives would fit naturally with a socialist program, and this is already beginning with the rise of social enterprises.
The idea of a socialist economy with unconditional access to basic incomes and greatly expanded provision of free services might seem utopian. But in the aftermath of neoliberal failure, utopian vision is what is needed. To re-engage people with democratic politics, we need to move beyond culture wars and arguments over marginal adjustments to tax rates and budget allocations, necessary as these may be in the short term.

Socialists have always seen short-term political struggles as part of a long-term project of transforming society for the better. It is this fact which explains why conservatives have always used the term “socialist” as a bogeyman. It’s also why the term has retained its appeal through decades of neoliberal retrenchment. Social democratic and liberal parties, compromised by their acquiescence in, or embrace of, neoliberalism, need to make a decisive break with the recent past. An explicit embrace of socialism would make that break clear.
- Jonathan Ford highlights how rentiers are making a killing from the UK's push toward privatization while putting public services at risk. Laura Glowacki reports that the Manitoba PCs are pushing consultants' reports trying to shift essentials of life such as housing even further into corporate hands. And Lynne Fernandez responds by pointing out the faulty assumptions behind that message.

- Jim Rankin exposes how employers are able to trap migrant workers to Canada in debt bondage. Yves Engler suggests that the absolute least Canada could do for people migrating from countries exploited by our resource sector is to accept them when they arrive. And Nicholas Keung reports on how our immigration detention system is instead oriented toward punishing people who make the effort to pursue a better life.

- Jean Swanson suggests a "mansion tax" to ensure that money is available to fund basic social needs in Vancouver. And Emily Lazatin reports on the growing number of homeless elderly people there as the cost of living soars out of reach.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board calls for a smarter approach to drug policy based on legalization and harm reduction.

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