Saturday, April 15, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the NDP's federal leadership campaign. (As always, see the reference page for general information.)

- Mylene Crete reports on Alexandre Boulerice's endorsement of Peter Julian - which offers another important piece of evidence that the party's contingent of Quebec MPs and organizers sees Julian as a viable candidate to succeed in the province.

- Cory Collins talks to Niki Ashton about the need to build Canada's progressive social movement as one of the NDP's key priorities. And in the process, Ashton answers some of the foreign policy questions which Yves Engler still wants included in the party's debates.

- Meanwhile, Eleanor Davidson interviews Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury about his outsider perspective on the state of Canadian democracy.

- Elliot Ferguson reports on Charlie Angus' rallying for pay equity (among other elements of fair employment). Guy Caron participated in OCAP's debate on a basic income - and his side seems to have moved opinions in its favour. Jagmeet Singh introduced legislation to better protect temp agency workers in Ontario. Ashton stopped into Alberta (including Red Deer) on her Economic Justice tour. And Julian has been encouraging supporters to work on helping British Columbia's NDP win the ongoing provincial election.

- Finally, Engler also wonders whether there should be more bold ideas being discussed in the NDP's campaign - though I'd hardly share his view that the Cons' example of being offensively extreme for its own sake is one worth following.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- Cole Stangler interviews Raquel Garrido about the political critique behind Jean-Luc Melenchon's emerging presidential campaign - and it sounds equally applicable in Canada:
One of the reasons why the current regime is lacking consent in French society is because the process for electing officials allows them to behave inconsistently with their campaign promises. The main cultural characteristic of the current political class is impunity. They do whatever they want because they are absolutely unaccountable.

That culture of impunity starts with the president himself. We’re the only self-identified democratic country where you have one man who has such concentrated power — elections of hundreds and hundreds of people in different institutions and he actually decides what the parliament will be talking about, the parliamentary agenda. The president behaves in such an unaccountable fashion that it actually spreads like a cascade across the entire political class.

Most elected officials in France today lack legitimacy, are elected with very low turnouts. There’s a deep sense of disgust among citizens with this political class. That creates chaos and instability.
There are other big themes of the campaign — wealth redistribution and social justice — which are classic proposals in a situation of great inequality. Then you have climate change and protecting the only ecosystem which allows life for human beings. But before we address those issues, we need to gain the power to actually have an impact. 
- And in a prime example of Canada's culture of impunity, Chantal Hebert writes about the Trudeau Libs' cynical political choices around marijuana legalization - and how those fit with Trudeau's repudiated promise of electoral reform.

- Jon Stone reports on UK Labour's plans to ensure that public money doesn't subsidize bad corporate behaviour (including a refusal to recognize collective bargaining). And Larry Bartels studies (PDF) the gap between the policies which would result from an accurate representation of U.S. citizens' preferences, and those which are in fact seen due to the influence of wealth in politics.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh writes about the Ontario miners who were used as guinea pigs for untested - and ultimately harmful - powders intended to serve as substitutes for reasonable health and safety precautions.

- Finally, Henry Farrell examines the circumstances in which economists have - and haven't - been able to move the needle on public policy. And George Monbiot discusses Kate Raworth's doughnut model as a means of conceptualizing the desirability and sustainability of our economic choices.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Musical interlude

Kyoto Skies - Homesick

On redundancies

Scott Sinclair offers a useful summary of the latest sop to the anti-regulation lobby in the form of the new Canadian Free Trade Agreement (PDF). And as usual, there's a fundamental problem with any deal which deems public policy to be presumptively invalid to the extent it affects actual or potential corporate profits.

But I'd think it's particularly worth watching what will happen among the provinces who have already agreed to worse deals.

Unlike the New West Partnership Trade Agreement (formerly known as the TILMA), the CFTA does back up the usual spin about harmonizing rather than gutting regulations with processes which might actually encourage provinces to reconcile conflicting rules. And as noted by Sinclair, it avoids the trap of turning trade challenges into corporate windfalls.

With the CFTA in place, it would thus seem that all of the even arguably valid purposes behind the NWPTA have now been addressed at a national level - without some of the most glaring flaws.

So with that in mind, we should ask: is there any purpose to keeping the NWPTA around other than to give corporations multiple ways to attack policymaking at the provincial level? And if not, then isn't it about time to terminate the NWPTA?

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jordan Brennan and Kaylie Tiessen write that it's long past time to set a level of federal revenue sufficient to support the social programs Canadians want:
In the decades since [corporate-driven] reforms were undertaken, Canada experienced a significant deterioration in its macroeconomic performance: business investment has worsened and the rate of job creation and GDP growth have both decelerated. If there is no solid economic evidence to suggest that budgetary and tax reform succeeded in elevating investment levels or increasing the rate of economic growth, how are we to understand the commitment to balanced budgets and shrinking government?

The answer is, unsurprisingly, political. The Canadian welfare state grew out of the wreckage of the Great Depression. In the early postwar decades many of the federal programs that Canadians enjoy were created. As a share of GDP, budgetary revenue grew from 10 per cent in 1939 to 20 per cent by 1974 — an effective doubling of the size of the federal government during a period of exceptionally strong economic growth.

Today, after decades of proportional reductions in revenue and spending, the federal aspects of the welfare state have been significantly diminished. The political program of undoing the New Deal model of governance has largely succeeded in Canada, at least at the federal level.

But here’s the problem: cutting taxes or reducing spending will not facilitate reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples, who experience a vast funding shortfall when it comes to infrastructure, education and health care. It will do nothing to make housing more affordable in Vancouver, nor will it expedite the transition to a low-carbon economy in Alberta. A balanced budget will not ease gridlock in the GTA, nor will it provide the health care resources Atlantic Canadians require to cope with an aging population.

Perhaps that’s why, after decades of the “smaller government is better” mantra, Canadians have opened themselves up to the utility of deficit financing. The next step would be to extend the conversation into the domain of taxation, to determine what level is required to solve some of Canada’s most pressing policy challenges.
- Lizanne Foster highlights how any promise of future benefits from the B.C. Libs is limited to the province's wealthy few, while Douglas Todd notes that there's broad public agreement with that expectation. And Martyn Brown offers a simple but vital formula to ensure change from Christy Clark's corrupt corporatism at the polls. 

- Meanwhile, William Yardley traces British Columbia's path from being ahead of the curve on climate change to clinging to fossil fuels. And Aurora Tejeida writes that there's been no followup at all on promises to protect the environment from inevitable oil spills.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on a push for Ontario to follow Iceland's lead in ensuring employer transparency to further the cause of pay equity. And Forum Research finds massive public support in the province for a $15 minimum wage - contrasted against not a single group polled which stands opposed to the possibility.

- Finally, Taylor Bendig questions the Wall government's choice to throw STC under the bus without any apparent planning or analysis.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

New column day

Here, expanding on this post about New Brunswick's failed attempt to become a corporate tax haven - and why Brad Wall's attempt at a similar scheme for Saskatchewan is similarly doomed.

For further reading...
- Again, the outline of Shawn Graham's scheme to win over corporations as a tax haven is found in Daniel McHardle's report. And CBC reported on the eventual demand from the New Brunswick Business Council to reverse the cuts (which, like Wall's, seem to have been purely the product of government ideology rather than any meaningful analysis or consultation).
- Statistics Canada has provincial GDP numbers here (CANSIM table  379-0030), showing New Brunswick's stagnation after Graham's 2009 announcement. And Heide Pearson reported on New Brunswick's population drop in the most recent census.
- Finally, Alex MacPherson's report on multi-million-dollar payments to CEOs in Saskatchewan's slumping resource sectors offers yet another example of how the people at the top never seem to sacrifice when everybody else is told to pitch in.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Dani Rodrik argues that it's too late to try to compensate the people being deliberately left behind by trade deals - and that instead, we need to make sure their interests are actually taken into account in how trade is structured:
Today’s consensus concerning the need to compensate globalization’s losers presumes that the winners are motivated by enlightened self-interest – that they believe buy-in from the losers is essential to maintain economic openness. Trump’s presidency has revealed an alternative perspective: globalization, at least as currently construed, tilts the balance of political power toward those with the skills and assets to benefit from openness, undermining whatever organized influence the losers might have had in the first place. Inchoate discontent about globalization, Trump has shown, can easily be channeled to serve an altogether different agenda, more in line with elites’ interests.

The politics of compensation is always subject to a problem that economists call “time inconsistency.” Before a new policy – say, a trade agreement – is adopted, beneficiaries have an incentive to promise compensation. Once the policy is in place, they have little interest in following through, either because reversal is costly all around or because the underlying balance of power shifts toward them. 

The time for compensation has come and gone. Even if compensation was a viable approach two decades ago, it no longer serves as a practical response to globalization’s adverse effects. To bring the losers along, we will need to consider changing the rules of globalization itself.
- David Cay Johnston looks at the public records available about Donald Trump's wealth to highlight how he and his fellow .01%ers have been benefiting financially at the expense of most Americans.

- Rachael Pells points out how U.K. funding intended to help poorer students is in fact being used to paper over general funding shortages - resulting in cuts to exactly the schools which most need support.

- Bill Curry exposes the Trudeau Libs' secrecy when it comes to reports on airport privatization in the name of protecting Credit Suisse as a potential profiteer. And Geoff Leo reports on the Sask Party's repeated concealment of documents about the Global Transportation Hub scandal to cover up for CP.

- Finally, CBC reports that the privacy of mere citizens isn't so much a concern, as evidence by Eric Olauson's apparently-unquestioned demand to do a "background check" on people who dared to e-mail him a comment about the budget.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clingy cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Daniel Munro highlights how Uber and other service apps manipulate their workers. And The New York Times' editorial board warns about the false promises of the gig economy:
In reality, there is no utopia at companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Handy, whose workers are often manipulated into working long hours for low wages while continually chasing the next ride or task. These companies have discovered they can harness advances in software and behavioral sciences to old-fashioned worker exploitation, according to a growing body of evidence, because employees lack the basic protections of American law.
Gig economy workers tend to be poorer and are more likely to be minorities than the population at large, a survey by the Pew Research Center found last year. Compared with the population as a whole, almost twice as many of them earned under $30,000 a year, and 40 percent were black or Hispanic, compared with 27 percent of all American adults. Most said the money they earned from online platforms was essential or important to their families.

Since workers for most gig economy companies are considered independent contractors, not employees, they do not qualify for basic protections like overtime pay and minimum wages...
...Over time even bigger companies like Uber, many of which lose money and rely on investors to keep pouring in billions of dollars of capital, might find that it pays to treat workers better and even make some of them employees.

But so far, experience with these companies shows that without the legal protections and ethical norms that once were widely accepted, workers will find the economy of the future an even more inhospitable place.

- Meanwhile, Daniel Tencer reports on Canada's stagnant wage levels (even as raw job numbers increase). And Clare Hennig reports on Andrew Cash's work to ensure reasonable protection for contract workers.

- Manasi Deshpande studies the effect of taking welfare benefits away from low-income youth, and finds that it results in the people affected (and their families) being far worse off.

- Rhys Kesselman points out that a capital gains tax on housing prices would go a long way toward reining in Canada's worrisome urban housing bubble.

- Mike Hager exposes the millions of dollars the Christy Clark B.C. Libs have vacuumed up through case-for-access events. And Tammy Robert posts about the similar cash-for-access problem in Saskatchewan.

- Barry Saxifrage writes about the alarming increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. And James Munson reports on new research showing that Canada is lagging behind other developed countries in decoupling economic development from carbon pollution.

- Finally, Michael Harris rightly tears into Justin Trudeau for choosing to become Donald Trump North on Syria and other issues.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Katha Pollitt reviews Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, and identifies the problem that profiteers have a vested interest in perpetuating poverty:
What if the dominant discourse on poverty is just wrong? What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals – that they’re lazy and impulsive and irresponsible and have no family values – or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable? These are the questions at the heart of Evicted, Matthew Desmond’s extraordinary ethnographic study of tenants in low-income housing in the deindustrialised middle-sized city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

You might not think that there is a lot of money to be extracted from a dilapidated trailer park or a black neighbourhood of “sagging duplexes, fading murals, 24-hour daycares”. But you would be wrong. Tobin Charney makes $400,000 a year out of his 131 trailers, some of which are little better than hovels. Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher who is one of the only black female landlords in the city, makes enough in rents on her numerous properties – some presentable, others squalid – to holiday in Jamaica and attend conferences on real estate.
Desmond lays out the crucial role housing plays in creating and reinforcing white privilege. In Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the US, all black people suffer from housing discrimination and all white people benefit at least a little from the racial dividend – a landlord who will rent to them but not to black people, for instance, or offer them a nicer apartment. Black people have the worst housing in the worst neighbourhoods – the great fear of the trailer-park people, who are all white, is that they will end up on the black side of town. Eviction hits black women hardest of all, and the bleak benches of housing courts, which deal with disputes between landlords and tenants, are full of black women and their children: “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighbourhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

What are the social costs of eviction? It puts incredible stress on families. It prevents people from saving the comparatively small sums that would let them stabilise their situation. They are always starting over from scratch, losing their possessions in the chaos of removal, or putting them in storage and losing them when they can’t pay the fees. An eviction on your record makes the next apartment harder to get. Eviction damages children, who are always changing schools, giving up friends and toys and pets – and living with the exhaustion and depression of their parents. We watch Jori go from a sweet, protective older brother to an angry, sullen boy subject to violent outbursts who is falling way behind in school.

Eviction makes it hard to keep up with the many appointments required by the courts and the byzantine welfare system: several characters have their benefits cut because notices are sent to the wrong address. Eviction destroys communities: when people move frequently, they don’t form the social bonds and pride in place that encourage them to care for their block and look out for their neighbours.
- Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin and Paul Bloom examine the relationship between fairness and inequality, and find that people's more intuitions are aimed more toward the former than the latter.

- Frank Fear discusses how "progressive neoliberalism" is undermining the progressive movement by opening up even more space for neoliberal management theories to dominate politics. And Jared Bernstein argues that we'll achieve better policy results by directly providing for the outcomes we want, rather than hoping for market mechanisms or other complex structures to achieve them indirectly. 

- Meanwhile, Tyler Cowen points out that trade over long distances as a proportion of total trade hasn't changed over the past three decades - meaning that the growing dominance of capital in that time can't be explained solely by globalization as a value-neutral principle. 

- Finally, Steve Lambert reports on Wab Kinew's entry into the Manitoba NDP's leadership race.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Abi Wilkinson writes about the importance of making social benefits universal in order to reflect a sense of shared interests and purpose:
Universal aspects of the welfare state tend to be thought of as the fruit of common endeavour. The NHS tops the list of things that make people in this country proud to be British, ahead of the royal family and armed forces. The suggestion that some patients should be charged for hospital visits is likely to make most shudder. Such a reform is widely understood as contrary to everything the NHS is about. Once you’ve introduced a universal provision, it is politically difficult to remove it. Voters are fiercely protective of the entitlements that come to be understood as basic rights.

Means-tested benefits, on the other hand, are seen more as a form of charity. As such, it’s frequently argued that they should go only to the “deserving poor”. The specific definition of “deserving” is a subject of constant public debate. Those further towards the left of the political spectrum are more likely to argue that income level is the only relevant factor. Those on the right tend to see welfare as a tool to control the behaviour of recipients and often insist on additional moral tests. This is the logic that drives the benefit sanctions regime, and the recent cut to child tax credits for families with more than two children.
It’s true that money spent on middle-class kids’ dinners could theoretically be directed at poorer pupils in more targeted ways, but that misses the point. Maximising cost-effectiveness isn’t what universality is about. Children who receive free school meals report being bullied and stigmatised, and many families who are entitled to claim them avoid doing so for this reason. Others earn just above the £16,190 income threshold but still struggle with the cost of food. Families with an income below the threshold are excluded if a parent works more than 16 hours per week. In some cases, children go hungry not for financial reasons but because of parental neglect. Providing a hot meal to every child ensures that nobody falls through the net.

There’s a solid, practical argument for Labour’s proposal, but focusing only on direct outcomes fails to capture the true challenge facing the party. The welfare reforms introduced under New Labour were largely means-tested. For this reason, the Conservatives have found it easy to roll back much of the progress that was made. The most resilient aspects of our welfare state are the universal provisions which were introduced decades ago.
Of course the problems with our education system won’t be solved with a single policy, but this could represent a symbolic turning point. Expanding universal provisions could be at the centre of a genuinely exciting vision for the future of the country. More radical options, such as a universal basic income, have also been discussed, but there are all kinds of possibilities. To convince disillusioned voters it has something to offer, Labour needs to be brave and think big. Fiddling with numbers on a spreadsheet won’t cut it.
- Meanwhile, Henry Mintzberg comments on the dangers of trying to run government like a business.

- Jordon Cooper discusses how important public institutions and vulnerable people are bearing the brunt of Brad Wall's cutbacks, even as corporations are handed goodies with no prospect of any public benefit. And Murray Mandryk highlights how this year's extreme austerity budget has made clear that the Saskatchewan Party's supposed concern for people with disabilities has proven illusory.

- CBC reports on new research showing the strong effect of rent subsidies on the well-being of lower-income citizens of Waterloo. But Shawn Jeffords notes that the Ontario Libs and Cons shot down an NDP attempt to ensure that rent is more affordable.

- Finally, Adnan Al-Daini writes that even the dirtiest government Donald Trump can think to administer won't stop the spread of clean energy around the globe. And on that front, Natasha Geiling reports on the imminent end of new coal power in Europe.

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign...

- Marie-Danielle Smith reports that Jagmeet Singh is laying the groundwork to join the race. And Steve Paikin offers his take as to what that might mean for the current candidates - while also raising the (seemingly unlikely) prospect that Thomas Mulcair might join the fray.

- Meanwhile, Eleanor Davidson reports on the much lower-profile entry of Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury. And anybody looking for some background on El-Khoury's view of the NDP can find it on the site set up when he was seeking the party's nomination in Papineau.

- Cory Collins interviews Guy Caron about both his basic income proposal, and the political strategy needed to win power to implement it. Charlie Angus writes about the need to question CEO perks (and the public policies that facilitate them) in order to ensure fairness for workers. James Kelly talks to Niki Ashton about her work to build a Bernie Sanders-like movement in Canada. And Ian Capstick's On the Road podcast features conversations with the MPs in the race about their experiences in school.

- Finally, Ed Broadbent highlights the need for the NDP to set the political agenda no matter who emerges as leader, while Kristy Kirkup interviews Broadbent about his take at the Progress Summit. Kenneth Dewar discusses what he sees as tension between strong principles and a path to power - though he doesn't provide much evidence that one is actually a barrier to the other. And Thomas Woodley wonders whether an amicable leadership campaign will allow NDP members to test which candidates can best challenge Justin Trudeau's political skills and policy choices.