Saturday, July 15, 2017

On costly considerations

I've previously pointed out that there might be much less than met the eye to Brightenview's much-trumpeted "ground-breaking" at the Global Transportation Hub. But while there's now some dispute as to what work is being done at the Brightenview site, I'd think we should be particularly concerned about the terms involved if the GTH project is actually departing from Brightenview's historical trends.

After all, Saskatchewan's provincial government put substantial amounts of money into catering to the two main GTH tenants - with the theory that Canadian Pacific and Loblaws would serve as magnets for other businesses to relocate to the area. And it went far out of its way to cover up the terms of the 2009 CP deal in particular: they were only revealed through CBC's reporting this year after being withheld in the face of access to information requests.

Here's what the province agreed to in order to get CP to build on the GTH site (despite its theoretical agreement that the move would be mutually beneficial):
CP sold its old site to the City of Regina for $7.5 million.

The agreement says the land is being given to the private railway company "in consideration of CP's contribution to the project." According to the contract, CP agreed to pay for railway infrastructure, container handling facilities and buildings for the project.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Highways promised to pick up the cost for most everything else, including land, servicing, the moving of power lines, and construction of CP's parking lot and internal roadways.

And the province agreed to provide CP serviced, accessible land west of the city "at no cost to CP and free and clear of all encumbrances" except for a few easements.
Of course, the promise of drawing other substantial activity to the GTH area hasn't been met. And the lack of any other good news around the time of the last provincial election is exactly why Brad Wall was so desperate to cozy up to Brightenview in the first place.

But with the Wall government now relying on Brightenview as its only excuse for development in the area and the other scandals surrounding the GTH, it's apparent that the Saskatchewan Party now has a strong political incentive to ensure that something gets built - no matter who ends up paying the bill.

It's also obvious that Brightenview's track record involves many grand proclamations, but very little follow-through - particularly when it comes time to put the money contributed by unsuspecting investors into building anything at its own expense.

With that in mind, I'd think it's worth asking: what exactly are the terms of Brightenview's development? And in particular, how much is the public paying - either in direct costs for the Brightenview site, or in upgrades to the GTH area for Brightenview's benefit - as the price of the illusion of progress?

(See also Tammy Robert's post expanding on CBC's story about on the connection between Brightenvie and pay-for-play immigration.)

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The Economist observes that the effects of climate change fall disproportionately on poorer people, rather than the wealthier ones who have caused more of the damage:
The costs of global climate change will again be unevenly (and uncertainly) distributed, but harm will often be smaller for richer, temperate countries. As a result the estimated economic loss from warming is almost certainly understated, because the nastiest effects are concentrated in places where incomes are lowest: and, correspondingly, where tumbling incomes have the smallest effect on global GDP.
The rich are disproportionate contributors to the carbon emissions that power climate change. It is cruel and perverse, therefore, that the costs of warming should be disproportionately borne by the poor. And it is both insult and injury that the wealthy are more mobile in the face of climate-induced hardship, and more effective at limiting the mobility of others. The strains this injustice places on the social fabric might well lead to woes more damaging than rising temperatures themselves.
- Meanwhile, Richard Florida writes that inequality only exacerbates the dangers of economic downturns. And UNICEF makes the case to finally put and end to child poverty (and reduce inequality) in Canada.

- Noah Smith points out that no matter how much wealth gets linked to intangibles, economic stability and prosperity ultimately depend on actually producing goods. And Cameron Murray notes that longer-term development depends on industrial policy - which governments presently seem all too eager to leave to the few wealthy enough to shape it personally.

- Canadians for Tax Fairness calls for Canada's provinces to work on ensuring corporate transparency.

- But Jeremy Nuttall reports on Christy Clark's PR-focused response to the Mount Polley environmental disaster as an example of how governments are all too often focused only on minimizing corporate wrongdoing. And Brent Patterson points out the Trudeau Libs' decision to allow the dumping of mine waste in fish-bearing creeks as just another example of profits being put before the planet.

- Finally, Ken Neumann worries about the consequences of the Libs' obsession with courting Chinese capital regardless of its effect on Canada.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Musical interlude

Cosmic Gate feat. Emma Hewitt - Not Enough Time

Leadership 2017 Links

The latest from the federal NDP's leadership campaign.

- Mainstreet has released what looks to be the most useful poll of the campaign so far, showing Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton in the lead among a substantial number of self-identified NDP members. But the gap between Angus and Ashton is tiny compared to the number of later-ballot vots, and all of the candidates look to have plenty of potential for growth based on the still-substantial number of undecided voters.

- Ian Capstick offers his view of the noteworthy strategic choices that have been made so far in the campaign. And Christo Aivalis reviews this week's debate while also summarizing where the campaign stands.

- Angus makes the case for affordable housing as a human right, while pointing out that we have no fiscal excuse for failing to meet it. Jade Saab argues that Ashton is the candidate offering transformative change. John Ibbitson and Konrad Yakabuski both offer their take on the pros and cons of Jagmeet Singh based on his religious background - though it's worth noting that neither can identify any impact Singh's religion is supposed to have on his political choices (other than an erroneous claim by Yakabuski). And Erin Weir takes the view that the next leader needs to ensure that federal carbon pricing and green house gas emission regulations don't merely push the generation of emissions outside of Canada's borders.

- Finally, Kady O'Malley writes that while the public hasn't yet paid a great deal of attention to the campaign, there's reason to suspect that will change - particularly during the voting stage. And Luke Savage warns against trying to frame the NDP's campaign solely in terms of developments in other countries and parties.

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Josh Bivens notes that international trade deals have been structured to maximize the cost of globalization for the workers excluded from the bargaining table. And Jon Queally points out that a massive majority of Americans see power disproportionately hoarded by the rich at the expense of everybody else.

- So it should come as no surprise (as noted by Frank Clemente) that the corporate sector is avoiding making a fair contribution to funding collective programs - even while whining constantly about what little it is required to pitch in. And Chuck Collins discusses how much wealth is being hidden by the most privileged few.

- Kashana Cauley discusses the importance of a youth-led labour movement to ensure that changing priorities and workplaces are reflected in union strategies. And Democratic Audit UK examines the legal structures needed to protect workers' rights, while Paul Willcocks offers some suggestions as to how British Columbia's new government can bolster job quality and economic fairness.

- Evan Horowitz highlights the reality that an effective anti-poverty strategy can't rely solely on jobs and education, but instead needs to ensure that money gets into the hands of the people who need it most. And Left Foot Forward notes that the creation of precarious and low-wage jobs does nothing to improve the lives of the people who can't escape them.

- Finally, Nora Loreto and Michael Stewart ask whether Canada's media has a right-wing bias in granting unjustified air time (and credence) to reactionary ignorance.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Susanna Rustin reports on a new study from the London School of Economics demonstrating the lifelong personal impacts of childhood poverty. And Colleen Kimmit writes that the solution to food insecurity (along with other elements of personal precarity) is a guaranteed income, not charity or redundant skills training:
Many people think of basic income as a radical, untested idea, but Canada already has it for a significant portion of the population: seniors. One of the first projects that PROOF worked on, based on research conducted by Lynn McIntyre at the University of Calgary, looked at old age pensions in Canada. Using the Canadian Community Health Survey data once more, they randomly selected a group of single, low-income “near seniors” aged 55 to 64 and followed them for ten years. At the outset, 22 per cent qualified as food insecure. By the time the cohort passed age 65, that number dropped to 11 per cent. Nothing else changed in their lives except this crucial birthday. Turning 65 and becoming eligible for the old age pension—a stable, secure income, indexed to inflation and double regular social assistance amounts—immediately halved the number of people going hungry.

This kind of income is precisely what it will take, Tarasuk argues, to alleviate the stress many Canadians feel when it comes to covering even their most basic needs. She is encouraged by Ontario’s basic-income pilot; if it’s adopted, it may eliminate the need for piecemeal approaches.

“It’s not about a soda tax, or access to food, or better nutrition labelling. Community kitchens don’t solve it. Gardens don’t solve it. There’s arguments for all that stuff. But it’s not going to move the needle on food insecurity,” says Tarasuk. “We just want basic income. That’s it.”
- Meanwhile, Claudia Buch discusses how high levels of connected personal and corporate debt result in an economy that's less stable and secure for everybody.

- Matt Stoller wonders whether U.S. Democrats will notice the opportunity to take on the cause of trust-busting and challenging corporate power in light of the trust fund tycoon serving as the face of the Republican Party.

- The CCPA suggests that Canada treat its sesquicentennial as an opportunity to ensure that how we actually engage with Indigenous peoples matches our aspirations and self-perception. But the Star's editorial board notes that the long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is going off the rails. And Russ Diabo writes that the Trudeau Libs' broader plan seems to be to extinguish Indigenous rights under the guise of self-governance.

- Finally, Anna Lennox Esselment writes about the rise of the permanent campaign in Canada.

New column day

Here, on the noteworthy contrast in positions on income supports in the NDP's leadership campaign (and particularly the recent debate in Saskatoon).

For further reading...
- Jeremy Nuttall discussed the state of the campaign prior to Tuesday's debate. And Peter Zimonjic offered a summary of the debate. 
- I'd previously blogged here about the difference between Guy Caron's basic income proposal and Jagmeet Singh's limited income guarantees.
- The NDP's policy book is here (PDF). And I'll point in particular to the following passages as to universality in transfers as well as public services:
Seniors and retirees
New Democrats believe in:
Maintaining the universality of Old Age Security (OAS) and increasing funding for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)


New Democrats are committed to the kind of mutual respect among levels of government that is the hallmark of cooperative federalism; that makes collaboration on social and economic policies work, and that ensures the universality of social programs.
- And finally, Michal Rozworski offers a more detailed look at the different areas of debate (and confusion) around the structure of social programs.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Global Alliance for Tax Justice examines the most common tax evasion practices used to allow the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. And Desmond Cohen points out how our current estimates of inequality underestimate exactly how much is being hidden.

-  David Macdonald anticipates and criticizes the Bank of Canada's increased interest rates by pointing out that Canadians have already been sorely lacking for more increased wages. And Andrew Jackson argues for a higher minimum wage by pointing to our relatively low wages when compared to other developed countries.

- Meanwhile, UFCW highlights a report on how Guatemalan agricultural workers are being exploited in Quebec.

- Gillian Steward discusses the developing electric car industry - and the reality that no public policy can prevent fossil fuel-powered vehicles (and the oil and gas industry's profits connected to them) from taking a turn toward obsolescence within a decade.

- Finally, John Rapley warns against unwarranted belief in neoliberal economic dogma due to both its failure to explain actual economic outcomes, and its failure to take into account necessary interests and values:
For decades, neoliberal evangelists replied to such objections by saying it was incumbent on us all to adapt to the model, which was held to be immutable – one recalls Bill Clinton’s depiction of neoliberal globalisation, for instance, as a “force of nature”. And yet, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the consequent recession, there has been a turn against globalisation across much of the west. More broadly, there has been a wide repudiation of the “experts”, most notably in the 2016 US election and Brexit referendum.
It would be tempting for anyone who belongs to the “expert” class, and to the priesthood of economics, to dismiss such behaviour as a clash between faith and facts, in which the facts are bound to win in the end. In truth, the clash was between two rival faiths – in effect, two distinct moral tales. So enamoured had the so-called experts become with their scientific authority that they blinded themselves to the fact that their own narrative of scientific progress was embedded in a moral tale. It happened to be a narrative that had a happy ending for those who told it, for it perpetuated the story of their own relatively comfortable position as the reward of life in a meritocratic society that blessed people for their skills and flexibility. That narrative made no room for the losers of this order, whose resentments were derided as being a reflection of their boorish and retrograde character – which is to say, their fundamental vice. The best this moral tale could offer everyone else was incremental adaptation to an order whose caste system had become calcified. For an audience yearning for a happy ending, this was bound to be a tale of woe.

The failure of this grand narrative is not, however, a reason for students of economics to dispense with narratives altogether. Narratives will remain an inescapable part of the human sciences for the simple reason that they are inescapable for humans. It’s funny that so few economists get this, because businesses do. As the Nobel laureates George Akerlof and Robert Shiller write in their recent book, Phishing for Phools, marketers use them all the time, weaving stories in the hopes that we will place ourselves in them and be persuaded to buy what they are selling. Akerlof and Shiller contend that the idea that free markets work perfectly, and the idea that big government is the cause of so many of our problems, are part of a story that is actually misleading people into adjusting their behaviour in order to fit the plot. They thus believe storytelling is a “new variable” for economics, since “the mental frames that underlie people’s decisions” are shaped by the stories they tell themselves.

Economists arguably do their best work when they take the stories we have given them, and advise us on how we can help them to come true. Such agnosticism demands a humility that was lacking in economic orthodoxy in recent years.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Back-to-back cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Kate Aronoff writes that in addition to being a political loser, corporate-friendly centrism is extremely dangerous in allowing for far less than the effort we should be putting into fighting climate change. And Tess Riley reports on new research that only a hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions - making it clear how a few firms with a lot of money at stake will be an obstacle to needed policy choices absent a concerted effort to put the public interest first.

- Trish Hennessy takes a look at the benefits of a $15 minimum wage for Ontario workers, while Michal Rozworski offers a media roundup of economists speaking in favour of a more liveable wage.

- Gordon Laxer points out that NAFTA has locked Canada into an unheard-of loss of sovereignty over our natural resources, while noting that the U.S.' desire to renegotiate offers a prime opportunity for change.

- Finally, The Globe and Mail rightly questions how Canada can live in denial of a severe suicide crisis among Indigenous children. And Doug Cuthand laments the latest outbursts of racism, including the killing of Barb Kentner.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Courage Coalition discusses why economic justice is necessary for social equality. But Ed Finn writes that instead, Canada is pushing people into serfdom:
Today's big business executives are not so outspoken, at least not in public, but privately they could make the same boast. Their basic agenda is not that much different from that of their 19th-century forerunners, whom they envy and seek to emulate. And what's really scary is that they now have amassed almost as much of the political and economic power they need to recreate the "bad old days" of the industrial robber barons.
This flinthearted exploitation of child labour may never be repeated in Canada, mainly because there are so many children in poorer nations who can more easily be exploited. But don't rule out the possibility that much of our adult work force will be driven back into a modern-day version of serfdom. With our labour laws impaired and laxly enforced, with workers' unions and bargaining rights weakened, with well-paid manufacturing jobs being replaced by low-paid part-time or temporary work, the regression of our labour force into 19th-century-style servitude is far from a dystopian fantasy.

Canadians should take a good hard look back at the age of absolute corporate power that doomed millions to dire poverty and serfdom in the late 1800s. If they did, they might be more concerned about having to relive that blighted and benighted past -- and become active in the struggle to avert it. 
- And Andrew MacLeod reports on the CMHC's thorough rejection of Christy Clark's attempt to lock vulnerable people into housing prices they can't afford.

- Carolyn Ray writes that instead of doing anything to rein in the abuses of banks who are simultaneously slashing jobs and closing branches while raking into economy-distorting profits, the Libs are attacking the credit unions who offer the most important alternative source of financial services. 

- Finally, Ben Chapman writes about the results of Finland's test of a basic income - which finds that people with some basic economic security are actually showing a stronger inclination to seek out work. And Tom Parkin examines the federal NDP leadership candidates' respective plans to put an end to poverty - while highlighting the importance of recognizing that as a feasible and necessary goal.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Damian Carrington reports on new research showing that the actual change in temperature caused by greenhouse gas emissions may be larger than anticipated in even the most cautious forecasts to date. And Chloe Farand highlights France's plan to rein in its contribution to climate change by banning all gasoline- and diesel-based vehicles by 2040.

- Meanwhile, D.C. Fraser reports on a study (with particular reference to the Sask Party's Boundary Dam project) finding that carbon capture and storage is an utter waste of money. And it's hardly a point in the Wall government's favour that updated numbers about the unit's operation make it only five to ten times more expensive than natural gas, rather than ten to twenty as found in the study.

- David Climenhaga comments on the need for Alberta's workers' compensation system - like its counterparts elsewhere - to focus on providing benefits for injured workers, rather than denying them in order to send money back to employers.

- Tabatha Southey observes that the "Proud Boys" incident in Halifax reflects a movement of bigots seeking to avoid responsibility for their actions through a facade of jocularity. And Scott Sinclair reviews John Judis' The Populist Explosion, including his warning that the rise of toxic populism generally represents a symptom of deeper political problems.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom writes that the federal government's settlement with Omar Khadr (based on violations of his rights by Lib and Con governments alike) represents a particularly obvious example of the damage done by political fearmongering about terrorism.