Saturday, November 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michal Rozworski writes that the bidding war surrounding Amazon's second headquarters is just a symptom of a grossly dysfunctional relationship between governments and businesses:
We shouldn’t be surprised that Amazon can get away with using a few billion dollars of private investment as bait for public billions in return. Investment in the US, both private and public, is in a sorry state. Taken as a proportion of overall economic activity, businesses and governments are investing a fraction of what they did in the postwar years or even a few decades ago.

The business sector does not lack for means — profits margins, while down from record highs, are no longer in the doldrums. But rather than invest in new production facilities and new technology, corporations, under pressure from shareholders, are spending big on dividends and share buybacks or letting cash lay idle. Amazon is in fact one of the few major outliers to this trend, refusing to pay dividends and aggressively using profits to fund continuous expansion.

While private investment has given way to shareholders gorging themselves on profits, public investment has simply given way to rot. Last year, civilian net public investment in the United States amounted to a paltry 0.5 percent of GDP.

Exaggerated worries about debt and deficits and a pervasive ideology that the private sector can do everything better leave the public sector doing the minimum, barely keeping up as things fall apart.
(C)apital needs the public sector as much as the other way around. For all its glorification of enterprise and entrepreneurship, there is much that the private sector will not do: whenever the risks are too big or the benefits too diffuse to capture, the public sector has stepped in. From antibiotics to hydroelectric dams, from public buses to sewage plants, much of the infrastructure that makes life under contemporary capitalism possible is public or publicly funded.
Capital may be the force that ultimately socializes production and distribution, but it needs the state all along the way. Today’s public extortion racket is only the tip of the iceberg.
- And Linda McQuaig argues that the corporate raiders who strip money out of corporations such as Sears should be on the hook for the pensions earned by employees. 

- Toby Sanger examines the federal fiscal update and notes that there's plenty of room to expand public services. The CCPA offers a mid-term report card comparing the Libs' big progressive promises to their minimal action. And Seth Klein and Iglika Ivanova offer some suggestions as to how British Columbia's NDP government can take immediate action to reduce poverty while conducting its wider review of the problem.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports that the Wynne Libs are falling far short of their promises of addressing precarious work - including by watering down equal pay provisions to exclude the workers who need them most, and failing to address the use of temp agencies to avoid employment standards. Stefani Langenegger highlights PATHS' report on the lack of employment protection in Saskatchewan for workers trying to escape domestic abuse. And Nicholas Keung reports on a push to ensure that migrant farm workers have an opportunity to pursue permanent residency.

- Finally, Matthew Taylor takes note of the Environmental Justice Foundation's study on the imminent surge of climate change refugees. And Mia Rabson reports on the massive gap between the goals set in the Paris climate accord, and the plans actually being made to address greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and elsewhere.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Thursday, November 02, 2017

New column day

Here, summarizing a few of my earlier blog posts on the state of the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign - and the choice between two positive and appealing leaders that played out in the first debate.

For further reading...
- Jason Hammond offered his take on the debate and the provincial convention.
- And Murray Mandryk commented on the debate and leadership campaign somewhat in his post-convention column - though the comparison between candidates operating in a debate setting and Nicole Sarauer's (undoubtedly impressive) speech gives an unfair impression about the leadership contenders.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with costumes.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ashifa Kassam writes about the elements of Canada's health care system which call for ambitious improvement rather than imitation:
“I think privatisation is a major threat to public health care in Canada,” said Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Earlier this year, her organisation released a report documenting 136 private clinics across the country and highlighted that 71 of these were selling faster access to services covered by the country’s health care system. What’s more, the report suggested that many of the clinics were charging patients while also billing the public health care system – a practice that runs contrary to Canadian law.
Raza pointed to jurisdictions that most resemble Canada, such as Australia, where the introduction of private providers diverted doctors’ time and attention, resulting in longer wait times in the public system. “The only people who benefitted were people who were able to buy their way to the front of the line,” said Raza.

An alternative solution may lie in the growing support among Canadians to expand the country’s coverage – which currently only covers hospitals and physician care – to areas such as pharmacare and dental, he said.

The merits of doing so were hinted at in a recent ranking of health systems in wealthy countries by the Commonwealth Fund.
As the Vermont senator touts plans for a far more comprehensive and equitable system south of the border, Picard is among the many in Canada who hope it will prompt Canadians to revisit the glaring gaps in their own system.

“I don’t think we’re ambitious enough,” he said. “Canada has limited ourselves to doctors and hospitals, and there’s no reason like the rest of the developed world that our public plan couldn’t cover all kinds of things, from dental care, home care to long term care.”
- Andrew MacLeod reports on the Horgan government's first steps toward reducing poverty in British Columbia. And the Canadian Press notes that a basic income could be a substantial part of the solution.

- Judith Lavoie reports on a new study from the United Nations Environment Programme showing that Canada is responsible for more mining tailings pond spills than any country other than China. And Ashley Renders examines the obscenely low royalty rates which allow mining companies to make a killing in the north while contributing virtually nothing.

- Jonathan Watts discusses the new records in greenhouse gas emission pollution being set every year. And the New York Times' editorial board weighs in on the alarming prospect of an insect armageddon.

- Finally, the Canadian Press exposes the Libs' plans to let the airline industry self-regulate when it comes to pilot training rather than even continuing standard regulatory oversight.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Tom Parkin writes that the Trudeau Libs have proven themselves to be far more interested in protecting Bill Morneau and his wealthy friends than the Canadian public. And Christo Aivalis discusses Jagmeet Singh's opportunity to own the issue of tax fairness:
This is Singh’s opportunity to make a big splash on the tax debate, which hasn’t been so open for discourse since perhaps the late 1960s, when the Carter Report made sweeping recommendations to reform the tax system with a view to limiting the privileges of the wealthy and powerful. Further, Singh won’t have to start with a blank slate here, because one of the more developed portions of his policy suite during the leadership race surrounded tax reform. Indeed, Singh’s proposals would do more than the Trudeau/Morneau plan to address various forms of income. First, Singh would raise income taxes by 2% for income above 350,000, and by 4% for income above 500,000. In addition, Singh will bump the corporate tax rate to 19.5% from 15%, and would implement taxation for corporate perks that effectively increase someone’s income. But in addition to giving the Canada Revenue Agency more tools to root out tax evaders, and promising to implement a commission to review “all existing tax credits, deductions, and the TFSA,” perhaps the most important proposals from Singh deal with wealth taxation, something the Liberal reforms don’t in any way address.

The problem with a tax plan that fixates on income or corporate profits is that it fails to address larger issues around entrenched inequality, and disparities in how different income sources are taxed. As it stands, Canada has no real policy to address massive intergenerational transfers of wealth, and Canada gives a massive tax break to those who earn income through investment as opposed to labour. With a capital gains inclusion rate at only 50%, a person who flips 100,000 dollars of stock profits will pay significantly lower taxes than a person who worked a 9-5 job for the same amount. This system flies in the face of the 1968 Carter Report recommendations, which argued that all income should be taxed equally regardless of source.

But Singh has a couple plans here. First, he pledged to implement a rather bold estate tax plan which would, after excluding the primary residence, tax 40% of all assets in excess of four million dollars. This will ensure that the family home isn’t affected, but does address the reality that insufficient estate taxation is a barrier to equality of opportunity. Put another way, if we want a society where everyone has something approaching an equal shot at success, you have to challenge the ability to entrench wealth across generations. And while Singh would only increase the capital gains inclusion rate to 75%, meaning that there would still be tax benefits for earning income as investment versus labour, this would get us on the path toward a just system.

If Singh and the rest of the caucus can put this plan into the public discourse, it could not only generate interest, but demonstrate the ideological limits of Liberal tax reform. It would also be a unifying effort to reach out to the party’s left, many of whom backed Niki Ashton on similar, though more strident, efforts to improve the tax system. Finally, it is likely a bridge the Liberals wouldn’t cross in 2019, making it the sort of policy they won’t poach to entice progressive voters.
- The OECD points out how the combination of an ageing population and increasing inequality will affect younger generations. Conor Gaffey notes that even the wealthiest few are realizing that their level of privilege is unsustainable. And the Equality Trust offers its recommendations to more fairly distribute wealth and ownership rights.

- Andrew Hosken exposes five major UK businesses which are managing to shift the profits from large P3s to avoid paying tax. And Bill Curry reports on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Libs have earmarked for buying into a Chinese development bank while planning to sell off infrastructure in Canada. 

- Finally, Miya Tokomutsu writes about the importance of renewing the fight to reclaim more personal time for workers.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jonathan Ostry comments on the emerging recognition that inequality represents a barrier to economic development:
I argue that greater attention should be paid to the consequences that economic policies have for income distribution (inequality). The reasons are four-fold.
  • First, excessive levels of inequality are bad not only for social and moral reasons but also for growth and efficiency: higher levels of inequality are associated, on average, with lower and less durable growth. Hence, even from the perspective of the goal of fostering growth, attention to inequality is necessary.
  • Second, high levels of inequality may lead to latent social conflicts that ultimately translate into political backlash against the pursuit of free market polices, including globalization.
  • Third, the fear that income redistribution would have an adverse impact on growth turns out to find little support in the data — implementing policies to reduce excessive inequality tend on average to support growth (by reducing inequality) rather than retard growth.
  • Fourth, many policy choices made by governments have a direct effect on inequality outcomes. Hence, inequality outcomes are not, as is sometimes argued, exclusively due to technological changes (such as robotization or digitalization) and other global trends that are beyond the control of any one government.
- Andrew Jackson writes about the need for a more accessible and comprehensive employment insurance system.

- Haroon Siddique reports on a new study showing that hundreds of thousands of people are driven out of the UK's workforce each year by mental health problems. 

- Patrick Clark discusses how rising rents are putting intolerable stress on U.S. tenants. And Jim Silver rebuts (PDF) a KPMG report intended to lay the groundwork to hope the private sector will deliver affordable housing in Manitoba.

- Finally, Stephen Tweedale responds to a couple of criticisms of proportional electoral systems - particularly ones which are based solely on wilful neglect as to how concerns can be addressed. 

[Edit: fixed typo.]