Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On unequal treatment

With the Trans Mountain pipeline dominating as much news coverage as it has, it's inevitable that we'd see the usual debate as to the relative desirability of different types of economic paths come to the surface. And I'll point out just a couple of the which look to signal a distortion of the actual impact of different economic options in favour of oil (and at the expense of the public interest).

Let's start with Kevin Milligan's Globe and Mail column which has been thrown around repeatedly as a definitive statement that oil is a solution to inequality.

Unfortunately, Milligan's assertion isn't founded in any data addressing inequality in particular, but instead treats overall income as a proxy for equality without apparent explanation. So let's take a look at some data on the point which is supposedly being addressed.

In fact, for the approximate time period used by Milligan, inequality increased slightly in Canada as a whole. And the most obvious increase in terms of both before-tax and after-tax inequality in the broader time period when we've shifted toward reliance on natural resources occurred in Alberta, which Milligan singles out as an example of resource revenue reducing inequality:

The relationship between economy type and inequality does look to be ambiguous. (In particular, Saskatchewan reduced its inequality while also seeing a resource-based boost in incomes in the 1990s and 2000s.)

But there's certainly no basis to suggest that Canada's shift toward a resource economy in recent decades actually reduced inequality as a rule, either on a national scale or within any particular province. And Milligan's position is particularly jaw-dropping in minimizing even the possible results of redistributing the unequal wealth normally found in resource-dependent jurisdictions (including the ones charted above), while instead asking us to assume that "oil = equality!!!".

Meanwhile, the usual foil for resource development is a focus on value-added manufacturing. So let's turn to Kevin Carmichael's admonition that we shouldn't focus unduly on manufacturing jobs when "only about five per cent of employed Canadians work at a factory".

On its own, that's a fair statement. And Carmichael does note that the real implication of the composition of Canada's economy is that we should be more focused on services.

But if we're going to apply that raw-job standard to manufacturing with no allowance for spinoff effects, surely we need to do the same for the resource sector - which leads us to Statistics Canada's data on employment by sector. And that shows manufacturing providing 1,508,942 jobs in 2017 - compared to 199,780 for "Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction" combined.

The effect of singling out manufacturing for minimization is to create more space for the even more obviously-flawed argument to prioritize resource extraction above both competing sectors and the public interest - at a time when we're seeing far too many governments eager to do exactly that.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Oleg Komlik takes note of Wade Cole's research showing how income inequality affects political dynamics. And Hannah Finnie recognizes that young people are joining unions (among other forms of social activism) in order to gain some much-needed influence on both fronts, while Paul Krugman weighs in on the Republicans' war on education in an attempt to hold onto power.

- Arjumand Siddiqi and Faraz Vahid Shahidi write about the potential for Ontario's next government to improve health and social outcomes through improved income supports and labour market conditions for workers. And Peter Baker writes about the history of the minimum wage, as well as its place in the broader power struggle between workers and employers.

- Adam Gaffney points out that the U.S.' health care system is increasingly designed to inflate profits rather than to achieve health outcomes, while Lee Camp zeroes in on Goldman Sachs' admission that it sees curing diseases as bad for business. And Andrew Coyne notes that similar problems apply to the availability of prescription drugs in Canada - even as the Libs appear likely to ignore the growing body of evidence as to how the public would benefit if it was given priority over entrenched corporate interests for once.

- Finally, Rick Smith discusses the increasing recognition of the persistent hazard posed by plastic particles. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Couched cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Louis Uchitelle discusses how the decline of organized labour in the U.S. has harmed not just workers' direct interests, but the economic sectors where unions previously thrived:
Want to make America great again and keep factories in the United States? Try strengthening labor unions.

That may seem counterintuitive, and certainly contrary to the direction the country has been moving in lately. But the reality is that when organized labor dug in its heels — as it did regularly in the United States until late in the 20th century — manufacturing companies thought twice about shutting a factory and transferring production to another country.
As union membership declines, labor has less leverage to intervene in the management of a corporation, or to galvanize the public into boycotting the products of manufacturers who put too many factories overseas while exporting less from the United States.

Strikes work when union membership is high enough to encourage the public to support the strikers, or at least feel a kinship with them. My parents, who lived comfortably on my father’s earnings as a textile broker in New York, never crossed a picket line thrown up by a labor union in pursuit of a favorable contract. They might not have agreed with a union’s demands, or even known what they were. But they respected a strike as an often-necessary tool in reaching a compromise acceptable to both sides.
The street demonstrations and marches so characteristic of today’s resistance can be immensely meaningful, but they don’t force the sort of permanent economic change that a union can achieve through a binding contract that emerges from a strike.

Or at least they haven’t yet. Perhaps in time new organizations will emerge — heirs to the old union movement — and one of their priorities will be to pressure manufacturers quite publicly to put more of their factories in the United States.
- Alex McKeen reports on a needed push for labour market indicators which recognize the reality of gig work and other forms of precarity. Julia Horowitz points out that WalMart represents a particularly egregious example of inequality between executives and workers. Chris Parsons offers a reminder that one of the greatest threats to free speech is employer suppression of workers' views - particularly where they involve asserting rights in the workplace. And UFCW points out one recent Alberta example of an employer's anti-union tactics leading to a remedial certification.

- Daniel Tencer examines the assumptions behind the sticker price of a basic income, and notes that the savings in social costs could make a secure income into a bargain for everybody.

- Marc Lee highlights the full cost-benefit analysis which shows a Trans Mountain expansion to be a poor deal for everybody but its corporate operators. And Tzeporah Berman writes about the importance of protest movements in ensuring that the people excluded from the Libs' decision-making are still able to influence the course of events.

- Finally, Brent Patterson reminds us of a few of Justin Trudeau's most important broken promises.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Robert Costanza reviews Mariana Mazzucato's The Value of Everything, and highlights its focus on attaching proper importance to priorities that aren't reflected in prices:
(T)he current mainstream ‘marginalist’ concept bases value on market exchanges: price, as revealed by the interaction of supply and demand in markets, determines value, and the only things that have value are those that fetch a price.

This has major implications for ideas about the distinction between value creation and value extraction, the nature of unearned income (‘rent’) and how value should be distributed. As Mazzucato notes, it stokes inequality because the market, simply by generating income, is seen to justify its level and distribution: “All income, according to this logic, is earned income: gone is any analysis of activities in terms of whether they are productive or unproductive.”

Mazzucato lays out disturbing implications of the marginalist approach. These include (mis)measuring national income and real wealth, confusing financial speculation with the production of value, perverting the patent system (which stifles, rather than rewards, innovation) and undervaluing government and public goods, including public infrastructure, ecosystems and social networks. Her engaging and insightful exploration reveals how embedded the marginalist approach has become, and how it distorts economies’ ability to foster innovation, equity and real progress.
Economics has been defined as the use of scarce resources to achieve desirable ends. In the Anthropocene epoch of human influence on the planet, we need to redefine those ends, and reevaluate which resources are truly scarce. Value should be viewed as contribution to the sustainable well-being of Earth and all its inhabitants...Mazzucato’s trenchant analysis is a compelling call to reinvent value as a key concept to help us achieve the world we all want. 
- Meanwhile, in a prime example of how reality is being warped to achieve surface financial goals, Matthew McClearn discusses how Ontario's Libs are condemning citizens to decades of avoidable interest payments in order to avoid answering for the costs of power privatization.

- Richard Florida examines the role housing prices play in the growth of inequality.

- Howard Mann views the Trudeau Libs' determination to put the resource sector and its foreign profiteers ahead of the public interest through backroom deals as a hallmark of third-world governance. Andrew Nikiforuk takes a look at the Enron roots of Kinder Morgan, the latest beneficiary of the Libs' largesse. And Ralph Surette offers kudos to John Horgan's NDP for being able to tell the difference between the "national interest" and the profit motive of the fossil fuel sector.

- Finally, Isabella Lovin discusses the need for countries to not only reach their modest climate change commitments in the short term, but to reach net zero carbon emissions in a matter of decades to avert a climate catastrophe.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Denise Balkissoon writes about the importance of ensuring a just transition for fossil fuel workers - rather than using their jobs as bargaining chips to preserve oil industry profits. And Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton and Randy Besco point out that there's plenty of public support for carbon pricing and other elements of a strong climate change policy in Saskatchewan.

- Meanwhile, Nick Falvo offers a list of takeaways from the Moe government's first provincial budget - including multiple choices which will make life even more precarious for people facing poverty and precarity:
6. Social assistance benefit levels in Saskatchewan remain very low. For example, a single employable adult on social assistance in Saskatchewan receives approximately $9,000 annually on which to live (and pay rent). A person with a disability gets between $12,000 and $16,000 annually, depending on the severity of the disability. Every year, the value of inflation erodes the value of these benefits. (All of these figures can be found here.) 

7. This budget announced the phasing out of a rental housing benefit for low-income households. The Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement provided some additional rent money for low-income households with either children or a disability; but this budget announced that no new applications will be accepted as of July 1. The provincial government expects this will save the provincial treasury $5 million in the first year (or 0.03% of the total budget). Without the rent supplement in place, I believe it’s likely we’ll see more people becoming homeless in Saskatchewan, which itself comes with added costs to the public treasury. 

8. The budget’s decision to extend the PST to used car sales may disproportionately impact low-income households. The budget removes the PST tax exemption on (light) used car sales, which may translate into almost $100 million in new annual revenue. This will make it slightly more expensive to purchase a used car in Saskatchewan. The budget also restores the trade-in allowance when determining the PST—so, when a car owner is trading in a vehicle, they will only pay the PST on the difference in price of the trade in and the selling price for the vehicle they’re buying. 

9. The budget fails to address on-reserve child poverty. According to Census data, Saskatchewan’s on-reserve rate of child poverty (as measured by the After Tax Low Income Measure) is nearly 70%, second highest in the country after Manitoba. Neither this year’s budget nor last year’s takes meaningful steps towards addressing that.
- Heather Stewart reports on UK Labour's push for genuinely affordable housing - rather than stretching the term to fit homes priced far beyond people's means.

- Michael Geist discusses the dangers of allowing - and even encouraging - corporate giants to monitor and control online content. And Murad Hemmadi talks to Charlie Angus about Facebook's influence over public policy (even as it fails to register to lobby government).

- Finally, Ruth Dreifuss and Richard Elliott make the case for the decriminalization of personal drug use and possession in order to reduce the social harms arising out of prohibition.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Quirks & Quarks examines the potentially devastating effects of a dilbit spill on British Columbia's coast. And David Climenhaga warns that Kinder Morgan is looking at NAFTA to provide it an alternate source of risk-free profits at public expense.

- Mia Rabson reports on Canada's continued failure to come anywhere close to our already-insufficient emission reduction commitments. And Laura Kusisto and Arian Campo-Flores examine how oceanfront properly is beginning to lose its value as buyers recognize the impending effects of climate change.

- Thomas Walkom offers his take as to why Canada needs a universal pharmacare system. But Andre Picard points out the need to be much more specific about what will be included and how it will be funded. 

- Hugh Segal argues that prosperous societies have a particular duty to eliminate poverty and insecurity - including by guaranteeing a basic income.

- Finally, Stop the Cuts weighs in on yet another austerity budget from the Saskatchewan Party. And Murray Mandryk criticizes the Moe government's belief that it's above any need for ethics.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Musical interlude

The Stills - Hands On Fire

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PressProgress crunches the numbers on tax loopholes and finds that more and more revenue is being lost to the most glaring loopholes every year. And Andrew Jackson hopes for a sorely-needed response from the federal government to rein in tax avoidance by the wealthy.

- Sam Cooper reports on Vancouver's embarrassing status as a poster child for criminal money laundering.

- Wanda Wyporska highlights the importance of fighting for greater equality rather than allowing it to overtake social cohesion and individual well-being.

- Anna Patty reports on a new study showing how an improved minimum wage could create jobs in addition to boosting standards of living in Australia. And Scott Brown writes about the B.C. NDP's first steps toward including all workers in basic employment protections (including the right to a minimum wage).

- Mark Winfield warns of the risks of panicking about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, though Mike De Souza reveals that the Libs have made a habit of leaping into reckless action at Kinder Morgan's behest. And Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood writes that we should be focusing on a just transition for both resource sector workers and their communities, while Mitchell Anderson discusses how the Trans Mountain expansion would only exacerbate a trend seeing refinery jobs leaked south of the border.

- Finally, CBC reports on Justin Trudeau's lack of interest in following the UK's ban on single-use plastics.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Constant discusses a new study showing that the positive effects of minimum wage increases for low-income workers actually grow over time. And Sheila Block highlights how a $15 increased minimum wage stands to offer far more to workers than Doug Ford's tax tinkering.

- Meanwhile, Pam Weintraub writes that anxiety and stress arising from traumatic experiences have repercussions spanning multiple generations.

- Natalie Appleyard points out the amount of work to be done to address the multiple forms of precarity and poverty faced by Canadians. But Andrew Coyne examines the Parliamentary Budget Office's report on the cost of a national basic income and concludes we could realistically end extreme poverty for an additional three percent on the existing GST.

- Kelly Grant reports on the conclusion of Parliament's Standing Committee on Health endorsing a true national pharmacare program (rather than the patchwork planned by the Trudeau government).

- Finally, Rachel Browne investigates the unconscionable racial divide in arrests for cannabis possession which systematically pushes minorities into the criminal justice system. And the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation examines the lack of housing resources for people trying to reintegrate after being incarcerated. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ann Pettifor discusses the trend toward financialization which has led to regular economic disasters - and suggests the public is well aware it's getting left behind in the policy choices which have created it.

- ScienceDaily takes note of the strong connection between education levels and longevity.

- Sarah Jones calls out the U.S. Republicans' constant steps to withhold food from people who need it - including children who have to attend school hungry as a result. And Andrew Sniderman and Vincent Larochelle discuss the unfairness of mandatory surcharges which impose lasting debts on people with no ability to pay them.

- David Suzuki points out the regular occurrence of dangerous oil spills around the world while highlighting the risks of any Trans Mountain expansion. Martin Lukacs writes that it's Indigenous protestors against pipeline expansion who are actually defending the national interest. And Kai Nagata asks for suggestions as to how we could better use $8 billion of public money other than to subsidize a pipeline for the benefit of Enron alumni.

- Finally, Luke Savage comments on the contrast between Justin Trudeau's slogans and his actions while in power:
(I)t is the disparity between Trudeau’s rhetorical posturing and political execution that perhaps best illustrates the essential conservatism of his government. Social investment and Keynesianism, supposedly the defining pillars of Liberal economic strategy, have given way to corporatism and stealth privatisation.

Even as Trudeau performatively condemns corporate elites, his supposed war on inequality has amounted to tinkering with income tax brackets while opposing a $15-an-hour minimum wage for federal workers. The legalisation of marijuana looks increasingly like a cynical revenue-raiser for avaricious former politicians and ex-cops, rather than a deserved reprieve for those criminalised by the previous system. And while Trudeau’s government was talking up feminism and human rights abroad, it was also signing the export permits for $15bn-worth of armoured vehicles – including some labelled “heavy assault” – to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cuddling cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Krugman writes that a transition to a clean energy economy is well within reach - as long as politicians don't put the interests of oil money over our economic and environmental future. But Gordon Laxer notes that NAFTA already limits Canada's ability to take the steps which would do most to rein in our harm to the planet.

- Meanwhile, Peter Martin makes the case for a sugar tax and other Pigovian taxes - as adaptations to avoid a tax may produce substantial benefits in important policy areas such as public health:
Announcing the sugar tax in the 2016 budget, Britain’s (Conservative) Treasurer George Osborne said five-year-olds were consuming their entire body weight in sugar every year.
His hope was that the drinks above each threshold would cut their sugar until they were below it. It’d cut their tax from 24 pence per litre to 18 pence, or from 18 pence to nothing. They had two years in which to do it.

Within months, Tesco said it would reformulate its entire range to escape the levy. Lucozade Ribena followed, also for its entire range. It meant halving the high sugar contents of Lucozade and Ribena.

Then Sprite halved its sugar content, Fanta fell from grams 7 to 4.5, and 7 Up from a scary 11 grams to 7 grams.

By the time the tax arrived last week, Britain had more than halved its initial estimate of what the tax would raise, cutting its estimate for takings in the first year from £520 million to £240 million ($439.6 million to $952.5 million).

The government-owned Behavioural Insights Team reckons around 750 million litres of drink has been reformatted, which would save a welcome 30,000 tonnes of sugar per year, all before day one.
There’ll be more change now the tax is in place. Retailers will more prominently display the cheaper drinks that are lower-taxed, producers will shift their marketing to products they are able to sell for less, and customers comparing prices will be more likely to pick the cheap ones. More manufacturers will cut their sugar content as a result, and even those that don’t will sell increasing amounts of their zero-sugar products and less of those with sugar.

After a while, the sugar tax might raise very little. Which was the idea. The universal truth about tax is that people don’t like paying it. It can be put to good use.

Australia did it with petrol. From 1994 we more heavily taxed leaded petrol, pushing up the price by 2 cents per litre to encourage drivers to switch to unleaded. We do it with tobacco, and, imperfectly, with alcohol.

What’s great about so-called sin taxes (or "Pigovian taxes") is the double pay-off. Taxing more the things we want less of, including things that kill people, allows us to tax less the things we want more of, such as jobs, income and savings.
- Matt Bruenig points out that the wage gap between women and men is substantially larger than usually assumed when part-time and unpaid work is taken into account, then examines the gap across the income spectrum.

- Robert Devet comments on the need for both fair laws which protect workers, and effective enforcement which prevents employers from flouting the rules.

- Finally, Adrienne Tanner argues that British Columbia needs a public inquiry to investigate the role of money laundering in driving up housing prices. And Christopher Cheung looks to Singapore for an example of a targeted property flipping tax.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tom Parkin discusses the Libs' identity politics - and how they endanger people's substantive interests both in what the Libs fail to do, and in the predictable reaction from right-wing populists:
For Liberals, identity politics is a distraction from economic policies that are very hard on many people. Trudeau won’t increase the federal minimum wage. He sells off public assets through his Infrastructure Bank. Ignores looming personal debts. Weakens private pension plans. Lets Sears default on their promises to workers. Cuts Canadians’ healthcare funding. Spends billions on tax cuts that give the biggest benefit to incomes over $90,000.

There’s no solution to economic insecurity and inequality — it’s just extend old policies that don’t work and pretend everything’s alright.

So it should be no surprise if Canadians — especially poor and working class people who are most affected — now reject Trudeau and, with him, the empty identity politics he uses as cover.
The hollowness of liberal identity politics has Trudeau recognizing the wrongs of colonialism, sexism and racism — then letting the people who have all the power and money keep all the power and money. That’s the hijacking of the political left.

But liberal identity politics also empowers the most enduring form of identity politics — conservative identity politics.

If we are all essentially different and stranded on our little islands of identity, then the point of the alt-right is proven: we are all just tribes in a constant state of war. So every time Trudeau says it’s our differences that make us stronger, he sets the table for the alt-right to feed at. And they gorged.
Since the last economic recession there’ve been two great games — the economic game of extend and pretend and the distraction game of identity politics. Both urgently need credible replacements.
- Meanwhile, David Gray-Donald documents how the right-wing hate machine targeted Nora Loreto for daring to mention the disparity in public reactions between tragedies. 

- Mark Rank offers a reminder that immediate investments in eliminating child poverty produce dramatic returns over time. And Cherise Seucharan writes about the need to expand public health care, rather than allowing profiteers to take it over.

- Jeffrey Sachs writes that we should be investing in sustainable, clean infrastructure, not throwing public money into fossil fuels.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom points out Donald Trump's predictable decision to favour the wealthy over everybody else through the Trans-Pacific Partnership - and how it renders futile any attempt to rely on NAFTA to protect citizens from corporate control.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Nick Falvo offers a useful summary of the federal-provincial framework on housing - including its lack of any specific mention of homelessness and supportive housing among other deficiencies.

- Meanwhile, Justin McElroy reports on the Horgan government's plan to ensure more rights for tenants, including by applying significant penalties to landlords who evict tenants in bad faith to seek higher profits.

- The Journal of the American Medical Association studies the U.S.' severe health disparities (and the social factors which contribute to them). And Laura Donnelly reports on the NHS' recognition that a health care system which pushes seniors into unsuitable settings may cause lasting damage.

- Philip Newell reports that among his other attacks on the public interest, Scott Pruitt is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to stop tracking the ancillary benefits of its work - including its effect on health and survival.

- Finally, Juan Manuel Herrera examines (PDF) the effects of Ontario's increased minimum wage, including improved wages for low-income workers with no substantial impact on employment. And Marilisa Racco discusses the continued pay equity gap between men and women.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

On the social environment

Having written my column this week on one of the more glaring areas of increasingly alarming neglect from the Saskatchewan Party under Scott Moe, I'll take a moment to point out the other single policy change that I find most striking.

D.C. Fraser has reported on a reduction in funding to climate change programming, with that choice having been the subject of some commentary. But a cut in what was already a pathetically small budget line for ministerial operations stands out particularly in the light of one of the few (if tiny) additional revenue sources the budget actually includes:
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced the PST exemption on both light used vehicles and Energy Star appliances will be discontinued. 
The Finance Ministry says energy savings already provide a strong financial incentive to buy Energy Star appliances. The removal of this exemption is expected to generate $3 million in revenue.
That explanation is especially noteworthy in treating individual financial considerations as effectively the only reason to value energy-efficient appliances. 

Never mind the seemingly obvious advantages of energy conservation for the purposes of reining in climate change, or minimizing the load on the province's power system. Moe has decided that he doesn't care about those issues - and only wants people making positive consumer choices where (and to the extent) they're based on purely individual financial considerations. 

Of course, that position is entirely on brand with the Saskatchewan Party's hostility toward any policy oriented toward broader environmental issues. And indeed, the removal of incentives for greener consumer purchases can be seen as a mirror image of Moe's intractable refusal to discuss responsible carbon pricing (or any other form of greenhouse gas emission reduction).

But by singling out energy efficiency for higher taxes even while applying his party's boilerplate anti-tax rhetoric elsewhere, Moe is making clear that his party is determined to make the complete rejection of environmental responsibility into a foundational principle - a view which is also consistent with the slashing of the province's already-meager climate change branch. And voters who recognize that we have a common interest in a liveable environment have every reason to push back.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Simon Enoch offers his take on Saskatchewan's latest budget - including what little the Saskatchewan Party has learned, and how much it's still getting wrong:
(W)hile the 2018 budget is more measured in that it doesn’t replicate a 2017 budget that saw cuts and tax increases land disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor while simultaneously lavishing multiple tax breaks on corporations, it certainly doesn’t do the more vulnerable in our province any favours. The province is suspending the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement (SRHS), which will force the poorest in the province to devote even more of their meagre earnings towards rent. This continues the government’s myopic focus on wrenching cost-savings from programs explicitly designed to support the poorest in the province. While the government did increase education spending by $30 million, it restores little more than half of the $54 million that was cut last year. School boards will be forced to find even more “efficiencies” in the classroom, even as student enrolment expands.  As we have seen in the past, these “efficiencies” seem to fall disproportionately on special needs supports and programs.

If there is a small sliver of a silver-lining in this budget, perhaps it’s the government’s growing recognition that austerity during a downturn is bad economic policy. It’s better to allow positive economic growth fight your deficits than deep cuts that can jeopardize positive economic growth, a point the CCPA Saskatchewan Office has been at pains to make over the past few years. After two years of negative economic growth, the economic assumptions in the 2018 budget are betting that a return to positive economic growth will do much of the heavy lifting of fighting the deficit. While this is welcome, it further throws into question the wisdom of the 2017 budget cuts and the government’s embrace of austerity, all evidence to the contrary.
- Bruno Caprettini, Fabio Schmidt-Fischbach and Hans-Joachim Voth study the connection between U.S. welfare spending and a willingness to volunteer support for World War II efforts - signalling the reciprocity of expectations between governments and citizens.

- Mike De Souza reports that Justin Trudeau was warned by the civil service that it was pushing the Trans Mountain expansion too quickly and without adequate consultation. And Gary Mason points out how Trudeau's bungling of the issue could cost him support among all kinds of voters no matter what ultimately happens with the pipeline proposal.

- Tom Korski exposes the Libs' commissioning and placement of state-sponsored "news". And Alex Boutilier reports on what may be the most appalling suppression of actual government records yet, as Library and Archives Canada wants to wait eighty years to respond to a single access-to-information request.

- Finally, Lana Payne offers a warning about the spread of anti-social, right-wing populism across much of Canada.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Musical interlude

Eels - Last Stop: This Town

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sean Farrell reports on a new OECD study recommending the application of inheritance taxes to reduce wealth inequality.

- And Harry Quilter-Pinner discusses Finland's confirmation that the obvious solution to homelessness - providing housing to people who need it - is also the best.

- Nicole Goodkind analyzes how the Trump Republican tax scam has served entirely to enrich the already-wealthy. And Paul Krugman charts Paul Ryan's political progression from economic snake-oil salesman to fascist enabler - while noting that it mirrors that of the Republican party as a whole.

- Ethan Cox highlights how Kinder Morgan is shaking down Canada in trying to have the Trans Mountain expansion rubber-stamped (and paid for by the public to boot). Jennifer Ditchburn offers a reminder that any discussion of the constitutional implications of Trans Mountain needs to account for the Indigenous rights which have been edited out of most mainstream discussion, while Rachel Gilmore reports on Perry Bellegarde's warning about First Nations being left out of any new decision-making process. And Alyssa O'Dell writes about the wave of activism to protect land and water in British Columbia - and the hundreds of arrests so far in response.

- Finally, Joe Romm reports on new research showing that some of the most drastic anticipated consequences of climate change are materializing a century earlier than expected.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

New column day

Here, on how Scott Moe's first budget is just more of the same in leaving Saskatchewan's low-income residents behind in the face of rising costs of living.

For further reading...
- D.C. Fraser's general report on the budget is here.
- The inflation data cited in the column is here, while basic information on the Saskatchewan Assistance Program is here. And for an example of the Saskatchewan Party touting the indexing of the tax system even as the province's finances crumbled, see here.
- Finally, Bridget Yard has reported on the plight of people living with low incomes in the face of inflation. And Arthur White-Crummey reports on the effects of eliminating the provincial housing supplement.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ashley Renders reports on the Canadian mining companies which are using corporate trade deals to threaten developing countries with billion-dollar claims to stifle environmental protections. And Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford report that China wants any trade deals to similarly privilege investors alone while making no allowances for workers or the environment.

- Chantal Hebert notes that there are few options to paper over the conflict between the reasonable expectations of British Columbians - based on political promises and environmental interests - and his subsequent attempt to push through the Trans Mountain expansion. Linda McQuaig argues that there's no reasonable way to compromise about the health of our planet - which is what's ultimately at stake in debating large fossil fuel infrastructure. And David Climenhaga writes about the dangers of looking to Ottawa to override provincial authority.

- Alana Semuels exposes the predatory lending practices which are perpetuating the U.S.' racial divides in housing and wealth.

- Richard Foot points out that a tragedy such as the Humboldt Broncos' bus accident should spur discussion of ways to make highways safer. And Terra Ciolfe observes that Saskatchewan's track record has long been one of extreme danger compared to other provinces.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that Ontario's election looks to be a battle for working-class votes - with the main question being whether Andrea Horwath's NDP can win over enough voters to ensure that Doug Ford can't win as a perceived default alternative.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Linda Givetash reports on the increasing cost and decreasing availability of housing in Canada. And Patrick Greenfield and Sarah March note that an appalling increase in the number of homeless people in the UK is being reflected in the number of deaths on the street.

- Tithi Bhattacharya points out that the resurgence of labour activism in the U.S. is developing largely in the education sector which is increasingly treated as unappreciated "care work". And Sandi Tolksvig discusses the grossly undervalued work which women contribute disproportionately to others' well-being. 

- Ainslie Cruickshank and David Ball write that there's no way a remotely competent pipeline operator could be surprised by the public reaction to the TransMountain expansion, while Tim Harper notes that Justin Trudeau has trapped himself by deciding to cheerlead for a project which has never addressed either environmental concerns or aboriginal rights. And Jeff Carruthers argues that the logical resolution involves upgrading more bitumen in Alberta, rather than imposing its transportation in a dirtier and more dangerous form.

- Finally, Patrick DeRochie discusses the need for federal climate policy to meaningfully work toward our emission reduction targets, and not defer to provincial schemes (particularly ones which fall short of the mark).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clutching cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matthew Yglesias examines the direct effects of social programs, and finds there's every reason to invest more in them:
  • Mercury emissions (mostly from coal plants) end up in the water, where they end up in fish, from whence they end up in the bloodstreams of children and pregnant women, poisoning their brains and lowering IQ. This problem was tackled in a limited way by the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency, but the transmission of coal emissions into fish and thus into food is a highly globalized process that, like the better-known issue of climate change, really requires an international solution.
  • As a bonus inconvenience, if you skip past the toxic heavy metals contained in most fish, eating fish is really good for kids’ neurological development, so to the extent that parents respond to environmental degradation by reducing the quantity and variety of fish that kids eat, kids’ brains suffer on the other side.
  • Relatedly, neurologically damaging levels of lead are present in the soil of essentially every American city. There is also a lot of toxic lead lurking in the paint on old houses.
  • Beyond heavy metal toxicity, there’s considerable evidence that good old-fashioned welfare works well. Research on the Mothers’ Pension programs from the early 20th century showed that kids whose mothers received a very modest welfare check ended up with early-adult incomes that were 20 percent higher than those of mothers who didn’t receive checks, and were also 35 percent less likely to be underweight as adults and received additional schooling.
  • More modern welfare programs work too. A January 2015 paper by David Brown, Amanda Kowalski, and Ithai Lurie studied Medicaid expansions in the 1980s and ’90s and concluded that kids who benefited from expansion ended up paying more in cumulative taxes and receiving less in EITC disbursements than those who did not.
  • Speaking of the EITC, in 2013, a paper by Michelle Maxfield found that kids whose parents benefited from increased EITC generosity had higher math scores, were more likely to graduate high school, and were more likely to complete one or more years of college.
  • Indeed, it is in some ways likely that standard methods are undercounting the benefits of social assistance programs. Chloe East, Sarah Miller, Marianne Page, and Laura Wherry found in September 2017 that the grandchildren of low-income pregnant women who benefited from Medicaid expansion in the 1980s were less likely to suffer from low birth weight (which itself seems to correlate with low IQ, among other health problems).
As a society, we can, and should, take decisive action to reduce environmental contamination and improve the material living conditions of poor children and their parents. The evidence that doing this will have broad secondary benefits for cognitive development is overwhelming.
- Rowan Walrath discusses the need for improved mental health services for U.S. farmers. And Murray Mandryk makes the case for investments in mental health across Saskatchewan.

- Meanwhile, Lynn Parramore writes that the right's attacks on education are aimed largely at rendering much of the workforce unable to envision anything other than going along with the status quo.

- Terri Gerstein notes that many of the Sinclair anchors who embarrassed themselves spouting corporate propaganda on the air face severe financial penalties for questioning their employer. And Alexander Colvin studies the spread of mandatory arbitration provisions to cover 60 million American workers - though it's worth noting that if workers are required to deal with issues through arbitration in any event, they may have a strong incentive to ensure they have a union on their side in that process.

- Finally, Drew Brown highlights how the Libs' criminal justice bill is just another example of faux progressivism. Jordan Press examines their housing plan and finds that it falls far short of the mark. Duncan Cameron writes that Trudeau's incoherence on the environment is only creating more problems for Canadians. And Michael Harris sees Trudeau as a prime example of practicing politics based solely on short-term calculation rather than long-term vision.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Suresh Naidu, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl highlight how the economy as a whole suffers when employers exercise too much control over wages and working conditions:
In a competitive labor market, employers must vie for workers; they try to lure workers from other firms by offering them more generous compensation. As employers bid for workers, wages and benefits rise. An employer gains by hiring a worker whenever the worker’s wage is less than the revenue the worker will generate for the employer; for this reason, the process of competition among employers for workers ought to result in workers receiving a substantial portion of the output they contribute to.

And as the economy grows over time — which has historically been the case in the United States — this dynamic should naturally lead to a steady increase in compensation for workers.

It turns out, however, that labor markets are often uncompetitive: Employers have the power to hold down wages by a host of methods and for numerous reasons. And new academic studies suggest the markets have been growing ever more uncompetitive over time.

It is sometimes mistakenly thought that wage suppression, even as it hurts workers, at least benefits consumers, who pay lower prices for goods and services (since the cost of production is lower for companies). In fact, that’s not the case: Employer market power, sometimes called “monopsony,” harms economic growth and raises prices. (Monopsony is the concept of monopoly, or dominance of a market for a given good, applied to the “buy side” — namely, the inputs that firms purchase, including labor and materials.)

Monopsony harms growth and raises prices because it works much like monopoly: by reducing production. To increase its profits, the monopolist raises prices and thus lowers production (because fewer consumers are willing to pay these inflated prices). 

Similarly, to raise its profits, a monopsonist lowers wages below the value of the workers to the employer. Because not all workers are willing to work at these depressed wages, monopsony leads some workers to quit. 

Firms bear the loss in workers (and resulting lowered sales) in exchange for the higher profits made off the workers who do not quit. The resulting group of workers looking for jobs are what Marx called the “reserve army of the unemployed.”

Employer labor market power thus reduces employment, raises prices, and depresses the economy. 

Those sound a lot like the harms that conservative economists have long attributed to excessive taxation. And that’s no coincidence. Wage suppression is just like a tax: a tax on the labor of workers.
- Chris Dillow examines the persistent pay gap between men and women, along with a few of the factors which perpetuate it. And Kate Farhall argues that family violence leave needs to be paid for many people to be able to escape abuse.

- Jeff Sprass writes that the growing movement of teachers' strikes may be the start of stronger "alt-labor" organizing in response to a political environment designed to suppress collective action. And Syed Hussan offers some activists' suggestions as to how organized labour should participate in Ontario's provincial election.

- Finally, Tim Harper points out that millennial voters will be playing a far larger role than ever before in that election (and others to come). And Neil MacDonald comments on the effectiveness of school shooting survivors in organizing to respond to right-wing suppression. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Michael Savage discusses new projections showing that the luckiest 1% could control two-thirds of the world's wealth in a little more than a decade:
World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance.

An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today.
Danny Dorling, professor of geography at the University of Oxford, said the scenario in which the super-rich accumulated even more wealth by 2030 was a realistic one.

“Even if the income of the wealthiest people in the world stops rising dramatically in the future, their wealth will still grow for some time,” he said. “The last peak of income inequality was in 1913. We are near that again, but even if we reduce inequality now it will continue to grow for one to two more decades.”
- Lois Weiner writes about the much-needed renaissance of labour activism in the U.S.' red states, while LOLGOP points out the link between tax giveaways to the rich and the recognition that it's time to take to the streets. And Nick Hanauer discusses rules around overtime as the minimum wage for the middle class - while noting the urgent need to ensure excess hours lead to fair pay.

- Meanwhile, Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar take note of an Australian push to ensure that employers face a real prospect of jail time for wage theft.

- An anonymous library worker comments on how homeless people and others with urgent needs suffer the most from attacks on public library funding. And Nicola Slawson reports on research showing that GP visits to care homes can substantially reduce the disruption and cost of future hospital visits.

- Finally, Azeezah Kanji writes that any ignorance of systemic racism is utterly disconnected from reality. And Noah Smith rightly challenges the claim that demographic uniformity enforced through the repression of minorities somehow contributes to social cohesion or trust.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Peter Gowan and Ryan Cooper write about the need for much more affordable social housing across the income spectrum. Rhys Kesselman responds to a few of the more laughable attacks on British Columbia's more progressive property tax. And Stephen Punwasi discusses the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's warning that Canadian mortgage lenders are pushing both brokers and borrowers toward risky products which may create systemic instability.

- Dean Beeby examines FINTRAC's internal report showing how Canadian banks have been facilitating money laundering - and discusses how a report for public consumption was reworded to give the opposite impression.

- Mitchell Anderson rightly calls out the nonsensical claim that building pipelines is anything but a negative for the cause of reducing the effects of climate change, while David Suzuki weighs in on the audit showing how governments at all levels are falling short of their commitments. And Richard Partington reports on Mark Carney's warning that fossil fuel dependence may be just as catastrophic for financial interests as for the planet, while Olaf Weber and Chelsie Hunt model the superior prospects for investments which avoid throwing money at dirty energy. 

- And David Climenhaga rebuts the theory that Alberta (or any other jurisdiction) would do itself any favours by choosing to be an environmental pariah - even as the likes of Scott Moe and Doug Ford push in that direction.

- Finally, Ronald Labonte discusses the nutrition and health consequences of corporate-driven trade deals, including any attempt to renegotiate NAFTA.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Thursday, April 05, 2018

New column day

Here, on how the Libs' criminal justice bill (Bill C-75) is aimed solely at speed rather than fairness - and seems likely to fail even by that insufficient metric.

For further reading...
- Others weighing in on the bill include Omar Ha-Redeye, Michael Spratt, Stephanie DiGiuseppe, Sarah Leamon and Joanna Smith.
- And it's particularly worth contrasting the lack of any action on minimum sentences (coupled with many increases in maximum sentences) against Jody Wilson-Raybould's apparent mandate.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The Canadian Press reports on new research showing how wealth shocks at any level of income or wealth are associated with a higher risk of mortality:
Middle-aged Americans who experienced a sudden, large economic blow were more likely to die during the following years than those who didn't. The heightened danger of death after a devastating loss, which researchers called a "wealth shock," crossed socio-economic lines, affecting people no matter how much money they had to start.

The analysis of nearly 9,000 people's experiences underscores well-known connections between money and well-being, with prior studies linking lower incomes and rising income inequality with more chronic disease and shorter life expectancy.
About 1 in 4 people in the study had a wealth shock, which researchers defined as a loss of 75 per cent or more in net worth over two years. The average loss was about $100,000.

That could include a drop in the value of investments or realized losses like a home foreclosure. Some shocks happened during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Others happened before or after. No matter what was going on in the greater U.S. economy, a wealth shock still increased the chance of dying.
- And on a related note, Richard Florida points out that Americans are much more anxious and dissatisfied than they were just under a decade ago.

- Sarah Anderson discusses the cumulative dangers of poverty and climate change in causing the spread of pest-borne diseases. And Canada Without Poverty examines the stresses of surviving on a low income - including the lack of access to basic dental care which many Canadians take for granted.

- Meanwhile, Chris Dillow highlights the danger of relying on a single indicator of inequality which may mask the breadth and depth of poverty.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board writes that Canada's access-to-information system is serving as a barrier to accountability, rather than a mechanism to facilitate oversight.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andre Picard writes about the unjustifiable limitations and inconsistencies in Canada's health care system:
Break your leg and the X-ray and cast will be covered, but you will need to pay for the crutches. Break your jaw and it will be wired at no cost; break your teeth and you will pay the dentist. Get cancer treatment at the hospital and there will be no charge; take the same oncology medication at home and you will pay dearly. Suffer from severe depression and your hospitalization will be covered, but psychological care and medications will not be covered by public insurance after you’re released. If you have diabetes and live in Quebec, many more of your drugs and supplies will be covered than in neighbouring New Brunswick. Need trauma care while visiting another province, and you could get stiffed with a big air ambulance bill. Live out your final days in a hospital and the state will pick up the tab, but do so in a nursing home and you will pay.

The list of inconsistencies and absurdities is a long one. Coverage often depends on where you live, where you work, your age – but more than anything, public coverage is limited by historical accident.
The inconsistent coverage of mental health care (and psychological services in particular), home care and prescription drugs has been the subject of much debate, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If we are going to have a semblance of a national health system across 13 provinces and territories – without forgetting the large federal health system – it’s important to have equitable (not equal) access for all Canadians. Yet, the variations in coverage between jurisdictions have never been more pronounced.
Medicare cannot provide all care to all people at all times. We need to make tough choices on what is, and isn’t, in the medicare basket of services. We need to eliminate obsolete and wasteful practices, and embrace only new ones that are cost-effective.

We have the tools to do so. But good evidence isn’t enough. As the report notes, we need to “translate the language of science and evaluation into the language of decisions and public policy.”
- Jocelyn Timperley explores the long-term economic benefits of fighting climate change now, rather than having to answer for its effects later. And Merran Smith discusses the obvious risks of being left behind in a global transition to clean energy.

- Tammy Robert examines the Saskatchewan public's widespread recognition of the problem of climate change and willingness to help fight it - no matter how obstinately Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party try to stand in the way. And Jennifer Quesnel takes a look at the modest effect of an Alberta-style carbon tax even before accounting for rebates and investments from the new public revenue.

- Finally, Tom Parkin weighs in on the mirror-image cynicism of Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne in Ontario's election campaign. And Donald Savoie discusses how Justin Trudeau is either taking Atlantic Canada for granted, or abandoning it altogether.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Covered cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Amy Remeikis reports on new research showing how educational inequality translates into an even wider economic gap.

- Hannah Johnston and Chris Land-Kazlauskas examine (PDF) the gig economy and the need for workers to be able to organize around it. But Rebecca Moss discusses another of Donald Trump's moves to undermine workers even more, this time by trashing panels working on workplace safety and whistleblower protections.

- Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report on Trump's concurrent move to nix emission standards for vehicles. Ben Parfitt exposes the B.C. Libs' suppression of facts about the dangers of fracking based on their belief that the public shouldn't have accurate information about environmental risks before going to the polls. And James Wilt takes note of the Trudeau Libs' move to scrap any environmental assessment for major oil sands projects.

- Meanwhile, Jonathan Watts reports on yet another study showing that the effects of climate change are already more severe than assumed, this time resulting in far more underwater ice melting than anticipated.

- Finally, Andrew Boozary and David Naylor weigh in on the need for a stronger health care system - including stronger connections to the social programs which can improve public health:
Achieving wider insurance coverage and fairer prices for drugs would be important steps toward a better system. But that won’t ensure the right drug gets prescribed for the right reasons — especially if a condition might be better treated with, say, cognitive behavioural therapy by a psychologist, or by a course of physiotherapy.

Here’s the upshot. For over 30 years, there’s been good evidence about the reforms needed to modernize our health system. The key is integration of services and budgets, allowing savings to be realized when evidence-informed investments are made in new, cost-effective services and technologies.

If that happened, prescription drugs could be covered and managed as part of the same budget as professional services, hospital stays, and home care. Shared care would mean shared budgets — not more volume-driven stovepipes with new sets of professionals publicly insured on a fee-for-service basis.

Governments and providers would also have incentives to promote stronger linkages between health and social services, thereby helping build healthier communities from the bottom up.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Charlie May writes that the inequality which is radically reshaping the American political scene receives short shrift compared to other stories. And Thomas Piketty studies (PDF) the political realignment which is seeing relatively well-defined class politics replaced with "multiple-elite" models.

- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin notes that Justin Trudeau's particular elitist vision is wearing thin very quickly:
We have common needs. We all need health care. Our children need education. We need an income, nutrition and a community to live in. We need security and protection. We need an environment that can sustain us. We enjoy recreation and sport, art, cooking and entertainment.

We are in it together.

And it’s in working on those common needs that Trudeau has really failed. Over two years, perhaps the only common need he’s much addressed was through his improvement to the Canada Pension Plan.

But he’s cut transfers for our health care and seems opposed to a universal pharmacare plan. He’s turned his back on childcare to help our children while we work. Infrastructure and housing have been pushed into the future. His defence of the environment we share has disappointed.

Perhaps Trudeau sees his role as floating above our identities, balancing and celebrating them. But perhaps Canadians are recognizing that a politician who doesn’t get down to our level and address our common needs isn’t taking our society anywhere.
- Kate Aronoff discusses a growing movement among U.S. Democrats supporting a job guarantee. But Matt Bruenig raises some questions as to whether it would meet all of the intended purposes - then makes the case for family welfare benefits as a primary income support.

- The Wall Street Journal charts how any recovery since the 2008 economic crash has been limited to the few who already had the most. And Carys Roberts and Mathew Lawrence discuss the prospect of a citizens' wealth fund in the UK.

- Finally, Kelly Crowe examines one of the connections between corporatist trade and declining health, as an increase in processed food imports since the signing of NAFTA can be linked to increasing obesity.