Friday, October 19, 2018

Musical interlude

The Postal Service - Such Great Heights

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rupert Neate reports on the latest Credit Suisse study showing that wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few ultra-rich individuals. And Lawrence Mishel and Julia Wolfe take note of a similar trend for U.S. wages, particularly when it comes to the soaring amount being claimed by CEOs.

- Sharon Treat discusses how the USCMA only figures to put large corporations even further beyond the reach of any regulation in the public interest. And Marie Aspiazu points out its effect on digital rights, including its extension of already-excessive copyright terms.

- The Star's editorial board takes a look at the costs of Doug Ford's cancellation of Ontario's cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. And both Lars Osberg and the C.D. Howe Institute make the case for full fee-and-dividend systems - though it's still worth raising the value of ensuring that some money collected as a result of carbon pollution actually gets applied to reducing the scope of the problem.

- Finally, Simon Enoch argues that climate sanctions may be needed to ensure that the worst offenders don't undermine any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And George Monbiot writes that in the absence of sorely-needed government action to avert a total climate breakdown, there looks to be little alternative but civil disobedience.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Don Pittis writes that the disastrous results of the U.S.' giveaways to corporations and wealthy individuals - including a ballooning deficit which isn't contributing to any improvement in the rate of economic growth, together with an expectation that people will pay the price in cuts to health and social programs - should serve as an important warning to anybody pushing Canada to join the race to the bottom. And Jim Tankersley refutes the predictable claim that Donald Trump's tax cuts for the rich have represented anything but a needless cut to public revenue.

- Matt Henderson writes that our choice in dealing with imminent climate breakdown is between making needed contributions now, or forcing future generations to pay a far heavier price later. And Tony Coulson notes that there's general support for carbon pricing as part of a plan to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. But David Climenhaga points out the concentration of ownership in the fossil fuel sector which leaves a wealthy elite with little interest in caring about either public opinion or the future of our planet. And Roy Culpeper and Susan Tanner discuss how that tiny group of selfish oil barons has thus far dictated the terms of Canadian climate policy.

- Terry Parker responds to corporate objections to community benefit agreements by pointing out the importance of ensuring that major construction projects help the community at large.

- Finally, Meghan McDermott highlights the flaws in a few of the arguments being pushed by the "no" side in British Columbia's electoral reform referendum. And Seth Klein points out why voters should be happy to see minority legislatures which are both more cooperative and more accountable - in addition to actually reflecting voters' preferences.

New column day

Here, discussing the Price of Oil collaborative's latest report on how the Saskatchewan Party is requiring provincial regulators to keep the public at risk in order to avoid having oil operators answer for their sour gas pollution.

For further reading, I've previously written about the the same issue based on an earlier series of reports here; see also my related post, including links to previous media work dating back to 2015.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Cribb, Patti Sonntag, Michael Wrobel, P.W. Elliott and Carolyn Jarvis examine the Saskatchewan Party government's utter refusal to monitor or regulate pollution caused by the oil industry - and the people who have been kept at risk as a result. And Geoff Leo takes a look at the anti-regulation and pro-austerity dogma that led to the collapse of a brand-new bridge in the RM of Clayton.

- Leslie Hook and Caroline Binham report on the warning by central banks around the globe of the need for financial decisions to both minimize and mitigate the risk of climate breakdown. And Fatima Syed reports on the billions of dollars Ontario will lose as a result of Doug Ford's destruction of cap-and-trade carbon pricing.

- Annika Koljonen points out that while the U.S. and UK are seeing stagnant or falling life expectancies as a result of corporatist political decisions, Finland is seeing the largest improvements among affluent countries in the world due to needed social investment. And Aditya Chakrabortty discusses how even the IMF has had to recognize that the UK's privatization schemes were nothing more than a neoliberal scam:
Let’s start with the IMF itself. Last week it published a report that barely got a mention from the BBC or in Westminster, yet helps reframe the entire debate over austerity. The fund totted up both the public debt and the publicly owned assets of 31 countries, from the US to Australia, Finland to France, and found that the UK had among the weakest public finances of the lot. With less than £3 trillion of assets against £5tn in pensions and other liabilities, the UK is more than £2tn in the red. Of all the other countries examined by researchers, including the Gambia and Kenya, only Portugal’s finances look worse over the long run. So much for fixing the roof.

Almost as startling are the IMF’s reasons for why Britain is in such a state: one way or another they all come back to neoliberalism. Thatcher loosed finance from its shackles and used our North Sea oil money to pay for swingeing tax cuts. The result is an overfinancialised economy and a government that is £1tn worse off since the banking crash. Norway has similar North Sea wealth and a far smaller population, but also a sovereign wealth fund. Its net worth has soared over the past decade.
The other big reason for the UK’s financial precarity is its privatisation programme, described by the IMF as no less than a “fiscal illusion”. British governments have flogged nearly everything in the cupboard, from airports to the Royal Mail – often at giveaway prices – to friends in the City. Such privatisations, judge the fund, “increase revenues and lower deficits but also reduce the government’s asset holdings”.

Throughout the austerity decade, ministers and economists have pushed for spending cuts by pointing to the size of the government’s annual overdraft, or budget deficit. Yet there are two sides to a balance sheet, as all accountants know and this IMF work recognises. The same goes for our public realm: if Labour’s John McDonnell gets into No 11 and renationalises the railways, that would cost tens of billions – but it would also leave the country with assets worth tens of billions that provided a regular income.

Instead, what this IMF research shows is that the Westminster classes have been asset-stripping Britain for decades – and storing up financial trouble for future generations.
- Finally, Maryse Zeidler reports on the Elizabeth Fry Society's push to ensure that the Canada Child Benefit is actually accessible to the vulnerable children who need it most.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Expectant cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ben Chu reports on the conclusion from the chief economist of the Bank of England that decreased unionization in the UK is responsible for reducing wages for all workers by .75% per year over the past 30 years.

- Hassan Yussuff warns that Doug Ford's insistence on reversing any gains for workers at the first opportunity will put many women in avoidable danger. And David Climenhaga comments on Jason Kenney's plans to similarly launch an all-out attack on workers, with no regard for evidence or public input.

- Eliza Barclay and Umair Irfan offer a list of suggestions to avert climate breakdown, while Noah Smith discusses the importance of clean energy development in China as part of the global fight against climate change. Matt Henderson points out the unfairness of pushing carbon debts onto future generations, while Brent Patterson makes the case for holding corporations to account for their carbon pollution.

- The Star's editorial board weighs in on the need to reduce traffic congestion in Toronto. And Kim Willsher reports on the success of Dunkirk's implementation of free public transportation.

- Finally, Sheila Block comments on the absurdity of obsessing over artificial limits on tax revenue:
Any politician promising better public services without touching property taxes isn’t telling the whole story.

Just to maintain the status quo — which shouldn’t be the goal in an expanding city — Toronto would need property tax increases that grow with both population and inflation. That would be about 50 per cent higher than inflationary increases only.
We see the impact of this unsustainable fiscal approach all around our city: dangerous crowding in subway stations, a desperate need for repairs in Toronto Community Housing, flooded streets during climate events, insufficient shelter beds in the height of winter, timid investments in the city’s poverty reduction strategy, and digital line ups to get kids into recreational programs.

Did I mention $30 billion in unfunded capital projects?

Even worse, each year that we delay increasing property taxes has an impact on both our current and future capacity to fund essential city services.

But what if we approached property taxes in a grown-up fashion?

As grown ups, we know that we’re better off changing the oil in our cars on schedule as part of a good maintenance program. We know that dealing with the mould in the basement as soon as possible is the best financial and health strategy. And when we can, we know that putting money aside for our retirement is the prudent thing to do.

We are doing none of this for our larger home, the City of Toronto. We are letting the mould spread. We are emptying our saving accounts. We are not investing in our children’s futures.
As residents, we also don’t get a free pass. Voters who choose tax-freezing candidates must come to terms with deteriorating public services and sticking the bill to our kids and grandkids.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Chris Turner rightly recognizes the urgency in implementing effective policies to avert climate breakdown - though he does set the bar too low in the process. The Star's editorial board highlights how the latest IPCC report confirms the danger of politicians fighting against climate action rather than exercising power responsibly. And Rebecca Solnit reminds us that the most important chapters in our fight against climate breakdown remain to be written.

- Lana Payne writes that the benefits of a more fair and proportional electoral system would set up needed incentives for leaders to think past the next election cycle on issues such as climate change.

- Alex Himelfarb discusses the need for an antidote to apathy and despair - both to encourage participation by people now disenchanted with politics, and to prevent those who do remain engaged from falling prey to demagoguery.

- Finally, Noah Smith comments on the difficulties associated with uncertain incomes, particularly for people already facing the risks associated with poverty:
If risk is scary for the rich, think how much more terrifying it is for the poor. The kind of event that causes a low-income American to suddenly need money isn’t a wedding or college or a comfy retirement — it’s coping with an eviction, or getting robbed, or a broken pipe in their house, or their car breaking down. The life of a poor American is a nonstop sequence of sudden disasters and looming threats. If you don’t understand this, read “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond. For a middle-class American, the situation is less awful, but big medical bills and other surprise expenses are still a very significant risk, and many Americans have little savings in the bank to cushion the blows life throws at them.

Given the risks of life in America, and the paucity of savings, a consistent income is very important. The more you live paycheck to paycheck, the more you need to be sure that the paychecks won’t stop coming — and that their size will be relatively constant from month to month and year to year. Unfortunately, during the past 40 years, income volatility has risen for the average American.
So what’s to be done about income volatility? A big part of the job, of course, is avoiding repeats of the Great Recession. Beyond that, financialization, especially private equity’s practice of taking over companies and imposing mass layoffs, has to be thoroughly reexamined. And it may also be useful to encourage the creation of new kinds of work contracts that offer more long-term stability. In any case, though, it seems clear that income volatility is a problem that has received too little attention.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- David Wallace-Wells writes that even "genocide" may be too gentle a word for the consequences of a climate breakdown. Josh Gabbatiss discusses the insanity of approving - and even subsidizing - fracking and other means of exacerbating the climate crisis. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board weighs in on the need for carbon pricing as part of any viable climate change policy.

- Larry Elliott argues that a global economic crash exacerbated by climate breakdown could be worse than any we've seen yet. And Barry Ritholtz writes that a combination of growing debt and risk mismanagement is making another financial crisis inevitable.

- Andrew Van Dam discusses new research showing that parental wealth is already a stronger determinant of post-secondary graduation than genetic advantages.

- Wanyee Li reports that Vancouver's housing shortage and price inflation have reached the point where the workers needed to ensure access to housing are themselves priced out of the city.

- Finally, Brent Patterson comments on Max Siegelbaum's report about Canadian pension funds putting their money into U.S immigration detention centres. And in a somewhat dated report, John Aglionby points out the World Bank's recommendation that refugee camps also be turned into a means of extracting corporate profits.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Tiffany Crawford interviews Kirsten Zickfeld about the contradiction between new fossil fuel infrastructure and any serious attempt to reverse our climate breakdown. Murray Mandryk offers a reminder of the local costs of climate change. Fatima Syed highlights how Doug Ford's supposed climate plan consists of nothing more than a determination to scrap anything which has already been working, while the Calgary Herald's editorial board calls out both Ford and Jason Kenney for their utter lack of anything constructive to contribute. And Simon Enoch recognizes that the new strategy of climate defeatism only highlights the urgency of immediate action:
We can certainly lament the fact that the discourse on climate action has sunk so low that shrugging our shoulders has become a valid argument from our political leaders. But we can also take solace in the fact that the opponents of real climate action have been forced to make such a terrifyingly prosaic argument. It means they recognize that their previous arguments of denial and delay are running out os steam. The realities of global warming are becoming too evident to even entertain denial, while the speed of climate change is making delay look more and more reckless. Urgent, radical action will soon be the only reasonable means forward to a sustainable future. The only response the defeatists can muster is to foreclose that future altogether. Let climate defeatism be the sad last gasp of those who have stood in the way of climate progress for the past thirty years and are about to be swept aside by history.
- George Eaton points out that the UK Conservatives' austerity (like that of other governments) has failed even on its own terms. Jerry Dias responds to Ford's attacks on a fair minimum wage by noting that there hasn't been any meaningful tradeoff between real gains in wages for workers, and the jobs which the business lobby wrongly claims to be at risk. And Simon Lewsen comments on the shameful presence of hunger in the midst of Canada's wealth - including the reality that food may be the most easily-cut expense item in households living in poverty. 

- Tim Pearson discusses how governments elected under proportional representation systems are more likely to take care of both our environment and our economy, rather than being focused solely on single-party political interests.

- Finally, Meagan Day looks at the Trump administration as a prime example of the dangers of putting corporate autocrats in charge of the public sector.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Musical interlude

Ladytron - Runaway

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Michael Harris writes that we shouldn't expect politicians to lead the way toward the action we need to combat climate change. Katie Dangerfield reports on new research showing that the economic effects of carbon pricing are modest, while ignoring climate change will have massive costs. But Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines how the USCMA figures to lock in a fossil-fuel economy while failing to pay even lip service to our most fundamental challenge.
- Amanda Agan and Michael Makowsky study the social effects of a higher minimum wage, including a decrease in criminal recidivism.

- The CP reports on Doug Ford's latest move to prioritize cheap intoxicants over necessary public services.

- Finally, Naomi Klein discusses Donald Trump's standing as the U.S.' most glaring example of dynastic privilege being used to suppress the hopes of anybody who doesn't share the same fortune. And Christo Aivalis comments on the ongoing relevance of Mouseland as a metaphor for Canadian politics:
The story of Mouseland—which can be seen here in animated form—described a society where mice formed the majority of the population, and yet consistently elected governments comprised of cats. Those cats—be they white cats or black cats or spotted cats—passed laws that benefitted them, often to the detriment of the mice majority.

The story turns for Douglas when a little mouse comes along with a bold idea, which is that instead of electing a government of cats, they should choose their leadership from amongst themselves. Of course, that little mouse was branded a dangerous subversive and was locked up, but as Douglas says, “you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can’t lock up an idea.”

The allegory is clearly meant to apply to Canadian society, and Douglas makes that explicit: “Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada…and maybe you’ll see that they weren’t any stupider than we are.” For him, the story of Canadian politics was one where Liberal and Conservative cats ruled the roost while the masses of mice languished in poverty, precarity, and inequality. But when pioneering mice like J.S. Woodsworth stepped up to form the Labour Party and eventually the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, they offered a new path forward.
Mouseland is clearly a populist narrative. In our own times, many people, especially among the centrist elite, have equated populism with Trumpian far-right politics. Certainly, the right has been successful at tapping into popular discontent with the status quo, and has been able to portray wealthy leaders like Trump and Ford as regular joes. But as I’ve noted in other venues, populism is an essential component to any left wing programme which sincerely seeks to represent the masses of working-class people. Mouseland is just the sort of fable that sparks a populist understanding of politics, where the 99% of mice stop deferring to the feline elite, and start doing politics differently. Where politicians who share their life experience are elected to represent them, and in turn can pass good laws—that is—laws that are good for mice.

One of the Canadian left’s key failings over the past couple decades has been a belief that we have to move beyond class conflict as a vehicle for social, political, and economic change; that regular Canadians don’t see themselves as mice anymore, or simply see themselves as cats-in-waiting. Some of this may well be true, but the reality is that class conflict isn’t going anywhere, and the social and economic elite understand this best of all. The left in Canada needs to centre politics of the many over the few, even if that makes enemies among the people unlikely to support them in the first place. Mouseland may well just be a fable, but it is nonetheless instructive, and can be used in part to illustrate a class consciousness among the masses of people in this country, matching that class solidarity which has never dissipated among the wealthy and well-connected.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

New column day

Here, following up on this post about the potential for a truly federal carbon pricing system if right-wing provincial governments keep griping about having the ability to develop alternatives.

For further reading...
- Anna Desmarais reports on the NDP's push for climate change policy to meet the standards set out in the latest IPCC report. And Gerald Butts for one has been echoing the language of a "moral obligation" - though without apparently prodding the Libs to any action beyond a public relations blitz.
- Brent Patterson highlights how the Libs have thus far fallen short of any reasonable standard of action to combat our climate breakdown. And Karl Nerenberg calls out Jason Kenney and Doug Ford for demanding even less.
- Finally, Gary Mason argues that anybody blustering against a carbon tax has an obligation to offer up an alternative. Mark Cameron and David McLaughlin suggest that carbon tax rebates may tilt the balance of public opinion in favour of meaningful pricing. And David Reevely points out that a refusal to rein in climate change now will result in costly attempts to adapt in the future.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Charles Smith writes about the importance of a living wage as a matter of fairness and justice. But Stephanie Taylor reports on Regina City Council's lamentable vote against ensuring that the people who make the city function are able to earn enough to live. 

- Meanwhile, Ipsos surveys the impact of debt on Canadian households - with nearly a quarter of respondents considering themselves overwhelmed by what they owe.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh examines some of the recently-passed protections for workers which are on the chopping block under Doug Ford's anti-labour government. And Trish Hennessy worries that Ontario's workers will end up worse off than they were before the Wynne Libs' last-gasp attempt to appear progressive.

- Scott Sinclair notes that the small amount of good news in the new USMCA involves some reduction in the power of investor-driven dispute resolution. But Alexander Panetta examines a few of the ways in which the deal puts more power in the hands of the U.S. to dictate economic terms to Canada and Mexico.

- Finally, Yves Engler makes the case for free public transit as a means of improving both local equality and the global environment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Evelyn Forget makes the case for a national basic income which would provide a more stable fiscal base for Canada's provinces as well as its citizens. And Dennis Raphael writes about the social murder resulting from the wanton destruction of income supports and other policies which save lives. 

- Meanwhile, the CP reports on the recommendation of British Columbia's provincial auditor that it actually track the effects of tax expenditures, rather than merely taking for granted that they serve any useful purpose.

- Mel Watkins writes that the mistakes Canada made by giving up sovereignty in previous trade deals laid the groundwork for the latest NAFTA concessions. And Brent Patterson notes that the USCMA includes special protection for GMOs in order to benefit US agribusiness regardless of the risks for Canadian producers and consumers.

- The CP takes note that our current emission reduction targets fall far short of what's needed to rein in catastrophic climate change. And in case we needed more reminders of the immediate dangers associated with fossil fuels, Jesse Ferreras reports on the explosion and fire caused by an Enbridge pipeline rupture in B.C., while Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon talks to one of the workers in the immediate vicinity of the Irving Oil refinery explosion.

- Finally, Ed Broadbent and Hugh Segal argue that it's long past time for Canada to pursue electoral reform:
What used to be unusual occurrences in our system – minority governments – are fast becoming the norm both provincially and federally. Three of the past five federal elections have produced minority governments. With a first-past-the-post electoral system, this can be a recipe for increasing instability.

The reason for this is that such a system exaggerates the effects of even tiny swings in voting: Just a few votes in a single riding can be the difference between a majority and a minority government. As a consequence, parties that find themselves in a minority situation often engage in a constant game of “chicken,” continually jockeying for advantage with an eye to a snap election. In proportional systems, such gamesmanship is rare. A small change in the vote for a party only results in a small change in the number of seats. There’s no point in triggering a snap election. So people get on with governing. And, knowing a number of parties are likely to be elected causes leaders to be more collaborative and less confrontational with each other. This makes for better government.

The evidence of the past few months is clear. Given the realities of Canadian voting trends, converting our provincial and federal electoral systems to proportional ones needs to be an immediate priority. We hope that Quebec, B.C. and PEI get the ball rolling and we look forward to seeing other Canadian provinces and the federal level following their example as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with friends.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matt Taibbi interviews Bernie Sanders about the concentration of wealth in a few large financial institutions - and the importance of regulating them in the public interest before they once again crash the economy as a whole.

- John Stapleton argues that there's no reason why inheritances should be the most reliable path toward financial security when we can afford a basic income for everybody. And CBC talks to Evelyn Forget about her push for a basic income based on her research into Manitoba's experience with one. 

- Leonid Bershidsky points out why employment statistics which fail to account for underemployment are misleading as a measure of precarity. And Michael Hicks writes that any complaints about a labour shortage reflect the refusal of employers to offer wages and working conditions capable of attracting workers. And Christopher Hope reports that a four-day work week may form part of UK Labour's plan to ensure that workers benefit from increased productivity and corporate wealth. 

- Matt McGrath points out a few of the important takeaways from the IPCC's latest climate change report (PDF summary). Stephen Leahy notes that in addition to highlighting the risk of slipping toward multiple degrees of temperature increases, the IPCC recognizes that we're seeing more severe results than anticipated even from smaller increases. Bloomberg's editorial board weighs in on the need for far more ambition in fighting climate change. And Justin Worland points out that the pathetic lack of concerted action to reduce the damage we're doing to our planet can't be blamed on any shortage of options.

- Finally, Alex Boutilier reports on the rise of far-right extremism online in Canada.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Simon Wren-Lewis notes the importance of including the working class among the groups identified as part of a progressive movement. And Gary Younge writes about the importance of genuine identity politics (as opposed to the cynical right-wing counterpart) as a means of identifying and addressing structural inequality:
(N)ot all identities count as equal. The more power they carry, the less likely the carrier is to be aware of it as an identity at all. Nobody asks me: “When did you come out as straight?” or “How did you balance travelling as a foreign correspondent with raising children?” because straight men don’t get asked that. What is often dismissed as “identity politics” might be more accurately just called “politics” originating from the concerns of less advantaged groups.

It’s not difficult to see why the right has a problem with this. Their agenda is centred on preserving and extending privileges that already exist. Denigrating equal rights campaigners as “grievance politics” practitioners, the irony is that they practise the very methods they lampoon. Railing against liberal elites, feminists, migrants and Muslims, they have cornered the market in victimhood. Trump’s presidential campaign made an unvarnished appeal to white, Christian Americans – what is that if not an identity?

The left has always been more confused. Those with a crude notion of class contend that politics driven by identity divides people, dilutes solidarity, and diverts energy from addressing material concerns such as pay and conditions. This fundamentally misunderstands identity, politics and class.

When British women are being paid 18% less than men, gender is a material concern; when for every $100 in wealth a white person has in the US an African-American has just $5, race is a material issue. Likewise, if there is no lift and you’re disabled. If you can’t get married to the person you love and can’t leave them your pension, sexual orientation is a material issue. If you can’t walk down the street without fear of the police stopping, searching or shooting you, or if you cannot control decisions about your own fertility, those are material issues. Acknowledging diversity does not undermine solidarity. Indeed by rendering it more inclusive and better informed, it should make that solidarity more effective. “Labour in the white skin,” wrote that flaky identity hipster, Karl Marx, “can never free itself as long as labour in the black skin is branded.”
- Meanwhile, Jacky Habib reports on the spread of right-wing hate in Canada - including a particularly drastic increase in violent hate crimes. And Alex Boutilier reports on the need for law enforcement to respond before hatred turns to violence.

- Travis Lupick discusses Chris Hedges' latest book on the causes and effects of the U.S.' crumbling democracy.

- CBC News reports on new research showing that the effects of childhood abuse include lasting alterations to a victim's DNA.

- Finally, Auden Schendler and Andrew Jones write about the need to respond to yet another damning report about climate inaction by demanding and making change rather than accepting defeat. But the CP reports that the Libs' plan is to continue to do nothing more.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

On necessary measures

I've previously linked to columns by Paul Wells and Jen Gerson on the coordinated right-wing attack on carbon pricing. (And even the Notley government has made a show of withdrawing from a coordinated federal climate change plan, though without abandoning its own climate change policy.)

But let's not assume that what's being treated as a convenient political argument for now won't produce some blowback. To the contrary, the unilateral withdrawal of provinces from any federal system might ultimately favour the development of stronger federal climate regulation.

From a legal standpoint, one of the primary arguments around the federal government's power to price carbon (among other climate change measures) surrounds the question of whether fighting climate change can be categorized as a "national concern" which cannot effectively be dealt with by the provinces acting independently. On that front, see e.g. Manitoba's legal opinion (PDF) on a "backstop" strategy - particularly to the extent it relied on the assumed fact that a province planned to adopt equally effective measures which failed to receive federal recognition.

Saskatchewan's sad excuse for a plan is the most obvious example of a province falling woefully short of that presumption. But in assessing the necessity of federal action, there might have been some argument available that a single province continuing to stumble in the wrong direction wouldn't have an important enough effect to preclude the achievement of national goals.

With Ontario now on the climate denial side - ceding any claim to basing policy on evidence in favour of anti-tax bombast - there's now no question that the current set of provincial defectors is of a sufficient size to undermine any national action. And every province which adds its name to the list of objectors (and trashes its own climate change measures in the process) will only strengthen that position, making it more likely that courts will recognize a need for federal action in response to a provincial-level vacuum. 

What's more, that point may prove important in political as well as legal terms. In time, enough provincial recalcitrance might lead to a push for a federal plan which serves as a national governing system rather than a mere "backstop".

To be clear, such a system wouldn't necessarily need to represent a less cooperative form of federalism in the sense of failing to account for the position of provinces willing to act in good faith; instead, it could incorporate provincial preferences through a federally-applied system. And it's not out of the question that the provincial governments who retain a strong interest in fighting climate change could decide the best path toward that end involves a national system - which as a bonus could result in public pressure being directed toward the federal level.

Of course, it would be preferable to see provinces take climate change seriously on their own, particularly given the seeming preference of a Lib majority government to treat the issue (like most) as one of symbolism rather than substance.

But the more conservative premiers refuse to exercise their power responsibly when it comes to the planetary threat of climate change, the more likely it is that the federal government will see a need to increase its own level of responsibility. And the end result could be a national system that's both more consistent, and even more likely to survive whatever evidence-free arguments might be made against it in court.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Bob Lord discusses how the concentration of wealth in the U.S. has pushed beyond even the obscene levels of the Gilded Age. Sunil Johal and Armine Yalnizyan examine (PDF) both Canada's inequality and polarization of wealth, and a few of the options to rein them in. And David Sirota highlights how a new aristocracy considers itself to be above any laws or other accountability:
Since Skilling’s conviction 12 years ago, our society has been fundamentally altered by a powerful political movement whose goal is not merely another court seat, tax cut or election victory. This movement’s objective is far more revolutionary: the creation of an accountability-free zone for an ennobled aristocracy, even as the rest of the population is treated to law-and-order rhetoric and painfully punitive policy.

Let’s remember that in less than two decades, America has experienced the Iraq war, the financial crisis, intensifying economic stratification, an opioid plague, persistent gender and racial inequality and now seemingly unending climate change-intensified disasters. While the victims have been ravaged by these crime sprees, crises and calamities, the perpetrators have largely avoided arrest, inquisition, incarceration, resignation, public shaming and ruined careers.

That is because the United States has been turned into a safe space for a permanent ruling class. Inside the rarefied refuge, the key players who created this era’s catastrophes and who embody the most pernicious pathologies have not just eschewed punishment – many of them have actually maintained or even increased their social, financial and political status.
...(T)o paraphrase Leona Helmsley, accountability is for the little people, immunity is for the ruling class.

If this ethos seems familiar, that is because it has preceded some of the darkest moments in human history – the eras of violent purges, authoritarian dictators and sharpened guillotines. There is no guarantee that is our future – and let’s hope it isn’t our destiny. Whether or not things proceed in that terrifying direction, though, the moral question remains: what can be done to restore some basic sense of fairness and justice?
This is no easy way forward and there are no shortcuts – but if we avoid this path, then the accountability-free zone will fortify itself and we will probably see the rise of an institutionalized form of moral hazard that dooms us to a tragic repetition of history.
- Meanwhile, Mark Bou Mansour weighs in on the effect of the "finance curse" in which overall well-being in the UK has been treated as secondary to the profits of the banking sector.

- Both Paul Wells and Jen Gerson discuss how carbon taxes have turned into political targets, particularly for politicians catering to oil industry donors. And David Climenhaga offers a reminder that carbon pricing alone actually represents a market-focused, right-wing response to a problem which might be more obviously (and easily) dealt with by regulation.

- Kathryn May reports on PIPSC's push for public services to be insourced rather than outsourced. And Richard Partington notes that a substantial proportion of workers with casual contracts would prefer more stable employment - signalling that their precarity is a matter of a lack of choice rather than an exercise of it.

- Finally, Matthew Hays makes the case for the elimination of the notwithstanding clause from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Yutaka Dirks reviews Lars Osberg's The Age of Increasing Inequality, with a particular focus on how matters have been getting worse in recent decades.

- Ryan Nunn, Jana Parsons and Jay Shambaugh study (PDF) the connection between geography and inequality, including the role of decreasing migration in locking in and exacerbating existing disparities. And Danny Dorling examines the link between higher inequality and lower life expectancy around the globe.

- Mary Bousted points out how educational inequalities arise out of social and environmental factors long before students ever set foot in a classroom. And Alex Hemingway argues that at the very least, public money shouldn't be spent subsidizing those inequalities through elite private schools.

- Rachel Shabi discusses UK Labour's turn toward democratic socialism - and the resonance of the prospect of economic democracy within the general public.

- Dirk Meissner reports on the denial of cancer treatment to a homeless man as an unconscionable example of the gaps in our health care system. And Hasan Sheikh offers a response to the desire of Doug Ford and others to make the availability of necessary care even more contingent on one's wealth. 

- Finally, Andrew Coyne discusses the climate nihilism of a sadly growing number of anti-carbon-tax demagogues. PressProgress offers a reminder that we stand to lose tens of billions of dollars a year from extreme weather events caused by climate change alone. And Zoya Terstein argues that the primary problem with carbon pricing as it stands is that we're nowhere close to properly measuring the damage we're doing to our planet. 

Friday, October 05, 2018

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - Digging In

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Nicholas Shaxson writes that the UK's disproportionate dependence on the financial sector is akin to the resource curse facing Western Canada among so many other jurisdictions:
(T)he finance curse had more parallels with the resource curse than we had first imagined. For one thing, in both cases the dominant sector sucks the best-educated people out of other economic sectors, government, civil society and the media, and into high-salaried oil or finance jobs. “Finance literally bids rocket scientists away from the satellite industry,” in the words of a landmark academic study of how finance can damage growth. “People who might have become scientists, who in another age dreamt of curing cancer or flying people to Mars, today dream of becoming hedge-fund managers.”
To argue that the City hurts Britain’s economy might seem crazy. But research increasingly shows that all the money swirling around our oversized financial sector may actually be making us collectively poorer. As Britain’s economy has steadily become re-engineered towards serving finance, other parts of the economy have struggled to survive in its shadow, like seedlings starved of light and water under the canopy of a giant, deep-rooted and invasive tree. Generations of leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair to Theresa May have believed that the City is the goose that lays Britain’s golden eggs, to be prioritised, pampered and protected. But the finance curse analysis shows an oversized City to be a different bird: a cuckoo in the nest, crowding out other sectors.
- Matt O'Brien discusses how current estimates of inequality miss large amounts of wealth sheltered from taxes. And Paul Krugman reminds us that Donald Trump is the ultimate example of government by and for the selfish motives of tax cheats.

- John Clarke discusses how Doug Ford's government is inflicting extreme austerity on Ontario, while Willy Nolles contrasts the Ford PCs' stinginess with injured workers against their eagerness to hand billions to businesses. And David Climenhaga comments on Ford's Very Angry White Men tour - which of course stopped in Saskatoon yesterday before arriving in Calgary.

- Ottmar Edenhofer and Johan Rockström discuss the need for a carbon price merely to avoid more than doubling the temperature increase committed to by the world's governments. But Brent Patterson rightly argues that we ultimately need to pursue climate policies far more ambitious than the pricing schemes currently on offer. And Liam Britten reports on the potentially disastrous effects of British Columbia's liquid natural gas scheme.

- Finally, Joe Virgillito highlights how carbon pricing can contribute to a reduction in income inequality. And Rob Merrick reports on the UK's plan for a digital services tax to ensure that the corporations profiting from effective online monopolies pay something approaching their fair share.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Stanford discusses how abusing precarious workers has become the primary job of big business. But Owen Jones notes that strikes against McDonald's in the UK represent just the latest example of workers taking collective action to fight for a more fair economy.

- Meanwhile, Kevin Rawlinson reports on a new estimate of the amount of unpaid work performed in the UK every year.

- Alexandra Shimo reports on the contrast between Nestle's extraction of millions of litres of water from Six Nations of the Grand River treaty land, and residents' need to go without running water at all. And Brent Patterson writes that the oil industry is predictably one of the main winners in the new NAFTA.

- Anna Desmarais reports on the Environment Commissioner's conclusion that Canada isn't properly tracking the disposal of businesses' toxic waste. 

- Finally, Linda Leon points out the entrenched interests trying to undermine electoral reform due to the possibility that it might make governmental capture more difficult.

New column day

Here, on the corporate sellouts in the Libs' new version of NAFTA - including a little-discussed chapter designed to turn anti-regulatory bias into official policy for an entire continent.

For further reading...
- The text of the USCMA is here, with Chapter 28 (PDF) forming the subject of most of the column. And by way of comparison, I'll point to the "regulatory cooperation" chapter of the CETA, which provides for some level of coordination without the obligation to systematically question domestic regulations.
- I've already linked to some noteworthy USCMA commentary, including pieces from Neil MacDonald, Duncan Cameron and David Moscrop. Janyce McGregor summarizes some of the key changes under the USCMA. Alex Ballingall points out the increase in drug costs arising out of Trudeau's concessions. 
- Finally, for a reminder of the attitude toward regulation driving the U.S.' position, see reporting on the Trump administration's undermining of rules governing asbestos, radiation, and mercury, as well as the Environmental Integrity Project's full list of regulatory slippage under Trump.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Judy Paul discusses how everybody benefits from the fight against inequality:
Also of interest is the levels of trust and community life were stronger in more equal societies. There is more mixing of people from various socio-economic groups in more equal countries and this would lead to a greater sense of solidarity. When there are vast differences in income levels I think it would be hard for people to feel that “we’re all in this together.”
Where inequality is higher, people with lower social status tend to withdraw from society. When people compete for status, anxiety increases and struggling to keep up seems to make us less compassionate towards others. Inequality damages social cohesion, which includes trust, solidarity, civic and cultural participation and agreeableness (being helpful, considerate and trusting).
Greater solidarity is the only way we are going to be able to tackle the urgent challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability, says Wilkinson and Pickett. We cannot afford to have people anxiously struggling to make their way in an individualistic society that tells us we need to buy to belong.

How do we create a more equal society? An unconditional basic income would certainly help. Progressive taxation and a stronger social security system could also help.   Wilkinson and Pickett argue that the development of more democratic workplaces is key in this era of excessive CEO compensation and the weakening of trade unions.

It is important that we turn our attention to rising inequality in Canada. When we understand the significant cost of inequality and are open to learning from more equal countries, we will be better able to imagine and forge a better future for everyone.
- Hamdi Issawi and Brennan Doherty report on the benefits Alberta workers are seeing from needed increases to their province's minimum wage. And Ryan McNally notes in contrast how Saskatchewan's low-income workers continue to fall further behind.

- Alex Hemingway points out the unfairness and waste involved in using public money to prop up private school systems.

- Finally, Bill McKibben criticizes the Trump Republicans' blithe acceptance of catastrophic climate change in the name of squeezing out a few more years of oil profits. But Matt Hern and Am Johal write that in order to change toward a more sustainable path, climate activists need to speak to class concerns rather than merely pointing out the accuracy of climate science.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surrounded cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Laurie MacFarlane writes that flows of income and wealth have everything to do with bargaining power and social decision-making, rather than productivity or merit:
(A)ggregate wealth is not simply a reflection of the process of accumulation, as theory tends to imply. It is also a reflection of the boundaries of what can and cannot be alienated, priced, bought and sold, and the power dynamics that underpin them. This is not just a historical matter.

Today some goods and services are provided by private firms on a commodified basis, whereas others are provided socially as a collective good. This can often vary significantly between countries. Where a service is provided by private firms (for example, healthcare in the USA), shareholder claims over profits are reflected in the firm’s value – and these claims can be bought and sold, for example on the stock market. These claims are also recorded as financial wealth in the national accounts.

However, where a service is provided socially as a collective good (such as the NHS in the UK), there are no claims over profits to be owned and traded among investors. Instead, the claims over these sectors are socialised. Profits are foregone in favour of free, universal access. Because these benefits are non-monetary and accrue to everyone, they are not reflected in any asset prices and are not recorded as “wealth” in the national accounts.

A similar effect is observed with pension provision: while private pensions (funded through capital markets) are included as a component of financial wealth in the OECD’s figures, public pensions (funded from general taxation) are excluded. As a result, a country that provides generous universal public pensions will look less wealthy than a country that rely solely on private pensions, all else being equal. The way that we measure national wealth is therefore skewed towards commodification and privatisation, and against socialisation and universal provision.
All statistics tell a story, but stories can be told from different perspectives. Embedded in the definitions of all economic statistics are value judgements about what is desirable and what is undesirable, which in turn shape the way we think about the economy. At the moment, the way we measure the wealth of nations mainly reflects the fortunes of capitalists and landowners rather than workers and tenants. Britain looks wealthier than Germany on paper, but this does not reflect the lived reality for most people. While it’s important not to overstate the extent to which statistics can influence the real world, this is important for at least three reasons.

Firstly, it illustrates how seemingly objective metrics often have ideological assumptions baked into them. While there is already a well-established literature on alternatives to GDP, many economic metrics are used in economic analysis and policy appraisal without any critical appraisal of their underlying ideological assumptions. This needs to change.

Second, it highlights how paper wealth has in many places become decoupled from productive capacity, and how conflating the two can be highly misleading. This is particularly the case where zero sum rentier activity is widespread, as in the case of Britain. Such discrepancies raise the question of whether the way that we currently measure wealth is really the most sensible.

But most importantly, it illustrates that the distribution of wealth has little to do with contribution or productivity, and everything to do with politics and power. As J.W. Mason states: “It’s bargaining power, it’s politics, all the way down.”
- Meanwhile, Anna Tims offers a reminder that a cashless and financialized society imposes disproportionate costs on the people who aren't catered to by big banks.

- Allison Alberto discusses a new study from the Alberta Federation of Labour showing how a $15 minimum wage will boost the economy as a whole as well as the standard of living of some of the people who need it most. Michael Speers implores the Ford PCs not to reverse planned minimum wage increases in Ontario. And Emily Klatt reports on the Saskatchewan NDP's push to finally follow suit with a living hourly wage for all workers.

- Finally, Michael Spence comments on the balkanization of international trade flows. Neil MacDonald writes that contrary to the Libs' spin, the new NAFTA represents almost total capitulation to the U.S.' bullying - including by limiting Canada's ability to seek out trade agreements with new potential allies. David Moscrop concurs that Canada has both made painful short-term concessions, and increased our future vulnerability to the U.S. And Duncan Cameron outlines the changes for the worse in the Trump NAFTA.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Stanford writes that the D-J Composites lockout should offer Canada a much-needed reminder as to the reality of labour conflict:
Through 640 emotional days, the picket line has remained peaceful: the only injury was a union member hit by a vehicle charging through the line during a snowstorm. But genuine economic violence is being done every day to 32 workers separated from their livelihoods by an aggressive employer. The employer's position is all the stronger when it can hire others to keep working for less -- but no replacement worker should ever think they can participate in that process without facing scrutiny or challenge.

Ironically, Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball has a promising solution to this mess sitting right on his desk, in the form of recommendations from an Industrial Inquiry Commission convened by the provincial government in 2010 following a long dispute at Vale's nickel operations in Voisey's Bay. Headed by labour lawyer John Roil, and advised by Prof. Gregor Murray, labour-relations specialist at the University of Montreal, the commission recognized the traditional balance of power between employers and workers has been disrupted by the power and flexibility exercised by global corporations. They recommended modernizing labour law to ensure foreign firms understand and respect Canadian practices. They also proposed a fallback mechanism to arbitrate settlements in intractable disputes, so long as certain conditions are met, including failure to bargain in good faith.

Those sensible recommendations were never implemented, but they were tailor-made to prevent long work stoppages such as this one. Prohibiting replacement workers -- especially during management-led lockouts -- would also promote faster settlements; British Columbia and Quebec already do this. In the end, provincial intervention of some kind is essential to end this conflict.

The D-J Composites lockout, while small, is a telling reminder that employers hold the upper hand in most modern industrial disputes -- and Canadian labour law has failed to address this imbalance. Economists and politicians alike bemoan persistently weak wage growth and stagnant household incomes. But this nasty little quarrel reveals exactly why this is happening. Governments across the country, starting with Mr. Ball's, should watch and learn.
- Claude Wittmann discusses the Ford government's blame-and-shame approach to poverty and the people who face it.

- David Moscrop comments on the folly of falling in line with the U.S.' destructive War on Drugs. And Tessie Castillo points out that the criminalization of drug use is precisely what makes it more dangerous than other potentially addictive activities.

- Brent Patterson offers a reminder (if perhaps one which came too late) as to why we're best served walking away from NAFTA.

- Finally, Max FineDay highlights the need to push back against weaponized misinformation such as residential school denialism.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lana Payne offers a reminder (with reference to Lars Osberg's new book) that extreme and growing inequality is a choice rather than an inevitability - but that it also represents a self-reinforcing trend:
“The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise Of Canada’s 1%” doesn’t merely detail years of data about how inequality has grown in Canada, but argues why ever-increasing equality is so harmful to our democracy.

Osberg has been saying that for some time. It is a predictable outcome. Those with money get more say and the more money they get, the more say they get. The rich also have no trouble exercising their unlimited access and influence over the political class and political decisions.

Osberg argues that Canada is at risk of instability because of rising wealth disparity. There is little doubt this is also at the root of the rise of populist politics across much of the world, including Canada.

The bottom half of Canada’s population is economically stuck. While the top half have improved somewhat over the past several decades, they find themselves further and further behind those at the very top, the 1 per cent.

That’s because the 1 per cent are taking an ever-growing share of income and wealth. This reinforces a sense of unfairness and insecurity as those at the top are so far ahead of everyone else.
- Meanwhile, Gauri Sreenivasan rightly argues that Canada should know better than to race the U.S. to the bottom when it comes to corporate tax rates and regulations.

- Doreen Nicoll reports on Doug Ford's closed-door meetings to sell off even more of Ontario's fresh water over the objections of affected municipalities. And Ed Finn discusses how corporatist politics are destroying natural forests.

- Finally, Aaron Saad comments on the tragi-comic state of carbon pricing politics in Canada. And Cameron Fenton is dubious that an already-compromised National Energy Board can carry out any meaningful review of a Trans Mountain pipeline expansion within the rushed timeline set by the Trudeau Libs.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Oliver Milman reports on new indications that we're far beyond any reasonable pace in trying to rein in climate change. 

- The Star's editorial board discusses why lower-income Ontarians are right to feel like they're under attack from Doug Ford's government. And Noah Smith writes about the combination of income inequality, immobility and stagnation that's leading to millenial dissatisfaction with the U.S.' economy.

- Meaghan Craig reports on new research showing how unstable housing alone correlates to a large proportion of health care costs in Saskatoon.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne points out that New Brunswick's election result provides one of the best arguments yet as to the problems with first-past-the-post politics. The Globe and Mail's editorial board is also recognizing that we should be demanding a more representative electoral system. And Tom Parkin draws a connection between proportional representation and a return to genuinely responsible government:

Under first-past-the-post, legislative majorities are too easily given, sometimes with as little as 37 per cent support.

And now fixing that problem has added urgency—because the political right now often rejects the norms and customs that previously held a check on majority power.

While well-meaning people debate which things Ford really won a ‘mandate’ to do, Ford is using his 75 MPPs as proxy votes to do whatever he wants.

Ford never mentioned anything about changing municipal elections—which normally would be discussed in the campaign and Throne Speech. But his 75 proxies stood ready to carry out his wish.

When a court quashed his bill, his 75 proxies stood ready to support a replacement bill suspending some charter rights and freedoms. When the opposition said his replacement bill violated rules of the legislature, his 75 proxies stood ready to change the rules.

And when Ford stood for pictures with a group of white supremacists—and took four days to give a half-assed denunciation under duress —none of his 75 proxies objected.

This is new. Very new.

On the right, legislative majorities are now being interpreted as a right to one-man rule—with the power to suspend charter rights and freedoms. Because he can.

So our legislatures and parliaments need to matter again. Proportional representation would result in less frequent majorities and make premiers more accountable to the legislature again. A premier’s need to find support in the legislature can play the role norms and customs used to.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Musical interlude

PVRIS - What's Wrong

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Matt Bruenig discusses how UK Labour's plans to ensure workers have an ownership stake in major corporations fits into the wider principle of common wealth:
The Labour Party’s John McDonnell recently unveiled a policy that would require large corporations with more than 250 employees to gradually place 10 percent of their shares into Inclusive Ownership Funds (IOFs) owned by workers. Under the plan, workers in each firm would exercise the ownership rights of the IOF shares and annually receive up to £500 of their shares’ dividends.

Along with nationalizing certain utilities, giving workers representation on corporate boards, and reinvigorating the trade union movement, collectivizing the ownership of a portion of company stock through the IOF scheme is meant to be a step towards democratizing the ownership and control of the UK economy.
(T)he need to come up with practical socialist governing ideas seems to be what is motivating the recent renaissance of the idea in the last 6 years or so. The surprising success of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK Labour Party has prompted policy organizations like IPPR to reinvigorate the idea so that it can be adopted ahead of the next UK election. In the US, a burgeoning socialist movement sparked by Bernie Sanders has pushed think tanks like People’s Policy Project to do the same thing.
Nonetheless, it is heartening to see the Labour Party pick up this long-standing socialist idea and run with it in earnest. The Inclusive Ownership Funds offer a promising strategy for gradually shifting ownership of the economy out of the hands of an oligarchic class and into the hands of Britain’s workers and its society as a whole. It is not a panacea to all that ails the British economy, but it does set it down the path towards a democratic socialist future.
- Bill Curry reports on the latest report of Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux indicating that while the federal government has money to spare, there's an urgent need for increased transfers to ensure provinces can meet their responsibilities. And the CCPA's Alternative Federal Budget offers a road map toward ending poverty and transitioning toward a sustainable economy in the relatively near future.

- Meanwhile, Katherine Scott points out the need for far more than sporadic awareness and action in pursuit of gender equity.

- Emilee Gilpin reports that the Libs' response to the Trans Mountain court decision about insufficient consultation and regulation has been to give interested parties a grand total of a week in which to register for a new hearing. And Jim Bronskill reports on the federal government's attempts to stifle any public knowledge of the steps taken to spy on environmental activists.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom writes that Canada should be walking away from NAFTA talks ather than keeping up the laughable pretense that the U.S. - particularly under Donald Trump - can be counted on to respect its continental commitments.