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.

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