Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Linda McQuaig's latest column builds on the inequality theme of The Trouble With Billionaires, pointing out how wealth turns into other forms of power as well:
The wealthy exert influence not just through campaign contributions, but at every stage of the political process: in the forming of political parties, the writing of party platforms, the selection of candidates, the drafting and amending of legislation, not to mention the shaping of public opinion through think-tanks and media ownership.

The wealthy also often employ a form of blackmail, either directly or indirectly threatening they'll leave the country if governments don't capitulate to their demands for lower taxes. While it's hard to imagine political leaders caving in to similar threats from other groups -- say, electricians or teachers -- the sheer economic power of the wealthy seems to quickly bring governments to heel.
- Which would surely make for yet another point of confusion for Rafe Mair's Man from Mars:
Our Man from Mars would look at how we run our business affairs and would be struck by the way large pools of capital form themselves into corporations that can't be controlled. How would we expect them to be controlled when the people who want nice comfy laws finance the governing party which makes up the rules?

MFM would note that corporations spend huge sums anaesthetizing the public with full paid ads on every aspect of life telling the bumpkins what wonderful corporate citizens they are and how all their decisions were for the good of all. These ads make no reference to the fact that their only obligation is to make money for the shareholder and their good behaviour is in the hands of a friendly, indeed compliant, government.
Our Man from Mars, writing his report, would conclude that western democracies call themselves democracies much like communist countries once did. On being questioned about the liberties of citizens as compared to places like China, he would be bound to conclude that these Canadians have more freedom but that's steadily eroding and that, besides, the free speech in this country is about as effective as going out in a boat by yourself and shouting damnation on the powers that dictate and enforce.
- And as if to prove Mair's and McQuaig's points, here's Neil Reynolds predictably beating the drum for tax cuts even when they contradict his own data:
Canadian tax-collection statistics suggest that this supply-side law may well be operative here – only more so. On average, we remit to the federal government only 16.6 per cent of GDP in taxes regardless of rates. In the 1960s, it was 15.9 per cent of GDP. In the 1970s, 17.3 per cent. In the 1980s, 15.5 per cent. In the 1990s, 17.7 per cent. (From 2001 through 2009, reflecting a serious recession, revenue from all tax sources fell to 14.3 per cent.)
For those keeping track, that would make for a 3.4% difference between the 1990s (when taxes were hiked in order to balance budgets) and the 2000s (when taxes were lowered as the first order of business once deficits were brought down) - included in Reynolds' column in support of the theory that tax rates don't affect revenue. But fortunately, he's on the right side of the corporate media, so he'll be taken far more seriously than those of us who actually look at the numbers.

[Update: For a more thorough debunking, see Erin's post.]

- Meanwhile, Colby Cosh is right to note that "disappearing middle class" isn't necessarily the right term for extreme wealth inequality, and that "between neighbourhood" comparisons probably aren't the best way of analyzing the disparity. But can we also agree that it's worth doing something to address the danger of a "new Gilded Age, a realm of pervasively low marginal taxes and new deregulated industries" once we've removed those less-obvious problems from the picture?

- Finally, Ned Franks nicely connects the dots between the Cons' unproductive Parliaments in terms of the number of bills passed, and the fact that they've used omnibus budget bills to pass major changes without serious review:
n terms of productivity, Parliament has reached a new low. According to Franks, only 45 per cent of the bills introduced by the Harper government thus far have actually made it through the entire legislative process to royal assent.

And that can't all be blamed on the tribulations of running a minority government. Franks' records show the minority government of Lester Pearson during the 1960s managed to see 86 per cent of its bills through to royal assent.

The Trudeau government (both minority and majority) managed 72 per cent, Mulroney's majority government hit 83 per cent and Chretien's majority batted 69 per cent.

Since the Second World War, the number of bills receiving royal assent each year has declined steadily from an average of 67 a year during the King-St. Laurent era to 27 under Harper.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Harper government is legislating less. Franks said the government pushed about half of a normal year's legislation through in a single bill — this year's massive budget implementation bill which included varied measures dealing with all manner of subjects from environmental assessments to the post office to the future of Canada's atomic energy industry.

Franks finds the trend to omnibus bills particularly worrisome since it short-circuits the whole point of parliamentary scrutiny in a healthy democracy.

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