Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- In case anybody hasn't yet seen Andrew Coyne's takedown of anti-intellectual populism, it's well worth a read:
(T)here Mr. Ford sits, immovably: disgraced, largely powerless, but still the mayor. Is that his fault? The city’s? Or is it the fault of those who put him there in the first place, and sustained him through the long train wreck that followed: the staff who failed to report his misdeeds; the commentators who excused them; the partisans who ignored them. Disasters on the Ford scale, we are taught, do not just happen, and while the mayor’s endless supply of lies, manipulativeness and sheer chutzpah have helped to preserve him in office until now, he could not have done it alone.

And of all his enablers, the most culpable are the strategists, the ones who fashioned his image as the defender of the little guy, the suburban strivers, against the downtown elites, with their degrees and their symphonies — the ones who turned a bundle of inchoate resentments into Ford Nation. Sound familiar? It is the same condescending populism, the same aggressively dumb, harshly divisive message that has become the playbook for the right generally in this country, in all its contempt for learning, its disdain for facts, its disrespect of convention and debasing of standards. They can try to run away from him now, but they made this monster, and they will own him for years to come.

Get help? He’s had plenty.
But it's also worth noting that while Ford may make for a particularly vivid example of the dangers of protect-the-leader politics, a similar support system of toadies and apologists surrounds Stephen Harper and other figures as well. And while it may take longer for the problems with a complete lack of personal reflection and responsibility to emerge out of the office of a leader less self-destructive than Ford, we should be working to avoid them in any form.

- Rhys Kesselman and Lana Payne both make the case for a more secure CPP retirement system. And Payne in particular highlights why we shouldn't buy the Cons' excuse for refusing to strengthen the CPP:
This week, the federal government announced it will be in surplus, conveniently, in time for the next election. And despite it being two years away, the federal Conservatives have announced what they will be doing with that surplus. More tax cuts. Sigh!
Of course the current deficit is, in large part, due to failed tax-cut policies that left the cupboard bare. An empty cupboard means the federal Conservatives have a handy excuse to ignore legitimate needs in the country, like investing in a new Health Accord. That fits fine with their agenda regarding health
care: eroding Canada’s universal medicare system through sheer neglect.
So it is clear. The Harper government has taken care of corporate Canada, but what about people, citizens; in particular, future retirees?

Unfortunately and stupidly, the federal government continues to drag its heels with respect to the retirement crisis facing Canadians, and is doing nothing to address the real problems facing Canadian workers.
 - Doug Cuthand discusses the Cons' appalling choice to spend upwards of a hundred millions of dollar per year on legal fees to attack First Nations in court - rather than working on improving the lives of First Nations citizens.

- Finally, David DesBaillets reviews the opportunities and challenges facing the Quebec NDP.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Musical interlude

Moby - Porcelain

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Murray Dobbin recognizes that there's more at stake on the federal political scene than merely replacing the Harper Cons - and that the most important debate may be found within the NDP. Meanwhile, Tim Harper is concern trolling on that front, demanding that Thomas Mulcair silence Linda McQuaig and anybody else whose principles might not align perfectly with Fraser Institute talking points.

- Carol Goar makes the case (as I've done before) to deal with the Senate through a new convention which simply avoids future appointments. But Andrew Coyne proposes a far more difficult path, proposing to deal with constitutional amendment procedures rather than the single illegitimate institution which cries out for action. And Don Lenihan uses that opening to argue for inaction on all fronts.

- Glen Pearson questions the corporatist orthodoxy that the rich must be appeased with preferential access and policy treatment lest they stop creating wealth for themselves. But Tony Clement makes it abundantly clear that his government isn't interested in anything but all-out war against Canadian workers.

- Finally, Jim Stanford calls for another look at the relative merits of infrastructure investment and corporate tax cuts:
Because corporations are taking in so much more than they are spending, liquid cash assets in the non-financial corporate sector continue to swell, and now total almost $600 billion.  Many blue-chip companies, literally holding more money than they know what to do with, are finding ways to distribute excess cash to their owners — either through share buy-backs (like the Royal Bank and CN Rail) or boosting dividends (like Enbridge, Brookfield, and Fortis).  While this may reduce the amount of cash sitting idly in corporate coffers, it will have no direct impact on real business investment, which is what the economy really needs.

The stagnation of business capital spending is a huge disappointment to the advocates of the dramatic reduction in corporate income taxes which has been a central feature of Canada’s fiscal policy in recent years.  Since 2007 the Harper government has cut the federal CIT rate from 22.1% (including a former surtax) to 15% today: that’s a decline of 7.1 points, or about one-third.  Many provinces also cut their rates, bringing the combined federal-provincial average rate down to around 26% today — among the lower rates of industrialized countries, and far lower than America’s 35% federal statutory rate (closer to 40% when we include state CITs).  The federal CIT cut has reduced federal revenues by about $13 billion per year.

The argument has been that tax cuts would elicit more business investment spending.  In 2006, the year before the Harper CIT tax cuts were announced, non-residential business investment equaled 10.5% of GDP.  In the first half of 2013, with corporate taxes reduced by one-third, non-residential business investment has equaled 10.7%  of GDP.  That apparent increment of 0.2% of GDP represents $4.6 billion in “extra” capital spending.  Motivated from a $13 billion tax cut.  In other words, the government had to spend almost $3, for each $1 in new business spending.  (Of course, there are many other factors influencing investment that vary from one year to another, so it’s hard to isolate the impact of the tax cut.)  So far in 2013, business investment has actually declined, making a bad situation worse.

Three times as much investment would have been motivated if the government simply spent the $13 billion directly on new public infrastructure (something we badly need, and that would boost private sector productivity.  And here’s the biggest irony of all: econometric evidence suggests that the biggest influence on business investment is the pace of economic growth (since businesses won’t invest, if they are worried final demand for their products will be unable to ratify the capacity added through their investment).  Growth generates investment (and hence more growth) via multiplier and accelerator effects that are stronger, based on econometric evidence, than any positive effect of lower taxes on business investment.

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Ideally, a football team would hope to be able to win on its own terms in the playoffs. But that wasn't to be for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their semi-final matchup against the B.C. Lions.

The 'Riders' greatest strength through the second half of the season was a devastating pass rush which forced sacks and turnovers on a regular basis. But the Lions countered a swarming defensive line with plenty of options and quick passes - leaving the 'Riders regularly flailing at open-field tackles, and enabling B.C. to dominate the possession battle for most of the first three quarters.

And on offence, the 'Riders have relied in large part on Kory Sheets and a mid-range passing attack. But with B.C. ready to contain both of those threats, the 'Riders found a couple of backup plans: a remarkably successful deep passing game based on the high-risk principle of "launch the ball to Taj Smith in double coverage and hope for a miracle", and the return of Darian Durant as a second rushing threat.

In the end, that proved to be enough to overcome the Lions. But we'll have to see whether B.C. found some weaknesses which will prove irresistible for the Stampeders next weekend.

After all, Andrew Harris' broken tackles tended to lead to a first down or slightly more - but the speedier Jon Cornish figures to churn up far more yardage if the first defender on the scene can't either make the tackle, or at least turn him back toward other defenders in pursuit. And while the Stamps' comfort level with fewer players in the secondary may leave some deep passes open, it will also limit Durant's ability to find running room.

Of course, the 'Riders will have their own opportunity to prepare for the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. And hopefully they'll be able to resume playing the style of game that worked best throughout the 2013 season.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Glen Pearson theorizes that inequality will be the defining theme of the current political era. Tavia Grant and Janet McFarland document the extreme (and continually-increasing) disparity between the top 1% and the rest of the world. And Eduardo Porter writes that education can only go so far in creating fair opportunities for everybody in the face of political and economic structures designed to leave most people behind.

- David MacDonald highlights the fact that the Cons' needless program cuts and their brand-new fire sale of public assets both reflect utter mismanagement rather than fiscal prudence:
What is substantially contributing to the surplus in 2015 is a new freeze in operational funding as well as a fire sale of assets. In the Speech from the Thrown the government announced that it would continue its freeze of operational funding. In practice what this means is that, in an uncoordinated way, individual departments will cut back services in order to meet inflationary needs. In other words, if you have the same amount of money each year and inflation increases costs, you can buy less and less every year with your constricted budget. This will mean more closures of veterans’ offices; increasingly long wait times to access EI, either due to lost employment or maternity; fewer inspectors for food and transport; etc.

What’s specifically new to the fall update is an asset fire sale. In the past, these have largely involved selling buildings the government occupies with an agreement to lease them back for a long period assuring sustained profits for new landlords, well above whatever they bought it for.  This makes poor economic sense, particularly to finance election promises in 2015.

In short, the larger surplus in the fall update is due to asset sales and service cuts, which are only partially offset by a freeze in EI premiums. There is no financial management magic here, only fewer supports for Canadians and longer term costs.
- Meanwhile, Simon Enoch discusses the glaring conflict of interest when consultants who profit off of P3 schemes are hired to determine whether they should be undertaken in the first place:
(A)ll the "big" accounting firms that advise governments on P3 proposals -- KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Price Waterhouse Coopers -- are sponsoring members of the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships. Described as the premier lobbying organization for the P3 industry, the Council's explicit mandate is the "promotion and facilitation of public-private partnerships across Canada and with all levels of government." One has to question the ability of an organization to impartially assess P3 proposals when they have a stated commitment to their expansion. Secondly, as Stuart Murray explains, "because of their historic role as auditors, these major accounting firms have established a reputation for fair dealing and independence." However, as these firms have branched out into general consulting services, the dual role of both auditor and consultant creates a "potential conflict-of-interest" because accurate auditing -- such as counseling against a P3 -- might result in conclusions that could jeopardize potential millions in consulting fees. And those fees are substantial. The much-beleaguered Brampton Civic Hospital P3 registered $34 million in consulting fees alone. So it is perhaps not all that surprising that these accounting/consulting firms would regularly counsel governments on the superiority of P3s.

So here's the question we should ask when assessing the independence of these firms. Have they ever counselled a government against a P3 model? The P3 industry regularly states that P3s are not a panacea for public infrastructure and that they should only be used in certain cases. Indeed the CEO of PPP Canada, John McBride, has publicly stated that P3s are only useful for maybe 15 to 20 per cent of public infrastructure needs. But have any of these firms ever determined that conventional public procurement is the better model for public infrastructure construction? If these firms cannot point to one instance where they advised a government that a P3 model was not the best choice, while the P3 industry itself admits that only 15 to 20 per cent of infrastructure projects would benefit from the P3 approach, what does this say about the supposed "independence" of these professional accounting firms? The provincial NDP's call for an impartial assessment of the P3 school proposal that is independent of government is a welcome and prudent suggestion. However, to truly be impartial, it must also be independent of the P3 industry. Unfortunately, none of the major accounting firms can currently claim to have the requisite distance from the P3 industry to make the independent and impartial assessment that the citizens of Saskatchewan need on this issue.
- Finally, Charlotte Gray, Lawrence Martin and Rosemary Barton all offer noteworthy takes on Thomas Mulcair as a prime minister in waiting. And TC Norris, Chantal Hebert and Scott Feschuk each tell a rather different story about Justin Trudeau.

On legacies

Peter MacKinnon's report (PDF) on the possibilities for a Saskatchewan heritage fund is well worth a read. And I'll readily agree with the central premise that it's well worth setting up such a fund to turn one-time resource revenues into long-term benefits.

But it is worth noting that MacKinnon's proposed rule of thumb for deposits into a fund leave a couple of glaring loopholes which may undermine the fund in the long run:
2. Cap Reliance on Non-renewable Resource Revenues

The Government of Saskatchewan establish a cap on reliance on non-renewable resource revenues for all purposes other than deposits in the Futures Fund. This can be done by freezing the use of non-renewable resource revenues in the budget at the average of the five previous provincial budgets (2009 to 2014), which is approximately 26 per cent (See Chart 2).
This cap would stipulate that government’s use of non-renewable resource revenue beyond 2014 would not make up more than 26 per cent of the provincial budget, thereby maintaining our use of these revenues at current levels. All non-renewable resource revenues in excess of this cap shall be committed in accordance with recommendation 10.
So what's wrong with applying the average level of resource revenues from past budgets as the standard for future ones? Let's look at two loopholes in such a plan, and how they affect the overarching goal of turning current resource extraction into future income.

First, the threshold leaves the door wide open for a government to simply decide to reduce its resource income through yet another set of corporate giveaways.

As long as resources are extracted without the government actually bringing in any corresponding royalty revenue, MacKinnon's standard would see no basis for any deposit to the Futures Fund. And particularly when our current government has been perfectly happy to gift resource extractors hundreds of millions of dollars in would-be royalty payments, there's plenty of reason to worry we'd simply see royalties slashed and corporate tax credits expanded to funnel money away from a fund and toward the Sask Party's backers.

Second, the threshold limits any discussion of budget impacts to the present year. Once again, that only figures to exacerbate some of the Sask Party's warped decision-making patterns: it allows for any number of P3s and other schemes to kick the can down the road, enabling a government to commit to an unlimited amount of future spending (which might dwarf the amount of money saved in the fund) while letting some later government deal with the budgetary fallout.

Fortunately, both of those issues can be solved relatively simply - by setting a deposit floor based on a percentage of the value of the resources extracted in a particular year (effectively forcing the government of the day to ensure royalty rates are at a sufficient level to meet that standard), and by counting future spending streams as part of the size of the budget in defining the cap. But without those changes, a fund might only encourage the Sask Party to continue with its worst habits - and wouldn't figure to save anything at all for the long run.

New column day

Here, on how governments are outsourcing policy decisions to employers in areas ranging from immigration to employment insurance - and on why that may not be any more desirable for employers than for the people affected.

For further reading...
- The relatively fine print surrounding the new immigration nominee program is here, with the key takeaways being that only 250 skilled worker applications and zero student applications will be considered "without an offer" from an employer.
- Details on the federal government's perpetually-shrinking list of eligible family class immigrants can be found here and here.
- Finally, the federal job grant program is outlined here, while the CP reports on the latest impasse with the provinces.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Frances Russell finds that authoritarianism and bozo eruptions are two of the defining characteristics of right-wing politics in Canada:
Put simply, the double standard states “ I can do it but you can’t because…” followed by a lengthy list of inequalities: because I’m better than you; because I’m older than you; because I’m smarter than you; because I’m richer than you; because I have more power than you; because I’m a man and you’re a woman;…because, because, because.

The double standard holds different people more, less, or not at all accountable for their actions according to different – and unequal – standards. The list of those standards is a roadmap to most of humanity’s ugliest traits, from discrimination against and persecution of those who are different or have the temerity to disagree with the power elite to outright social, gender-based, religious or ethnic discrimination to a desire to “stamp out the rot.”

When it comes to lawbreakers, it’s not surprising authoritarians want to impose long prison sentences, especially if the criminal is “unsavoury” and, obviously, lacking connections in high places.

High RWAs generally believe crimes are more serious than non-authoritarians. They also believe more strongly in the efficacy of punishment. They tend to see criminals as repulsive and disgusting and admit to feeling satisfaction and pleasure at being able to punish wrongdoers.

Significantly, Altemeyer also found that high RWAs can, however, be very selective if the criminal or wrongdoer in question is an authority figure. Hence, the rock-solid and perhaps even growing support still being granted to Ford even as his troubles with the law and close connections to criminals and criminal behaviour grow.
- Meanwhile, Mark Ballard finds another prime example of the double standard at work from the UK's Conservatives, who are furiously scrubbing all references to their past statements and promises (from mirror and archive sites as well as their own website) after promising to govern openly and accountably.

- Robyn Allan discusses the blatant falsehoods behind Joe Oliver's Keystone XL spin.

- And finally, PressProgress neatly summarizes the effects of the Cons' income-splitting scheme:
The largest share of the benefit would go to high-income families where one partner is in the top tax bracket and the other has no earned income (think Leave it to Beaver). The Conservative approach to income splitting would provide no benefit at all to single-parent families – even though more than a quarter (28%) of all children live in single-parent families. The same holds true for families where both partners work and have incomes below $43,561.
In other words, income-splitting provides zero relief to families with children who are most in need, including those who live in poverty. Rather, what it does is transfer more of the tax burden onto single-parent families and lower- and middle-income families. It promises to exacerbate – not reduce – existing income and gender inequality.

Maybe that's the point.

On shortsighted assumptions

Time for a true or false pop quiz. Is the following a self-evident statement of economic fact?
"A capital asset which is not currently being exploited has a value of zero for all purposes."
I only ask because that seems to be the fundamental assumption behind Andrew Leach's cost-benefit analysis comparing raw bitumen mining to upgrading. And unfortunately, Leach's viewpoint seems to fit all too well with the current resource management philosophy of provincial and federal governments alike.

Here's Leach's conclusion as to a hypothetical set of developments - one involving an extraction project alone, one an attached upgrader:
On a per-barrel basis, the numbers are equally ambiguous – in fact, you’d probably say that the upgrader looks better. Revenues per barrel of bitumen extracted are higher with the upgrader, at an average of $80.80 per barrel vs. $62.93 for the mining project alone. Average costs (capital, debt, and operating costs combined) are higher for the integrated project, at $43 per barrel of bitumen produced and upgraded versus $29.15 for the mine, while royalties and taxes are similar at around $19 per barrel of produced bitumen in both cases. The result is that the upgrader earns higher cumulative cash flows, by $4.10, per barrel of bitumen produced.
There’s also a trick in the per-barrel numbers above – the project with an upgrader earns higher cash flow per barrel, but it produces far fewer barrels—1.7 billion fewer. So, over the life of the two projects, the total royalties and taxes collected from mining and upgrading combined versus bitumen extraction alone would be lower by $36.6 billion, while the profits to the producer would be lower by $13.4 billion. Combined, for a similar capital investment and with similar associated jobs, the bitumen extraction project returns $50 billion more in royalties, taxes, and profits.
But how much of a "trick" is it to recognize that the upgrader project leaves an additional 1.7 billion barrels of oil in the ground to be produced - providing an opportunity for further development once the single proposed project is in its operations phase?

That question is particularly important in light of the Cons' usual message around oil transportation. The Harper line is of course that every drop of oil will ultimately be squeezed out of the tar sands - and if anybody questions a particular pipeline or tanker traffic scheme, the Cons will instead approve a balloon-and-catapult system to launch dilbit in the general direction of Shenzhen, with the resulting splashback covering the entire northern hemisphere to be explained away by a vigorous chant of "ethical oil!".

By the same token, if it's true that accessible tar sands reserves will ultimately be fully developed (with some public policy desire to brand Canada as an "energy superpower" serving as an excuse to bridge gaps in actual demand), then the appropriate means of evaluating the resulting benefit is precisely the per-barrel calculation rejected by Leach - even if it takes somewhat longer to get there.

Alternatively (and more plausibly), one can ask whether other developments might make further extraction uneconomical at some point in the future. But surely the risk of changed economic conditions represents at most a basis for partially discounting the value of reserves in the ground - not a valid reason to assign them a giant zero, or consider any acknowledgement of their existence as a "trick".

Unfortunately, far too many people seem willing to assume our land and resources have no value in their current state - resulting in our accepting minimal royalties and massive environmental damage as the price of immediate extraction. And while it may not be easy to assign an exact price to that which doesn't get ripped out of the ground, it's not at all difficult to see how the zero-value assumption is wrong on its face.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clingy cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- George Monbiot writes that corporate control over a political system may be a huge factor in limiting public participation - even as it makes a substantial counterweight all the more important:
The political role of business corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main political parties in Britain.
Every week we learn that systemic failures on the part of government contractors are no barrier to obtaining further work, that the promise of efficiency, improvements and value for money delivered by outsourcing and privatisation have failed to materialise.

The monitoring which was meant to keep these companies honest is haphazard, the penalties almost nonexistent, the rewards can be stupendous, dizzying, corrupting. Yet none of this deters the government. Since 2008, the outsourcing of public services has doubled, to £20bn. It is due to rise to £100bn by 2015.

This policy becomes explicable only when you recognise where power really lies. The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.

It's hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the House of Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hog-tying the charities who criticise them. But it's not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.
- Meanwhile, Don Lenihan discusses the elements we should expect to find in an accountable, responsive political system. And Michael Harris once again finds the Harper Cons feverishly eliminating any trace of those traits within their government.

- Taras Grescoe wonders whether Fort McMurray will soon join a long list of resource-bubble ghost towns. And Kelly Cryderman points out how the middle class is getting squeezed out of Calgary.

- Finally, Stephen Gorden finds that the federal balance sheet continues to include a structural deficit. Which naturally means it's time for Deficit Jim Flaherty and the Cons' lackeys to start hyping yet more gratuitous tax cuts (particularly ones with severe long-term budget impacts) to keep the red ink flowing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Nick Pearce offers an interesting discussion of conception of equality that should be placed at the core of social-democratic thinking - with one goal in particular standing out as demanding further attention:
(S)social democrats would be more self-consciously political in pursuit of their goals, eschewing some (if not all) of the preference for legally-enshrined social policy targets that characterised the New Labour project. Instead, greater weight would be placed on building durable coalitions of support for political ambitions, widening the ground on which to advance their policies and drawing energy from new social movements. Driven by ideological rethinking and future fiscal limits towards a so-called ‘pre-distribution’ agenda, Labour is already opening up – albeit tentatively – new territory in economic policy for fresh ideas and practical coalitions. It should extend that logic more widely into social policy and political reform, thinking through how it can gain the popular support it currently lacks for tackling poverty, reforming the welfare state, and creating more integrated communities. In each of these areas, it has to find ways of converting political weakness into strength, anchoring its ambitions in new institutions, identities and practices, and in political alliances that are oriented towards the future, not given to defence of the crumbling bastions of the past.
- Meanwhile, Ian Welsh's post on how to properly define an economy offers some hints as to the types of institutions and movements which might form key parts of a progressive coalition. But the Cons are going out of their way to show they value an "economy" measured solely in terms of profit and GDP rather than the needs of Canadians.

- Yves Engler writes that CETA is best seen as attacking democratic decision-making for the benefit of monopolist rent-seekers, while Stuart Trew wonders whether the Harper Cons are legally required to make the deal public (notwithstanding their obvious preference to keep it hidden). And David Martin notes a similar corporatist bent in an impending deal between the US and the EU.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail's interactive discussion of inequality in Canada is well worth a look. But I do note that the proposed solutions are rather limited in scope - with a basic annual income for everybody (as distinct from benefits for the working poor and/or workers in precarious jobs) left off the table altogether.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- The Economist discusses research by Miles Corak and others on intergenerational inequality. And interestingly, other studies seem to suggest Corak has actually underestimated the barriers to social mobility:
THE “Great Gatsby curve” is the name Alan Krueger, an economic adviser to Barack Obama, gave to the relationship between income inequality and social mobility across the generations. Mr Krueger used the phrase in a 2012 speech to describe the work of Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa, who has shown that more unequal economies tend to have less fluid societies. Mr Corak reckons that in some places, like America and Britain, around 50% of income differences in one generation are attributable to differences in the previous generation (in more egalitarian Scandinavia, the number is less than 30%).
As late as 2011 aristocratic surnames appear among the ranks of lawyers, considered for this purpose a high-status position, at a frequency almost six times that of their occurrence in the population as a whole. Mr Clark reckons that even in famously mobile Sweden, some 70-80% of a family’s social status is transmitted from generation to generation across a span of centuries. Other economists use similar techniques to reveal comparable immobility in societies from 19th-century Spain to post-Qing-dynasty China. Inherited advantage is detectable for a very long time.

A second method relies on the chance overrepresentation of rare surnames in high- or low-status groups at some point in the past. If very few Britons are called Micklethwait, for example, and people with that name were disproportionately wealthy in 1800, then you can gauge long-run mobility by studying how long it takes the Micklethwait name to lose its wealth-predicting power. In a paper written by Mr Clark and Neil Cummins of Queens College, City University of New York, the authors use data from probate records of 19th-century estates to classify rare surnames into different wealth categories. They then use similar data to see how common each surname is in these categories in subsequent years. Again, some 70-80% of economic advantage seems to be transmitted from generation to generation.
That said, I do wonder whether a "rare surname" starting point would pick up factors which might be better classified as relating to family reputations and connections than wealth - though the advantages presented by those factors obviously serve to create an unfair playing field as well.

- Meanwhile, Tim Dickinson notes that the wealthy in the U.S. have stacked the deck even further in their favour with the help of the Republican Party - as a massive increase in high-end incomes since 1997 hasn't been matched with much added contribution to the greater good by way of tax revenues.

- And speaking of stacked decks, Max Paris reports on the oil industry's (thus far successful) lobbying to avoid any significant greenhouse gas emission regulation.

- Crawford Kilian reviews Paul Wells' The Longer I'm Prime Minister while noting that Stephen Harper may have planted the seeds of his own demise.

- Finally, Stephen Maher points out that the Cons' attitude toward law-breaking by their own allies would be better applied to the criminal justice system in general:
The Conservatives’ tough-on-crime message, delivered at every opportunity, is a message about the criminal as other, like the late Anthony Smith and the other guys in hoodies in that photo of Ford outside a crack house. They are evildoers who need to be punished.

The Tories, like Ford himself, oppose supervised injection sites for drug users, which save lives and reduce crime. They give voters what they want: the emotional satisfaction of punishing wrongdoers.
This government has imposed mandatory minimum sentences across the board, not just on violent criminals but also on pot growers.

It sounds tough, but taking away discretion from judges costs us more, does nothing to make us safer and leads to injustices.

Consider the case of Leroy Smickle, a gainfully employed 27-year-old with no criminal record who in 2009 had the bad luck to be caught posing with a loaded handgun for a Facebook profile pic, and found himself looking at three years in prison. Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy ruled that the sentence would be “fundamentally unfair,” and declared the minimum unconstitutional. The Crown appealed, demanding that he serve his three years.

Flaherty shed tears for the Fords because he knows them and knows they’re suffering, because whatever the tawdry facts of the case, he feels for them.

We should show as much compassion for Leroy Smickle and his family.