Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb write about the growing appetite for stronger public services and the taxes needed to fund them in 2014 - even if we're a long way from having that translated into real policy changes:
Certainly tax phobia has framed our politics and shaped our governments. Our politicians of every stripe seem to believe that Canadians want tax cuts, whatever the costs, and won’t accept tax increases, whatever the benefits. This austerity mindset stunts the political imagination, making us doubt that we can do great things or much of anything together just when more imagination is exactly what we need.

But the costs of decades of tax cuts and austerity are piling up and there’s a growing chorus arguing that reversing course on taxes is key to our future well-being.
Over this past year, however, some unexpected voices have started to talk about taxes not as a burden, part of the problem, but as a key part of the solution to our challenges. Even some organizations that have always embraced and promoted the low-tax austerity agenda have started to wonder out loud whether this has all gone too far. The IMF, the OECD, bond rating agency Standard and Poor’s — past champions of austerity — have all published reports this year making the case that the costs of tax cuts now outweigh whatever benefits they were supposed to deliver.
(T)hese business-friendly organizations are also worried that reduced revenue for public investment is undermining economic growth in other ways. What does business really need? Better transportation and communications infrastructure or more tax cuts? And are we making the investments in science and technology essential to our future health and prosperity?

Most important, these studies show that higher and more progressive taxes are not the job killer that we are constantly warned about. Inequality is. Growing inequality strangles demand for goods and services, depletes our human capital and diverts needed resources to tackling its adverse consequences — crime, illness, social disruption. Of course, we have to take into account the behavioural consequences of tax increases, but, we are warned, if we don’t turn things around soon, our problems will just get worse. And with aging infrastructure and aging populations, much worse.
- Meanwhile, Suzanne Daley discusses the continued disastrous effects of austerity in Greece. And Peter Newcomb and Alex Sazanov document the concentration of wealth, as the world's 400 richest people added $92 billion to their already-preposterous fortunes in 2014.

- Meteor Blades highlights the reality of low-paying work in the U.S. (with Canada also ranking among the developed countries with the most low-paying jobs), while Sarah Petrescu's series on poverty notes how multiple jobs may not keep a worker afloat.

- Finally, Stan Sorscher comments on the effect of the new generation of corporate rights agreements:
Opposition has been raised on many issues important to regular people. Those objections have been brushed aside.

Clearly, these aren't "trade" deals. They are really about global governance. Corporate lawyers will sit on shadowy tribunals and hear cases about the environment, labor rights, human rights, public health, food security, internet freedom and financial regulation. But they will base their decisions on the corporate values and corporate-friendly language in the trade deals. They will take no account of the Constitutions or legal traditions of the US, Canada, Australia, Japan or any other country. Language in these "trade" deals becomes the new governance standard for the world.

These deals consolidate power relationships that favor global investors. The values and priorities in these deals bring more wealth and power to those who already have plenty.

These deals will determine how life is organized in 2050.

Every President since Gerald Ford has promised prosperity from each new trade deal. In our lived experience, we've lost millions of jobs, de-industrialized our economy, weakened bargaining power for every worker in America, run a cumulative trade debt approaching $10 trillion and we've lost our strategic advantage in manufacturing to Korea, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Denmark and China.
It is ironic that President Obama, speaking to CEOs from the Business Roundtable, tells the rest of America to trust him. It makes much more sense for him to speak to environmentalists, workers, communities and companies trying to manufacture in the US. Show us why these deals will be good for us, when the opposite has been true up to now.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On limited victories

Truly, I wish Andrew Coyne's latest actually described policy-making in Canada, and not merely the state of theoretical political debate.

But in fact, we live in a country where "let's consider whether a trade agreement actually has benefits, rather than signing whatever gets shoved in front of us" has been shouted down by two national parties and the corporate press as an extreme view.

In fact, the "progressive" premier put forward as the paragon of leftism is from a government which brags about both trashing regulations for the sake of trashing regulations, and imposing perpetual real-money cuts to the public sector.

And in fact, we're seeing far more Crowns actually privatized (in whole or in part) than we're seeing proposals for any meaningful new public institutions or programs to meet our evolving needs.

Now, it's true that there are more "serious proposals on the table" for progressive ideas than conservative ones. But that's primarily a function of the fact that being serious isn't a prerequisite for the radical changes generally preferred - and regularly implemented - by the right.

Building an effective program or institution requires ample planning, consultation and review. And so we can fully expect people who believe government can and should provide those things to carry out at least some of the necessary advance work on a regular basis.

In contrast, destroying one takes a single swing of the wrecking ball with no previous warning or debate. And right-leaning governments across the country have been following that pattern for decades, with no sign of letting up anytime soon.

At the federal level alone, the Cons have privatized or eliminated core functions of AECL, the Canadian Wheat Board and Canada Post, not to mention set up a ten-figure P3 promotion apparatus put in place to ensure infrastructure is built to benefit big business over the public. And all this based on precisely zero advance discussion, and in the face of evidence showing them to be asinine ideas from any standpoint other than one focused solely on turning public investments into private profits.

Which isn't to say the contest of ideas doesn't matter: obviously if we want to build a better world, it's essential to have some idea what it looks like. But well-crafted, thoughtful policies are only a necessary precondition, not a sufficient one. And there's not much to celebrate as long as the right (in whatever party guise) is able to treat anti-social vandalism as a viable governing strategy.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Accessorized cats.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David Foot and Daniel Stoffman discuss Thomas Piketty's role in highlighting the need to work toward greater equality, while pointing out a few options to increase public revenues from people who can afford to pay them. And Ezra Klein interviews Paul Krugman about inequality (along with a wider range of issues):
Ezra Klein: Do you worry more about wealth inequality or income inequality?

Paul Krugman: Income inequality, but I don't think they're separable issues. We need to worry a lot more about lagging incomes in the bottom half or bottom two-thirds of the income distribution than we worry about soaring incomes at the top. And the people in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution have hardly any wealth. For them, wealth has gone from essentially zero 30 years ago to essentially zero now. So for them, it's income that is crucial.

The wealth inequality measures are useful because they are, in some ways, a more reliable gauge of what's happening at the top. If incomes fluctuate a lot at the top, you can argue, though it's overstated, that it's a changing cast of people. But the top 0.1 percent in wealth is not an ever-shifting cast of characters.

Ezra Klein: Do you think the story of median and lower-than-median wage stagnation and the story of income inequality are the same story, or different? It seems to me that you can see different patterns. The story of the huge changes in income inequality seems to really be focused in the top three or four percent, and it seems to start about 10 years after media wage stagnation. Or, I guess, to put it another way, do you think we could solve wage stagnation without solving income inequality?

Paul Krugman: Probably not. I think if you really did something about wage stagnation you would find that it would have a pretty strong effect in curbing incomes at the top as well. I think if you try to understand the factors behind soaring incomes at the top, they are many of the same forces that are leading to stagnating incomes for workers. The idea that we can totally separate these things is wrong. It almost harkens back to the Clinton-Blairism. You did have, in the UK at least, a fairly serious attempt in Blair/Brown to tackle poverty and to reduce income inequality, combined with a sympathetic, laissez faire attitude towards the top one percent. It produced results for a while, but in the end, it seems to be economically and politically unsustainable. It gave rise, eventually, to a regime that's doing its best to increase inequality on all fronts.
- Meanwhile, Robert Reich comments on the Republicans' plan to eradicate accurate budget analysis in favour of absolute, evidence-free devotion to the belief that tax cuts inevitably increase revenues.

- Bill Waiser laments the Cons' destruction of our archives and new gathering of information about Canada alike, while Mike De Souza calls out their contempt for access to information in response to some noteworthy requests. But the Cons' dishonesty and secrecy fit perfectly into their political strategy, as Matt Henderson points out that our history doesn't exactly fit with any attempt to create a myth of national exceptionalism. 

- Finally, Owen Jones hopes that a wave of activism in 2014 is just the beginning in restoring government accountability to its citizens.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses how we can bring about change in the new year by demanding that our political leaders recognize and use the power of collective action:
Social justice requires a collective response and political action. It is at the root of wonderful nation-building programs like universal health care, the Canadian Pension Plan and Old Age Security, which act as great equalizers in our society.

Charity will always have its place in society. It reflects an important part of our humanity. It is the same part of us that supports greater collective goals — goals that are more broad-based.
Common interests. Shared purpose. These are still possible in a nation such as Canada. We may have been given every reason to give up on such things, and yet somehow this time of year, I find renewed hope that it is not just possible, but likely.

I believe Canadians want such a country. They just need politicians who believe, too.
- Canadian for Tax Fairness weighs in on the need to reduce inequality through a more fair tax system. And Andrew Jackson calls for a raise for Canadian workers:
(W)ages of permanent workers have risen a bit faster than those of temporary workers, and wages of women have risen a bit faster than those of men. But these differences do not hide the fact that real wages are pretty much flat across the board.

According to the most recent International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Wage Report, average real wages in the advanced economies have stagnated or fallen since the Great Recession, and indeed have fallen significantly in some countries. United States average real wages in 2013 were just above the pre-recession level, and real wages have collapsed in the most hard-hit European economies such as Greece and Spain.

The ILO notes that, across the advanced economies, wages have lagged productivity (the value produced per hour of labour) since 2000, with the result that labour's share of national income, including in Canada, has declined while the share of corporate profits has risen.
(A)n increase in real wages would give a significant needed boost to a slow-growing global economy. They also note that the problem of stagnant wages is compounded by the fact that wage increases are typically distributed very unequally. This contributes to rising debt for the middle-class and rising surplus savings for the most affluent.
A shift to a wage-led growth strategy would, according to the ILO, include significant increases to minimum wages and more government support for unions and the process of collective bargaining.

These items are not exactly high on the policy agenda of most governments, not least that of the Harper government, but continued stagnation in 2014 may yet force some needed re-thinking.
- Zeeshan Aleem comments on the correlation between increasing inequality and lower marriage rates for the less well-off in the U.S.

- Bill Moyers' site takes a look at the stories from 2014 which deserved more attention than they received. And Kathryn May reports that one of those issues is much more familiar in Canada, as a substantial majority of respondents to a poll are concerned about vote suppression in light of Robocon and other attempts to manipulate election outcomes.

- Finally, Stephen Maher notes that we have ample reason to be skeptical about the Cons' self-serving security spin. And PressProgress highlights ten moments from 2014 which encapsulate the Cons' attitude toward the country they govern.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Musical interlude

Lemonchill - Dragonfly

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Daniel Tencer nicely surveys how a guaranteed annual income could work in Canada, as well as the obstacles to putting one in place:
Imagine the government started handing out $10,000 annually to every adult in the country, or implemented a negative income tax rate so that low earners and people out of work would receive tax money instead of paying it.
(A) growing number of economic thinkers -- and not only on the left -- are saying it could be the exact opposite: that it could be the policy idea of the century. While not exactly a silver bullet to solve all ills, it could eliminate poverty to a great extent, and set the stage for a healthier and more productive society.
(I)n the short run, we could be facing a major problem. If new industries and activities don’t take the place of disappearing jobs fast enough, we could see a similar sort of displacement and impoverishment as seen in the early years of the industrial revolution, when many skilled craftsmen were put out of work by machinery.

In a 2013 article, Nobel prize-winning economist and liberal pundit Paul Krugman argued for a minimum income as a way of cushioning the blow from the automation revolution -- a way of ensuring the middle class isn’t decimated in this transition to a new economy.

In an economy like this, “the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society ... would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too,” Krugman concluded.
- Chris Rhomberg comments on the U.S.' barriers to social programs - noting that an end to easily-accessible social programs hasn't done anything to end or reduce poverty. Erika Eichelberger discusses how a lack of access to affordable financial services imposes an extra burden on people living in poverty. And Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery report on the spread of title loans as yet another financial-sector scheme to extract massive amounts of money from the people who can least afford to lose it.

- Mitchell Cohen is hopeful that now may be just the time to make a push for more affordable housing - if we elect a federal government interested in taking on the cause.

- And finally, Owen Jones interviews Thomas Piketty about the need for wealth taxes and other means of reining in inequality.

New column day

Here, on the need to turn the holiday spirit of charity into lasting improvements in the lives of the people who need help the most.

For further reading...
- Joe Gunn and Iglika Ivanova also discuss the limitations of charity compared to structural change.
- Jordon Cooper discusses Saskatchewan's bad habit of accepting food banks as a substitute for food and income security. And again, there's reason for doubt (PDF, see Harpauer's dissembling about child poverty rates at p. 6085) that the current government plans to take poverty seriously.
- Finally, the provincial government's announcement of the Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction is here. And as noted in the column, it will be worth keeping an eye on both the group itself (as we'll have to wonder whether a large contingent of current provincial higher-ups will be willing to criticize the government), and whether the Sask Party intends to turn ideas into action.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Xmas to all!

And to all, a reminder that you'd best get your holiday dinner inspected for yourself, because the Harper government isn't so much on the job.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Mark Bittman discusses the connection between economic and social ills in the U.S., and offers a message which applies equally to Canada:
I have spent a great deal of time talking about the food movement and its potential, because to truly change the food system you really have to change just about everything: good nutrition stems from access to good food; access to good food isn’t going to happen without economic justice; that isn’t going to happen without taxing the superrich; and so on. The same is true of other issues: You can’t fix climate change or the environment without stopping the unlimited exploitation of natural and human resources (see Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”). Same with social well-being.

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse.

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office.
- Louis-Philippe Rochon writes about the harm inequality is doing to Canada's economy, and proposes an eminently reasonable set of policies to reduce it:
1.  Governments must make job creation their mission.  In fact, nothing short of a full employment policy will do.  Since when is unemployment an acceptable social and economic end?
2. We must raise the minimum wage and make sure that it is sufficient for Canadians to live on.  The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that for two working parents with two children, the living wage in Toronto should be $16.60 an hour and $14.07 in Winnipeg, a far cry of where it stands now. Many studies show raising the minimum wage does not hurt employment nor does it cause slower growth.  In fact, the contrary is true.
3. We should adopt a guaranteed annual income for all working Canadians. There are many variations of this policy, and more work needs to be done to determine the best program for Canada, but the central idea is a sound one.
4. We must implement an inheritance tax, in order to avoid the transfer of tax-free wealth from one generation to another. Canada remains to this day one of the only industrialized countries without an inheritance tax.
5. We must cap corporate annual bonuses. It has become common for corporate CEOs to make six and sometimes seven-figure bonuses. Bonuses are certainly valid in many instances, but the practice has become extreme.
6. We must raise the number of tax brackets and marginal tax rates on higher income. We now have evidence that high or higher taxes on income do not hinder growth. So what’s stopping governments from raising the marginal tax rate on higher income to 60 per cent or even 70 per cent? Canada’s tax system has become considerably less progressive in recent years. 7. We must encourage increased unionization. This will allow workers to be better protected and in general have higher wages and better benefits.
8. We must reconsider taxes on capital gains. We must consider all capital gains as taxable income.
- Zi-Ann Lum reminds us of Dauphin's experience actually eliminating poverty through a guaranteed annual income. And Michael Bryant suggests that eliminating anti-panhandling laws would be a valuable step in ending the criminalization of poverty.

- David Pugliese reports that as another prime example of their Mostly Competent Government, the Cons are committing Canada to paying more than twice as much as other countries for the same C-17 transport planes.

- Jordan Press writes about Suzanne Legault's investigation into the Cons' refusal to release public data in usable formats. And Jason Kirby duly mocks the Cons' excuses so far.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom discusses the catch-22 facing anybody who's wrongfully and unilaterally proclaimed to be terrorists by the Cons - as it's impossible to raise money to even challenge the designation without putting donors at risk of receiving the same label themselves.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Downed cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Lynn Parramore interviews Joseph Stiglitz about the spread of inequality, along with the need for a strengthened labour movement to reverse the trend:
LP: In your paper, you indicate that the power of the 1 percent to exploit the rest seems to be increasing. Why is this happening? Are there limits to this exploitation?

JS: In a more careful, academic way of putting it I would say that one of the explanations of what is going on is increased exploitation. You see the ratio of wages to productivity going way down, and that certainly is consistent with increased exploitation. And you see that the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay has gone up. So what I would say is that some of the explanations have to do with weakened worker bargaining power, weaker unions, asymmetric state liberalization where capital moves but labor can’t move, corporate governance laws that provide relatively little check on abuses of corporate power by CEOs, and an increase of monopoly power because of network externalities. So there are certainly a number of factors that would lead one to suggest that overall there is an increase in market power. There are some things where there’s more competition — because of the Internet, for example, there’s more competition on the price side, but overall, when you look at the ratio of wages to productivity, there’s a marked increase in market power.

Probably there are limits — sometimes the degree of exploitation is expressed as the ratio of wages to marginal productivity of labor, and when that ratio gets down to zero – that’s a limit! What I would say is that things could get much worse if we don’t do something. That’s a relevant issue. What’s important is whether or not we’re on a path that’s looking worse and worse.
- Matthew Yglesias notes that inequality makes "market-based" solutions unfair as the people with the least means to make choices for themselves bear the burden of directives from above:
Microeconomics tends to tell us, again and again, that life is best when sellers can set prices to rise and fall with the ups and downs of supply and demand. The idea is that markets should "clear." Everything that's produced should be sold, but you shouldn't have shortages that force people to wait around forever and ever.

This is an appealing idea, but as Steve Randy Waldman has written, it tends to brush distributional issues under the rug.

When people say that a price-based scheme for rationing water is most efficient, they mean that prices will deliver the most efficient distribution of dollars and water. The idea is that how much people are willing to spend on something is a good proxy for how much they care about it, or how important it is to their well-being. Different people like different things, but you can buy all kinds of different stuff with dollars, and seeing what people choose to spend their money on tells you a lot about their preferences.

But dollars aren't a perfect proxy for well-being, because money means different things depending on how rich or poor you are.
To the extent that inequality undermines arguments for efficient price-based schemes, the correct conclusion is to reject inequality, not reject pricing. It's probably no coincidence that the three countries to really embrace congestion pricing are either egalitarian (Norway and Sweden) or dictatorial (Singapore). Efficiency-enhancing economic schemes often simply assume a background where there's not too much inequality, in part because, in many cases, they were hatched during the decades when the income distribution was much more even. But to actually implement these schemes in the real world, we need to also deliver the equality.

There's an old saw in the economics profession that there's a tradeoff between egalitarian outcomes and efficient ones, but empirical research consistently fails to find evidence that inequality boosts growth or redistribution slows it. One reason is that needs conditions of macro-equality to make micro-efficient schemes tolerable.
- And as an example on point, Hilary Osborne writes about poverty in the UK, and finds evidence of large number of people being forced to limit their food and heating in order to pay rent. 

- Kyle Chayka discusses how we're headed toward the destruction of almost all jobs in the (recent) historic sense of the word. And Jim Tankersley points out that the massive gap in pay and security between the financial sector and nearly all other options is pushing far too many of the world's best and brightest into destructive jobs.

- Gareth Kirkby follows up on the Cons' attacks on charities. And Bruce Campbell assures us that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (for one) won't be silenced by Conservative bullying.

- Finally, Mike De Souza reports that the CRA is being put behind a veil of secrecy, as the Cons are trashing both existing work texts and the capacity to collect future ones. And Jim Bronskill exposes Tony Clement's asinine excuse for refusing to release public data in usable forms.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Ryan Meili examines why Craig Alexander of the TD Bank is calling for a move toward greater income equality in Canada:
The OECD reports that income inequality is at the highest level in 30 years, and that economic growth has been slowed by as much as 10 per cent in some countries as a result. A 2014 IMF study showed that redistributive policies through tax and transfers not only do no harm to the economy, but can improve performance in the long-term. In fact, it appears that public investments in child care and other services are far more effective in creating jobs and increasing economic growth than corporate or income tax cuts.

Returning to the TD report, it recommends a variety of key public investments to reduce inequality, including affordable housing, health and social services, early childhood development and decreasing barriers to all levels of higher education, from skills training to professional colleges. These are encouraging comments, as they also address key social determinants of health, meaning they are not only good for the economy, but more importantly, good for Canadians.
(I)t’s extremely encouraging to see this shift in thinking coming from so many directions. When economists working for one of the Big Five banks — Canada’s largest lender, in fact — come out with a strong position on income inequality, it’s indicative of how much this has moved from being a fringe concern to economic orthodoxy.

Last year at this time we heard Conservative Minister James Moore channel his inner Scrooge, implying that the poverty of his neighbour’s child was none of his concern, and neither was the poverty of Canadians any business of the federal government. How delightful to hear a message far more in keeping with the spirit of the season, however unlikely the source. 
- Meanwhile, Alex Himelfarb talks to Possible Canadas about the damaging effects of inequality and austerity. And LOLGOP points out that slightly more progressive taxes under the Obama administration have been put in place at the same time the U.S. has experienced its best job growth of this century.

- Justin Ling interviews Tony Clement about access to information under the Cons, only to find that Clement's own responses consist solely of talking points and redactions. And Torstar reports on the Cons' use of a paid PR service at public expense to manufacture government-approved "news".

- Radical Centrist discusses the need for Canada to talk realistically about the meaning of minority election outcomes - and notes that the U.K. offers a readily-available basis for comparison. And Frank Graves finds that there's plenty of popular support for a coalition government to replace the Harper Cons, even as the Libs once again try to order Canadians not to accept change other than on their own unilaterally-dictated terms.

- Rob Drinkwater reports on CNRL's contamination of drinking water near Cold Lake.

- Finally, Naomi Klein writes about the scant attention paid to murdered and missing aboriginal women by Canadian authorities (with the full support of a callous government), while highlighting the movement to end the silence.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom discusses why politicians have thus far failed to take any meaningful action on climate change. But it's also worth noting that the question of whether voters are pushing for change may not be the only determining factor in government decision-making.

Most obviously, debt and deficits (which are no less distant from the immediate interests of voters than climate change) are seen as demanding constant and immediate action even at the expense of anybody's apparent short-term political interests - with unpopular and destructive policy choices regularly defended based on the accepted belief that no responsible government can ignore a greater issue. And while the fiscal scolding may be based all too much on a general aversion to government rather than any sane ranking of priorities, a similar and more positive principle might develop in the area of climate change: leaving aside the exact means chosen, there's surely some value in arguing that the end of not damaging our planet should be part of any reasonable set of governing principles.

- Of course, "a secure living for all" would also fit neatly into that category. On that front, Guy Standing makes the case for a basic income, while Neil Irwin points out that (contrary to the spin of the right) strong social programs strongly encourage workforce participation:
(M)ore people may work when countries offer public services that directly make working easier, such as subsidized care for children and the old; generous sick leave policies; and cheap and accessible transportation. If the goal is to get more people working, what’s important about a social welfare plan may be more about what the money is spent on than how much is spent.

That is the argument that Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, a professor at the London School of Economics, offers to explain the exceptional rates of participation in the work force among citizens of Sweden, Norway and his native Denmark.

There is a solid correlation, by Mr. Kleven’s calculations, between what countries spend on employment subsidies — like child care, preschool and care for older adults — and what percentage of their working-age population is in the labor force.

Consider Marianne Hillestad of Steinberg, Norway. She teaches kindergarten; her husband, Ruben Sanchez, installs heating and ventilation systems. Day care for their three children, ages 4, 7, and 9, works out to about $1,100 a month; Ms. Hillestad estimates that if she had to pay a market rate, it would be nearly twice that, eating up most of her paycheck.
Collectively, these policies and subsidies create flexibility such that a person on the fence between taking a job versus staying at home to care for children or parents may be more likely to take a job.
- Following up on Thursday's column, Don Cayo chimes in on Canadians' broad public support to fight inequality. And Dennis Howlett makes the case for strong enforcement against tax cheats to ensure wealthier citizens pay their fair share.

- Finally, Brent Patterson notes that the Cons managed to prevent a toothless NAFTA panel from even examining the effect of fish farms on B.C. salmon stocks by voting against any review. And ThinkProgress highlights Enbridge's recent Regina spill as yet more reason to be dubious of pipeline promises.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Musical interlude

Emma Hewitt - Rewind (Mikkas Remix)

On representative units

Does anybody remember which particularly prominent political pundit went far out his way to trumpet the idea that the basic unit of political legitimacy is the caucus - to the point of repeatedly advocating a legislated requirement that a caucus vote override the decisions made by the whole of a party's membership?

I ask only because he seems to have been replaced with a far more reasonable impostor.

By the majority-of-caucus standard set under Michael Chong's Reform Act (or the stronger forms suggested by Andrew Coyne among others), the decision of a majority of Wildrose Party MLAs to join up with Jim Prentice's PCs following a caucus vote should be seen as having been fully validated.

So why then is Coyne among the people rightly lambasting Danielle Smith and company for their move? Well, that has to do with the flaws in the original theory behind the Reform Act.

Elected representatives are (and should be) only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to determining the direction of any political party. And we're right to consider it illegitimate when those representatives make choices which run contrary to the underlying basis for their elected positions - even if a majority of their caucus-mates happen to agree.

What's more, an undue focus on a narrow set of representatives rather than the broader populations they represent can make it far too easy for politicians to bargain away their votes or seats, rationalizing the action on the theory that the trust reposed in a representative through the ballot box represents a mandate to use an elected position for personal gain. And that can happen just as easily on a group basis as an individual one.

Of course, the question of how to then check top-down power remains open. (Though it's worth noting that exactly one party has respected the ethical principle that a mandate to serve one party can't simply be passed to another in both law and practice.)

And it's doubtful that any legislated structure can do the job in the absence of a strong and active membership which can ensure that self-serving actions are met with an appropriate response in the next election cycle.

But at the very least, nobody should hold any illusion that handing special power to party caucuses will resolve the problem.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jordon Cooper rightly argues that we should move away from forcing people to rely on homeless shelters and other stopgap measures when we can afford to provide permanent homes:
We fill a bus for the hungry while ignoring that the reason for it is that social service programs depend in part on our generosity to feed people. We bring care packages to shelters and forget that cities elsewhere in Canada have drastically reduced the number of people in shelters and the time they spend there, and that it's cheaper than keeping people in shelters. One can make Christmas at shelters an extremely pleasant experience. I have seen shelters provide fabulous food, nice gifts, good movies and quality entertainment over the holidays. Staff, volunteers and even residents go all out to make things pleasant and inviting.

Yet, at the same time, you are left with people who remain homeless. If you ask them if they would rather be in a dorm or a their own apartment, the answer would be the same for each: They want a place to call home.
As important as it is to be charitable toward the poor, it is more important to find long term solutions to social problems and implement them. As great as it is to help someone in a shelter at Christmas, it would be even better if they didn't have to be there.
- Zoe Williams laments the UK's move toward different classes of new citizenship based on wealth. And Susana Mas reports that the Cons are being even less subtle about making cash up front the default standard for immigrants to Canada.

- Jim Tankersley writes that far too many of the U.S.' best and brightest young minds are being diverted into a financial system which does nothing but extract wealth for itself. And Michael Lewis has a few suggestions to reverse that pattern.

- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries comment on the absurdity of being governed by a party which is fundamentally opposed to the idea of government. And Michael Harris highlights the gap between what the Cons plan to campaign on next year, and what Canadians actually want out of a federal government.

- And finally, Linda McQuaig reminds us of Canada's appalling role in encouraging and facilitating torture in the wake of the U.S.' long-awaited report. 

New column day

Here, on this week's confirmation from the Broadbent Institute that Canadians severely underestimate wealth inequality - as well as the strong popular support to reduce the wealth gap.

For further reading...
- The Norton/Ariely study of the views of Americans on wealth inequality is found here, and discussed further here, here and here.
- And Danielle Kurtzleben writes that actual wealth inequality in the U.S. has only been getting worse since 2010.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato comments on the role of the innovative state - and the unfortunate reality that we currently lack anything of the sort due to corporatist thinking:
(T)hanks in part to the conventional wisdom about its dynamism and the state’s sluggishness, the private sector has been able to successfully lobby governments to weaken regulations and cut capital gains taxes. From 1976 to 1981 alone, after heavy lobbying from the National Venture Capital Association, the capital gains tax rate in the United States fell from 40 percent to 20 percent. And in the name of bringing Silicon Valley’s dynamism to the United Kingdom, in 2002, the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair reduced the time that private equity funds have to be invested to be eligible for tax reductions from ten years to two years. These policies increase inequality, not investment, and by rewarding short-term investments at the expense of long-term ones, they hurt innovation.

Getting governments to think big about innovation is not just about throwing more taxpayer money at more activities. It requires fundamentally reconsidering the traditional role of the state in the economy. Specifically, that means empowering governments to envision a direction for technological change and invest in that direction. It means abandoning the shortsighted way public spending is usually evaluated. It means ending the practice of insulating the private sector from the public sector. And it means figuring out ways for governments and taxpayers to reap some of the rewards of public investment, instead of just the risks. Only once policymakers move past the myths about the state’s role in innovation will they stop being, as John Maynard Keynes put it in another era, “the slaves of some defunct economist.”

- And Ross Gittins describes how an obsession with balanced budgets and tax tinkering is preventing Australia from even discussing meaningful social and economic goals.

- Of course, that will sound all too familiar based on the Harper Cons' treatment of Canada. And Carol Goar surveys some of the crazy policy choices which have led us to be grossly overreliant on unstable resource prices, while Trish Garner notes that poverty remained endemic even a supposedly strong economy prior to the resource bust.

- Murray Mandryk recognizes that the Wall government's determination to favour private consultants rather than building a strong public sector workforce is thoroughly counterproductive. And Paul Hanley laments the waste of $1.4 billion of public money on a carbon-capture scheme which is both dirtier and more expensive than renewable alternatives.

- And finally, the CLC rightly blasts the Senate for refusing to apply either second thought or any apparent sobriety in rubber-stamping an anti-labour bill which all parties agree contained serious errors.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On managerial lapses

Shorter Tony Clement:
I believe there's an art to managing public money. And that's why I see no problem whatsoever with budgets which are works of fiction.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with mats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Carter Price offers another look at how inequality damages economic development. And the Broadbent Institute examines the wealth gap in Canada - which is already recognized as a serious problem, but also far larger than most people realize:

- Paul Buchheit discusses how the U.S. is turning poor people into commodities or criminals. Chuk Plante reviews some facts about child poverty in Saskatchewan - with a particular focus on the need to measure and reduce the alarmingly high rates of child poverty among First Nations children. Suzanne Moore points out how poverty in childhood affects a person for a lifetime. And Betsy Isaacson reminds us that a basic income would work wonders in eliminating poverty.

- Tim Naumetz exposes both the Cons' failure to spend budgeted public money on renewable energy, and their overspending on oil and gas. And PressProgress catches Christy Clark literally talking up the concept of lumps of coal at Christmas - offering about the most stark example yet that our petro-politicians have nothing to offer other than trying to talk up what's long been seen as an outcome to be avoided.

- Meanwhile, Giuseppe Valiante reports on what happens when a more independent body carries out a cost-benefit analysis of risky resource development, as Quebec's environmental review board has given a thumbs-down to shale gas development.

- Finally, Christopher Waddell observes that the Cons are destroying access to information in Canada.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Barrie McKenna comments on how far too many governments have bought into the P3 myth with our public money:
Governments in Canada have become seduced by the wonders of private-public partnerships – so-called P3s – and blind to their potentially costly flaws. In a typical P3 project, the government pays a private sector group to build, finance and operate everything from transit lines to hospitals, sometimes over decades.

These projects almost always cost significantly more than if governments just put up the money themselves and hired contractors to build the same infrastructure, under conventional contracts. Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk found that the province may have overpaid to the tune of $8-billion for 74 major infrastructure projects, dating back nine years.

A key factor is financing. Private-sector companies can’t borrow as cheaply as governments can, adding significantly to the cost, especially on contracts that may run for decades.

Other transaction costs, including lawyers and consultants, are also typically higher with P3s. But the biggest variable is the substantial price tag put on the risk shifted from governments to the private sector. Ontario is convinced the risks of cost overruns, delays, design flaws and the like are substantially lower with public-private partnerships, and it’s willing to pay a premium for that peace of mind.

Unfortunately, the government has struggled to accurately price that risk, relying on the murky and potentially inflated calculations of outside consultants. As Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid sheepishly admitted: “It is a bit of an art, identifying risk, as much as a science.”

Ontario’s Auditor-General is blunter, suggesting the government’s so-called “value assessments” are little more than junk science.
The allure may have a lot more to do with politics, than sound financial management. These projects give governments the ability to push spending down the road, with ribbon cuttings today and most of the bills due later.

They also allow governments to duck the inconvenient responsibility when things go terribly wrong. No politician, or bureaucrat, wants to have to explain why a high-profile project is late or over budget.

Taxpayers may have a very different perspective on the responsibilities of public officials, and a few good suggestions on what to do with an extra $8-billion.
- And James Bagnall notes that it's also a regular practice for the Cons and other governments to write the rules of supposedly neutral competitions to favour their preferred bidders.

- Jim Tankersley reports on the devaluation of the American worker over the past few decades. And David Climenhaga finds that Jim Prentice's idea of getting input about the needs of workers is to gather seven executives in a closed-door "blue ribbon" panel.

- Allan Maki interviews Ted Clugston about Medicine Hat's success in eradicating homelessness - though the most important lesson to be drawn from the story may be that we shouldn't let naysayers (which Clugston once was) stand in the way of vital public policies. And Cory Weinberg discusses San Francisco's push to make sure that underused public land directed toward meeting housing needs, while David Ball reports on a creative effort to make home ownership more affordable in Calgary.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan explains what he'd tell Stephen Harper if given the chance. But in light of the tiny odds of Harper having interest in a word of it, I suspect we're better off making the same statements to the general public.

On unjust cause

Shorter Peter Kent, Stephen Harper Talking Point Dispenser Level Infinity:
The Dear Leader fired me for making some effort to do a job with the work "environment" in the title, rather than merely going through the motions. And through much re-education, I've come to see that he was right to do it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Kevin Page points out a few of the issues which should be on the table when Canada's finance ministers meet next week:
Our finance ministers are smart. They know that faster growth is going to require higher investment rates and sustainable public finances. But the reality is that Canada is falling down on capital investments in both the private and public sectors. Business capital investment has grown a weak 2 per cent over the past two years. That is not boosting the investment rate. Meanwhile, government capital investment has declined 2 per cent over the same period, and that is after the 2009-10 fiscal stimulus. This is not a recipe for boosting growth.

Why do we continue to pursue an approach that stunts growth now and for the future? Is this public sector mismanagement? Or, is this an effort to achieve a balanced budget that allows for spending on current goods or services (for my generation that votes) at the cost of capital goods for future generations (our children and grandchildren that do not yet vote)?
The austerity approach set out in the 2012 federal budget will succeed in generating a balanced budget, but at a cost: slower growth and degraded public services like support for veterans. Meanwhile, the government is responding to its improved fiscal situation not by raising the investment rate, but by cutting taxes further.

Analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office (and Finance Canada) indicates that the federal fiscal structure is sustainable. This is largely because Ottawa has reduced the growth escalator on health transfers, downloading the problem to the provinces. Provincial governments, already struggling under increased pressure caused by slow growth, have a long-term fiscal gap they will have to address.

Given all of these challenges, the finance ministers’ meeting ought to be a pivotal moment. The temptation to focus primarily on oil prices must be avoided. If we want economic growth to raise incomes, address inequalities and ensure essential public services, we are going to have to raise the investment rate in Canada. There’s no other way.
- And Andrew Jackson notes that even our mediocre economy of the past few years has relied on unsustainable household-level debt to make up for government neglect:
Younger households on modest incomes are often highly stretched financially, have little or no equity in their homes, are often carrying high levels of credit card debt, and are saving very little for retirement. When housing prices fall and/or interest rates rise, they will be highly vulnerable

By contrast, to households, non financial corporations are in rude financial health, and have been net lenders to the rest of the economy in recent years. Credit market debt of non financial corporations is 58% of business equity, a ratio which has been stable for a decade, and these corporations are currently sitting on $656 billion of cash or what former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney referred to as “dead money.”

While the Bank of Canada has consistently said it hopes to see a “rotation” of demand from households to corporate investment, household debt continues to rise, driven by low interest rates and generally stagnant incomes. CIBC Economics has noted a recent acceleration of consumer borrowing.

As the old saying goes, when something cannot go on forever, it won't. Households cannot continue to borrow so as to spend more than they earn, and house prices cannot rise indefinitely compared to incomes.

We risk a major shock to the economy when the day of reckoning arrives, not least because business investment is unlikely to grow rapidly at a time when household demand is weak.

Some part of the economy, be it households, corporations or governments, has to be borrowing at any given time so as to put savings to use and to maintain overall demand. If households are stretched and business are reluctant investors, it will be up to government to save us from a downturn through increased public investment.
- But Thomas Walkom discusses Stephen Harper's stubborn consistency in remaining out of touch with Canadians - a pattern which includes handing out tax baubles rather than developing an economic policy that actually benefits workers. And Louise Elliott offers another important example of the principle, as the Cons are approving Microsoft's plan to drive down wages and avoiding hiring Canadians by rubber-stamping a request for hundreds of temporary foreign workers.

- Branko Milanovic observes that Russia offers a particularly stark example as to how free-market dogmatism led to both a destructive giveaway of public assets, and a corrupted form of corporatism afterward. But unfortunately, Robert Benzie reports that the Ontario Libs are just one of many current governments following the same path.

- Finally, Larry Savage and Stephanie Ross comment on the need for a united labour front in working to replace the Harper Cons and other reactionary governments with progressive alternatives.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- George Monbiot opines that curbing corporate power is the most fundamental political issue we need to address in order to make progress possible on any other front:
Does this sometimes feel like a country under enemy occupation? Do you wonder why the demands of so much of the electorate seldom translate into policy? Why parties of the left seem incapable of offering effective opposition to market fundamentalism, let alone proposing coherent alternatives? Do you wonder why those who want a kind and decent and just world, in which both human beings and other living creatures are protected, so often appear to be opposed by the entire political establishment?

If so, you have encountered corporate power – the corrupting influence that prevents parties from connecting with the public, distorts spending and tax decisions, and limits the scope of democracy. It helps explain the otherwise inexplicable: the creeping privatisation of health and education, hated by the vast majority of voters; the private finance initiative, which has left public services with unpayable debts; the replacement of the civil service with companies distinguished only by incompetence; the failure to re-regulate the banks and collect tax; the war on the natural world; the scrapping of the safeguards that protect us from exploitation; above all, the severe limitation of political choice in a nation crying out for alternatives.
This is not only about politicians, it is also about us. Corporate power has shut down our imagination, persuading us that there is no alternative to market fundamentalism, and that “market” is a reasonable description of a state-endorsed corporate oligarchy.

We have been persuaded that we have power only as consumers, that citizenship is an anachronism, that changing the world is either impossible or best effected by buying a different brand of biscuits. Corporate power now lives within us. Confronting it means shaking off the manacles it has imposed on our minds.
- Toby Sanger takes a closer look at the disastrous results of Ontario's attempt to use P3 schemes to direct public money into private hands. And Cheryl Stadnichuk discusses how the Wall government's "savings" on public-sector staffing are based on diverting tens of millions of dollars to consultants without any explanation.

- Meanwhile, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms examine the difference between "old power" based on hoarding exclusive forms of authority, and "new power" based on the coordinated application of broadly-held values. But it's worth acknowledging how far there is to go in sustaining the latter.

- Chris Hall reports that after turning the federal government's operations into little more than a cheerleading team for the tar sands, the Cons are accepting zero responsibility for the utter failure of that plan. Which would be laughable enough on its own - but looks doubly so in light of Mike De Souza's revelation that Stephen Harper's Privy Council Office had its fingerprints all over the ad campaigns which have failed miserably in their attempt to greenwash the tar sands.

- Finally, Lana Payne highlights the Cons' need for a bogeyman to deflect attention from their destructive government.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Musical interlude

Hooverphonic - Expedition Impossible

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Aditya Chakrabortty contrasts the myth of the free market against the reality that massive amounts of public money and other privileges are shoveled toward the corporate sector:
Few conceits are more cherished by our political classes than the notion that this is a free-market economy. To the right it is what makes Britain great. For the left it is what they are up against. And for the rich it is what justifies their huge pay packets: after all, they have earned it.

When asked for his view of western civilisation, Gandhi said he thought it would be a very good idea. I feel much the same way about the free market: I’m genuinely curious to see what such a mythical beast looks like. But that term, however widely accepted and advertised, has little to do with today’s Britain. The economy most of us experience – everything from who collects our bins, to how we commute to work, to that new school attended by the kids – is often not a free market at all. Instead, it’s a bog of privately run monopolies; of public projects and services outsourced to businesses for years, even decades, at a time; and massive taxpayer subsidies handed to the corporate sector with fewer questions asked than of disabled people wondering where their living allowance has gone.

Grasp that, and the question of how to tame corporate power becomes easier to answer. If corporations rely on the public for a sizeable chunk of their revenues and power, then we should start asking what they are doing for us in return. Do businesses deserve the privileges given them by society?
In Britain businesses take £85bn a year from the public in grants, subsidies, insurance schemes, preferential credit and government services. That’s the corporate welfare bill as totted up by Kevin Farnsworth, senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, and he admits it’s on the conservative side. Add on the various subsidies for too-big-to-fail banks and you’re well in excess of a hundred billion. Nor does he include the most fundamental privilege society affords the investors in a business such as Tesco: that of limited liability, which means they only stand to lose the value of their shares, and no more. We could argue for limited liability, but let’s not pretend it’s anything less than a substantial underwriting of shareholder enterprises.
The fashionable thing to say is that in a globalised economy states can’t keep up with businesses. That is to get the relationship the wrong way round. The reality is that states often give businesses their revenues and so their power. More than that: markets are created by states, who provide the infrastructure, the transports and the rule of law.

So let’s start asking businesses what they’ve done for us recently.
- And Andre Picard discusses why our support for science shouldn't be limited to research with immediate commercial applications:
Government’s role should be to invest tax dollars for the collective good. In science, that means investing where businesses won’t, namely in basic research. A secondary purpose is to direct tax dollars where there are shortcomings and great public need, such as aboriginal health, mental health and repairing environmental damage (as opposed to just extracting more oil out of the ground). The strategy starves already neglected areas.

Whether it ultimately creates jobs or not, innovation is a complex process. It emerges in an environment where there is healthy pursuit of knowledge, an exchange of ideas and no small measure of serendipity.

The scientific environment the federal government has created is precisely the opposite: Scientists are muzzled, more time is spent on bureaucracy required to get funding than on research itself, and the only measure of success is return on investment.
The problem with this approach is that it won’t result in better science or more innovation. On the contrary, it will make scientists shy away from taking risks or from pursuing “paradigm-shifting” ideas (speaking of buzzwords). Instead, they will opt for projects with sure-fire return on investment in the short term, and good political optics that ensure continued funding.

In short, the new science and technology strategy will result in the rich getting richer, and all of us being the poorer for it.
- But the pattern of freebies for the corporate sector is still playing out, as Erika Eichelberger notes in reporting on a giveaway to the financial sector snuck into the U.S.' budget legislation at the behest of Citigroup.

- Carrie Tait and Jeff Lewis report on Alberta's plans to allow tar sands operators to put off cleaning up the environmental devastation they've wrought, while Justin Ling catches the Cons pairing their tendency to criminalize dissent with new and draconian sentencing. And Seth Klein observes that contrary to the Cons' spin, a time of dropping prices is exactly the best time to reevaluate our reliance on resource extraction.

- Finally, Michael Harris reminds us of the Cons' focus on marketing rather than reality. And Mia Rabson offers an update on their continued efforts to keep accurate information from reaching the public.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New column day

Here, on how the Cons' secretive giveaway of what's left of the Canadian Wheat Board can only be explained by their desire to eliminate collective marketing in favour of total corporate control.

For further reading...
- Janyce McGregor reported on the Cons' refusal to consider allowing the Farmers of North America to bid on the Wheat Board's remaining assets. And Karl Nerenberg followed up on the Cons' excuses in Parliament.
- Dougald Lamont rightly sees the Cons as forcing producers toward the "bozo zone" of racing to the bottom in quality and price.
- And even the Globe and Mail recognizes the dangers of giving away public assets through a secretive process when there are bidders willing to ensure both some return in the short term, and a viable business structure in the long term.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Wray Herbert examines Lukasz Walasek and Gordon Brown's work on the psychological links between inequality, status-seeking and reduced well-being. And Linda McQuaig writes about the harm increasing inequality has done to Canada both economically and socially:
(The OECD's recent) report puts actual numbers on how much growth has been reduced as a result of trickle-down. In the case of Canada, the reduced economic growth amounts to about $62 billion a year — which economist Toby Sanger notes is almost three times more than the estimated annual loss to the Canadian economy of lower oil prices.

But while dropping oil prices are grabbing headlines, the serious negative economic consequences of Canada’s pro-rich economic policies are largely ignored. Certainly the Harper government promises to entrench these policies more deeply if re-elected.
The OECD’s powerful message is clearly of little interest to the Harper government, which is planning to exacerbate Canada’s rich-poor gap by introducing an income-splitting scheme that will benefit rich families almost exclusively. Harper’s plan to provide an additional $60 a month per child to all families won’t be nearly enough to allow the bottom 40 per cent of Canadians to invest meaningfully in their children’s education.

The OECD stresses the need “not only for cash transfers, but also increasing access to public services, such as high-quality education, training and healthcare” — areas where Harper’s planned cutbacks to the provinces will hit hard.

What’s striking about the entrenchment of policies favouring inequality is how out of sync they appear to be with popular will.
While the world’s elite may still be slapping their knees and marveling at what they’ve managed to pull off, the fact that the most prestigious international economic bodies have lined up against trickle-down orthodoxy may mean there are now prospects for real change.

At the least, it suggests that, in a showdown with the world’s billionaires and multi-millionaires, the world’s people may actually stand an outside chance.
- Of course, if free money for the rich is a demonstrably foolish policy, the Cons remain all too happy to destroy the evidence. But Tavia Grant reports that we can still see an alarming number of Canadians living with low incomes - signalling that the promise of trickle-down economics remains as empty as ever.

- Stephen Gordon takes a look at the fiscal squeeze Stephen Harper has placed on the federal government. But it's well worth pointing out one more piece to the puzzle, as the eroding resources nominally allocated for public services are increasingly being applied to spin rather than anything which could help anybody besides the Cons themselves.

- Thomas Walkom weighs in on the fallout from the Ontario Libs' failed P3 schemes - including needless debts which the province will be paying off for decades to come.

- Finally, Pablo Iglesias discusses how social justice principles reach far beyond partisan lines - even as they've been applied to turn Podemos into an emerging political force (as both a party and a movement) in Spain:
When you study successful transformational movements, you see that the key to success is to establish a certain identity between your analysis and what the majority feels. And that is very hard. It implies riding out contradictions.
Politics is not what you or I would like it to be. It is what it is, and it is terrible. Terrible. And that’s why we must talk about popular unity, and be humble. Sometimes you have to talk to people who don’t like your language, with whom the concepts you use to explain don’t resonate. What does that tell us? That we have been defeated for many years. Losing all the time implies just that: that people’s “common sense” is different [from what we think is right]. But that is not news. Revolutionaries have always known that. The key is to succeed in making “common sense” go in a direction of change.

César Rendueles, a very smart guy, says most people are against capitalism, and they don’t know it. Most people defend feminism and they haven’t read Judith Butler or Simone de Beauvoir. Whenever you see a father doing the dishes or playing with his daughter, or a grandfather teaching his grandkid to share his toys, there is more social transformation in that than in all the red flags you can bring to a demonstration. And if we fail to understand that those things can serve as unifiers, they will keep laughing at us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries remind us that any fiscal problems Canada has faced under the Cons have been entirely of Stephen Harper's making:
Harper needed a deficit problem; the fact that the previous government neglected to leave him one was just a short-term inconvenience. From the very beginning his fiscal strategy has been driven by a commitment to his Conservative base and ideology — which demand smaller government by any means — and by a desire to show that he had ‘what it takes’. He desperately wanted to be seen by history as a better fiscal manager than his predecessors.

Harper and Flaherty both believed — as do most modern Conservatives — that smaller government inevitably leads to stronger economic growth. Unfortunately, stubborn reality has once again refused to cooperate with an impractical theory.

The evidence is clear: Cutting deficits does not by itself generate economic growth. The Conservative “growth friendly austerity” strategy has failed consistently, whenever and wherever it has been applied — in the U.S. under Republican administrations, in the eurozone in recent years, by the G20 after 2010 … and in Canada since 2010.

Cutting the GST by two points will go down in Canadian fiscal history as one of the worst public finance decisions ever. It served no useful purpose — apart from giving the prime minister the cover he needed to impose a neo-liberal fiscal orthodoxy that diminished the federal government while failing to generate growth and jobs.

All Canadians paid the price for securing Mr. Harper’s legacy. We’ll go on paying it for while.
- Meanwhile, Brent Patterson points out how another of the Cons' "economic management" themes - that of constantly pushing trade agreements which entrench corporate power at the expense of the public - seems designed to prevent the development of an effective national pharmacare plan.

- Andrew Jackson notes that it's silly to think that markets can address climate change without some strong public policy leadership. But of course, for the Cons (and other petro-politicians), the only acceptable time to consider the well-being of the planet is never. And indeed, Mychaylo Prystupa reports that the Cons' kangaroo-court National Energy Board is positively bragging about its elimination of any public voices from regulatory decisions about pipelines.

- Adrian Morrow reports on the Ontario Auditor-General's findings that public-private partnerships have cost that province upwards of $8 billion in public money compared to simple public management.

- Finally, Frances Russell points out how the Cons go out of their way to eliminate precisely the voices which would ensure that public policy benefits everybody, rather than only the privileged few:
Harper now faces a wide swath of civil society groups opposed to his government on everything from shockingly mean-spirited assistance to wounded veterans to wanton disregard for the environment to authoritarian disdain – and deep antagonism -towards the forms and traditions of parliamentary democracy.

Never content with just opposing his adversaries, Harper enjoys pre-empting them, beating them up with a totally unexpected attack.

As prime minister, he frequently uses private members bills to begin the softening up process.

Take, for example, the Conservatives’ visceral – and obviously intensely personal – antagonism to organized labour. Harper is moving swiftly to destabilize and disempower Canada’s trade unions. Using the ruse of a backbench Conservative MP’s private member’s bill as the cover, the legislation will force unions to publicly disclose the names and salaries of all employees earning more than $100,000 a year and reveal how much of their time each spends on political activities, lobbying and other non-labour relations work.

Noticeably missing from this purported concern for union members is any actual changes to ensure workplace rights and protection for Canadian workers. And, of course, there is not the remotest indication of similar disclosures being required from the corporate side of the economy.

What better way to try to weaken, divide and destabilize Canada’s House of Labour than perpetrating a Hobbesian war of all against all by stirring up internal strife between leaders and members and between unions with strong and progressive collective agreements and those struggling with weaker and less robust ones forced to exist on the fringes?

With the Harper Conservatives, it’s always win-win for corporations and the well-to-do and lose-lose for everyone else.