Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Star's editorial board sees Canada's woeful job numbers as a signal that it's time for some economic management in the interests of people (rather than artificial manipulation of numbers):
Economists used words like “dismal” and “ugly” for these results, and no wonder. Last year turned out to be the worst year for job growth in Canada since the recession of 2008-2009. And this was just the latest evidence that Canada’s recovery has stalled. The experts are even starting to speculate about a possible cut in interest rates – not the eventual increase that has been predicted for many months based on a gradual strengthening in the economy.

So what’s the Harper government’s response? Nothing. In fact, worse than nothing. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his officials spent most of last week putting out the message that Canadians should expect a stand-pat federal budget with no significant initiatives, no surprises, no new spending and no meaningful tax breaks. In fact, sources were hinting to selected journalists that it might even be delivered the week of Feb. 10 – all the better to bury it amid the distraction of the Sochi Winter Olympics that will be in full swing then.

Flaherty’s sole obsession appears to be making sure that the government erases its deficit by its own self-imposed target of 2015-16.
For the Harper Conservatives, it’s also nakedly political. They want to go into the 2015 election year with a big budget bang – with the deficit slain and goodies on offer for their chosen electoral constituencies. In the meantime, the unemployment lines in Ontario and elsewhere can just grow longer.

This is a dangerously complacent attitude that will leave more and more people without hope that things can get better – or even a sense that Ottawa takes their plight seriously. Ontarians, in particular, should remember that when it comes time to pass judgment on the Harper government next year.
- Michael Harris discusses Elections Canada's investigation into Julian Fantino's campaign finances. And David Climenhaga follows up on Chuck Strahl's multiple conflicts of interest - while noting that what's kept barely legal through loopholes in the Cons' system of ethics has little to do with what's right.

- Jessica Barrett reports that Lisa Raitt considers lax rail safety (and the occasional town blown to smithereens) to be more than sexy enough to be worth defending. And Tim Harper discusses why Neil Young's words (and actions) to address the tar sands deserve our attention.

- Finally, Robert Frank writes about the vicious cycle of inequality:
Income concentration has changed spending patterns in other ways that widen the income gap. The wealthy have been spending more on gifts, clothing, housing, celebrations and other things simply because they have more money. Their extra spending has shifted the frames of reference that shape demand by others just below them, so these less wealthy people have been spending more, and so on, all the way down the income ladder. But because incomes below the top have been stagnant, the resulting expenditure cascades have made it harder for middle- and low-income families to make ends meet. Despite taking on huge amounts of debt, they’ve been unable to keep pace with community standards. Interest payments impoverish them while enriching their wealthy creditors.

But perhaps the most important new feedback loop shows up in higher education. Tighter budgets in middle-class families make it harder for them to afford the special tutors and other environmental advantages that help more affluent students win admission to elite universities. Financial aid helps alleviate these problems, but the children of affluent families graduate debt-free and move quickly into top-paying jobs, while the children of other families face lesser job prospects and heavy loads of student debt. All too often, the less affluent experience the miracle of compound interest in reverse.

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