Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Brian and Karen Foster question why steadily improving productivity has led to increasing stratification rather than better lives for a large number of people:
(W)ith all the optimism, why hasn't technological progress actually opened up a world where we all work, and we all work less? Why do we still have some people working overtime while others sit idle, wishing for employment? Why are we not seeing the spread of work-sharing schemes, where the duties of one job are divided into two or more jobs?

We have a government program that helps companies do this for a short time instead of laying workers off, but generally the closest we come to work-sharing is splitting a job that was once full-time and salaried into a suite of part-time, short-term contracts with no benefits. Conceivably, we could spread the work around without diminishing job security and drastically cutting wages. We could use work sharing as a long-term employment strategy rather than solely as a crisis response.

Sticking with the idea of long-term strategies, why haven't we seriously considered the success and promise of Basic Income schemes -- like the one tested and then quietly abandoned in Dauphin, Manitoba?

At the very least, why haven't we shortened our work week in recognition of our increased productivity? (Because it is increasing, despite all the fear mongering; the worst that happens, generally, is "poor growth.")

Why, as Bertrand Russell wondered nearly a century ago, have we chosen "to have overwork for some and starvation for the others" when "modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all"?
- And Carol Goar recognizes that paper wealth doesn't do much to help anybody who hasn't managed to siphon off real money from the increased price of houses and other assets:
  • Families’ net work may have increased, but their cash buffer is gone. On paper, they’re better off because of a 47-per-cent appreciation in the value of homes since 2005. But that kind of wealth can shrink — or vanish — for reasons beyond their control. All it would take is a run-up in mortgage rates, a tightening of credit conditions or a real estate sell-off by aging baby boomers.
  • Younger families didn’t do nearly as well in the survey as their baby-boomer parents. Households with a principal breadwinner between 35 and 44 had a median net worth of $182,500. Those with a primary earner between 55 and 64 had almost triple that amount ($533,600). With baby boomers holding so much of the nation’s wealth, it’s not surprising Trudeau and Mulcair are picking up distress signals from the next generation of voters.
  • Household debt rose at a faster pace than assets. “Because assets are far larger than debt, net worth still increased,” explained economist Leslie Preston of Toronto Dominion Bank. But that was little comfort to middle-class families carrying a large mortgage, a car loan, a line of credit and a couple of maxed-out credit cards. If interest rates climb — even one or two percentage points — they’ll be in financial trouble.
  • The poorest 20 per cent of the population — some 2.7 million families — lost ground. That quintile now includes many Canadians who considered themselves middle class before the recession. The contraction of the manufacturing sector, corporate downsizing and outsourcing eliminated well-paid jobs, pushing them down a level.
These developments reshaped people’s attitudes and expectations. Working hard was no longer the key to upward mobility. A good education didn’t necessarily lead to employment. A job didn’t mean a pension. Career planning became an oxymoron. Condos were the only homes most young couples could aspire to own.
What is beyond dispute — no matter whether wages, income or wealth is used — is that inequality is growing. Those at the top are getting richer and those at the bottom are sinking deeper into poverty.

Canadians in the middle see themselves moving down, not up. Even if they hang on, their kids — burdened with debt, struggling for a foothold in the job market, still living at home — will fall back.

That is what Trudeau and Muclair are tapping into. It’s not acute financial distress. It is a gnawing conviction the ladder of opportunity is broken.
- In a similar vein, Robert Reich identifies inequality as the major problem in the distribution of what we produce. And Rhys Kesselmen highlights how the Cons are going out of their way to exacerbate that inequality by setting up and expanding new tax shelters like TFSAs, while Penny Kome interviews Allyson Pollock about P3s as another means of converting social resources into private profits.

- Michael Harris wonders whether the Cons' big bang is coming soon. And Josh Wingrove reports that they're using their majority to stifle any discussion of their own admitted lies to Parliament, while Paul Adams laments their hollow-threat diplomacy on the international stage.

- But Alex Boutillier notes that the NDP is looking to set a more positive example for political consultation, planning to hold its own public hearings into the Cons' election legislation if Harper and company refuse to allow for any to occur through Parliament.

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