Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Robert Green looks at Quebec as a prime example of selective austerity - with tax cuts and other goodies for the wealthy considered sacrosanct, and well-connected insiders being paid substantial sums of public money to tell citizens they'll have to make do with less:
In a move that seems perfectly symbolic of the sort of politics his government represents, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced this week that the five members of the government commission charged with reviewing government programs and recommending where to make cuts will be paid the tidy sum of $1.03 million for about eight months of work. Commission President and ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard will take home $265,000 for explaining to average Quebecers where they must make sacrifices.

The message being sent here is unmistakable: Tough choices, sacrifice and austerity are for the common people, not Quebec's elites.
With the exception of a spike in stimulus spending following the 2008 economic downturn, Quebec's expenditures as a percentage of GDP have been trending downward since the early nineties. Even at the height of stimulus spending in 2009-2010 Quebec was spending significantly less as a percentage of GDP than it was in the early nineties. This is hardly a picture of out-of-control spending.

So if spending is not the cause of our current economic predicament, what is? The answer lies on the other side of the balance sheet, in revenues rather than expenditures.
(B)etween 2000 and 2008 PQ and Liberal governments combined to deny Quebec $9.8 billion in revenues through a series of tax measures (both tax cuts and deductions) that disproportionately favour the wealthy. For example, the deep PQ tax cuts of 2002 provided the wealthiest Quebecers (those earning $75,000+) an additional $1,709, over six times the amount gained by the neediest (those earning less than $25,000). The Liberal tax cuts of 2007-2008 were even worse, providing absolutely nothing to households with $25,000 in income, $110 to households with $50,000 in income and a whopping $1859 to households with $150,000 in income.

Add to this $9.8 billion a cut to the tax on the capital of corporations (a move that provided little to small business but was a boon for large corporations and particularly banks), which cost government $1.9 billion, and we're talking about a hole in Quebec's public finances of nearly $12 billion annually.

To put this in perspective, consider that Quebec is currently planning $3.9 billion in spending cuts in order to arrive at a projected deficit of $1.75 billion. Had the government of Quebec not deliberately created a $12-billion hole in its revenues, or even limited itself to a $6-billion hole, we would not be talking about where to make cuts right now; we would be talking about where to reinvest our large surplus.
(T)he first step towards reversing Quebec's great neoliberal heist is informing ourselves and others about the true source of our collective problems. Problems that have nothing to do with out-of-control spending and everything to do with a series of irresponsible tax cuts directed at those who needed them least.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Nikiforuk writes that oil money has gone a long way toward funding the disconnect between the Alberta PC dynasty and the general public, while Mike Moffatt discusses Philip Cross' wishcasting as an example of how to get ahead in a right-wing propaganda tank. And James Baxter discusses the Cons' concerted refusal to listen to the values and policy preferences of Canadians:
While Canadians have been polled and focused-grouped ad nauseum on their policy priorities — which, consistently, are health care, education, the environment, pensions and veterans — they’ve instead been fed a steady diet of made-in-Alberta priorities: skills development, Employment Insurance reform, temporary foreign workers and plenty of pipelines.
(F)or citizens to consent to be governed, there needs to be a sense that government understands their priorities and will focus on them.

What galls is the fact that Finance Canada has spent tens of thousands of dollars in public money (and likely much more) polling and studying the priorities of Canadians in every province — only to completely ignore the results. It’s either that, or Finance was simply overruled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.
- Paul Krugman writes that inequality is an impediment to growth in and of itself. And Paul Buchheit offers a few inconvenient truths for poverty deniers.

- Alex Hanson exposes the cozy relationship between B.C.'s Lib government which has trashed environmental enforcement, and the corporation responsible for the Mount Polley chemical spill. But lest there be any doubt, British Columbia is far from the only place where businesses which are actively destroying the environment are being rewarded for their efforts.

- Finally, Joseph Heath is duly appalled at John Snobelin's message that people should "embrace big risks" with no regard for the downside of following that strategy.

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