Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- PressProgress highlights how the Cons' stay in office has been marked by temporary rather than permanent jobs, while Kaylie Tiessen writes that precarious work is particularly prevalent in Ontario. And Erin Weir notes that more unemployed workers are now chasing after fewer job vacancies than even in the wake of the last recession.

- Kathleen Harris points out that the Cons' attempt to label refugees as "bogus" based solely on their country of origin bears no resemblance whatsoever to reality, as numerous claims from the U.S. and other countries labeled as "safe" have been found to be valid by the Immigration and Refugee Board. And she also finds the Cons applying a rather unusual definition of "protection" for refugees:
Alexis Pavlich, spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said refugee reforms that include restricting health care means more protection for those in need and faster removal of those who don't.
That's right: the Cons are so callous as to claim that people in need get "more protection" by being denied essential health care.

- Meanwhile, Mike Palacek discusses the Cons' secret and deceptive plan to gut and privatize Canada Post - which of course was given a political push to replace the postal banking idea which would have resulted in better service and increased public returns.

- Tabatha Southey rightly observes that the Cons should want to distance themselves from Robert Goguen for grandstanding about a witness' gang rape. But the fact that they haven't seems to signal what seemed to me the most plausible explanation to begin with: is there any reason to think Goguen was doing anything but reading off his party's script to begin with?

- Finally, there are plenty of reasons to question Susan Delacourt's attempt to use relatively minor concerns about our current political system as a basis to eliminate political parties altogether - and Dale Smith neatly lays them out. But if we're looking for examples of the type of theory about political party operations which positively begs to be challenged, there are worse places to start than Jeffrey Simpson's insistence that leaders should hold the power to hand-pick their own pet candidates.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Musical interlude

Sandy Rivera - Changes

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how a renewed push for austerity runs directly contrary to the actual values of Canadians, who want to see their governments accomplish more rather than forcing the public to settle for less:
Their formula for achieving small, disabled government is simple: slash taxes (particularly on corporations and upper-income folk), leaving government with no choice but to cut spending -- or risk deficits and the wrath of Moody's, Ivison, the National Post, etc.

The Harper government, deeply committed to this ideology, has followed the formula closely. It has slashed taxes to the point that Ottawa now collects less revenue (as a proportion of GDP) than it did in 1940 -- before we had national public programs for health care, pensions and unemployment insurance.
The real problem right now isn't the deficit, but getting the economy back in shape -- a point even acknowledged by David Dodge, former governor of the Bank of Canada and former deputy minister of finance.
Asked in an Environics poll to choose between two views of government, 68 per cent of Canadians selected "Governments are essential to finding solutions to important problems facing the country" while just 27 per cent chose "Governments are more often than not the cause of important problems facing the country."

While the conservative revolution and media deficit hysteria have left us with dwindling revenues, the dream of an activist government apparently lingers somewhere deep in the Canadian soul.
- CBC reports that the Cons' politically-ordered crackdown on public advocacy by charities now extends well beyond the environmental movement - but is still limited exclusively to groups which tend to disagree with their anti-social policies. And Gareth Kirkby looks in detail at how the policy of silencing opposition has affected the work of the charities affected.

- Julian Beltrame reports on Canada's latest job numbers - which show our unemployment rate now exceeding the U.S.', with particularly little employment available for young workers. And David Climenhaga details the absurdity of the businesses a right to indentured labour through the temporary foreign worker program - pointing out that the effect of the program is to suppress wages for everybody for the sole purpose of keeping fast-food outlets open past 3 AM.

- Alexander Ervin and David Woodhouse lament the corporatization of Canadian universities.

- And finally, Matthew Mendelsohn makes an effort to engage in a detailed, fact-based policy discussion with Joe Oliver. Which figures to end about as well as anybody's attempt to speak truth to a broken record.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

 - Joseph Heath responds to Andrew Coyne in noting that an while there's plenty of room (and need) to better tax high personal incomes, there's also a need to complement that with meaningful corporate taxes:
(A) crucial part of the Boadway and Tremblay proposal is to increase the personal income tax rate on dividends and capital gains. That’s where the “soak the rich” part comes in. The argument — and it is an interesting argument — is that dividends are currently taxed at a lower rate in the hands of individuals, in order to avoid “double taxation,” once in the hands of the firm, again in the hands of the beneficiary. However, if the corporation is able to shift the tax on profits to other constituencies, then the tax paid by corporations isn’t really being paid by shareholders. So by taxing corporations less, and taxing individual investment income more, the Boadway/Tremblay policy makes it more difficult for the rich to shift their tax liabilities onto others.

I can see the argument for this. However, there always the danger of equivocation when talking about “the rich” or “inequality.” There is broad-based economic inequality, of the sort captured by a GINI coefficient, and then there is the specific problem of the very rich (whom we can refer to, for simplicity, as the 1%). While it is true that most Canadians are already able to exempt the entirety of their investment income from taxation (through home ownership, RRSPs, TFSAs), this is manifestly not the case with the 1%, who continue to use corporate ownership as a vehicle for tax avoidance.

Shortly after writing about this, I came across the following working paper, by Michael Wolfson, Mike Veall and Neil Brooks, “Piercing the Veil – Private Corporations and the Income of the Affluent.” It seems to me that before we talk about “soaking the rich,” or about the distributive effect of corporate taxes generally, the issues raised by this paper need to be addressed.
- And Eric Reguly discusses the role of executive pay and stock options in exacerbating inequality:
The rich and the super-rich are getting richer. We all know that. The question is why? Every economist on the planet has a theory. Some blame waning productivity gains or workers' losing their war with the robots. Others argue that the "offshoring" of jobs has suppressed wages, still others that lower taxes on capital gains have benefited the investing class. Thomas Piketty, the suddenly famous French economist whose bestselling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has fired up the wealth-gap debate around the world, argues that the inequalities in income distribution have risen sharply because of enormous corporate pay packages. He's generally right (even though the Financial Times found fault with some of his historical data) but what he does not do in any detail is break down those packages into their component parts. He and his research colleague, Emmanuel Saez, use U.S. Internal Revenue Service data, which lumps all pay together as "salaries." But salaries make up only a tiny portion of the haul for top executives. The biggest single component is stock-based pay: the realized gains from exercising stock options and the vesting of stock awards.

How did stock-based pay turn into a monster? The simple answer is that no one--not shareholders, not employees, not regulators--has been able to stop the executives from rigging the game in their favour. What seemingly started out as a reasonable idea--handing executives some shares so they would have an extra incentive to boost shareholder value--has tipped so far into the executives' favour that the richest bosses are gaining oligarch status. Through the repricing of options and ever-rising stock awards, many executives have been able to ratchet up their pay even when their company's share price falls.
The executive pay system is so well organized, and so sublimely immoral, that it has taken on a racketeering flavour, all in the slick guise of aligning the interests of management and shareholders. Executives pad their boards with yes-men and -women who wouldn't dare suggest their boss is overpaid; compensation consultants are happy to recommend that the CEO's pay should fall in the peer group's top quartile; and the regulatory climate has been benign, thanks to the lobbying power of the companies.
- Alison highlights yet another set of foreign-funded corporate mercenaries complaining that we shouldn't listen to environmental and social groups because they might be foreign-funded. And Kayle Hatt calls out the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's attacks on humanities research and other evidence-based analysis.

- James Moore's latest push toward a national corporate-privilege agreement has apparently given up on identifying more than a single trade barrier in favour of labelling the fictitious as "extraordinarily stupid" in the hope that will make up for the lack of actual examples.

- Finally, Seumas Milne writes that a reversal of privatization is one of the essential building blocks of long-term growth and stability:
Privatisation isn't working. We were promised a shareholding democracy, competition, falling costs and better services. A generation on, most people's experience has been the opposite. From energy to water, rail to public services, the reality has been private monopolies, perverse subsidies, exorbitant prices, woeful under-investment, profiteering and corporate capture.

Private cartels run rings round the regulators. Consumers and politicians are bamboozled by commercial secrecy and contractual complexity. Workforces have their pay and conditions slashed. Control of essential services has not only passed to corporate giants based overseas, but those companies are themselves often state-owned – they're just owned by another state.

Report after report has shown privatised services to be more expensive and inefficient than their publicly owned counterparts. It's scarcely surprising that a large majority of the public, who have never supported a single privatisation, neither trust the privateers nor want them running their services.

New column day

Here, on the importance of coming together and putting people first in a time of crisis - contrasted against Stephen Harper and Brad Wall's apparent view that the real tragedy is that the oil sector might find it tougher to extract profits when it's causing humanitarian disasters.

For further reading...
- Harper's statement on the Lac-M├ęgantic oil-by-rail explosion is here. In addition to the callous focus on economic messaging, you'll also note a conspicuous lack of words like "oil", "rail" and "explosion".
- Similarly, here's Wall lamenting the fact that massive flooding might affect the accessibility of oil leases.
- Murray Mandryk points out that we should be planning for more extreme weather events based on both their increased frequency in the past few years, and the science of climate change. In contrast, Wall figures that if there isn't a perfect precedent for a type of disaster, then it's not his job to plan for it.
- Kim Mackrael and Justin Giovannetti report on MMA's latest statement that they'd have handed the oil shipped through Lac-M├ęgantic differently if they'd known how dangerous it was. Chalk this up as one more triumph for self-regulation.
- And finally, Katie Valentine maps out the at-risk areas for future rail disasters.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Anne Manne discusses how extreme wealth leads to narcissism and a lack of empathy, while pointing out that to merely recognizing the problem goes some way toward solving it:
Outside the lab, Piff found that the rich donated a smaller percentage of their wealth than poorer people. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans, those with earnings in the top 20%, contributed 1.3% of their income to charity, while those in the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their income. The trend to meanness was worst in plush suburbs where everyone had a high income, and never laid eyes on a poor person. Insulation from people in need, Piff concluded, dampened charitable impulses.

Poorer people were also more likely to give to those charities servicing the genuinely needy. The rich gave to high-status institutions such as already well-endowed art galleries, museums and universities, while Feeding America, which deals with the nation’s poorest, got nothing.

These qualities are not set in concrete. "We’re not suggesting rich people are bad at all," said Piff, "but rather that psychological effects of wealth have these natural effects.’ It is, he said, a function of greater prosperity, rather than innate qualities of rich people.

Piff found that when shown images of children in poverty, the wealthy could behave more empathetically. Like the long campaign for the NDIS, which sensitised people to the plight of those with a disability or those caring for them, people can respond to good political leadership which primes them for generosity rather than meanness.
- And Darlena Kunha writes about the experience of poverty and income insecurity from the standpoint of a family which once believed itself to be beyond that risk:
The reality of poverty can spring quickly while the psychological effects take longer to surface. When you lose a job, your first thought isn’t, “Oh my God, I’m poor. I’d better sell all my nice stuff!” It’s “I need another job. Now.” When you’re scrambling, you hang on to the things that work, that bring you some comfort. That Mercedes was the one reliable, trustworthy thing in our lives.
The most embarrassing part was how I felt about myself. How I had so internalized the message of what poor people should or should not have that I felt ashamed to be there, with that car, getting food. As if I were not allowed the food because of the car. As if I were a bad person.

We’ve now sold that house. My husband found a job that pays well, and we have enough left over for me to go to grad school. President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.

But what I learned there will never leave me. We didn’t deserve to be poor, any more than we deserved to be rich. Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I was my harshest critic. That the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it.
- Kaylie Tiessen argues that Ontario shouldn't let a change in its credit outlook be used as a means to further trash the province's economy through austerity and tax slashing. And Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew's report on the treatment of Canadian banks offers a compelling indication as to why we shouldn't take the ratings agencies seriously at all - as the same firms which consistently gave perfect ratings to what proved to be derivative time bombs are now downgrading the outlook for Canadian banks merely because they might have to stand on their own two feet.

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman points out that inflation hysteria serves primarily to ensure that the wealthy benefit at the expense of everybody else.

- Finally, PressProgress questions just how much further the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants to go in eliminating employment insurance - though I'd suspect that zero social safety net for anybody would be just fine for one of the most extreme anti-social organizations in the country. And Andrew Stevens studies the abuse of temporary foreign workers (and resulting decline in service-sector wages) in Saskatchewan.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surfacing cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Katrina vanden Heuvel criticizes the U.S. Democrats' move away from discussing inequality by in favour of platitudes about opportunity for the middle class. And while Matthew Yglesias may be correct in responding that the messaging change hasn't resulted in much difference in Democratic policy proposals, it's certainly significant when a political party makes the choice to take poverty and inequality off the table as a vital part of the argument for its policy consensus.

- Meanwhile, Stephen Elliott-Buckley reminds us that the 1% tends to get its way in policy debates in no small part because it exhibits solidarity often missing among other groups:
For centuries, the 1% were the nobility, the aristocrats, the old money, the patriarchy. Then Adam Smith pitched capitalism in his 1776 book Wealth of Nations, and liberated the entrepreneurs to join the blue bloods. Today, every January, corporate and government leaders from around the world – the people who literally rule the world – meet in the winter-wonderland of Davos, Switzerland, to launch the annual World Economic Forum. There, they plan the global agenda. This year’s sexy new idea was advancing “social entrepreneurialism.” That sounds so kumbaya, just like public-private partnerships, but it’s just spin for privatizing social services.

The World Economic Forum is just one of the most recent venues where the global elite show their solidarity with each other, and plan how to maximize shareholder wealth and minimize global social, economic and political equality. Beyond Davos, our rulers have also created a roadmap for undermining the democracy of nations through secret trade agreements like NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and CETA (the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement). These agreements are designed to give right-wing governments the excuse to deregulate industries, privatize public services, and elevate shareholders’ and investors’ “right” to profit above the needs of society.
The member groups of progressive coalitions need to find ways of connecting their individual members to better support each other. And the coalitions themselves need to support each other. I believe such an effort at deepening and broadening solidarity has, so far, been lacking. Meanwhile, the 1% are deeply well-connected, from community chambers of commerce right up to the World Trade Organization. They’re all spouting the same spin and rhetoric on their members’ behalf, while we, the 99%, can often not get past “letterhead coalitions,” a term introduced to me by Amanda Tattersall, one of the founders of the Sydney Alliance in Australia. What good is it to have a coalition when the extent of union, or faith, or community organization activity is merely a letter of support?
- David Ball reports on this summer's Peoples' Social Forum - which looks like one promising effort to build connections and lay the foundation for ongoing activism.

- And in case there was much doubt there's still plenty to organize against, the CCCE lays bare its trade agenda - featuring its demand that the TPP be negotiated and implemented without public input in order to ensure closed-door "enforcement" of corporate priorities and at most "dialogue" for labour, the environment and anything else not profit-related.

- Finally, Jonathan Kay rightly criticizes the Cons' "punitive moral absolutism" when it comes to withholding needed health care from refugees. But as Emmett MacFarlane notes, the Cons always seem to find some way to sink even lower than their past precedents for callous inhumanity - and Robert Goguen did just that in lecturing a sex worker about her own gang rape.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Stephen Hwang and Kwame McKenzie discuss the connection between affordable housing and public health and wellness:
In 2009, researchers followed 1,200 people in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. It was found that they experience a high burden of serious health problems like asthma, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They are also at high risk for conditions like depression and anxiety, and of going hungry.

There’s more. We know that housing in disrepair can lead to accidents, fires and infestations. That overcrowding can lead to infections. We also know that, if you develop an illness, it is more difficult to get better if you are homeless or live in a substandard home.

Finally, we know the cost of housing deeply affects our health. When it takes up a large percentage of our income, it can cause profound stress and crowd out things that are important for health like recreational activities, nutritious food and prescription medication.
We have international and Canadian research demonstrating the way forward. And if further help is needed, we are here along with many others, ready and able to work to implement solutions. The ingredients are all there. Now it’s time to demonstrate the vision and political leadership to make sure every single one of us has a decent place to call home. 
- Mariana Mazzucato challenges the theory that inequality correlates in any way to technological progress as a matter of economic theory rather than political choice. And David Pilling questions the use of GDP as a measure of economic development - with particular emphasis on the short-sighted picture it tends to produce.

- Meanwhile, Simon Tremblay-Pepin documents some of the direct effects of Quebec's gratuitous austerity. And Matt O'Brien highlights how austerity is turning what could have been a temporary crash into a permanent drag on development.

- And Paul Krugman traces that wilful economic destruction back to a theory insisting that interest rates should be set so as to "kept permanently depressed in order to curb the irrational exuberance of investors" - raising obvious questions as to why we would then set our economic policy based on the belief that the mood of those same investors is the primary goal to be pursued.

- Finally, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that the tar sands are poisoning Alberta wildlife and the First Nations who rely on it. But based on how petropoliticians have handled the health of tar sands victims in the past, we should be even less surprised if the only action that comes from the revelation is an end to Health Canada funding for exactly that type of research.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Mark Taliano highlights the distinction between corporate and public interests (while pointing out that both military and economic policy are all too often based on the former). And Jamie Doward discusses how the perception that government is either unwilling or unable to serve anybody besides corporate masters is turning the next generation of UK youth away from politics:
The picture that emerges from an Ipsos MORI questionnaire completed by almost 2,800 pupils aged 11 to 16 is of a generation that expects little help from politicians and which resolutely believes that it will not have the same life prospects as those enjoyed by the one before.

The poll, conducted for the National Children's Bureau and which will be published this week, is the first of its kind carried out by Ipsos MORI, and suggests that today's young people are turning away from conventional politics. Only two in five (39%) agreed with the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, that the voting age should be lowered to 16. And only 13% would be certain to vote in a general election if they had the chance, a figure that rises to 15% among 15- to 16-year-olds.

Of those who would be eligible to vote in next year's general election if the voting age were reduced, 17% say they associate themselves with Labour while 9% opt for the Tories.

Growing disillusionment with Westminster politics may be linked to how Generation Next see their future. Fewer than two in five expect their lives to be better than it was for their parents (37%). In contrast, 70% of baby boomers believe they have had a better life than their parents. Ipsos MORI said the findings were consistent with a general downward shift in the proportion of people who feel their generation will have a better quality of life compared with their parents' generation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given this trend, only 14% of Generation Next believes the government will do a good job in running the country in the year ahead. They also have a pessimistic view of how they are treated by the government, with less than half believing they are treated fairly.
- Meanwhile, Michael Geist sees the negotiation of the TPP (like so many other trade agreements) behind closed doors as compelling evidence that it wouldn't hold up to public scrutiny. And Emily Atkin discusses the latest example of the oil industry buying silence when it comes to any questioning of its activities, as the price for TransCanada's donation of a single rescue truck to the town of Mattawa included the town's agreement never to publicly question or comment on any of its operations.

- Haroon Siddiqui points out that the very nature of the temporary foreign worker program is anathema to Canada's proud legacy of welcoming immigrants to build futures as part of our culture:
It hit me on Canada Day that even the name, temporary foreign worker program, is un-Canadian. “Temporary” and “foreign” are the antithesis of long-standing Canadian immigration policy, the bedrock principle of which is that immigrants are selected to be permanent residents and future fellow-citizens.

The formula has served us well by minimizing the “us vs. them” undercurrent that charges relations between new arrivals and the rest of society. In our native and adopted land, the old and the new are in it together.

Canada studiously avoided Europe’s guest worker program, under which hundreds of thousands were imported in the expectation that they’d leave at the end of their work. Few did, creating a permanent underclass in Germany, France and elsewhere — and all the resentments that go with it.

We were never like the oil-rich Persian Gulf nations that allow employers to import temporary foreign workers, but not their families, pay dirt-poor wages and hold them hostage as indentured labour tethered to their master.

Now our temporary foreign worker program allows employers to import cheap foreign labour, without families, mostly for low-end jobs for short periods. The temps are tied to their employer who may mistreat them.
- And Andrew Longhurst points out that the "temporary" element of work applies to an increasingly large proportion of Canadian jobs in general - and proposes a few policy ideas to give workers a better chance of moving part precarious employment.

- Finally, Partnership for Strong Communities takes a look at yet more research showing that the availability of affordable and accessible housing has a significant effect on spreading opportunity - in this case for the cognitive growth of children.