Saturday, November 08, 2014

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The Globe and Mail reminds us why we should demand the restoration of an effective census, while Evidence for Democracy is making a public push toward that goal. And Tavia Grant discusses how the destruction of effective data collection is affecting Canadian workplace:
Reliable, complete and up-to-date labour market data is a crucial component of government policy, influencing everything from educational priorities to immigration.

Yet, fallout from faulty or missing labour market information has made headlines on a number of issues this year alone. It’s been hard to pinpoint the size of the temporary foreign worker program (The Globe and Mail has reported that some employers say the tally for their organizations is miscounted).

Some TFWs are working on First Nations reserves with high unemployment rates – but it is unclear just how high jobless rates are on reserves. And earlier this year, the Finance Department had to correct its estimates of job vacancies when it emerged it was relying on a software program that was skewed by including Kijiji listings.

Statscan itself has faced budget cuts and staff reductions, while a memo has shown Employment and Social Development Canada has cut spending on labour market information by more than 20 per cent over the past two years.
- PressProgress documents a week in the life of the Fraser Institute's corporate shilling. And Stephen Leahy comments on big oil's dirty war against our planet and the people who seek to protect it:
(W)e already know how to make the low-carbon transition because it is "hardly rocket science," said Bob Watson, former chair of the IPCC.

To reiterate the steps: big increases in energy efficiency, massive roll outs of renewable energy, shutting down most coal plants, a carbon price, etc. There are dozens of studies on how to do this with no new technology. All of this can be achieved with very little extra cost to the global economy, according to The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

These studies end up concluding that what's missing in a shift to low-carbon living is political will or political courage. Left unsaid is the incredibly powerful and influential fossil fuel industry, their bankers, investors, lawyers, public relations consultants, unions and others all fighting desperately to keep humanity addicted to their products.

That means opposing low-carbon alternatives and branding grandparents who worry about their grandchildren's future as "green radicals."

"Think of this as an endless war," public relations consultant Richard Berman told oil and gas industry executives last June in Colorado.

It's a dirty war against environmental organizations and their supporters. Industry executives must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger of the public against green groups and individuals...
- Roberto Ferdman discusses how disparities in income are reflected in infant nutritional health - which then tends to produce habits which last a lifetime.

- Alison examines the connections between the Cons' pension board appointees and the use of offshore tax havens.

- Finally, Michael Harris notes that Stephen Harper's support for, and promotion of, convicted election fraudster Dean Del Mastro is entirely consistent with his judgment in managing his party and Canada's government. And Thomas Walkom notes that Chris Alexander is just the latest MP to be put to work trying to trash vulnerable people and their supporters.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Musical interlude

Mahmut Orhan & Boral Kibil - Fringe

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jessica McCormick and Jerry Dias respond to Stephen Poloz' view that young workers should be happy to work for free, and note that he of all people shouldn't be pointing the finger at individuals to address problems with systemic unemployment:
The most infuriating aspect of Poloz's statement is that he himself could do more than virtually any other Canadian to help put young people into real, paying jobs. Monetary policy is one of the most potent tools to stimulate spending power and job-creation. The Bank of Canada could do much more to create real jobs for young people (using conventional and unconventional policies regarding interest rates, monetary expansion, and exchange rates). But instead, it puts more priority on orthodox financial goals (like inflation targeting and non-interference in foreign exchange) than on full employment. Poloz is left to advise young people on how to "adjust" to this grim reality, instead of doing more to solve the underlying problem.

When there are far fewer jobs than job-seekers, there is a natural tendency for individuals to do whatever they can to personally survive. Individual actions such as preparing better resumés, developing good networks, and -- yes -- doing volunteer work, might increase one person's chance of landing a rare paid job. But those individual coping strategies hardly constitute an adequate policy response to a genuine social crisis. Poloz, and his counterparts in the federal government, need to develop and implement real solutions for youth unemployment, instead of issuing insulting platitudes to job-seekers.
- Meanwhile, Mike King and Edward Woolley examine (PDF) the effect of public investment on research and development, and find that it actually tends to "crowd in" more private innovation than would have happened otherwise. And SOS Crowns discusses the Sask Party's stubbornness in pushing private ownership and profit regardless of whether it makes any sense to do so - with liquor retailing serving as just the most recent example.

- Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew ask why we're not seeing any meaningful discussion of the CETA now that we know exactly what's included. And Aaron Cosbey looks at the risks of the CETA and other new trade deals, including wording which may require that complicated issues be regulated simplistically:
There are also some areas that give cause for concern around sustainable development objectives. The chapter on domestic regulation obliges parties to make their licensing requirements – which could include environmental permissions and approvals – “as simple as possible” in their application to all economic activity of each other’s nationals or firms. This is an unqualified requirement that could be disastrously interpreted.
- The Economist offers a handy summary of the dangers of Dutch disease.

- Finally, Frances Webber notes that the Harper Cons are far from the only right-wing government looking to undermine the idea of human rights, as the UK Conservatives are looking at declaring that rights can be removed from anybody who falls out of favour with the government.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Heather Mallick and Linda McQuaig both weigh in on the connection between income splitting and the Cons' plans for social engineering. And Scott Clark and Peter DeVries point out that a giveaway to wealthy families is as indefensible from an economic standpoint as from a social one:
(T)his tax conversation is simply the wrong one for us to be having right now. Why the rush to cut taxes? More importantly, why these tax cuts — ones which will do nothing at all to jump-start Canada’s anemic economic growth rate?

The unemployment rate is stuck at seven per cent. The youth unemployment rate remains at around 14 per cent. The labour force participation rate is lower today than in 2008. Long-term unemployment continues at record levels. The employment rate is lower than it was in 2008, while employment growth in the last 18 months has been virtually stagnant, with very few full-time jobs created. Oil prices have dropped by 25 per cent, which will undermine economic growth and government revenues. The IMF has warned that the global economy is entering a period of “mediocre” or “stagnant” growth.

We fully understand the pressures on families to provide childcare, but unless we act now to build a stronger economy going forward, all social programs will be at risk. Tax breaks are nice. But we’ve got far bigger problems right now. Creating good jobs for the many Canadians who need them is the critical first step to an affordable and sustainable childcare program.
- Meanwhile, it's no coincidence that the party which wants to incentivize financial dependence is also the one which refuses to protect women (or anybody else) in the workplace.

- And likewise, the Cons' anti-social tendencies are obvious from the access the PMO repeatedly granted to anti-worker groups to develop legislation to attack unions.

- Anna Mehler Paperny reports on the Cons' consistent message to non-citizens - and particularly refugees and other vulnerable immigrants - that they're not welcome in Stephen Harper's Canada. And Patrick Butler highlights the experience of children living in poverty who likewise don't seem to be priorities for the Cons.

- Finally, Clay Nikiforuk discusses how Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fell through the gaps in a shredded social safety net.

New column day

Here, arguing that while Stephen Poloz is indeed thoroughly out of touch in suggesting that people entering the workforce should take on unpaid internships as matters stand now, we should in fact make sure that unpaid work (or study, or other activity) is a viable option for young workers.

For further reading...
- The CP reports on Poloz' comments here, while Tavia Grant expands on the story here. CBC follows up with a Saskatchewan perspective here. And Elizabeth Lane looks at the issue as one of the workers who's been unable to find a job despite ample training and effort. [Update: Alison's response is also well worth a read in linking Poloz' advice to Scotiabank's massive job cuts.]
- Miles Corak points out here (PDF) that a systemic lack of employment for young workers has been one of the defining labour trends over the past few years.
- Unifor and the Broadbent Institute (PDF) each make the case for a substantial jobs program as another means of ensuring there's a place for young workers to build experience without going hungry.
- But the principle behind the Globe and Mail's discussion of a guaranteed income seems particularly compelling to me in the case of unemployed or underemployed young workers. Given the choice between trusting employers (who have plenty of money to hire more workers if they wanted to) in planning for workers' long-term well-being in exchange for a tax credit or direct job funding or in the workers themselves to determine how best to plan their careers given a secure income, the latter seems far more likely to generate positive outcomes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Reich discusses the right's utter lack of - and aversion to - empathy as either a personal or political value. Bob Norman reports on a particularly galling example of that phenomenon, as Fort Lauderdale has begun arresting people for feeding the homeless. And CBC reports on one of the systemic effects of a government which couldn't care less about the people under its jurisdiction, as Saskatchewan is seeing a drastic increase in people having to rely on food banks.

- Speaking of the Saskatchewan Party's contempt for social issues, Simon Enoch highlights how its push to sell off Saskatchewan's liquor retailing system ignores the well-documented social consequences of increased alcohol consumption. And Duncan Cameron writes about the latest set of privatization schemes designed to extract public investments for corporate benefit, while Thomas Walkom laments how quick the Ontario Libs (among other governing parties) have been to follow that path even when it means both higher costs and worse services.

- Michal Rozworski argues that our tax system should not only ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share, but also limit anybody's ability to accumulate so much as to distort the distribution of power:
[It] turns out there are good reasons for taxing the rich beyond raising revenue, and these reasons have precisely to do with changing how things are done.

The Nation has an excellent explainer of a recent study on the drastic fall in top tax rates over the past few decades. The authors, including Thomas Piketty of Capital in the 21st Century fame, wanted to see why the share of pre-tax income going to the very richest rose at the same time as top tax rates fell.

In short, they found that the rapidly growing incomes of those at the top were not due to rising productivity as mainstream theory suggests, but resulted from a better bargaining position. When top tax rates are low, CEOs, financial managers and others are motivated to spend more time trying to raise their earnings — for instance, stacking corporate boards that set salaries or giving out bigger bonuses — because they’ll get to keep more of them. Across countries in recent years, growth rates were very similar regardless of whether the top tax rate was high or low; the pie grew more or less as fast everywhere. In the countries where top taxes were low, however, top earners were able to capture a much, much bigger piece of the pie for themselves.
...We can raise top tax rates not only, maybe not even mostly, to fill public coffers but also to help restore bargaining power to the rank and file in workplaces, making top managers less willing to make out with all that they can for themselves — a top-down aid to those fighting inequality from the bottom up.

The lesson here is that taxes do much more than just redistribute income. They can also change institutions such as the family and the firm, redistributing power and changing how we relate to one another. The more pernicious tax cuts for the rich do more than leave money in well-heeled pockets. By the same token, the opposing call to “tax the rich!” can be a way to achieve more than padding the public purse.
- But Dennis Howlett points out that the Cons are instead looking to hand billions of dollars to the people who need the gift least, while Carol Goar notes that the calculated effect of income splitting is to redistribute income (and power) upward.

- Finally, Naomi Klein writes that big polluters are starting to receive some of the public opprobrium they deserve.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Angled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Krugman points out the chasm between the policies demanded by businesses to suit their corporate biases, and those which actually best serve the cause of a strong and fair economy. And Michael Konczal highlights the damage done to our broader economy by a narrow focus on financial interests.

- Lisa Pasolli discusses the history of child care in Canada to offer some context to the policy choice that figures to dominate the next federal election. Margot Young makes the case that a new facade can't fix the serious structural problems with income splitting. And the CP reports that Canada's food banks have weighed in on the child care vs. tax bauble debate with strong support for a real child care system along with other improvements to our social safety net:
Canadian food banks are wading into the hot political debate over how best the federal government can help families with kids: give them tax breaks, as the Conservatives are doing, or invest in regulated child care, as the NDP proposes.

In its annual HungerCount report, Food Banks Canada comes down squarely on the side of the NDP.

It says the use of food banks remains 25 per cent higher than it was before the devastating global recession in 2008 and that 37 per cent of those helped are children.

According to the report, almost half of the households helped are families with kids and nearly half of those are two-parent families.

Among other recommendations, the report says the federal government should replace "the current alphabet soup" of child tax benefits with a new child well-being benefit that targets the most vulnerable families.

And it calls on federal and provincial governments to invest in predictable, stable funding for affordable, regulated child care, enabling parents to enter or remain in the workforce.
The report says "existing welfare bureaucracies" should be dismantled and replaced with a guaranteed basic income system.

And it recommends expanding eligibility for education and training programs offered through the Employment Insurance program.

It also calls on the federal government to invest in affordable housing.
- Meanwhile, Jen St. Denis talks to Gary Bloch about the effects of poverty and other social determinants of health. Annalise Klingbeil offers some good news in the form of Medicine Hat's progress in eradicating chronic homelessness. And Yvonne Roberts discusses the UK's living wage movement, while Christine Berry reports on its all-party agreement on four crucial elements of an economic policy oriented toward well-being.

- Finally, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson write that the benefits of generosity include both personal and social gains.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Stanford points out that the choice to leave drug development to the market resulted in a promising ebola vaccine going unused - and indeed untested - for years until the disease threatened a wealthy enough target population:
Canada’s outstanding work to invent one of the world’s most promising vaccines against Ebola perfectly epitomizes both the promise of public research, and the perverse incentives of the for-profit industry. Early this century Health Canada recognized the need for an Ebola vaccine, and assigned scientists with the Public Health Agency of Canada to find one. Almost a decade ago they patented a vaccine that prevents Ebola in monkeys. Canadian researchers should have been hailed as heroes.

Unfortunately, the government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by handing over this important invention to the private sector – for a pittance. In 2010 Ottawa licensed the Ebola vaccine to a small U.S. firm called NewLink Genetics. I’ve been asking Health Canada to explain how the licensing was negotiated, and how much Canada was paid; I have yet to receive an answer. NewLink’s financial filings report it paid Canada an initial patent and signing fee, and a “milestone” payment of up to $205,000; “low single-digit” royalty fees will be payable on future commercial sales.

Most distressingly, guided by the profit-maximizing calculations of NewLink’s executives, the promising vaccine languished for years with no human testing – until this year’s outbreak. NewLink has suddenly rediscovered a sense of urgency, and is now accelerating human tests: but too late for thousands whose lives could have been saved if a vaccine was ready now. Even with the licence, Ottawa could have forced NewLink to move more quickly (or else revoke the licence altogether), but chose not to interfere. In the words of the University of Ottawa’s Amir Attaran, an expert on drug policy and public health, “This could have been a heroic Banting and Best moment for Canadian science, but instead it is a black comedy.”

Motivated by their government salaries and a desire to do good, smart Canadians can develop incredible medicines that significantly enhance human life. It’s only when the whole business becomes guided by profit, instead of human need, that this noble mission is lost.
- And Carol Goar exposes the use of Canada's public health care system for medical tourism, rather than to provide needed care to citizens.

- The Star weighs in on the Cons' latest income-splitting scheme and rightly concludes that a few tweaks around the edges can't justify a deliberate transfer of billions of dollars to disproportionately benefit wealthy families.

- Alan Tovey reports on KPMG's study showing that millions of workers in the UK are scraping by on less than a living wage. And Trish Hennessy looks at the numbers on our insufficient minimum wage levels in Canada.

- Mike De Souza reports on ExxonMobil's efforts to get him not to report on ALEC's shady dealings - including an ominous warning that other media have been entirely happy to fall in line with orders from their corporate overlords not to examine how big money is affecting policy debates. Andrew Prokop points out how the need for constant fund-raising makes it a challenge for U.S. political candidates to keep the public good in mind, while Democracy Now and Emily Atkin each document examples of the oil lobby flat-out buying municipal elections. And David Ball confirms that the Koch brothers have been funnelling money to the Fraser Institute's corporatist projects for decades, while Mark Eliesen explains his conclusion that the National Energy Board has joined the list of institutions which have been completely co-opted by corporate owners.

- Finally, Murray Dobbin has a few questions for Stephen Harper arising out of the tragic shootings in Ottawa. And Joan Bryden reports on Harper's refusal to discourage any anti-Muslim backlash.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Will Hutton rightly slams David Cameron for his antisocial view of taxes and public institutions - which should of course sound all too familiar in Canada:
Believe the prime minister and it is morality, rather than economics, which requires him to cut taxes. In an important article in the Times last week that was factually incorrect, philosophically incoherent and economically bonkers, David Cameron set out the Tory credo. He was wrong on all counts. Trying to argue why every reader should vote Conservative, he instead revealed the darkness of the blind alley into which modern Conservatism has stumbled.
The economy needs public agency. The long commutes that Mr Cameron so celebrated in his article are done in publicly provided railways with fat public grants for the private companies that operate them. The innovations that make offices and factory floors competitive come from publicly funded science and public grants that allow companies and entrepreneurs to lay off some of the enormous risk of being technological pioneers. No significant innovation or invention has ever happened anywhere without public initiative at some stage in the process.

Economies and societies grow out of an interdependence between public and private: they need each other and taxation is the financial connecting rod. To echo the IFS, there is no sense in which “every pound of public money is private earning”: private earning becomes as high as it is only because of public investment. Taxes are the means by which we furnish public agencies the wherewithal to provide us with the universities, research, roads, railways, networks and all the rest that allow private companies to flourish. It is why the IMF, considering the best way to get public finances back on track after a credit crunch, recommends that governments try to preserve as much of that enterprise-enhancing public spending as possible, increasing rather than lowering taxes as part of the programme. Mr Cameron’s boast is economically illiterate.

Taxes are socially indispensable as well. “Public services and safety nets” are not inconvenient social burdens that require immoral taxes. They are created as a collectively owned means of guarding against the hazards and risks that every human might confront – of a crippling illness or disability – and problems associated with ageing.

We do not deserve what will or could happen to us, but we pay our taxes to fund systems that protect not just ourselves but each other. Taxation, in this sense, is the most complete expression of our morality. Of course the Treasury should husband our resources, not because taxation is immoral but because it has a duty to make sure this social money does as much work as possible, giving us the biggest return for our moral taxes.
- And David Doorey both reminds us that more social countries tend to be far happier than those which adopt the Cameron/Harper beggar-thy-neighbour ethos, and offers an interesting explanation as to why:
Today, the United Nation’s released its second annual “World Happiness Index”. One thing that is striking about these studies is that the ‘most happy countries’ are always countries with the a long tradition of strong government social welfare programs, high overall tax levels, and of interest to a blog on work law, high levels of collective bargaining coverage. That is, in happy countries, unions and collective bargaining play a substantial role in the setting of conditions of work, which creates a strong middle class. Not surprisingly, therefore, the ‘happiest’ countries also tend to be the least unequal societies: they score well on measures of income inequality.
Given what we know about the effects of collective bargaining, the relationship should not be surprising. Empirically, we know that collective bargaining raises incomes, contributes to a stronger middle class, results in better health benefits and pensions, and produces safer jobs and better job security than the alternative system, in which employers usually fix working conditions unilaterally, subject to certain regulatory minimum standards. We know that countries with high collective bargaining coverage have a broader distribution of wealth throughout society than countries with low collective bargaining coverage. My colleague Professor Michael Lynk has nicely summarized these outcomes in this paper.

We might also expect that countries that respect collective bargaining rights are also more likely to provide a strong bundle of social benefits that tend to make like more enjoyable, and easier, for its citizens. These countries operate under a different type of capitalism than prevails in countries, like the USA, where a belief in ‘market forces’ and ‘individual responsibility” borders on religious doctrine. In these ‘happy’ countries, the role of ‘social partners’, like unions, has long been accepted as a necessary counterbalance to capitalist forces. Critics of strong government and unions like to deride these systems as ‘socialist’. But whatever you want to call it, these systems consistently produce the happiest citizens in the world.
The Happiness Index provides another insight into why collective bargaining coverage might be associated with happiness. In a very interesting segment of the report (pages 62-64), the authors explain that a significant factor affecting happiness is individual perceptions of ‘relative income’. People become less happy when they believe their income is lower relative to a comparator, such as coworkers or friends. This is something I’ve discussed before on this blog (see Why Do Workers Support Policies to Weaken Labour Rights?) A theory might be that where large segments of the population have their wage and benefits fixed by collective agreements, rather than at the whim of human resources policies, there will be fewer gaps in compensation that seem arbitrary or unfair to people. They can more easily understand differences in pay, because those differences are more likely to be transparent and explained in the collective agreements.

In contrast, in countries where union representation is lower, like the USA, unionized workers earn considerably more money and have better benefits and pensions. Nonunion workers become resentful (unhappy) of this privilege, because they are relatively worse off than their perceived comparators in the unionized workplaces. High collective agreement coverage reduces the potential for wage and benefit envy, which breeds unhappiness.
- But David Sirota notes that we're still a long way from giving effect to the principle of using collective power for the public good - and indeed the U.S. is seeing a new batch of candidates who seem nearly certain to turn hard-earned public pensions over to their financial-sector cronies at the expense of the workers who rely on them.

- Amanda Marcotte writes about the split between the progressive preference for real news and the conservative inclination to live in a fact-free echo chamber.

- And there are few issues where the divide is more stark than climate change and resource extraction. On the fact-based side, the BBC reports on the IPCC's eminently reasonable conclusion that we need to transition away from the fossil fuels which power much of the right-wing propaganda machine, while Tim McDonnell discusses the continued environmental damage done by BP's Gulf of Mexico blowout. But Eric Lipton exposes how oil barons are eager to play dirty in trying to silence anybody who questions their destruction of the planet.

- Finally, Amira Elghawaby interviews Glenn Greenwald about the Cons' plans for a more pervasive and intrusive surveillance state.