Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Danyaal Raza highlights how Canadians can treat an election year as an opportunity to discuss the a focus on social health with candidates and peers alike:
Health providers are increasingly recognizing that while a robust health care system is an important part of promoting Canadians’ health, so is the availability of affordable housing, decent work, and a tightly knit social safety net. Upstream-focused clinical interventions, like the income security program available where I practice, are increasingly meeting that need – but no such program works in a vacuum.
Thinking differently requires speaking differently. Each of the presenters shared meaningful stories of their own experiences and stories of the impact of the social determinants of health on the lives of patients they’ve cared for during their careers. From this ‘SDOHrytelling’ to advocating trading the GDP for a measurement of greater meaning like the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, reframing public discourse is an act of social change.
As Canadians head into a federal election year, we need to put this perspective into practice. Upstream thinking and action on the social determinants of health should not be a single election issue. Rather, this should be the lens we apply to the promises and platforms of all parties, as we ask the key question “what is your plan to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of this country?” That is the standard by which any prospective leader should be judged, and when they are it will empower them to work with Canadians to build a truly healthy society. 
- Meanwhile, Janelle Vandergriff rightly argues that it's time to shift from talk to action in eliminating poverty. Bryce Covert notes that care workers are particularly likely to face precarious job conditions and low wages. And Keith Naughton, Lynn Doan and Jeffrey Green write that the labour movement may be poised for a significant comeback in the U.S., while Joanna Mack discusses the connection between union strength and greater equality.

- But of course, any effort to actually improve the lives of the non-elite is bound to meet well-financed (if untrustworthy) opposition. On that front, Andrew Jackson slams the Cons' bluster about balanced budgets as being destructive to responsible fiscal management. And Lana Payne points out that the corporate lobby is only increasing its attacks on unions even as the disastrous effects of disempowering workers become obvious:
The global lobby against workers’ rights is among the fiercest and best financed. And it has reached a fever pitch, including an assault by employers at the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the right to strike.
Corporate power and employer organizations have had a good friend in right-wing governments (and some not so right-wing) around the world.
It is no coincidence that the attack on workers’ rights and freedoms, such as the right to join a union and to fair and free collective bargaining, have gone hand in hand with unparalleled growth in inequality.
Unions, organized labour, remain the single greatest counterbalance to corporate power. Simply, they force wealth to be shared. No country on the planet has achieved shared prosperity without strong unions and decent collective bargaining coverage for workers.

A 2012 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report looking at the growth in income inequality concluded: “arrangements that strengthen trade unions also tend to reduce labour earnings inequality by ensuring a more equal distribution of earnings.”

This is important for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is inequality hampers economic growth (even the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank now agree) and damages civil engagement and democracy.
- Doug Cuthand examines the tragic fires at Makwa Sahgaiehcan and other reserves as just the latest examples of how chronic underfunding and neglect affect First Nations.

- Finally, Stephen Maher comments on the ugly, bigoted campaign the Cons are planning to run in order to cling to power, while Andrew Coyne notes that Stephen Harper's eliminationist rhetoric only serves to make Canadians less safe. And Ralph Surette discusses how the Cons' work to terrorize Canadians fits into their broader focus on electoral propaganda over good governance - and how there's plenty of work to do in countering it.

Burning question

C-51, the Cons' terror bill, allows CSIS to covertly intrude on personal freedoms in two obvious ways.

First, it enables CSIS effectively unfettered authority - without a warrant - to engage in any action which is not contrary to the Charter or other Canadian law, and which does not:
(a) cause, intentionally or by criminal negligence, death or bodily harm to an individual;
(b) wilfully attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice; or
(c) violate the sexual integrity of an individual. 
Second, it enables CSIS - with a warrant - to violate the Charter and other Canadian laws, including to "install, maintain or remove any thing".

With that in mind, would the responsible gun owners who have fought so hard even against the mere registration of firearms consider it desirable for CSIS to have the general power to remove, install tracking devices on or tamper with their firearms, especially if (as seems possible) that can be done without a warrant?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Musical interlude

Seabound - Everything

On motivating factors

Andrew Coyne offers what's probably the most reasonable argument to treat the negligible threat of terrorism differently from the other risks we so readily accept (and indeed which are regularly exacerbated by deregulation).

But Coyne's argument falls well short of justifying the response actually on offer from the Cons - and indeed looks questionable on its own merits.
(M)otive comes up at many points in the criminal law - if the motive is self-defence, for example. And motive, in the case of terrorism, is inseparable from the act. The terrorist does not seek only to kill for killing's sake, or for reasons internal to him, but to intimidate others - to send a message - to alter behaviour - not only on the part of governments, but of citizens. More to the point, he might just succeed.

It is that possibility that truly separates terrorism from other crimes of violence. There is no way to lessen your chances of being killed by a random lunatic. As such, there is no reason to alter your behaviour. But there is, or at least so you might reason, so long as you, or we, do as the terrorist demands, and the more any of us do, the more likely it is that such demands will be issued. We do not want our society to be run by violence and threats. Hence the need, at the least, for a separate category of crime.

And a separate category of response? Here the scale of the threat enters into it. An organized movement, with a coherent ideology, capable of raising funds, recruiting others, planning, training and so on, is capable of much greater mayhem than a stray lunatic - especially now that the technology of mass death has escaped the control of state actors. Never has it been more easily available, and never have there been so many willing to use it. (The crossover case is the so-called "lone wolf," acting alone but guided or inspired by an organized terrorist group. It is not the voices in his head we need to worry about so much as the voices in his ear.)
Now, let's start by highlighting Coyne's distinction between a "random lunatic" whose actions are in no way related to terrorism-related policy, and a "lone wolf" who draws some inspiration from terrorist groups.

At best, that distinction looks like an exercise in begging the question. At least, I don't think there's much room for doubt that people who engage in random violence would generally do so based on the influence of a combination of internal and external "voices" - and to assert that some people may include organized groups among the latter is utterly unhelpful for any purpose.

In fact, if our goal is to establish policy with the goal of minimizing the external voices which might lead people to violence, Coyne has it exactly wrong.

The motive of a speaker or group whose message might drive an individual to violence should be utterly irrelevant. A message which has an equally strong likelihood of influencing an individual to pose a threat is no less and no more threatening whether it originates with a group dedicated to the same end, or another source with entirely innocent intentions.

That doesn't answer the question as to how to address the relationship between mental health issues and security threats. And there would be alarming implications to any policy that speech which could possibly provoke violence (even if only through misinterpretation) should be suppressed - which is in large part why the virtually unlimited powers contained in C-51 are so worrisome.

The more reasonable means of addressing individuals who might be prone to acts of violence is thus intervention at the individual level to ensure that some pro-social voices and connections are in the mix. That's exactly the part of the system which broke down in the case of last year's Ottawa shootings - and it's the aspect of threat management which the Cons are downplaying in order to push widespread surveillance and interference.

But there's no reason to think we're safer if public policy is oriented toward stopping the speech of groups who might shift a would-be attacker from "random lunatic" to "lone wolf" status.

More plausibly, one might give some weight to Coyne's point about the potential for the organized use of technology capable of causing significant harm. Here too, though, we run into the Cons' highly selective choices in seeking to make that very technology far more widely and easily available than their political opponents. 

Moreover, the same phenomenon which Coyne considers worrisome solely in the context of intended intimidation applies equally to the distribution of threats with entirely different motivations. Weapons in the hands of groups aren't the only dangerous materials which have the potential to cause widespread harm to innocent individuals, and one doesn't have to be motivated by a desire to hurt people to actually cause significant damage - as is obvious from the examples of contaminated goods and transportation accidents which have caused far more real harm to Canadians in recent years.

And Coyne is one of the most fervent advocates in Canada for the position that those types of dangers should be subject to minimal supervision in the business sector, permitting the market sort out any problems with little government involvement. Or at the very least, I'd be shocked to see him advocate an equivalent system to C-51 - featuring no-notice access allowing secret government agencies to access and change the operations of businesses, or immediately stop corporate operations on bare "security" grounds without notice or an opportunity for explanation - to guard against the deadly consequences of regulatory failure.

Finally, we get to motive as a factor in sentencing - which is an entirely valid consideration in the criminal law context. But there, motive surfaces as a relevant factor only after a crime has been demonstrated - meaning that one can't use it as a reasonable analogy for intruding on the daily lives of Canadians in the absence of evidence. 

In sum, then, Coyne's case for treating the motive behind terrorism as reason to intrude on individual freedoms ultimately serves only to provide a couple more twists on the same fatally-flawed argument. But as I wrote in yesterday's column, if our goal is to ensure public safety, any focus on motivations rather than actual threats is at best an unhelpful diversion - and at worst an opportunity for gross abuses of power.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Nicholas Kristof discusses how U.S. workers have suffered as a result of declining union strength. And Barry Critchley writes that Canada's average expected retirement age has crept over 65 - with that change coming out of necessity rather than worker choice.

- Alex Andreou rightly slams the concept of "defensive architecture" intended to eliminate the poor from sight rather than actually addressing poverty:
“When you’re designed against, you know it,” says Ocean Howell, who teaches architectural history at the University of Oregon, speaking about anti-skateboarding designs. “Other people might not see it, but you will. The message is clear: you are not a member of the public, at least not of the public that is welcome here.” The same is true of all defensive architecture. The psychological effect is devastating.
Defensive architecture is revealing on a number of levels, because it is not the product of accident or thoughtlessness, but a thought process. It is a sort of unkindness that is considered, designed, approved, funded and made real with the explicit motive to exclude and harass. It reveals how corporate hygiene has overridden human considerations, especially in retail districts. It is a symptom of the clash of private and public, of necessity and property.
This tripartite pressure of an increasingly hostile built environment, huge reduction in state budgets, and a hardening attitude to poverty can be disastrous for people sleeping rough, both physically and psychologically. Fundamental misunderstanding of destitution is designed to exonerate the rest from responsibility and insulate them from perceiving risk. All of us are encouraged to spend future earnings through credit. For the spell to be effective, it is essential to be in a sort of denial about the possibility that such future earnings could dry up. Most of us are a couple of pay packets from being insolvent. We despise homeless people for bringing us face to face with that fact.

Poverty exists as a parallel, but separate, reality. City planners work very hard to keep it outside our field of vision. It is too miserable, too dispiriting, too painful to look at someone defecating in a park or sleeping in a doorway and think of him as “someone’s son”. It is easier to see him and ask only the unfathomably self-centred question: “How does his homelessness affect me?” So we cooperate with urban design and work very hard at not seeing, because we do not want to see. We tacitly agree to this apartheid.
- David Climenhaga calls for the media to stop enabling the Fraser Institute's propaganda mill. But Tyler Cowen points to research showing that even by the warped definitions applied by the Fraser Institute and other similar corporate mouthpieces, increased tax levels tend to lead to greater economic freedom.

- Finally, Jean Chretien, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and John Turner join a group of distinguished Canadians in criticizing the Cons' terror bill - though sadly their former parties are rather less interested in the public good. And while Aaron Wherry leaves open the possibility that Parliament might be given the opportunity to meaningfully discuss whether C-51 is either needed at all or adequately tailored to its supposed purposes, Michael Harris is right to worry that a Con majority will refuse to let that happen.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On oversight

Since one of the main issues talked about so far in relation to the Cons' terror bill is the question of oversight, I'll point back to what I said the last time we were told that the way to split the difference between abuses of power and a desire for secrecy was to allow only a small number of elected officials to know - but not act on - what's going on:
Remember that many of the worst abuses by the U.S. government under Bushco were defended later on the basis that Democrats were informed of their existence. And that the fact that the opposition officials were sworn to secrecy and lacked any practical means to stop the abuse didn't stop a bullying government from claiming that their failure to act immediately made for tacit agreement with the policy.

Of course, that wasn't a reasonable position by any stretch of the imagination. But it did create a handy distraction tactic as soon as revelations did leak into the public eye - ensuring that the governing party wouldn't bear sole responsibility for its own actions, while the public would perceive insiders of all parties as having hidden information. 
And the need is even more glaring in the case of C-51. Instead of merely investigating past misconduct as in the case of the Afghan detainee scandal, any oversight mechanism would need to be able to assess and respond to the use of nearly-unfettered powers on an ongoing basis. And a term of tightly-scripted Con majority government should put to rest any hope that MPs from the party currently in power will lift a finger to hold the executive accountable for anything.

Of course, the best option for now is to challenge whether those powers are actually needed in the first place. On that front, the answer looks to be an emphatic "no".

But we should also press to make sure that any powers which might be granted are accompanied by full and public disclosure as soon as the immediate reason for action has abated. Because if the Cons think so little of the public as to believe we should have no knowledge of what's being done in our name, there's no reason for confidence they'll think any more of us when it comes to using and overseeing new secret police powers.

New column day

Here, on the Cons' attempt to spin an election narrative out of a fictional bogeyman rather than protecting or helping Canadians.

For further reading...
- The National Academy of Sciences offers a comparison of death rates from multiple causes in Canada and elsewhere, while Statistics Canada has more detailed data. And it's also worth a reminder as to the large number of deaths caused by inequality.
- In contrast to the real risks we face and accept every day, even the Cons' attempt to fabricate a paper trail around terrorism resorts to labeling arrests as failures or dangers (rather than examples of threats being detected and eliminated) in order to pretend there's a problem.
- Global Research makes the case for greater perspective in comparing risks from a U.S. perspective, while Paul Adams highlights the massive distance (in geography and other connections) between Canada and any serious threat. And of course Dan Gardner is always worth a read for a longer-form analysis.
- Finally, the most obvious discussion of threats (real or imagined) has surrounded the Cons' terror legislation. On that front, the NDP is taking the lead role in challenging pointless intrusions into our civil rights, and earning praise from even the likes of John Ivison in the process. Matthew Behrens notes that the Cons' message is a combination of warmed-over George W. Bush war rhetoric and ignored warnings from the RCMP (yes, that RCMP) about conflating terrorism with legitimate activity. And having already offered an important summary of C-51, Craig Forcese now examines how it's designed to attack purely peaceful and democratic activism.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jeffrey Sparshott discusses new research into how automation stands to displace workers and exacerbate inequality, while a House of Lords committee finds that 35% of the current jobs in the UK could fall prey to exactly that process. And Szu Ping Chan reports on Andy Haldane's warning that a vicious cycle could prove disastrous for everybody:
Mr Haldane warned that robots could soon replace workers en-masse.

"Intelligent robots could substitute for lower-skilled tasks. If the capacity of the machine brain approached, or surpassed, the human brain, higher-skilled jobs could also be at risk. Where this leaves trends in employment, inequality and social capital is unclear. But, most likely, this would be far from blissful ignorance," he said.

"A second secular headwind, closely related to rising inequality, concerns human capital," he added. "Inequality may retard growth because it damps investment in education, in particular by poorer households. Studies show parental income is crucial in determining children’s educational performance. If inequality is generational and self-perpetuating, so too will be its impact on growth."

"In sum, if history and empirical evidence is any guide, this cocktail of sociological factors, individually and in combination, could restrain growth. They could jeopardise the promise of the fourth industrial revolution. Pessimists’ concerns would be warranted."
- Of course, a more fair distribution of wealth and income could go a long way toward ensuring that nobody is left behind even as the economy changes. And Tom Clark observes that there's far more public appetite to catch and punish wealthy tax dodgers than people receiving public benefits.

- Meanwhile, Angella MacEwen offers some needed suggestions to ensure that Employment Insurance is available when workers need it - rather than seeing its funds used for political purposes.

- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries note that the Cons' economic rhetoric is sounding more detached from reality by the day. And Steve Barnes discusses the double whammy of low wages and no benefits facing far too many workers in Ontario.

- Finally, Keith Stewart writes that while it's not yet a crime to act to help the environment in Canada, the Cons have designs on changing that fact. Andrea Germanos notes that the RCMP's report on the oil industry goes beyond even peaceful protest, and moves squarely into criticism of issue advocacy where it's inconvenient for the oil industry. And PressProgress points out much more bizarre material in the report.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Garfield Mahood and Brian Iler discuss the challenge facing charities as compared to the special treatment of businesses in trying to advocate as to public policy:
(T)he solutions to many of society’s problems do not need more research and the criticism-free public education that the CRA permits. They cry out for advocacy and changed law. Unfortunately, the CRA only allows NGOs to spend 10 per cent of their income on policy advocacy and law reform. Thus a charity has to be substantial in order to be large enough to fund meaningful advocacy.

In contrast, while the Harper government blocks charities from using tax credits to influence public opinion, it allows corporations to write off as a business expense 100 per cent of the money they spend to derail or support legislation that affects their interests.

Unfortunately, the situation is worse than the 10 per cent limit imposed by CRA guidelines. The chill created by the fear of the loss of charitable status inhibits many NGOs from working effectively. The self-censorship that is produced constrains even the allowable advocacy. Thus, there is a good reason to question whether charitable status is more of a burden than an asset for many non-profits.
- PressProgress exposes five of the Cons' most regressive policies. And Barrie McKenna points out the need for greater investment in young families, rather than allocating resources based solely on the goal of buying off wealthier and older voters.

- Meanwhile, Anuj Shah observes that people operating under a mindset of scarcity value resources far more consistently than those who have money to spare. But the most significant outcome of that finding looks to me to be that a focus on additional unnecessary resources at the top of the wealth scale only amplifies irrational decision-making.

- Robyn Benson argues that we should all be able to agree on the importance of safe workplaces - making it particularly striking that the Cons are spending so much time trying to force workers to impose the dangers of ill health or fatigue on themselves and the public. And Eric Atkins discusses the continued epidemic of oil derailments.

- Finally, Jim Harding slams the Cons' wedge politics, while asking whether we'll allow them to dominate the 2015 federal election. L. Ian MacDonald calls out Stephen Harper's step toward outright xenophobia. And both Lawrence Martin and the Globe and Mail's editorial board weigh in on the disastrous consequences of the Cons' terror bill, while Shawn McCarthy reports that "anti-petroleum" activity figures to be one of the main targets.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Slumbering cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tessa Jowell writes that we need to treat inequality as a disease which can be cured through effective public policy, but the Star points out that the Cons have instead gone out of their way to make it worse. Fair Vote Canada interviews J. Peter Venton about the toxic effect of inequality on our political system. And Sean McElwee notes that in the U.S. at least, the right has managed to turn the middle and working classes against exactly the type of redistribution which best serves their interests.

- Yanis Varoufakis argues that it's long past time to start ensuring that our decisions about public policy are made with the interests of people in mind, rather than being based solely on calculations as to what elites can get away with:
The trouble with game theory, as I used to tell my students, is that it takes for granted the players’ motives. In poker or blackjack this assumption is unproblematic. But in the current deliberations between our European partners and Greece’s new government, the whole point is to forge new motives. To fashion a fresh mind-set that transcends national divides, dissolves the creditor-debtor distinction in favor of a pan-European perspective, and places the common European good above petty politics, dogma that proves toxic if universalized, and an us-versus-them mind-set.

As finance minister of a small, fiscally stressed nation lacking its own central bank and seen by many of our partners as a problem debtor, I am convinced that we have one option only: to shun any temptation to treat this pivotal moment as an experiment in strategizing and, instead, to present honestly the facts concerning Greece’s social economy, table our proposals for regrowing Greece, explain why these are in Europe’s interest, and reveal the red lines beyond which logic and duty prevent us from going.
How do we know that our modest policy agenda, which constitutes our red line, is right in Kant’s terms? We know by looking into the eyes of the hungry in the streets of our cities or contemplating our stressed middle class, or considering the interests of hard-working people in every European village and city within our monetary union. After all, Europe will only regain its soul when it regains the people’s trust by putting their interests center-stage.
- Dean Baker observes that political figures still pushing austerity even in the face of compelling evidence of failure should be considered the economic equivalent of creationists. And Louis-Philippe Rochon argues from a Canadian perspective that we're headed for even more severe economic trouble if we keep putting up with contractionary fiscal policy.

- Mark Schmitt discusses how supplementary public contributions might help to rein in the disproportionate influence of the wealthy in U.S. politics. But it's worth noting that Canada had a superior version of the same type of policy in the form of the per-vote funding eliminated by the Harper Cons.

- Janice Dickson looks into the background of the Halifax shooting plot. And Derrick O'Keefe sees Peter MacKay's response as yet another example of the Cons' politicizing issues of public safety, while Gary Shaul writes about the Cons' willingness to downplay violent extremism as long as it comes from their type of violent extremists.

- Finally, Rafe Mair worries that the politics of fear might well succeed - particularly if opposition parties and the media fail in their job of challenging the Cons' fearmongering. And while Karl Nerenberg may be right in recognizing some political risk in actually doing that job, I'd think there's even more to be lost if nobody takes it on.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On alternative explanations

In 2011, one of the turning points in Canada's federal election campaign (at least in determining which party would form the Official Opposition) came when voters learned about Michael Ignatieff's refusal to show up for work in the House of Commons.

One might have expected the Libs' next leader to avoid leaving himself open to the same criticism. One would have been wrong.

But tonight, we may have seen Justin Trudeau's answer to the same point in 2015:

"Of course I don't show up to Parliament. Why bother when my party can't remember what it's supposed to do there anyway?"

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Stanford highlights the fact that a deficit obsession may have little to do with economic development - and calls out the B.C. Libs for pretending that the former is the same as the latter:
I found especially objectionable the article’s uncritical cheerleading for expenditure restraint, praising the government for below-average per capita spending on health care and education, and for welfare rates that are “frozen in time.”  Why are these things assumed to be “good”? To the contrary, the lasting debts that B.C. is accumulating by underinvesting so badly in its people, its infrastructure, and its environment belie the government’s phony claims about living within its means and protecting future generations.  The article included just one critical quote (from the NDP finance critic) versus seven bullish quotes from Mr. de Jong (along with a gratuitous depiction of his “famously thrifty” personal habits).

B.C.’s relative economic performance has in fact been slowly fading throughout the Liberal government’s tenure.  It turns out that just balancing a budget does not imply automatic prosperity after all (and if deficit elimination is achieved through austerity, it hurts prosperity, not helps it).

Maximizing GDP per capita is not the goal of economic policy, and perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much about one article that so objectionably internalizes the ideology of austerity (accentuated by a wildly inaccurate headline).  But I do think this article constitutes an extreme and cautionary example of how the assumptions of deficit elimination have been so deeply swallowed in our national economic discourse, that people actually think “deficit reduction” and “prosperity” are synonymous.  Remember: a government can eliminate its deficit, or even shut down entirely, but that hardly implies that society is richer.
- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries criticize the Harper Cons for lacking either a budgetary or an economic Plan B other than to count on high oil prices to cover up for mismanagement. Barrie McKenna discusses Canada's largest-ever Ponzi scheme - which predictably fed off of investors who believed they couldn't lose in an Alberta oil bubble. And Donald Gutstein writes that the Fraser Institute is going out of its way to train the media to substitute laissez-faire dogmatism for actual economics.

- Geordan Omand reports on the work of B.C.'s labour movement in pursuing a $15 minimum wage. But Iglika Ivanova rightly argues that we also need social protections in place to address the shift toward on-demand work rather than stable employment relationships:
(W)orkers’ compensation, pensions, extended health benefits, paid sick time, parental leave, etc. — these are all employer-provided benefits in Canada too. If you are a contractor, or you recently changed employers you often aren’t eligible (with some exceptions like CPP but that’s currently not large enough be a sufficient pension on its own; it was meant supplement workplace pension plans).

The job market has changed and it’s time for our social policy models to change with it. In my view, Reich’s proposal of trying to force today’s job market relationships into the old employer-provided benefits model is a bit like forcing a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t quite fit.

Here’s a better idea: let’s shift to providing labour protections by the state. This way every worker would be eligible, regardless of who they work for.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to move to European-style sectoral bargaining, where workers are able to collectively organize by industry (instead of workplace by workplace) and bargain with major employers together.
- Finally, Haroon Siddiqui highlights the Cons' politics of hate against Muslims. And Haaretz offers a case in point as to terror politics can overtake democratic choices, as a candidate is set to be barred from running in Israel's general election merely for having failed to buy into jingoistic war-on-terror language.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato argues that we need to change our conversation and our policy choices on public investment in Canada's economy:
As in many other countries, the conversation about government and public investment in Canada has for decades distorted and underplayed the role of the state as a crucial agent in shaping and creating markets.

In a country where inequality has grown as the progressive state has been dismantled, I learned that corporate tax rates have been reduced, and generous tax credits given out to promote R&D, all while Canadian corporations hoard over $600 billion in “dead money.” As I outlined in an article for the Toronto Star at the time of my first visit, and explained in an interview for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a visionary state with the courage to direct mission-oriented investments, rather than just ‘de-risk’ the private sector, is needed to spur smart innovation-led growth. The conversation should be around the kind of broad challenges and missions that public and private actors can rally around, rather than on policies that simply increase profits in the short-term. This is particularly important in a country heavily reliant on natural resource exports (see the current oil bust) and with chronically-low business spending on R&D.
If Canada wants to shift away from oil and its extractive sector to an innovation-led economy, then bold leadership and investment in new directions are needed. ‘Green growth’ is one such potential direction. However, across the globe the countries that are leading in green transformations are precisely those where the State plays a more active role. If Canada wants to compete in this area, it will have to courageously envisage the direction of change to create and shape the new markets that could set it on a path to sustainable and inclusive growth.

As I have argued elsewhere, mission oriented investments require new evaluation tools which account for the market shaping/creating role of the public sector, not just ‘market fixing’ role– and new ideas on how to build public sector organisations that welcome the explorative uncertain process that innovation entails, rather than fearing it.
- But of course, it's also essential that public-sector investment be put toward reasonable development. And on that front, Jim Snyder, Mark Drajem and Matthew Phillips write that the Obama administration is recognizing that there's no point in pouring billions of dollars into "clean coal" which undermines its own raison d'etre, while Bruce Johnstone suggests that Saskatchewan should be asking the same types of questions.

- Jeremy Nuttall interviews Mark Blyth about the need to avoid the gratuitous austerity that's led to social and economic disaster in Europe.

- Anna Mehler Paperny offers low-income workers a chance to tell their stories about the effect of precarious work. And Robert Reich discusses how the corporate lobby's spin on work is indistinguishable from a 19th-century "worker beware" standard:
My recent column about the growth of on-demand jobs like Uber making life less predictable and secure for workers unleashed a small barrage of criticism that workers get what they’re worth in the market.

Forbes Magazine contributor, for example, writes that jobs exist only  “when both employer and employee are happy with the deal being made.” So if the new jobs are low-paying and irregular, too bad.

Much the same argument was voiced in the late nineteenth century over alleged “freedom of contract.” Any deal between employees and workers was assumed to be fine if both sides voluntarily agreed to it.

It was an era when many workers were “happy” to toil twelve-hour days in sweat shops for lack of any better alternative.

It was also a time of great wealth for a few and squalor for many. And of corruption, as the lackeys of robber barons deposited sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.
(S)ince around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.

This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever.

It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind.
- Finally, Michael Laxer discusses the Islamophobic dog-whistles which make up most of the Cons' excuse for constant election-year fearmongering. And Dr. Dawg comments on the Cons' broader terror agenda.