Saturday, April 04, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Saturday reading.

- Lana Payne writes that we're seeing exactly the results we should expect from Stephen Harper's foolish choice to push money upward:
A recent Globe and Mail story, using data from Statistics Canada, pointed out just how poorly the job market is doing under Stephen Harper’s leadership.

“Employment growth has been below 1 per cent for 15 months in a row.  The longest stretch … outside of recessions in almost 40 years of record-keeping,” according to the article by economics reporter Tavia Grant.

At the same time, corporate Canada is flush with cash, including billions of dollars in tax cuts from the federal government. Tax cuts that are not being spent to create jobs or invest in wages, despite the rhetoric behind them.

Indeed, corporate Canada, according to a recent report from CIBC WorldMarkets, is laughing all the way to the bank with the highest profit margins in 27 years.

But while the profit share of the country’s GDP continues to grow, the labour share continues to decline. The same report found that one-third of the country’s GDP was produced in sectors with falling labour costs.

The report noted that even with falling oil prices it doesn’t expect the profit market trend to be reversed. In other words, high profits are here to stay.

This may work for Bay Street, but on Main Street where politicians — even Stephen Harper — have to get elected, this is a mess. On Main Street, high profits and weak employment are not exactly a winning combination. The question is how or will the other two political parties capitalize on Harper’s failed economic record.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Branko Milanovic study (PDF) the incentives of the ultra-rich and find that they're motivated primarily by increasing inequality rather than improving overall economic conditions. And George Monbiot highlights the distinction between the people who produce what matters, and those who merely exploit others around them:
One of the most painful lessons a young adult learns is that the wrong traits are rewarded. We celebrate originality and courage, but those who rise to the top are often conformists and sycophants. We are taught that cheats never prosper, yet the country is run by spivs. A study testing British senior managers and chief executives found that on certain indicators of psychopathy their scores exceeded those of patients diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders in the Broadmoor special hospital.

If you possess the one indispensable skill – battering and blustering your way to the top – incompetence in other areas is no impediment. ...
As the pay gap widens – chief executives in the UK took 60 times as much as the average worker in the 1990s and 180 times as much today – the uselessness ratio is going through the roof I propose a name for this phenomenon: klepto-remuneration.

There is no end to this theft except robust government intervention: a redistribution of wages through maximum ratios and enhanced taxation. But this won’t happen until we challenge the infrastructure of justification, built so carefully by politicians and the press. Our lives are damaged not by the undeserving poor but by the undeserving rich.
- Meanwhile, Emily Dugan reports on the British Sociological Association's conclusion that a strong social safety net actually encourages more people to want to work.

- Thomas Walkom reminds us that Canada Post remains highly profitable while continuing to provide door-to-door delivery - meaning that the Cons' desire to destroy it is based on nothing more than general contempt for public services. But that obsession with privatizing isn't limited to the Cons, as Martin Regg Cohn warns the Ontario Libs against needlessly selling off parts of Hydro One.

- Finally, Sean Craig writes that the Wynne Libs have also selectively rewritten an anti-SLAPP bill for the benefit of themselves and their key donors. And Chris Wiseman duly criticizes the federal Libs for trying to silence Leadnow's grassroots opposition to C-51.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Musical interlude

Nadia Ali, Starkillers & Alex Kenji - Pressure (Alesso Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- Jim Buchanan comments on the mountain of inequality looming over all of our political choices. Laurie Posner interviews Paul Gorski about the need for a vocabulary which accurately portrays inequality as the result of social conditions rather than merit or culture. And Robert Reich notes that if anybody can accurately be classified as having done nothing to earn a living, it's the idle rich:
In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time — sometimes sixty or more hours a week – yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others.

In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them.
The ranks of the working poor are growing because wages at the bottom have  dropped, adjusted for inflation. With increasing numbers of Americans taking low-paying jobs in retail sales, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, childcare, elder care, and other personal services, the pay of the bottom fifth is falling closer to the minimum wage.
Bill Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996 pushed the poor off welfare and into work. Meanwhile, the Earned Income Tax Credit, a wage subsidy, has emerged as the nation’s largest anti-poverty program. Here, too, having a job is a prerequisite.

The new work requirements haven’t reduced the number or percentage of Americans in poverty. They’ve just moved poor people from being unemployed and impoverished to being employed and impoverished.
At the same time, the ranks of the non-working rich have been swelling. America’s legendary “self-made” men and women are fast being replaced by wealthy heirs.

Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined.

Americans who became enormously wealthy over the last three decades are now busily transferring that wealth to their children and grand children.

The nation is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. A study from the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects a total of $59 trillion passed down to heirs between 2007 and 2061.

As the French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us, this is the kind of dynastic wealth that’s kept Europe’s aristocracy going for centuries. It’s about to become the major source of income for a new American aristocracy.
- Meanwhile, Erika Shaker eviscerates the CCCE's demand that post-secondary education be made less accessible - ensuring that the mountain will grow all the more.

- Paul Krugman discusses the dangers of evaluating policies solely in terms of sales pitches rather than actual outcomes. Toby Sanger notes that far too many provinces continue to push austerity which has approximately zero chance of success on any terms other than the former. And Tyler Clarke calls out the Saskatchewan Party's big lie about "balanced" budgets which are anything but.

- David Pugliese exposes Jason Kenney's habit of lying in the interest of selling perpetual war, then pretending somebody else is responsible for his own falsehoods. But fortunately, Nanos finds that the Canadian public isn't interested in buying the Cons' appeal to fear.

- The National Post examines just a few of the more glaring flaws in the Cons' terror bill. Alex Neve asks the Cons to listen to the public's concerns about C-51 (implausible though that may seem). Stuart Trew observes that the few amendments allowed to the bill reflect the orders of the Cons' central command rather than taking into account a word of any committee review, while Craig Forcese highlights what we can learn about the Cons' intention from the committee process. And Andrew Mitrovica offers another look at the gross lack of oversight at CSIS.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Margot Sanger-Katz writes about the connection between inequality and poor health. Nicolas Fitz reminds us that even people concerned about inequality may underestimate how serious it is. And BJ Siekierski asks what will happen to Canada's economy in terms of both growth and equity as unsustainable resource and real estate booms come to an end.

- Of course, we could help matters by not burning billions of public dollars where they're needed least. On that front, David MacDonald compares the Cons' actual budget plans to the far more productive uses of public resources proposed by the CCPA. And Thomas Walkom discusses how the Cons have transformed a public welfare state into a costly vote-buying apparatus.

- Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger write that the U.S.' desperate lack of infrastructure funding can be traced directly to a failure to ensure that corporations pay their fair share in taxes - and that still more tax amnesties in the name of bringing in one-time revenue will only make matters worse. And Chris Hedges talks to Jenny Uechi about the corporate buyout of Canadian politics which the Harper Cons have taken to new extremes.

- Rick Smith writes about the Broadbent Institute's role in pushing for progressive change in Canada. And Jeremy Nuttall writes that the 2015 federal election may offer an interesting test of different means of organizing to improve political outcomes - as Quebec unions are focusing on holding off Conservatives in specific ridings, while Saskatchewan's labour movement is focusing more on issue advocacy.

- Finally, Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the Workers' Action Centre's study showing that employment standard laws need to be updated to deal with increasingly precarious work (much of which has been made that way precisely to avoid protections for employees), while Angella MacEwen offers her own suggestions. And Jeff Noonan points out that public-sector strikes can serve an important role in protecting the public interest.

New column day

Here, on how the sudden disappearance of Danielle Smith and her fellow Wildrose Party defectors offers a case in point of the dangers of forgetting that politicians ultimately answer to the public.

For further reading...
- CBC reported on the actual deal between Smith and Jim Prentice here, while Darren Krause reported on Smith's nomination defeat. And CBC examines Wildrose's bounce back in the polls as it elected a new leader.
- Don Braid notes that Smith was warned about some of the dangers of crossing the floor at the time, while Andrew Coyne sees a bait and switch in the promises Smith got from the PCs. 
- And finally, Brian Topp explores some of the lessons we can draw from the Smith-Prentice deal, while recognizing that they shouldn't be taken as reason not to work across partisan lines.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Arthur Neslen reports on the Health and Environmental Alliance's study of greenhouse gas emission reductions showing that we'd enjoy both improved health and economic benefits by pursuing ambitious targets to fight climate change. And David Roberts examines the massive cost and minimal benefit of carbon capture and storage schemes which serve mostly to increase how much oil we burn at public expense.

- Chris Simpson writes about the need for physicians to consider social determinants of health as part of patient care. And Carolyn Shimmin offers a primer for journalists (and others) to talk about the effect of poverty on health.

- Trevor Hancock reminds us that there's far more to social development than GDP:
The Genuine Progress Indicator starts with the same personal consumption data that the GDP is based on, but then makes some crucial distinctions. It adjusts for factors such as income distribution, adds factors such as the value of household and volunteer work, and subtracts factors such as the costs of crime and pollution.

A 2013 report by Redefining Progress (the Seattle-based organization that created the GPI) compared the GDP and GPI for 17 countries (most of them high-income) for the period from 1955 to 2003. It found that while global GDP has increased more than three-fold since 1950, the GPI has actually decreased in those countries since 1978.

So while the GDP tells us we are doing better, the GPI tells us that is not so. What’s more, the study found that beyond about $7,000 GDP per person (Canada’s GDP per person was more than $50,000 in 2013), further increases in GDP per capita are negatively correlated with GPI. In other words, further growth in GDP does more harm than good.

The Canadian Index of Well-being tells a similar story. It tracks changes in eight quality of life categories. In the period from 1994 to 2010, while Canada’s GDP grew by 29 per cent, our quality of life improved by only 5.7 per cent. So increased GDP does not translate into better quality of life.
- But then, PressProgress notes that we also shouldn't presume that our current focus on giveaways to business will even lead to GDP growth, as the only aspect of our economy which seems to be doing well is an unprecedented level of corporate profits.

- Simon responds to David McGrane's research on political preferences by age in discussing how young voters can - and need to - help to build a better and more progressive Canada. And Karl Nerenberg notes that at least some political leaders including Thomas Mulcair are starting to carry the banner for a fairer tax system.

- Finally, the National Post argues that the Cons have failed to make any case whatsoever for imposing draconian terror legislation on Canadians. John Ivison slams the anti-democratic attitude behind both the bill and the Cons' handling of it in Parliament, which Michael Geist documents a few alarming numbers as to how C-51 has been rammed through legislative processes. William Marsden reminds us of the disastrous results of a similar government-induced panic in the U.S.

On exclusivity

Shorter Harper Cons:
We'll consider allowing democratic oversight of CSIS just as soon as that know-nothing public stops electing MPs who aren't us.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats in the window.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Kevin Carson discusses David Graeber's insight into how privatization and deregulation in their present form represent the ultimate use of state power to serve special interests at the expense of the public:
What mainstream American political discourse calls “deregulation” is nothing of the sort. There is no major constituency for deregulation in the American political system — just competing (and in fact considerably overlapping) agendas on what regulatory mix to put in place. There is not, and could not, be such a thing as an “unregulated” bank, Graeber argues, because banks “are institutions to which the government has granted the power to create money.” By the nature of that power, they are creatures of the state, and any power they exercise is thus defined by a web of state regulations. So “deregulation” really just means “changing the regulatory structure in a way that I like.” A “deregulatory” regime, in reality, is the choice of a regulatory regime that produces results to one’s liking.
So-called “privatization,” for example, ranges from mere outsourcing of government functions (which continue to be taxpayer-funded) to private contractors, to the sale of government services to private corporations (after which they continue to exist in a dense web of government monopolies, protections and subsidies).

And where it takes place, such “deregulation” and “privatization,” far from involving a reduction of government power, typically involves the unlimited exercise of government power over a population which has been rendered prostrate by war or bankruptcy (Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism,” or — in Rahm Emanuel’s words — never letting a good crisis go to waste). 
- And Paul Hanley writes that Saskatchewan's pursuit of fossil fuels rather than renewable energy likewise represents a deliberate choice to favour only a few privileged industries at the expense of our economy and environment alike.

- Christopher Wanjek reports on new research showing a connection between family income and children's brain development. But while poverty and inequality may create both physical and metaphorical barriers to education, we shouldn't pretend that school alone will solve broader social problems - as Matthew Yglesias notes that people living with poverty today do so with far more education than a few decades ago.

- Stephen Hume writes that Stephen Harper's exclusionism has given bigots a free pass to start attacking minorities without any risk of consequences. And Charlie Smith points out Gwynne Dyer's observation that a policy and practice of declaring war against large groups of people is exactly what actual extremists want to see.

- Finally, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach's site on C-51 now includes an annotated version of the Cons' terror bill with witness comments. Peter O'Neil reports on Hasan Cavusoglu's research showing that even minor errors in an expanded and unaccountable surveillance apparatus could pose a serious threat to innocent Canadians. Tonda MacCharles reminds us that CSIS - which stands to be granted massive and practically unreviewable power - has been highly unreliable in answering for its past activities, while Alex Boutilier exposes the range of peaceful protests which are already facing surveillance and disruption. And Tim Naumetz reports that the Cons themselves have decided that C-51 is not intended to provide any oversight whatsoever (for the purpose of ruling any amendments which might help matters out of order).

Monday, March 30, 2015

#prgrs15 Wrapup

As readers may have noticed in my earlier posts, I had the opportunity to attend the Broadbent Institute's Progress Summit 2015. And as a whole, the summit was well worth attending, featuring a wide range of interesting speakers and topics, a strong turnout including plenty of people whose work is influencing my own blogging, and a well-designed schedule which packed plenty into just a few days. (On that front, the contrast to a convention which needs to fit in formal party business was striking - though there's still something to be said for being able to have direct and official input into elections and policy resolutions.)

That said, there were a couple of related points which I'd think might be worth considering for future events if they weren't already taken into account.

One of the weekend's headline events was the Great Budget Debate which more than lived up to its billing. But it was nonetheless jarring to see a progressive institution hand over half of its central talk on the economy to a laissez-faire position which is grossly overrepresented in nearly every other forum. And while it was a plus to see the right have to deal with a skeptical crowd for a change, I'd wonder whether there was an opportunity to debate economics from different progressive perspectives - e.g. discussing the relative merits of universality vs. targeted programs or balancing budgets in nominal terms vs. keeping debt to a set proportion of GDP from within the progressive movement itself.

And those types of discussions as to the relative merits of views which could be seen as progressive were relatively sparse in the panels as well, which (at least from my impression) were more diverse in voices than in positions.

Now, it could be that the event's planners were looking primarily to build progressive unity, making it useful to present a few obvious foils while otherwise focusing on points of agreement rather than dispute. But if there's anything I'd change for future summits, it would be some added effort to start conversations which may encourage more debate within the progressive movement as to the best means to pursue even as they serve to highlight the shared end of a stronger and more equal society.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Pugh argues that we should take a serious look at a basic income, while Livia Gershon examines how even a small amount of guaranteed income has made an immense difference in the lives of families in one North Carolina town. And Walter Frick observes that strong social supports are exactly what people need to be able to take entrepreneurial risks:
In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16 percent. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.) 

Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks.

Food stamps are not an isolated case. In another paper, Olds looked at the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which offers publicly funded health insurance for kids whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid. By comparing the rate of entrepreneurship of those who just barely qualified for CHIP to those whose incomes just barely exceeded the cutoff, he was able to estimate the program’s impact on new business creation. The rate of incorporated business ownership for those eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it. 

The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households’ chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent. 

The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin. (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.)
- Meanwhile, Anna Mehler Paperny reports on the serious restrictions on access to health food for poorer families, with a third of all single-parent families in Saskatchewan lacking the ability to count on the availability of basic food.

- Michael Hiltzik discusses the growing recognition that a concerted attack on unions has resulted in worsening inequality. And Jake Rosenfeld offers a detailed look at the state of the U.S. labour movement.

- Ryan Meili and Carolyn Nowry note that ambulance fees represent a needless and significant barrier to health care in cases where it's needed most.

- Finally, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach confirm that the Cons' intended amendments to C-51 are designed to leave the worst elements of unaccountable secret policing in place. And Andrew Mitrovica is duly stunned by the possibility that the Cons would allow CSIS to operate outside the law in light of the abuses it's committed under a far more limited mandate.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

On transition planning

I've previously highlighted the need for media and citizens alike to press our opposition parties on how they're willing to cooperate to replace the Harper Cons after the next federal election. But let's note that there's a similar question which still needs to be directed at Stephen Harper at every available opportunity - even if we can't expect much more than instructive non-answers.

As Andrew Coyne notes, it's still an open question how far Harper would go in trying to cling to power under all kinds of circumstances:
As prime minister, Mr. Harper would retain a number of prerogatives as he looked for ways to hang on to power, one of which would be to avoid recalling Parliament for as long as he could. After the 1979 election that returned a Conservative minority, Joe Clark did not recall the House for five months.

Mr. Harper might use the interval to curry favour with voters, or to sow divisions in the opposition, the better to deter them from defeating him. (I do not hold with those who think that, merely for having been reduced from a majority to a minority, Mr. Harper would resign as leader or be pushed out. “The longer I’m prime minister” and all that.) But eventually Parliament would have to sit, which is where the governor general comes in.

If the opposition did wish to replace the government, they would have to move fast. The longer they waited, the more that Mr. Harper might make the argument to the governor general that his defeat required the dissolution of the House and the calling of a new election. Whereas an immediate defeat in the House would seem to make another election, so soon after the last, dilatory. The way would be open for the opposition to propose instead that power be transferred to them.

I say “would seem to,” because it’s not a given Mr. Harper would concede the point. Power, once possessed, is not easily given up. Indeed, everything he has said publicly has been to pour scorn on the idea as fundamentally undemocratic, a kind of coup, launched by a “coalition of the losers.” The “highest principle of Canadian democracy,” he said at the height of the 2008 crisis, “is that if one wants to be prime minister one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people.”

In other words, the prime minister would be tempted to “do a King-Byng” — to re-enact the crisis of 1926, when Mackenzie King, rather than accept defeat in the House as the cue to yield power to Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives (who, after all, had 15 more seats than King’s Liberals), insisted the governor general, Byng, call new elections. Byng refused, Meighen took over (briefly) as prime minister, and King used the issue to win the next election. The precedent can’t be far from the current prime minister’s mind.
But even worse, it's far from clear that Harper would be prepared to accept the judgment of the Governor-General even for the moment in allowing some combination of other parties to form a government.

Remember that in 2008, Harper was prepared to demand that the Queen override any decision of the Governor-General to the effect that his government was accountable to Parliament - and planned to accompany that course of action with an attempt to shut down the country, holding the Canadian public for ransom. And in 2011, Harper refused to offer any answers whatsoever as to whether he'd accept a constitutional transfer of power.

Of course, the 2011 example makes it clear that we may not be able to get answers in the midst of an election campaign, particularly from Harper himself. But there's plenty of time now to push Harper and his slate of candidates to tell us exactly how much damage they're willing to do to stay in power. And the fact the answer looks to be "as much as it takes" itself offers a compelling reason not to leave anything to chance.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Simon Wren-Lewis connects the UK's counterproductive austerity program to the lack of any wage growth. And Gary Lamphier observes that Alberta is serving as a case in point that jobs generated through public policy rigged in favour of the wealthy are no less precarious than any other type, while Erin Anderssen comments on the connection between public-sector work and greater wage equality.

- Adam Liptak writes that the First Amendment's protection for speech - like so many other rights which have been redefined to suit the powerful - is now serving primarily to benefit the corporate sector at the expense of the public.

- But we shouldn't accept perpetual corporate encroachment on the common good as inevitable. On that front, Paul Krugman reminds us that George W. Bush's attempts to push privatized Social Security failed miserably - and in a way which only proved the point of his opponents.

- Paul Kershaw highlights how the Saskatchewan Party's budget does nothing for a younger generation that's already being squeezed by a combination of massive costs and minimal opportunities. And Joe Friesen discusses David McGrane's study on the strong support for progressive policies among Canada's younger adults:
Prof. McGrane said one of the most interesting results is that the gap between older and younger people is relatively consistent across regions and education levels.

As one might expect, young people with a university education, those who live in big cities, and those in Ontario and British Columbia tend to be further to the left than those with lower levels of education and those in small cities and rural Canada, the study found, but over all, their differences are outweighed by what they hold in common.

“Young Canadians from nearly all of the socio-demographic groups and provinces examined were more likely than older Canadians to desire an activist government; want more social spending; be socially liberal; and favour higher taxes in exchange for better public services,” Prof. McGrane says in the study’s conclusion.
- Finally, Gerald Caplan calls out the immorality and irrationality of the Cons' plan for endless war in Iraq, Syria and anywhere else they can think to bomb.