Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Evening Links

This and that for your Saturday reading.

- Keith Banting and John Myles note that income inequality should be a major theme in Canada's federal election. And Karl Nerenberg points out that voters will have every reason to vote for their values, rather than having any reason to buy failed strategic voting arguments.

- PressProgress charts the devastating effect of precarious employment in Canada. And Wayne Lewchuk writes about the precarity penalty, and the need for public policy to catch up to the reality facing workers:
Uncertain future employment prospects can increase anxiety at home.  Lack of benefits can make even small unexpected medical costs a crisis.  Unpredictable work schedules can make finding suitable childcare very difficult.  The short-term nature of the employment relationship can limit a worker’s access to the training needed to get ahead. Together, the added challenges associated with insecure employment represent The Precarity Penalty.

In short, precarious employment not only creates significant stress on individuals and families today, it also creates conditions that can trap those who are in precarious employment from opportunities to get ahead.

Given that insecure employment is the fastest growing form of employment, we should all be concerned about what this means for our families, our children and our communities.

A new body of research (see references below), much of it focused on the troubles in the U.S. economy, suggests that public policy has fallen short, and at times exacerbated the challenges facing precarious workers. These policies have exposed workers to more economic uncertainty, reduced supports that help build healthy families and made it more difficult than in the past for workers to negotiate improved working conditions. There is evidence that Canada’s own public policy environment has not fared much better in terms of protecting vulnerable workers.

What policy has enabled, policy can change.  It is not inevitable that a growing number of Canadian workers find themselves in relationships that make it difficult to get ahead. The mechanisms we use to regulate labour markets, including how contracts are negotiated, how we set and enforce employment standards, how we support workers between jobs, how quality training is provided, and how workers can finance unexpected health costs and old age were all formed when permanent full-time employment was the norm.
- Meanwhile, Elise Gould offers a reminder that a job - even with full-time hours - is no guarantee of escaping poverty. Craig Lambert discusses how citizens are being directed toward unpaid work - which can both take jobs away from people who need them, and serve as a threat to anybody seeking improved pay and working conditions for jobs which might be turn into shadow work. And Jim Dwyer reports on the wide-scale wage fraud being perpetrated against workers.

- Catherine Porter writes about Dr. Gary Bloch's prescription to combat poverty as a means of improving health generally.

- Erin Anderssen discusses the glaring need to improve access to mental health services as part of our health care system. And Steve Morgan highlights how a lack of a national pharmacare program makes health care less effective for everybody.

- Finally, Jesse McLaren argues that we shouldn't be surprised by the Libs' weakness on Bill C-51 in light of their historic willingness to trample civil rights in the name of political convenience. But Shannon Reardon nonetheless points out that anybody hoping for better from Justin Trudeau than support for the Cons' terror tactics has reason to be disappointed.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Musical interlude

Emma Hewitt - Colours

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Michael Schwartz and Kevin Young make the case for a greater focus on influencing corporations and other institutions first and foremost - with the expectation that more fair public policy will be possible if a dominant business sector doesn't stand in the way. David Wessel points out that many states' tax systems are set up to exacerbate inequality. And Matthew Yglesias notes that a typical set of slap-on-the-wrist fines against banks for massive market manipulations call into question whether the U.S.' current regulatory structure is anywhere close to sufficient to protect the public interest.

- Meanwhile, David Dayen points out that part of the Obama administration's embarrassing attempt to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes a willingness to cut Medicare to slightly compensate some of the affected workers.

- Michael Harris tears into the Cons for their Orwellian war on dissent, while Steve Sullivan rightly notes that Stephen Harper's usual reaction to an imminent loss is to try to rig the game in his own favour. Canadians for Tax Fairness raises the question of whether we want to see massive amounts of public money spent on the Cons' self-promotion - with ministerial vanity videos serving as just the latest example.

- Vanessa Lu reports on the bizarre excuses being used for refusing to let Canadians know how the public reacted to the Cons' plan to end door-to-door mail delivery. And Mary Campbell discusses yet another example of dumb-on-crime legislation, this time featuring utterly pointless attacks on foreign offenders.

- Finally, PressProgress highlights OpenMedia's report (PDF) into the plummeting public willingness to put up with the Cons' terror bill. Toby Mendel offers another review (PDF) of the problems with C-51. And Noah Richler writes that the Cons' current message doesn't involve anything more than trying to stoke paranoia.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Heather Stewart writes about the OECD's study showing the connection between increasingly precarious work and worsening inequality. 

- Tara Deschamps reports on a few of the challenges facing poor Torontonians, while Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Laurie Monsebraaten cover the United Way's report card showing that most workers are now stuck in precarious work. And Star offers a few policy suggestions to improve that situation, while Ella Bedard points out how Andrew Cash is pushing for solutions at the federal level.

- Edward Keenan writes that it's long past time to stop relying on charity to ensure that basic needs are met. Cara Feinberg discusses (PDF) the effect of scarcity in limiting individual capacity to achieve goals of any kind. And David Wheeler takes a look at the growing movement for a basic income:
Those skeptical of basic income might ask: If you give people enough to live on, won’t they stop working? Won’t they get lazy? Evidence from pilot studies by Guy Standing, a professor of development studies at the University of London and a co-founder of the Basic Income Earth Network, points the other way.“When people stop working out of fear, they become more productive,” Standing says.

Karl Widerquist, a leader of the worldwide basic income movement, applauds Santens’ project, but says the goal of the movement is not to create privately financed basic income. “We need a publicly financed basic income for everyone; private charities can’t—and shouldn’t have to—do that,” says Widerquist, a philosophy professor at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, and the author of several books and papers about basic income. Widerquist also organized the most recent North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress in New York in March. “The point of a private basic income is to show how well it works, draw attention to the issue, and further the movement for a truly universal basic income,” Widerquist says.
- Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on the IMF's study showing that the fossil fuel sector is subsidized to the tune of $5.3 trillion each year - offering a strong indication that there's plenty of money available to fund a basic income if governments were more interested in citizens than resource extraction. But Nelson Bennett highlights how Christy Clark is determined to lock in long-term subsidies to the gas sector no matter how thoroughly the public might want to change direction.

- Finally, Martin Regg Cohn writes that the Ontario Libs' Hydro One selloff represents little more than an utter failure of leadership, as Kathleen Wynne is willing to harm her province in the long term to avoid making the case for better revenue sources while in office. And Brent Patterson rightly slams the Cons for trying to force First Nations to privatize their water services

New column day

Here, expanding on this post about the new challenges the Cons are facing heading into this fall's election.

For further reading...
- Geoffrey Stevens offers his own take on the Cons' weaknesses.
- Meanwhile, Nik Nanos (as reported by Theophilos Argitis) focuses on the possibility of vote splitting working to the Cons' benefit. But that analysis seems to miss the point that no amount of vote-splitting between two competitors can get the Cons into majority territory if their own support levels remain stuck in the low 30s.
- And on a more interesting note, Robin Sears wonders whether the leader's tour model of campaign coverage will soon be a thing of the past - which might offer some reason to expect different influences to affect election results. But it doesn't seem that either the parties or the media are headed for a drastically different model this time out - nor is it clear that a shift would do anything but play to the strengths of more popular leaders.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Toby Sanger takes a look at Canada's balance sheets and finds that both households and governments are piling up debt while the corporate sector hoards cash:
(A)ll the recent handwringing over rising household and debt levels ignores one critical point: any one person’s financial liability is someone else's financial asset. Across all the sectors in the economy (households, corporations, governments and non-residents) in the national balance sheet, net borrowing and lending all balance out to zero.

The rising income share of the top one percent has been startling (and also echoed in increasing imbalances in debt and wealth by income and generation) the shift in net borrowing and lending between the household and corporate sector is just as dramatic, and reflect almost perfect mirror images of each other.

For decades until the mid-1990s, Canadian households were net lenders to corporations and to governments. Since then, with low wage increases and rising house prices, households have increasingly gone into financial debt, borrowing an additional $706 billion since 1997 -- an increase in net borrowing to the tune of about $50,000 per household. Meanwhile, with high profits, low taxes and low rates of investment, Canadian corporations have built up ever larger surpluses. They’ve become net lenders to the tune of $730 billion since 1997, with non-financial corporations accumulating $675 billion in cash.

The solution is clear: we need to rebalance our national balance sheet. The imbalance in our national balance sheet won’t be fixed until corporations are pushed to do something with their surpluses: invest in the economy, distribute to shareholders and/or pay workers more. If they don't, our governments should increase corporate taxes and used the increased revenues to invest in the economy, improve public services and reduce the financial pressures households are dealing with -- and help alleviate our real debt problem.
- Meanwhile, Neal Irwin points out that Wall Street's return to gross excess as usual since it crashed the global economy in 2008 demonstrates that we can't trust businesses to even notice the public interest. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks question why Canada offers special tax breaks to the wealthy few who enjoy stock options. And Ezra Klein highlights Paul Krugman's theory as to how CEOs are claiming ever-larger salaries while denying gains to anybody else.

- At the same time, BBC reports on the large number of employers failing to offer living wages in Scotland. Sara Mojtehedzadeh comments on the bizarre set of exemptions and loopholes in Ontario employment standards. And while there's some good news in CBC's report about temporary foreign workers being granted a reprieve while testifying against employers who have threatened them with deportation, it's obviously a problem that the threat was plausible in the first place.

- Michael Harris discusses how Stephen Harper's debate cowardice reflects his general unwillingness to answer for his actions. And in a similar vein, Glen McGregor crunches the numbers on Harper's fear of question period in the House of Commons.

- Finally, Ian Welsh offers a useful strategy for activists who want to make sure that their values and ideas are reflected in our broader political choices.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Slumbering cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Elizabeth Warren reminds us (PDF) that previous trade agreements were packaged with the same promises of labour and environmental standards being used to sell the latest versions - and that there's been no enforcement whatsoever of the elements of the deals which were supposed to protect the public.

- Kriston Capps discusses the unfairness of New York's property tax system which makes it easy for the obscenely rich to avoid paying their fair share. And Jon Stone notes that even following an election in which the Conservatives won a majority, UK voters are more concerned with fighting inequality than pushing growth for the few.

- David Roberts rightly warns that we're much further down the road toward catastrophic climate change than most people are prepared to admit. And Terry Macalister reports that Shell in particular is planning based on the assumption that we won't make any progress in reining in global warming.

- But the good news is that clean alternative energy sources are becoming far more readily available, meaning that we only need the political will to change our current balance of power. And Richard Littlemore writes that we're not lacking for businesses willing to offer renewable energy alternatives.

- Finally, the National Post slams the Cons for once again rewriting the law - in this case governing access to information - to suit their own political purposes. And the Star calls out the Cons' baseless terror fearmongering.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The mystery advantage

Shorter Brad Wall:

On proportionality

Among the other possibilities raised by the Alberta NDP's election victory, plenty of voices have chimed in on a shift to proportional representation. And while there may be limited scope to make a move immediately, electoral reform could well become both good policy and good politics for Rachel Notley.

Let's start, though, by pointing out where the Alberta NDP has positioned itself on proportional representation.

PR was not a part of the NDP's platform in the recent election. So there's ample room for opponents to argue that there's no immediate mandate for a unilateral change to Alberta's electoral system, and for supporters to see it as less than a top priority. (This is of course in contrast to the federal scene, where Tom Mulcair has made clear that a majority NDP government means a change to proportional representation.)

But in addition to being worth pursuing on the merits, PR has also long been part of the Alberta NDP's party policy. So we should expect Notley to look for ways to advance it. And fortunately, the circumstances of the NDP's win should lend themselves to one of two paths which might lead to PR by the next election at the latest.

For the short term, Notley would be well served to have a PR bill drafted and ready for presentation in the Legislature at any moment.

After all, the opposition parties are sure to complain ad nauseum - based on the same arguments made for PR - that 40% of the popular vote isn't enough of a mandate to support any of Notley's policy plans. But what better answer than to lament that the PCs refused to implement a better electoral system while they were in power, to agree that future elections should be decided by a majority of voters, and to offer to pass legislation ensuring that happens with all-party support?

Of course, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the opposition parties to sign on. But if the best-case scenario is to secure PR before the next election, and the worst-case outcome is to expose opposition criticism as utterly unprincipled and self-serving, that's not a bad set of possibilities.

Moreover, any opposition complaints about legitimacy would also raise the question of how to put the issue to voters.

On that front, a PR referendum alongside the next election ballot would serve as an ideal opportunity to give Albertans a choice in electoral systems. And both the PR cause and the NDP's re-election prospects could benefit from being seen as part of the same project of permanently changing Alberta politics away from the PCs' one-party state toward a model where cooperation and diversity are the norm.

In sum, even if PR wasn't part of the Alberta NDP's platform, it's well worth advancing as part of the NDP's long-term vision for change.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Frances Woolley reminds us of some of the hidden advantages of the rich, and suggests that they point toward the fairness of taxing wealth in addition to consumption:
The greatest freedom money offers is the freedom to walk away. Your bank doesn't offer you unlimited everything with no monthly fees? Walk away. There's always someone else who wants your money. Your phone plan is too expensive? Walk away (o.k., that may not be the best example).

People with money have alternatives, which makes their demand for goods and services elastic. Food may or may not cost more in poor areas. But a rich person can shop at Value Village if he chooses. A poor person may not be able to afford expensive purchases which save money in the long run, like bread machines or high efficiency appliances or pressure cookers. Consumption taxes aim to tax the amount of stuff people actually consume. But if poor people pay a higher price for their stuff than rich people, is a system that taxes only consumption spending, without taking into account the ability to command consumption wealth conveys, fair?
Some might argue that taxing consumption taxes capital - once that capital is spent. But wealth generates benefits for the holder even if the holder never spends a cent. Canada has relatively low taxes on capital - we do not have an inheritance tax, do not tax capital gains on principal residences, provide dividend tax credits to offset corporate tax paid, and provide room for tax-free savings within pension plans and tax free savings accounts.

The noted economist Tony Atkinson has recently made the case for introducing an annual tax on wealth. His argument is that taxing wealth would reduce inequality.

Even those who find Atkinson's argument for wealth taxation on purely distributive grounds unconvincing, and believe that consumption is the most equitable basis for taxation, should still be open to the idea of wealth taxes - because such a tax would recognize the comforts of being comfortably off.
- Meanwhile, Jameson Parker points out how one tycoon's excess wealth is being used to suppress scientific research which shows how fracking causes earthquakes. Rita Celli exposes both the appalling secrecy surrounding Ontario's resource royalties, and the pitifully low loyalty revenue amount which managed to leak out. And Samantha Page discusses the damage the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements could do to our climate.

- Garry Leech points out that we're far too willing to accept corporatist terminology such as the language of entrepreneurship to describe activity which should be seen in social terms.

- Ethan Cox discusses the Cons' strategy in trying to limit and control the leadership debates in this fall's election.

- Finally, Dave Cournoyer weighs in on the frivolity of the Alberta right's attacks on NDP MLA Deborah Drever for having been young in the social media era.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Brad Delong discusses the two strains of neoliberalism which dominate far too much political discussion - and the reason why the left-oriented version doesn't offer any plausible analysis of where we stand:
(Bill) Clintonian left-neoliberalism makes two twin arguments.

The first is addressed to the left: it is that market mechanisms–properly-regulated market mechanisms–are more likely than not a better road to social democratic ends than command-and-control mechanisms.

The second is addressed to the right: it is that social democracy is the only political system that can in the long run underpin a market economy that preserves a space for private property and private enterprise. Therefore the right had better shut up and try to make social democracy work, or else.

The true underlying problem with left-neoliberalism, I think, is that with the Brezhnevite stagnation of the Soviet Union the second claim addressed to the right was no longer convincing. Hence the right went into its dismantle-social-democracy mode. And once the right was committed to dismantling social democracy, the ability to construct and maintain the proper regulations needed to make market mechanisms tools to achieve social democratic ends fell apart as well.
- Andrew Jackson discusses how the need for equity between and within generations should lead us to make investments in what matters for future development, rather than doing nothing for anybody as demanded by the austerians:
There has been a great deal of recent media commentary on inter-generational unfairness, much of which misleadingly argues that affluent older Canadians are benefiting from current economic and social arrangements at the expense of youth.

Not to be misunderstood, young adults today are getting a raw deal when it comes to high levels of student debt, their immediate job market prospects compared to those of the baby boomers, and high housing prices.

The transition from education to stable and well-paid employment is much more prolonged and problematic than used to be the case due to the ongoing increase in insecure and low-paid jobs.

But that does not mean that all seniors and those who are about to enter their retirement years are flourishing. There are huge inequities within different generations that far outweigh inequities between generations.
Again, inequity within generations is a more important issue than inequity between generations.

The inter-generational fairness theme is often used to justify public spending cuts to reduce the “debt burden” on future generations. This ignores Canada's very low level of public debt, and the fact that experts such as the Parliamentary Budget Officer see federal finances as sustainable, meaning that tax increases will not be required to fund future spending.

More importantly, this argument gets in the way of the public investments we need to make today to secure a better future for today's youth and future generations. We could and should be investing more in the education and skills of youth, in research and development, and in the measures needed to ensure environmental sustainability.
- Meanwhile, Brent Patterson laments the Harper Cons' willingness to leave an environmental disaster for future generations to clean up. And Thomas Walkom points out that Kathleen Wynne is following in the Cons' footsteps in trashing public wealth without any reasonable basis for doing so.

- Fred Joseph Ernst writes that the primary effect of C-51 is to legalize the "dirty tricks" against civilians which represent a regular feature of repressive states. And Andrew Mitrovica comments that even some of Stephen Harper's usual core supporters are rightly fighting back against that choice.

- Finally, Stephen Maher points out how the Cons' vote suppression tactics figure to cause serious problems for citizens seeking to vote this fall. And Bruce Johnstone makes the case to put first past the post behind us.