Saturday, June 06, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Saturday reading.

- Joseph Heath looks at the spread of the McMansion as an ugly example of competitive consumption which benefits nobody. And Victoria Bateman discusses the need to question the assumptions underlying laissez-faire policymaking:
Science and technology are central to rising prosperity, but, as cases such as the internet and GPS technology demonstrate, progress is just as much a result of state funding and risk taking as it is of private sector endeavour. Since the Enlightenment, innovation has been a collective endeavour – and long may it continue. However, this comes with two warnings. Firstly, and as Mariana Mazzucato argues in The Entrepreneurial State, whilst the state has historically provided funds, it has received very little direct reward. The result has not only been unfair to the tax-payer, but has also meant too few resources to help fund the next series of scientific advances. Secondly, the state needs to be careful not to limit the freedom of scientists. Since the Enlightenment, much has been achieved by letting scientists explore avenues which would not have looked profitable in advance. Here, the current system of state funding leaves much to be desired.

In explaining prosperity, not only do economists all too often marginalise the contribution of the state, they also neglect society. As I have argued elsewhere, the rise of the West followed in the footsteps of tremendous changes in society, including in the position of women. Society can, it seems, have a significant effect on economic growth. In turn, economic growth can affect society. If the growing pains that come with rising prosperity are left to fester, permanent damage can be done. We need to work hard to make sure that those that receive the highest rewards from economic growth are not able to lock-out others. Whether it is the super-rich that are able to pass on advantages to their children, reducing downward-mobility, or the areas that lose out from structural change (such as industrial communities in the 1980s), economic growth can put in place vicious circles that lead to a broken society and a waste of talent. We always need to work hard to repair the damage done if we want to sustain progress.
- Joanna Roberts interviews Johan Swinnen about food and nutrition insecurity, with particular emphasis on the reality that the problem is one of unequal distribution rather than a lack of food being produced. And Andrew MacLeod notes that if we want to recognize food and other essentials of life as rights, then we need to recognize a concurrent responsibility on government to ensure that it's available.

- Meanwhile, Madeline Ostrander highlights new research showing how childhood poverty affects an individual's brain development for life. Which thoroughly refutes the argument that it's possible to provide a fair opportunity to any individual without eliminating poverty and reining in inequality - and offers reason for our governments to make a priority of providing the essentials of life from day one.

- But instead, the Cons' response to refuse to use even money they've actually budgeted - and indeed go out of their way to dodge any responsibility for child welfare - for the First Nations people who fall under their jurisdiction.

- Finally, Amartya Sen discusses the dire economic consequences of austerity. And Susan Campbell observes that the U.S. offers an important cautionary tale on that front, while Robert Reich points out that the U.S. wasn't intended to develop into the aristocracy it's since become.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Musical interlude

Underworld - Pearl's Girl

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Peter Poschen argues that the goals of protecting our climate and ensuring the availability of good jobs isn't an either-or proposition:
(C)limate change and the degradation of natural resources increasingly disrupt economic activity and destroy jobs. The International Labour Organization (ILO) puts the productivity losses generated by climate change alone at 7.2 per cent. Cost estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and World Bank are even higher. Environmental sustainability is not an option from a labour market perspective, it is a necessity.

What is more: proactive policies to protect the climate and preserve the environment can actually create substantially more jobs than the ‘business as usual’ growth. Our review of global and over 30 national assessments concludes that creating up to 60 million additional jobs by 2030 is perfectly possible.

Big strides could also be made in reducing working poverty, notably in agriculture which still employs one in every three workers, over one billion globally. Access to clean and affordable energy, as well as energy-efficient public transport and housing is a powerful way to overcome social exclusion. Access to modern energy alone would significantly improve the lives and could provide entirely new economic opportunity to 1.3 billion mostly poor people. 
- And unfortunately the Harper Cons are proving the same point by ensuring that Canada fails on both counts - most recently by blocking climate progress even as an oil-fuelled economy stagnates.

- Manuela Noriega highlights Bernie Sanders' recognition that reducing inequality is a matter of life and death. But Robert Naiman rightly calls out major media outlets for labeling Sanders as "unelectable" based on his backing policies - such as fairer taxes on the wealthy and a reduction in military spending - which actually enjoy far more popular support than the elite agenda pushed by most candidates in both major parties.

- Meanwhile, Fred Dews reports on Raj Chetty's findings as to how location dictates social mobility in the U.S.  Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the U.S. needs to adopt the "Scandinavian dream" in order to ensure that people's interests aren't completely crushed by corporate exploitation. And Stephen Koukoulas reminds us that inequality just as much damage to growth as it does to fairness.

- Finally, the Economist reports on the IMF's research showing that austerity figures to do far more harm than good in most developed countries (including Canada).

Thursday, June 04, 2015

New column day

Here, on how we should expect our leaders to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report (PDF) on residential schools - and what we've seen from the Cons instead.

For further reading...
- PressProgress offers the video of Bernard Valcourt sticking out like a sore thumb in his refusal to consider missing and murdered indigenous women to merit any action. And Lucia Lorenzi points out that the Cons are blocking action to deal with violence against women in any form.
- CBC reports on the federal parties' respective responses to the Commission's report, while the Hansard text of Stephen Harper's evasion (click on the "Oral Questions" link) is particularly striking in showing that the Cons think that the report actually constitutes change (rather than merely a first step toward achieving it).
- Finally, Karl Nerenberg writes that Harper has made it abundantly clear that reconciliation won't be happening on his watch. CBC provides a summary of the Commission's findings. And Betty Ann Lavallee, Wab Kinew, Tim Harper and the Ottawa Citizen offer a few of the noteworthy responses to the Commission's report.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Genevieve LeBaron, Johanna Montgomerie, and Daniela Tepe-Belfrage write that inequality is getting worse in the UK based on class, gender and all kinds of other grounds, while a supposed "recovery" isn't benefiting anybody except the people who least need it:
(E)conomic policies associated with ‘recovery’ in the UK have deepened inequality and exclusion along the overlapping lines of class, gender, race, ability, age and sexuality. Sweeping welfare reforms, for instance, are disproportionately targeting women and low-income couples with children, with particularly dire consequences for single mothers. The newly imposed ‘bedroom tax’ – which has reduced housing benefits for thousands of tenants, while requiring many thousands more to transfer to smaller homes – has had especially devastating consequences for disabled tenants, who have lost homes adapted to support their disability.

One key reason that these social, financial, and emotional costs of recovery remain hidden is that the typically narrow focus on national level of debts, deficits, taxes and expenditure tends to overlook changes at the micro-level of the household and daily life. It is here that the human costs and broader social challenges of recovery become apparent. For many, rising hunger forces individuals and families to choose between heating and eating; employment has become so precarious and poorly paid that even those with jobs are struggling to pay bills; and still others are trapped in abusive forced labour relations, which have become endemic in certain UK industries.

In short, the UK’s economic ‘recovery’ has come at a high social, emotional and financial cost for those who can least afford it, while leaving the wealthy to stockpile ever-larger sums of cash. We can expect these tendencies to become even more pronounced under the deepening austerity agenda of the new Conservative government, unless a counter-narrative can elucidate the true human costs of this growth model and inspire action towards an alternative.
- Meanwhile, the New York Times finds that a strong majority of U.S. voters are looking at inequality as one of their top concerns for the 2016 election. And Sandy Garossino reports on Christy Clark's decision to set up permanent tax giveaways to B.C.'s richest few who can afford posh private schools, even as public education is slashed to the bone.

- CBC reports on the disproportionate number of women of aboriginal descent in Canadian prisons, while Max FineDay discusses the connection between the social determinants of health and the difficulties facing indigenous Canadians. But Shiri Pasternak and Anna Stanley note that the Cons are going out of their way to stack the deck even further against First Nations by cutting off support for their participation in consultation with developers, while funding industry to strengthen its hand.

- Canadian Doctors for Medicare summarizes new research showing how inadequate income and nutrition feed into health care costs. And Martin Regg Cohn rightly questions how we can claim to have a complete universal health care system without including pharmacare.

- Finally, Jesse Brown reports that at least one RCMP officer has made it abundantly clear to peaceful protesters that they stand to be labeled as terrorists under C-51. Ed Broadbent argues that it isn't too late to fight back against the Cons' terror tactics. And Steve Sullivan writes that even some of Stephen Harper's ideological allies are doing just that.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Michel Husson and Stephanie Treillet write that reduced work hours could do wonders for the quality of life for both workers who currently have jobs, and those seeking them:
The question is not so much if working hours will decrease, but how. The reduction can be general, with or without retention of monthly salary and compensatory hires; it can be targeted (precarity and part-time); or it can be extreme (unemployment).

Working-time reduction, collective and enforced by law, is an alternative to the expansion of part-time. Both fundamentally contradict each other.

There is a close link between working-time reduction and distribution of income. There are many ways to do it, each with obviously different effects on the distribution of wealth. The thirty-five-hour week has left wages unchanged, contrary to employers’ complaints, which accuse it of increasing the costs of labor. This result was achieved in two ways: by reducing social security contributions and by raising work intensity, which has reduced the policy’s potential for creating new jobs.

In other words, employers never stopped skimming productivity gains, thereby maintaining or even increasing their profit margins. These profits were not used to invest more, but to pay out more dividends. In 2012, an employee worked an average of twenty-six days per year for shareholders, instead of nine days in 1980.

What is not paid out to employees in the form of wage increases or job creation through working-time reduction is directly seized by the shareholders. This is why the rise and solidification of mass unemployment and this form of shareholder takeover (a good indicator of financialization) are two sides of the same “medal.”
- Adam Weinstein points out that nearly half of Americans would be unable to come up with even $400 in cash or existing credit to meet an urgent need - meaning that precarious work is being paired with even more precarious personal finances. And Louis-Philippe Rochon points out that Canada and the U.S. alike seem to be headed for a recession, meaning that many people living on the edge of disaster will soon find themselves headed into the abyss.

- Alana Semuels discusses how NIMBYism stands in the way of the construction of affordable housing where it can do the most good.

- Meanwhile, Erin Anderssen writes about the importance of stable housing as a vital element of treating many mental health issues. And the Globe and Mail argues that public support for psychotherapy represents another necessary component of an effective mental health system, while Ashley Csanady reports on the Mowat Centre's identification of pharmacare as another program which should be included in our universal health coverage.

- Finally, Economy At Work compares SaskTel to Manitoba's privatized equivalent and highlights just how much better off Saskatchewan is for retaining ownership of its own essential infrastructure.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Paired cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Maude Barlow and Sujata Dey point out that the job promises linked to CETA and other new trade agreements are no more plausible than the false ones made in previous rounds of corporate rights giveaways. And the Canadian Labour Congress discusses the secrecy surrounding the new set of deals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

- Meanwhile, the International Labour Organization documents the connection between collective bargaining rights and greater equality. And lest anybody think there's a tradeoff to be made between equality based on labour rights and growth based on corporate control, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research finds that "flexible" labour markets do nothing to improve productivity or output. (Which, if course, isn't to say that the Cons plan to do anything but stomp on workers for the sake of stomping on workers.)

- Peter Fleming comments on the eroding relationship between productivity, social utility and pay for workers. And in a particularly stark example of how the system is rigged against workers, Chris Thompson reports on the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario's findings about an employer who used the leverage provided by the temporary foreign worker program to sexually abuse employees.

- Stephen Kimber writes that corporate charity ultimately serves only the purposes of the businesses who get to dictate terms to recipients - meaning that we should refuse to eliminate public supports in favour of private handouts.

- And finally, on that front, Duncan Cameron makes the case for a more fair tax system which both reduces inequality and ensures we have the revenue to take care of everybody:
Today, accepting that the rich should pay a fair share of taxes would constitute progress. Through tax cuts, money is being returned to corporations and the wealthy. Personal tax cuts enacted by the Chr├ętien Liberals in the 2000 budget put one-third of the benefits in the pockets of the richest five per cent of taxpayers.

Economists can be found arguing that taxing the rich reduces incentives to create wealth. True-believing right-wingers argue that the rich are entitled to whatever money they have, regardless of how that money is used or how it was obtained. Cynics simply observe that through provincial sales taxes and the GST, it is possible to soak the poor, always more numerous than the rich.

With greed being presented as a virtue, even the idea that all individuals benefit from redistributing resources through taxation to provide education, health care, recreation, and access to cultural activities for the entire population can seem counterintuitive. Yet the principle that each should contribute to society according to ability to pay retains its power.

Whoever knows financial success already reaps more material benefits than others, and should be called upon to contribute accordingly. Wealth and high income confer rewards; such resources provide the fortunate a greater responsibility for collective endeavours. 

Apparently they'll let anybody blather away on the intertoobz

Here, for instance, is me chatting with Paul Dechene.

(And to correct myself, the impending provincial election is the second under fixed election dates - though the first where it's lining up with an associated federal election.)

Monday, June 01, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Janelle Vandergrift reminds us that we should see ourselves as participating citizens, not mere taxpayers:
Taxes are a way to pool our resources and develop common infrastructure that can have a positive impact on us all. They build our roads and bridges, pay for our police and firefighters, offer support for raising children, provide income security and housing for people who are poor, contribute to foreign aid, and help to ensure our environment is clean and safe. All of these things are much cheaper and effective when we pay for them collectively. The taxes paid by previous generation benefits us today and the taxes we pay will hopefully benefit the generations of tomorrow.

"Taxes for the Common Good," a recent report from Citizens for Public Justice, summarizes up-to-date information on the costs and opportunities afforded by various federal tax policy options. It highlights the positive role taxes play in a democratic society.

Lower taxes are often promoted as the solution to all social problems, but rarely do we hear the risks. We don't hear about the good of programs paid for with tax dollars. We often forget the fact that we are the ones who benefit from the services and infrastructure that tax dollars provide. For more than two-thirds of Canadians, the benefit received from public services is equal to more than half their incomes. Corporations, who have seen record profits while their tax rates have fallen to record lows, benefit from our common infrastructure, too. They benefit from our stable economy and government, our roads and bridges, and from workers who have been educated in our schools. Yet, it seems that few are asking what is the real cost of tax cuts or who pays the price.
- Louis-Philippe Rochon nicely summarizes why we shouldn't believe austerity economics for a second - though we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking that the Cons and their political cousins won't still continue to push it to the exclusion of any positive social development. And Thomas Walkom talks to the Democrats' chief economist on the U.S. Senate budget committee about the futility of obsessing over deficits when economic conditions cry out for public investment.

- Michelle McQuigge reports that the Cons are once again going out of their way to turn citizenship into something which can be stripped away at the whim of a government looking to fabricate enemies.

- Claire Cain Miller writes that a work culture which expects employees to be available around the clock leaves little room for families to be functional. But Bryce Covert points out that paid paternity leave would work wonders to ensure that women aren't penalized in their career prospects for having children - both in its direct effect on families' choices, and in its broader effect on work culture.

- Finally, Harry Leslie Smith comments on the absurdity of trying to replace with politics oriented solely in implausible aspirations. And for those looking forward to Smith's upcoming Canadian event series, the Broadbent Institute has details here.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jim Stanford points out how the corporate tax pendulum is swinging back toward asking business to make an equitable contribution to Canadian society:
The federal rate was cut virtually in half after 2000 (to just 15 per cent today). Several provincial governments followed suit. Alberta was the most aggressive, slashing its rate by more than one-third (to just 10 per cent) by 2006. This sparked a destructive race to the bottom among provinces – aided by explicit threats from companies to move head offices to Alberta if other provinces didn’t follow suit. Combined, Canada’s average federal-provincial rate is now the second lowest in the Group of Seven.

But despite this dramatic change, the promised payoff in business investment is nowhere to be found. Capital spending has consistently disappointed – and it’s getting worse. Last year, business non-residential investment declined in real terms. Innovation investment has been shrinking for a decade. In fact, non-residential business capital spending has grown more slowly under the Conservatives (and their CIT cuts) than any other government in Canadian postwar history.

In today’s constrained fiscal environment, however, the political calculus of CIT has changed dramatically. Now, most Canadians are getting less from government while being asked to pay more for it. Their willingness to watch corporations receive favourable treatment has evaporated.
Alberta’s new 12-per-cent rate may become a new effective minimum for the provinces. Indeed, formally agreeing on a new interprovincial floor would prevent the destructive competition that undercut provincial coffers so badly in recent years. In any event, we can expect more hikes in the coming years.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Canadians will have another chance to debate CIT rates this fall. The New Democrats will propose a modest hike, and even the Liberals might consider revenue-boosting CIT reforms – if not raising the rate, then at least restricting some loopholes. That would leave Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives as the lone champions of this failed trickle-down theory. Mr. Prentice’s experience is surely causing them considerable trepidation.
- Meanwhile, Robert Reich discusses how public giveaways to the corporate sector make our economy both less fair and less effective. Paul Krugman again highlights how Kansas would offer conclusive evidence against right-wing economics if corporate apologists were willing to accept evidence as a basis for evaluating their constant demands for more. And Ian Welsh offers a worrisome set of bullet points on where the global economy stands as Canada, the U.S. and other countries see promised growth evaporate.

- Maude Barlow and Meena Karunananthan warn that more corporate rights over the environment will do nothing but exacerbate an impending water crisis. Murray Dobbin writes that the Cons' focus on corporate control agreements reflects their desire to ensure that future governments can't respond to the needs of the Canadian public. And Ralph Surette contrasts the Cons' moderate spin with their extreme anti-social views and policies.

- The Globe and Mail rightly argues that we should be seeking a broad-based mandatory expansion of the Canada Pension Plan, not settling for the Cons' plan to allow workers to put their own money into the CPP with no corresponding employer contributions.

- Finally, Michelle Zilio reports on the impending Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on Canada's shameful legacy of residential schools. And Mike Hogeterp discusses the importance of treating the report as the beginning of a permanent change toward fairness and inclusion for First Nations, rather than considering it to be the end of the story.

[Edit: fixed wording.]