Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Aditya Chakrabortty exposes the massive amounts of money gifted from the UK's public purse to its corporate elite. And Paul Weinberg writes that the Cons are only exacerbating Canada's practice of encouraging revenue leakage into tax havens:
The United States, European Union and several other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations are grappling with the contagion of tax avoidance by global companies, with its potential to hurt government finances. But, as Deneault discovered in researching his book, Canada is marching to a different beat.

“Officially, Canada shows solidarity with other western countries about tackling tax avoidance. I have informants in other countries, people whom I talk to when I travel, and they say that Canada, in the meeting rooms, is also always fighting against any kind of proposal that would make it difficult for corporations to use tax havens,” he says in a recent interview. Deneault highlights how Canada, as a major player at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, provides representation for smaller nations in the English-speaking Caribbean (The Bahamas and Barbados) and Ireland that do not have seats at either of these bodies, and which, incidentally, happen to be major havens.

“Canada is trying to look like its creatures (tax havens) to have the same strategies to attract capital,” says Deneault. “You will find that in Alberta with respect to oil, you will find that in Ontario with respect to the mining industry.”...
Real tax reform, he maintains, begins with examining how Canada has morphed into a tax haven itself, with exceptionally low corporate tax policies at the federal and provincial levels, and a number of legal loopholes that allow corporations and wealthy investors to avoid paying their fair contribution to Canada’s social wealth.
- Meanwhile, David Dayen notes that as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. (along with Canada) is signing on to standardizing labour standards with countries which have active human trafficking and effective slavery.

- Simon Houpt discusses the unionization of digital media. And Ella Bedard writes that Canadian unions will be fighting the Cons' attacks both in this fall's election campaign and through the courts.

- Ralph Surette points out that after being muzzled for a decade, Canada's civil servants are starting to offer long-suppressed facts about the Cons' abuses of power.

- Finally, Scott Santens writes that a basic income could both serve as a much-needed link between productivity gains and the sharing of prosperity, and reduce the amount of work needed from people who are being pushed into more than they want:
We are indeed creating new jobs, but these jobs are not 1:1 replacements. When someone who graduated from a free high school loses a 40 hours per week manufacturing job with benefits they've worked for 20 years that paid $50,000 per year because technology has eliminated the need for a human to fill that role, and the only job they can find without taking out a second mortgage to go back to school is a 30 hours per week temp job without benefits in the service industry that pays $20,000 per year if they're lucky, they've indeed gone from one job to another, but are they better off? Is the consumer economy better off with the notable hit to consumer spending power? Does the fact that robotic manufacturing allows this person to buy a dishwasher for $500 instead of $700 counteract the $30,000 loss in salary and security? Does the ability to purchase an iPhone 6 for the same price they paid for an iPhone 3 a few years ago make up for that loss in income either?

Advancing technology is not being allowed to improve our lives to the degree it could, if we were to make other decisions as a society. Instead, we're actively forcing ourselves to work a greater number of hours thanks to the effectiveness of the tools we created to require fewer hours. Does this outcome make any real sense? Is all this new and extra work in the labor market truly necessary or are we performing it because a job, however unnecessary is currently necessary to live?
If technology has reached the point where hardware and software are together doing much of our work for us, then we have to pay each other what our technology is not earning as income and not spending into the economy as a consumer. We have to give it to ourselves and spend it ourselves, because our technology is not going to. This can be thought of as a technological dividend required to upshift our economy instead of letting it slowly grind to a halt, and it's more widely known as the idea of basic income.

We need to make sure everyone starts earning a non-work related income so that everyone can be consumers in an economy increasingly populated by non-consuming non-human labor. By doing this, we will also be transforming all work into voluntary work, and see all the effects this makes possible from the economic growth of increased engagement to the higher wages of increased individual bargaining power.

If we take that path, the basic income path, then we can automate even more labor away and grow the basic income even further as productivity reaches new heights.

Deep thought

If, having spent nearly a decade and hundreds of thousands of dollars of donors' money as a national party leader, I could think of no more important issue to be flogged at every opportunity than how much TV air time other people demanded for me, I'd see reason for a serious look at whether I was accomplishing anything useful.

But your mileage may vary.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Friday, July 10, 2015

Musical interlude

Cage the Elephant - Cigarette Daydreams

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PressProgress makes the case that we can't afford to risk another term of government neglect by the Harper Cons. Jeremy Nuttall discusses how the Cons' fixed election date and anti-social economic policies each figure to cause direct damage to Canada's economy in the course of a downturn. And Michael Harris discusses the utter implausibility of the Cons' spin on the economic and security alike.

- Meanwhile, Sophia Harris tells the stories of a few of the Canadians already suffering the consequences of an anti-worker government. And Roderick Benns interviews Toni Pickard about the complementary roles a fair minimum wage and a basic income could play in improving matters.

- Christian Salmon offers a glimpse into the blackmail of Greece by European creditors - which makes it all the more bewildering and disheartening that the Syriza government seems to be repudiating its anti-austerity mandate after all.

- David Climenhaga wonders how much further the Cons and the Senate will go in seeking to have religious vetted by the federal government.

- Finally, Helaine Olen writes that the cult of self-help is the most dangerous religious movement shaping North American culture. And Bernadette Rabuy and Daniel Kopf make the seemingly obvious connection between poverty and subsequent incarceration:
Our society has, in the name of being tough on crime, made a series of policy choices that have fueled a cycle of poverty and incarceration. We send large numbers of people with low levels of education and low skills to prison, and then when they leave just as penniless as they were when they went in, we expect them to bear the burden of legally-acceptable employment discrimination.

Acknowledging, as this report makes possible, that the people in prison were, before they went to prison, some of the poorest people in this country makes it even more important that we make policy choices that can break the cycle of poverty and incarceration.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Senate Wars V: The Harper Empire Strikes Back

"But surely," said the Senate apologist, "even if an undemocratic upper chamber is utterly useless in actually reviewing legislation, we can still pretend it has value based on its willingness to study issues on something less than a wholly partisan basis."

Then this happened. And the Senate apologist was once again reduced to complaining that change couldn't be done.

New column day

Here, on how we should be taking the crisis in Greece and other global instability as reasons to ensure Canada retains the authority to act in its own interest - rather than excuses for rendering ourselves just as helpless as Greece itself.

For further reading...

- Mark Blyth nicely documents the origins of the debt now being held over Greece's head, while Sara Yasin and Emilie Munson take a look at who was really bailed out from Greece's borrowing in the wake of the global financial crisis.

- Amanda Taub writes that neither Greece nor anybody else really knew what was being agreed to as the EU was formed:
To the extent that membership in the EU came with obligations, they were presented as something along the lines of polite social commitments, as if joining the euro were akin to extending a dinner invitation to friends because they had you over last month and it would be rude not to return the favor. There was a distinct lack of acknowledgement that all that togetherness and integration could come with truly burdensome obligations, or with unsettling political or social change.
And needless to say, we should avoid the trap of signing on to new international commitments out of a similar sense of mindless agreeability if they stand to drive up health care costs and fetter our democratic decision-making

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman nicely summarizes how Greece tied its own hands by entering into the eurozone, while granting decision-making authority to outside bodies with no interest in its economic stability.

- Finally, Chris Hall discusses both Canada's own fragile economic state and the Cons' efforts to blame what's happening outside our borders. But as I pointed out in this post, one can't have much confidence in a government whose cure for exposure to international instability is more of the disease.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Lemieux and W. Craig Riddell examine Canada's income distribution and find that one's place in the 1% is based primarily on rent-seeking rather than merit:
(I)n Canada, as in the United States, executives and others working in the financial and business services sectors have been driving the growth in top incomes. Unlike in the United States, however, the oil and gas sector has also played an important role in income growth at the top, especially in more recent years, and holders of medical degrees have lost ground. Their results for engineers and computer scientists suggest that technological change is only a modest part of the explanation of what has happened at the very top of the distribution in this country. Overall, the fact that the rise of top incomes has been much greater in certain sectors, such as finance, and among senior executives is more consistent with a pattern of rent (excess earnings relative to market-determined earnings) creation and extraction specific to those sectors than with a competitive market for skills.
- Meanwhile, Daniel Tencer reports that in keeping with that rent-based model, even periods of economic growth aren't leading to income gains for any but the most privileged of Canadians.

- Hanna Trudo finds that Jeb Bush is taking the Cons' mindset to its logical conclusion in his campaign message: blissfully ignoring the fact that people working long hours are already falling behind, and blaming them for not working more. And Ella Bedard reports on the Jobs, Justice and the Climate movement looking to fight corporatism, inequality and climate change all at once.

- The Union of Concerned Scientists exposes how the oil industry has deliberately fostered climate denial while recognizing that the science of climate change isn't in doubt, while Suzanne Goldenberg focuses on Exxon's actions in particular. But it's worth remembering that oil barons have been buying politicians as well as PR - and Elizabeth McSheffrey reports on how the B.C. Libs rake in millions from the tar sands.

- Finally, Canadians for Tax Fairness points out how Silver Wheaton is avoiding taxes - and pleading innocence only in the sense that much of Canada's resource industry similarly shifts profits and manipulates prices in order to avoid paying its fair share.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

On absolutism

Shorter John Ibbitson:
The Very Serious People hereby demand that Thomas Mulcair give a definitive yes-or-no answer on all possible trade agreements before we even know what's in them.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan writes that reliance on temporary and disposable labour is utterly incompatible with long-term economic development. And Joey Hartman and Adrienne Montani comment on Vancouver's efforts to support a living wage rather than grinding down employment standards.

- Andy Skuce points out that our already-worrisome best estimates as to the effects of climate change may underestimate the damage done as land-based carbon sinks turn into carbon producers. And Charles Mandel reports that this summer's spate of wildfires across Western Canada may become the new normal as droughts become more common.

- Meanwhile, Bill Tieleman highlights the utter foolishness involved in B.C.'s handing over millions of litres of water to private bottlers for next to nothing while trying to impose conservation measures on the public.

- Aaron Wherry asks what purpose the Senate is supposed to serve in light of its failure to do anything to improve two grossly abusive bills in C-51 and C-377. And John Baglow notes that the Senate did find itself entirely willing to trample on the decisions of elected representatives when it came to denying transgender rights.

- Finally, George Monbiot comments on the battle between the financial elite and democracy in Greece and elsewhere:
The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors.
The crushing of political choice is not a side-effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lawn cats.

The definition of insanity

Shorter Joe Oliver:
We're fully prepared to blame any recession on Canada's exposure to international instability. But as proof of our economic competence, we're planning to spend billions in higher drug prices and transition costs to expose ourselves further.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jeffrey Sachs writes about the need to shape a more moral, less exploitative economy. So needless to say, the Cons are instead working on promoting corruption.

- Mark Weisbrot discusses how the Troika's attempt to impose continued austerity on Greece in the face of public resistance can't be seen as much more than an attempt at coercive regime change. And John Nichols reports on just a few of the voices rightly lauding the refusal of Greece's electorate to go along with that plan.

- Scott Eric Kaufman talks to Erik Loomis about the systematic outsourcing of dangerous and abusive jobs to countries where workers have no means of improving their conditions. And Jeremy Nuttall reports that while the Cons are trying to reduce the reported numbers from the temporary foreign worker program, they're going out of their way to set up alternative channels for easily-exploited labour.

- Meanwhile, Nicholas Keung reports on the Cons' profiling and blanket rejection of Roma visitors from Hungary.

- Dan Leger highlights how the Cons are interested in imposing strict and arbitrary accountability requirements on everybody except themselves as the government in power. And Stephen Maher is right to note that the political system generally tends to operate under different rules than nearly any other activity.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan discusses how the Cons are essentially defined by their mean streak. And Michael Harris writes about the widespread disenchantment of one-time PCs and Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David Dayen explains how fiscal policy intended to ensure growth for everybody is instead sending all of its benefits to the top end of the income scale - and thus failing to ensure any growth at all:
(L)et’s examine how central banks try to revive economies. They mainly try to lower interest rates in a variety of ways. This entices consumers to borrow cheaply, spurring more economic activity. Plus, consumers can refinance into lower interest rates on their current loans, saving them money that they could choose to spend. Without high returns from safe assets like Treasury bonds, investors push capital to business investment and other economic pursuits. And finally, banks with low borrowing costs can increase access to credit for individuals and small businesses.

Loose monetary policy has worked throughout recent history, but not since 2008. Take for example mortgages, the largest consumer financial product in the economy. Thanks to Federal Reserve actions, typical U.S. mortgage interest rates dropped from 6 percent to 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2013, even as the main federal funds rate was stuck at zero. Sufi uses this to discount the “zero lower bound” hypothesis as a cause of ineffective monetary policy: Through quantitative easing and other measures, the U.S. was able to reduce key consumer interest rates.

Yet housing didn’t contribute to economic growth in those years. That’s because too many households were locked out of accessing the low rates. They either lost their homes to foreclosure, or were “underwater,” owing more on their mortgages than the house is worth. As of March 2012, 70 percent of mortgage borrowers were paying interest rates of 5 percent or higher, even though the market rate was 3.8 percent.

The only people left to benefit from refinancing or purchasing mortgages were high-income earners with good credit scores, who have a lower “marginal propensity to consume,” meaning that they are more likely to save additional dollars than spend them. Citing research correlating high-debt households with higher propensity to consume, Sufi concludes, “The inability of heavily indebted borrowers to refinance has depressed spending.”
If too many people fall into debt anyway, then aggressive debt relief is the best way for the economy to bounce back, relieving this clog in the distribution of monetary policy benefits. As we know, the U.S. ignored this policy idea after the recession, using a poorly designed loan modification program that did little for homeowners on their biggest debt burden. Not only did that leave millions to suffer, but it helped cancel out central bank activities and stunted economic growth.

If you follow this logic, policies that reduce inequality would also help enormously. A family that earns a decent living doesn’t have to go into hock to keep up with their monthly budget. They therefore maintain a stronger balance sheet and lower debt burden when times are tough, and Fed policies can more easily reach them. Inequality spurs household debt, and household debt spurs financial shocks and longer economic downturns. Therefore, the challenge of reversing inequality doesn’t just affect those losing out in the modern economy — it affects every one of us.
- Meanwhile, Tamara Khandaker reports on yesterday's Jobs Climate Justice rally aimed at fighting inequality and environmental degradation at the same time. And Stephen Leahy writes that we need to stop building new carbon-burning infrastructure in a matter of years to limit climate change to an even remotely manageable level, while Fiona Harvey highlights the OECD's research emphasizing the non-viability of coal power in particular.

- But lest we think the effort to ensure a cleaner, more prosperous future will go unopposed, Jenny Uechi reports on the oil industry's underhanded attempts to block climate change experts from even having a seat at the corporate table. And Mychaylo Prystupa finds that the Cons continue to put the job of regulating the resource industry in the hands of its executives, while Sue Bailey exposes the complete lack of knowledge as to how to contain the consequences of Arctic offshore drilling.

- Fred Hahn comments on the importance of keeping Hydro One and other critical infrastructure in public hands.

- Finally, Carol Goar writes about Dr. Stephen Hwang's efforts to identify and fight the social determinants of poor health.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Scott Santens argues that a basic income represents the best way to ensure that the gains from technological advancement are shared by everybody. And Thom Hartmann makes the case for a guaranteed income based on its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, while Mark Sarner sees it mostly as a mechanism to reduce poverty.

- Meanwhile, Lane Windham highlights the need for social benefits to be pursued through public policy rather than through employment relationships alone. And Sean McElwee writes that increased voter turnout in the U.S. figures to bring out far more progressive citizens to have their voices heard:
To examine how boosting voting might affect policy on inequality, I asked Pew about its inequality survey. These data also show that the nonregistered population is more liberal than the registered population. Pew asked people which would do more to reduce poverty: “Raising taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to expand programs for the poor” or “Lowering taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to encourage more investment and economic growth.” While majorities of both registered and nonregistered Americans say that raising taxes on the wealthy would do more to reduce poverty, nonregistered respondents were more supportive than registered ones (59 percent and 51 percent, respectively). In addition, while 69 percent of registered respondents supported raising the minimum wage, 82 percent of nonregistered Americans did. While 60 percent of registered respondents supported a one-year extension of unemployment benefits, 69 percent of those who are not registered did. These findings conform to other research suggesting nonregistered Americans favor a far stronger economic role for government.
(I)f states with the lowest class bias — New Hampshire, for instance — had the same high class bias as, say, Kentucky, the change would lead to a decrease of 17 percent in support for the introduction of bills related to welfare and 22 percent in bills related to housing. The opposite is also true: Decreasing the class bias of the electorate would lead to more bills related to these issues. In a recent paper, Franko finds that lower class bias leads to more spending on health care for children, higher minimum wages and more anti-predatory-lending policies.

Parties can change the composition of the electorate, but they have failed entirely to bolster voting among the poor. According to ANES data, only 37 percent of those earning less than $30,000 reported receiving contact from either party regarding the 2012 elections, compared to 47 percent of those earning more than $100,000. And this sort of outreach makes a difference. Using the ANES data set, I examined Americans earning less than $60,000 who did not vote in 2008. I found that 41.5 percent of those who were contacted by a party voted in 2012, compared with only 28.1 percent of those who were not contacted by a party. When I removed the control for those who did not vote in 2008, the effect became much stronger, with 85 percent of those earning less than $60,000 who were contacted by a political party voting in 2012, compared with only 64 percent of those who were not contacted by a party.
- But then, there's plenty of room for more progressive policy even with the electorate we already have - as Mainstreet finds that Alberta's voters are supportive of NDP platform planks including a higher minimum wage and meaningful carbon pricing even as the corporate press demands that Rachel Notley discard them.

- The Ottawa Citizen notes that the Cons' election strategy is all smoke and mirrors at this point. And PressProgress highlights the bleak economic reality which they're trying to deny.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey's fake interview with Kory Teneycke eviscerates the Cons' fearmongering, featuring what would strike me as a devastating conclusion for anybody with a conscience:
Me: So, will you be using more terrorist video as the campaign goes on?
You: What in God’s name have I done with my life that I can legitimately be asked this question?