Saturday, August 01, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ezra Klein talks to Bernie Sanders about how to build a more fair economy in the U.S. and around the globe. And Lynn Parramore interviews Tony Atkinson about the options available to rein in economic inequality - and why we should be working on putting them in place:
LP: Some of the possible prescriptions you discuss, such as a basic income for all citizens, may sound radical, but you point out that they are actually already implemented as policy in many countries in various ways. Are ideas like basic income getting more attention and traction now?

TA: Definitely. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the book, in different places, say, “Oh! I never knew we could do that kind of thing.” It’s a tragedy, in a way, that our political system has become very narrowly focused and not willing to at least debate these ideas.

The basic income is very close to the idea Thomas Paine put forward in the 1790s. (Paine’s proposal, by the way, is on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration). That proposal is something that I and many others think is really interesting, which is that everyone, on reaching the age of 18 or so, should receive a capital payment. It would be like a negative capital tax. That idea was also proposed years ago in America by Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale.

A capital payment, or capital grant, would contribute to solving the problem of the intergenerational distribution of income, which is something I stress in the book. That is a serious problem, which I found, for example, in discussions with Korean journalists and economists. They are very worried about generational divide — concerned that the older people have benefitted from growth and the younger people are struggling to find jobs and so on. Some of the measures I propose are designed to take money away from my generation and give it to younger generations. The capital grant certainly would do that.

LP: You’ve been a strong critic of claims that we can’t afford to do much about inequality. How do you react to such claims?

TA: I think that the question about whether we can afford it has two dimensions. One is the extent to which addressing inequality involves redistribution —whether in involves some people, like myself, paying higher taxes to finance a more effective system of social protection, for example. On the other hand, it’s a question about how far these measures and other measures would tend to reduce the size of the cake, to put it in a rather hackneyed metaphor.

The second argument is the one I spend more time discussing, which is to say that in the kinds of economies in which we live, there are a number of directions in which we can both make the distribution fairer and contribute to making our economies more efficient and more productive for everyone. That’s very much within the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s way of looking at the world because I’m really saying that the economic model we’ve had to think about is one in which intervention tends to reduce the size of the cake. Yet if you think about a different economic model, you have to allow for the fact that there are corporations with monopoly power. You have to allow for the fact that we have workers who have very little countervailing power, and so on. There are, in fact, ways in which the current situation is inefficient.
- Thomas Mulcair tells Christopher Majka why he's committed to combating inequality in Canada:
For the first time in our history, the current generation is going to have less than their parents and their grandparents. That's never happened before in the history of Canada. We're far too wealthy to just stand by and watch that happen -- there's no reason for it. There's no reason for having 800,000 kids going to school hungry in the morning in Canada. That's a shame that we don't have to put up with. There's no way we have to put up with third world conditions on Canada's First Nations reserves. And I for one do not consider it inevitable that the seniors who built this country should wind up living in deep poverty. We're going to change that. My job, as a social democrat, has always been to decrease inequality in our society. That's our priority.
- Meanwhile, Stephen Harper offers his own idea of how the economy should operate - involving increasing individual debt which is rebranded as "consumer confidence" rather than an unfortunate necessity.

- Finally, Dana Nuccitelli writes that contrary to the spin of climate change denialists, we're actually learning by the year just how accurate global warming projections have been. And Ethan Cox argues that instead of criticizing people for failing to go far out of their way to opt out of the dirty energy economy we're stuck with, we should be working collectively on a cleaner, fairer society for everybody.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

By invitation only

Yes, Paul McLeod's report that Stephen Harper will go through a three-month election period without meeting a single person who hasn't been previously vetted by partisan operatives is pretty much the logical extension of the Harper Cons' attitude toward the public. But it's worth offering a reminder how that relates to the flood of propaganda going in the other direction.

Any place in Stephen Harper's campaign - or any consideration by his government - is by invitation only.

The few people who receive personal invitations due to their perceived political value - the Carsons and Duffys, Porters and Del Mastros - know they'll be taken care of.

But it's the converse that matters to most Canadians: if you're being advertised to rather than invited in, Harper has no intention of going anywhere near you. And that's as true for his policy choices as it is for his physical proximity.

So anybody being excluded from Harper's line of sight should have every reason to make sure he no longer has any power to decide who or what matters in Canadian politics.

Grifts within grifts

Shorter Saskatchewan Party Ministry of P3 Giveaways:
There's always a risk that the corporate giants we're paying to take over government operations might be more interested in making money than the public interest. We're pretty sure the only answer is to pay off more corporate giants.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Musical interlude

Foals - What Went Down

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Shannon Gormley points out how the Cons' actions to strip voting rights from Canadians abroad sticks out like a sore thumb compared to an international trend of recognizing that citizenship doesn't end merely because a person crosses a border. And Peter Russell and Semra Sevi lament that it's too late to reverse the damage before this fall's federal election, while the Star makes the broader point that we should be encouraging rather than limiting voter participation.

- Andrew Nikiforuk exposes how the U.S.'s green light to fracking has led to far more dangerous "shallow fracking" than anticipated - though it shouldn't come as much surprise that a poorly-regulated industry would engage in more risky practices than it would if public safety was properly taken into account.

- Ben Makuch reports that Stephen Harper is spending hundreds of millions of dollars for its own Star Wars program even as he denounces any suggestion of using public money to actually help people.

- Meanwhile, Jo Snyder makes the case for pharmacare as a means of reducing inequality. And Don Cayo notes that it's equally viable as a matter of economic policy.

- Finally, the Star argues that the Cons' economic spin consists of nothing but smoke and mirrors, while L. Ian McDonald sees it as more of a matter of theatre. And the CP reports on yet another month of economic decline on Stephen Harper's watch.

On institutional improvements

Shorter Carol Goar:
When it comes to Canada Post, the only options are cuts, sell-offs or more cuts. Because who could possibly want better service which also increases public revenue?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New column day

Here, reminding us that it's our communities who ultimately pay the price for the poorly-thought-out election announcements from senior levels of government that we've seen so frequently recently.

For further reading...
- CTV reported on last week's Evraz Place expansion announcement, while the Leader-Post offered an all-too-obvious example of cheerleading for a shiny new project while paying no attention to the opportunity costs involved.
- Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Party's regular announcements and re-announcements of what proved to be an ill-thought-out scheme for new school construction have lasted from last July to last November to just last month.
- And finally, CBC reported on City Council's hasty revision to the plan foisted on it by the province, while Shawn Fraser offered his take on the school debacle.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alan Freeman discusses the need for an adult conversation about taxes to replace the Cons' oft-repeated policy of ignorance:
Focusing on low taxes is great politics. It’s also a really dumb way to run the economy of an advanced industrialized country. Getting taxes right is a complex balance. Raise them too high — particularly taxes on income — and you risk creating disincentives for productive work, which can make your economy uncompetitive. Set them too low and you threaten the social programs and public goods that are fundamental to our values as a society — things like universal Medicare, safe highways and a sound education system.

In the U.S., where the low-tax gospel has become ingrained in the political system, the damage is there for all to see. The inability to raise the federal gasoline tax — it’s been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993 — has exaggerated the country’s infrastructure deficit by impoverishing the road system and mass transit services while discouraging energy conservation. At the same time, budget shortfalls at the state level have resulted in large tuition increases at state universities, leading to high student debt and contributing to America’s sorry record on social mobility.

So far, the Harper Conservatives seem to be delivering low taxes while still providing most of the government services and entitlements that we all value. But that’s largely because the federal government doesn’t deliver the really expensive programs — like health care — and has washed its hands of a long-term role in designing their future by unilaterally setting a funding formula that will keep its transfers under strict control, no matter how much it actually costs the provinces to deliver the services.

The upshot is that Ottawa is in fine fiscal fettle going forward, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which last week reported that Ottawa’s outlook is so rosy that it can afford to increase spending or cut taxes significantly over the coming decades. The provinces and municipalities, on the other hand, won’t have enough money because of the impact of an aging population on health-care costs. A solution would be to increase federal transfers for health or shift tax room to the provinces, says the PBO. But such is the allergy to taxes (look what happened to Vancouver’s proposed regional transit tax) that politicians everywhere are reluctant to move in that direction.
- Jim Stanford and Jordan Brennan take a thorough look (PDF) at the Cons' economic record, leading to the conclusion that tax baubles, indiscriminate trade deals and feckless management have led to by far the worst economic performance of any Canadian government since World War II. And Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew note that the Cons' impending giveaways in order to get the TPP signed will only make matters worse.

- Paul Buchhelt highlights how corporations are cheating the public education system in the U.S. And Hazel Sheffield reports on Wall Street's lobbying for Puerto Rico to shut down its schools in the interest of putting creditors ahead of people.

- The CP reports that privatized power has gone awry in Alberta, as a major provider has been found to have deliberately triggered power outages at peak times in order to drive up prices.

- Jordon Cooper writes about Saskatoon's new status as the city with the highest crime rate in Canada, and points out that any improvement will require some sorely-needed leadership in dealing with poverty and exclusion. And Jesse Bauman notes that a more fair minimum wage improves living conditions for everybody, not just the workers who see their wages directly increased.

- Finally, Bryan Palmer makes the point that today's policy issues surrounding precarious work are just the latest incarnation of the dispossession which has regularly faced vulnerable workers.


Elizabeth May tells us that her idea of a grassroots movement is a finely manicured lawn carefully maintained to suit the aesthetic preferences of its owners:
May said she didn’t want to thwart local efforts towards co-operation with other parties, but that she thinks she, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair should be the ones to discuss how grassroots co-operation should work.
To be clear, there were plenty of problems with the Kelowna red-green pact which May seems to have nixed: it didn't make a lick of sense in terms of either reciprocity (since the Liberals were offering nothing in return for a Green candidate's withdrawal) or anticipated outcomes (since the NDP is in a far better position than the Libs to challenge the Cons in the seat). And so it's entirely justifiable that the deal itself would come under scrutiny.

But it's one thing for May to highlight where a specific arrangement has gone awry, and quite another for her to say generally that the plebes should be quiet until party leaders have decided how their activity should be channelled. And if anybody harboured any illusions that the Greens saw their own grassroots activists as significant political agents rather than easily-controlled minions, May seems to have decisively shattered them.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tavia Grant is the latest to note that the potential for driverless vehicles necessitates some consideration as to how to account for people who currently rely on driving jobs. And Vivek Wadhwa makes the case for a new form of capitalism which isn't designed to leave people behind:
Countries such as India and Peru and all of Africa will see the same benefits — for at least two or three decades, until the infrastructure has been built and necessities of the populations have been met.

Then there will not be enough work even there to employ the masses.

Slim’s solution to this is to institute a three-day workweek so that everyone can find employment and earn the money necessary for leisure and entertainment. This is not a bad idea. In the future we are heading into, the cost of basic necessities, energy, and even luxury goods such as electronics will fall low enough to seem almost free — just as cell-phone minutes and information cost practically nothing now. It is a matter of sharing the few jobs that will exist in an equitable way.

The concept of a universal basic income is also gaining popularity worldwide as it becomes increasingly apparent that declining costs and the elimination of bureaucracies, make it possible for governments to provide citizens with income enough for the basic necessities. The idea is to give everyone a stipend covering living costs and to get government out of the business of selecting what social benefits people should have. The advantage of this approach is that workers gain the freedom to decide how much to work and under what conditions. Enabling individual initiative in the work that people pursue, in fields ranging from philosophy and the arts to pure science and invention, will result in their enrichment of their cultures in ways we can’t foresee.
- Meanwhile, Jordan Weismann slams the right's attempt to invent a "success sequence" which conveniently leaves out the economic security necessary for people to be able to plan out their lives.

- Paul Krugman discusses how the past cost-based justification for slashing social programs has been thoroughly undermined in the U.S. - though of course the memo has been conspicuously shredded by Republican presidential candidates. And Arkadi Gerney, Anna Chu and Brendan Duke highlight how the U.S.' middle class is increasingly getting squeezed out.

- Laurent Bastien Corbeil reports on the RCMP's use of deceptive social media accounts to infiltrate and monitor activists, while Clare Wahlen reports on revelations that CSIS operates dozens more foreign stations that previous acknowledged. And Stephen Castle discusses how the UK's absurd secrecy surrounding security issues has resulted in the media being unable to report anything about the trial of an individual who's since been acquitted.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan writes that the ballot question this fall should centre on Stephen Harper's abuse of the trust of Canadian voters.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Compartmentalized cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses how Greece has been turned into a sacrificial lamb at the altar of austerian economics:
Austerity is largely to blame for Greece’s current depression — a decline of gross domestic product of 25 percent since 2008, an unemployment rate of 25 percent and a youth unemployment rate twice that. But this new program ratchets the pressure up still further: a target of 3.5 percent primary budget surplus by 2018 (up from around 1 percent this year). Now, if the targets are not met, as they almost surely won’t be because of the design of the program itself, additional doses of austerity become automatic. It’s a built-in destabilizer. The high unemployment rate will drive down wages, but the troika does not seem satisfied by the pace of the lowering of Greeks’ standard of living. The third memorandum also demands the “modernization” of collective bargaining, which means weakening unions by replacing industry-level bargaining.

None of this makes sense even from the perspective of the creditors. It’s like a 19th-century debtors’ prison. Just as imprisoned debtors could not make the income to repay, the deepening depression in Greece will make it less and less able to repay.
(W)e understand that this is not just an academic debate between the left and the right. Some on the right focus on the political battle: the harsh conditions imposed on the left-wing Syriza government should be a warning to any in Europe about what might happen to them should they push back. Some focus on the economic battle: the opportunity to impose on Greece an economic framework that could not have been adopted any other way.

I believe strongly that the policies being imposed will not work, that they will result in depression without end, unacceptable levels of unemployment and ever growing inequality. But I also believe strongly in democratic processes — that the way to achieve whatever framework one thinks is good for the economy is through persuasion, not compulsion. The force of ideas is so much against what is being inflicted on and demanded of Greece. Austerity is contractionary; inclusive capitalism — the antithesis of what the troika is creating — is the only way to create shared and sustainable prosperity.
- Pedro Antunes writes that rather than giving in to the siren song of austerity, Alberta should be taking advantage of an economic downturn to build needed infrastructure when it's more affordable. And Michal Rozworski comments on the need for far more pushback against austerity politics at the federal level.

- Tula Connell follows up on the IMF's findings that unions play an essential role in fighting inequality. And Lydia DePillis discusses the success of the U.S.' labour movement in making the minimum wage into a winning issue - though Jennifer Medina reminds us that better laws ultimately only help to the extent they're obeyed and enforced.

- Roderick Benns interviews Maggie Olscamp about the difference a basic income could have made in her life.

- Finally, Frances Ryan observes that France is outlawing discrimination on the basis of poverty, and asks why that step hasn't been taken elsewhere.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On know-nothings

Shorter Lisa Raitt:
Now that I think about it, somebody should probably be responsible for regulating vehicle safety. (aide whispers in ear) Wait, that's me? Why is this the first I've heard of it?

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Peter Schroeder reports on a galling lobbying effort to keep the U.S.' government paying free money to banks. And Jeremy Smith discusses how corporate groups have pushed to treat any form of public-interest regulation or fair taxation as an imposition on financial-sector profiteering:
Mr Das outflanks even Ms Reinhart in the scope of what he includes (as it appears) within the scope of "financial repression".  It also covers – according to his article – higher taxes, co-paying for government services, cuts in benefits, raising pensionable retirement dates, currency devaluations, as well as maintaining low and negative interest rates, and new liquidity requirements for banks.  What he fails to mention (yet this is surely more “repressive” than low interest rates) is the fact that real wages in the UK were “repressed” by about 8% from 2009 to 2013.

At the end of the day Mr Das’s argument is no more than the classic bond-holder’s self-serving contention down the ages: that creditors - and sovereign bond-holders above all - always and everywhere must have their real rate of return protected and enforced...
What the “financial repression” proponents always ignore is that there was one period in western societies when the finance sector was well-managed, in line with Keynes’s policies for cheap money, with interest rates at low levels across the range of maturities. This was the period from 1945 to the early 1970s – and in some respects starting earlier, with the New Deal in America.  In his response to a paper published by the Bank of International Settlements on financial repression by Carmen Reinhart and  Maria Belen Sbrancia, "The Liquidation of Government Debt” (2011), Professor Alan Taylor commented:

We must be wary of confusing financial repression (which sounds like a terrible thing) with financial regulation (which sounds a good deal more wholesome).  In the context of current debate on how better to regulate the financial sector after the recent debacle, it is entirely understandable that the authorities have decided that banks and other entities were given far too much leeway to pursue activities that were not only self-destructive, but also destructive of the wider economy…

Whether we call it financial repression, lack of competition, tough regulation, the fact remains that the 1945 to 1975 era was a glorious period of economic growth in the advanced countries, as well as in many emerging economies.  It was a time of rapid economic growth with the allocation and mobilization of large amounts of capital, generalized macroeconomic and financial stability, sustained real wage growth and low unemployment…

In marked contrast, the subsequent thirty-some year period from 1975 to the present has been one of financial liberalization, but at the same time has seen a pronounced slowdown in growth and capital accumulation, more financial crises, real wage stagnation, and elevated unemployment.
- Meanwhile, Aimee Groth points out that entrepreneurship - so often pitched as a means of encouraging social mobility - actually arises out of privilege since the only people with the ability to take risks are those with alternate means of support. The Huffington Post comments on the "glass floor" which ensures that the children of privilege never lose their advantages. And Miles Corak outlines some steps we should be taking to build an inclusive economy.

- Marie-Danielle Smith follows up on the UN Human Rights Committee's review of Canada by pointing out that the Cons seem to be the only people in the country who don't see both room for improvement, and an urgent need to achieve it.

- Finally, Drew Nelles writes that if the Cons' Mother Canada proposal is an abomination, it also reflects far too well the culture of corporatism and self-worship that represents their most obvious contribution to Canada. Which means it's no wonder that (as Charles Mandel reports) the project's proponents are cancelling public meetings which might result in people actually thinking about what it means. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Greg Keenan exposes how corporations are demanding perpetually more from municipalities while refusing to contribute their fair share of taxes to fund the services needed by any community. And Sean McElwee points out how big-money donations are translating into a warped U.S. political system:
Available data reveals that donors not only have disproportionate influence over politics, but that influence is wielded largely to keep issues that would benefit the working and middle classes off of the table.

Do donors really rule the world? Recent research suggests that indeed they do. Three political scientists recently discovered that a 1 percent increase in donor support for a policy leads to a 1 percent increase in the probability the president supports the policy, if the president and donor are in the same party. On the other hand, they find no similar effect from general public opinion on presidential policies. In another study, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes find, “the roll call voting of members of Congress may be more strongly associated with the views of their donors (including outside donors) than with those of their voting constituents.”
The solution to big money is two-fold. First, we need mass voter participation. The path is simple: Eliminate unnecessary barriers to voting, shift the burden of registration off of people and onto the government and expand nonpartisan mobilization efforts. But that won’t be enough as long as donors rule democracy. So we should broaden the donor pool with a vibrant public financing system. Evidence from New York suggests that a donor-matching system could increase the diversity of the donor pool, further bolstering democracy. Demos has profiled a number of candidates that fight for working class and non-white Americans but were massively out-raised by their opponents, and showed how small donor democracy would boost their chances of winning. Candidate Eric Adams, when commenting on the New York public matching system noted that, “a large number of people who contribute to my campaign have never contributed to a campaign before.” A world in which big donors are less powerful is a world where average Americans have more of a say in politics.
- Ole Hendrickson writes about the absurdity of austerity as a philosophical foundation for public policy. And Bruce Johnstone notes that the Cons' austerian economic plan is failing by all standards - including the Cons' own arbitrary measures of fiscal management. 

- Shawn Fraser discusses Regina's first count of its homeless residents, while summarizing a few of the policies needed to ensure that they can find the housing they need. And Justin Miller offers an abominable example of how social support systems are set up to punish the poor, as a Michigan mother was cut off welfare due to her daughter's brain cancer which kept her out of school.

- Natasha Geiling reports on the continued effect of Enbridge's Kalamazoo River spill five years after the fact. And Andrew Nikiforuk comments that British Columbia (like so many other places) is seeing a dramatic increase in earthquake activity as a result of fracking.

- Frances Woolley highlights how the "sharing" economy may only serve to perpetuate prejudice and inequality.

- Finally, Alison presents the Harper Cons' new advisory system for fearmongering about terrorism.