Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Karen Brettel and David Rohde discuss how the cult of shareholder value is destroying the concept of corporations actually making anything useful. And Deirdre Hipwell writes that the financial-sector workers pushing aside a real economy in favour of a paper one are miserable and envious as a result.

- Andrew Jackson points out that whatever one makes of the budget hole being claimed by the Libs, it could be easily filled with more fair and progressive taxes - with corporate taxes, capital gains and needless credits all offering ready sources of revenue.

- Or alternatively, the Libs could follow the Brad Wall strategy of pulling money directly from vital services (most recently schools) to paper over fiscal mismanagement. But before doing that, they might want to take note of the connection between public-sector cutbacks, low wages and economic stagnation.

- Nick Falvo offers some insights on the problem of homelessness in Canada and the readily-available options to address it. And David Ball points out that a well-designed housing program can take us a long way toward fighting climate change as well.

- Finally, Adam Radwanski, Frédérick Guillaume Dufour, Marc Zwelling and Jocelyn Maclure each offer their take on the NDP's election campaign and next steps.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Musical interlude

WestFunk feat. Isla Meller - Apollo

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Roderick Benns interviews Scott Santens about the effect of a basic income:
Benns: Why is the concept of a basic income guarantee so important at this point in our societal development?

Santens: We’re living in a paradox of absurdity, where we’ve created truly incredible levels of technology, growing at exponential rates, and yet we’re not using it to propel our civilization forward. Technology has from the moment the first tool was ever created, been intended to reduce human labour and enable us to do so much more than we ever would without it. And yet here we are working 47 hours a week instead of 40, and working nine hours a day at the office despite not actually working for four of them. We’re encouraging people to work in jobs they hate instead of doing work they love. We’ve increased the risks of failure, putting a counterproductive brake on innovation. We’re increasing inequality, hampering our economies. We’re reducing bargaining power by decreasing the ability to say no. And we’re replacing human workers with technologies that don’t buy anything. None of this makes any sense if our goal is for technology to work for us instead of against us. So let’s do that instead.
- Don Braid explains why it's taken an NDP government to provide Alberta's farm workers with protections they've lacked for a century. And Ben Spielberg and Jared Bernstein offer a fact check against the U.S. Republicans' hostility to a reasonable minimum wage.

- Murray Dobbin considers the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be a test of Justin Trudeau's willingness to offer meaningful change from the Harper Cons. But PressProgress points out that there's a real question as to whether the Libs are even willing to allow for the public debate they've promised. And Duncan Cameron notes that we don't seem to be getting much but conservative economic philosophy from the Libs.

- Laura Best explains why Canada should have little trouble meeting its commitments to assist Syrian refugees. And Remzi Cej discusses how he'd describe Canada to newcomers looking to escape war and poverty - offering a standard we should absolutely work to meet.

- Finally, David McGrane recaps a conference honouring the memory and work of Allan Blakeney by setting out a few of the challenges we need to meet in order to be able to claim a functioning democratic political system.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda Tirado writes that whatever the language used as an excuse for turning public benefits into private profits, we should know better than to consider it credible:
Given how much I had heard my whole life about British dignity, and the fact that there is a thing here called the House of Lords, I had assumed I would find something like comity and refinement among the people charged with running the place. Instead, I found Boris Johnson.

I began to feel at home immediately. Then I heard the term “skivers and strivers”. It felt familiar – in America we say “makers and takers”. If you listen, you can’t help but hear US-style campaigning creeping into the British political system. It’s not only the rhyming phrases meant to boil an incredibly nuanced issue down to a simple cops v robbers scenario. It’s the exact same arguments.
There is only so much variation you can put on one school of political thought, and both men are fairly mainstream-to-right with occasional forays into ideological counterproductivity. Both want to pare government spending to the bone, ostensibly to cut the debt and/or deficit depending on which we are very concerned with this week. In the end, you’ll wind up with some pretty sizeable tax cuts to the wealthy either way.

But can two countries with very different approaches to shared sacrifice and benefit have the same economic strategies? Given that a British citizen thinks it their right to see a doctor, and an American citizen may or may not think that the very idea is the reddest of Soviet plots, can privatising healthcare really solve the woes of both nations’ systems? It seems unlikely, given that the US still has an incredible number of people who are uninsured and the system is largely still run by private companies, that the solution will resemble what’s needed in the NHS.
- Jeremy Nuttall weighs in on the growth of food bank use in Canada. Miles Corak takes a look at income inequality, pointing out that a Working Income Tax Benefit which didn't wither away to nothing for the vast majority of workers would represent a good start in developing a more fair economic system. And Lars Osberg points out that there's plenty of room to increase how much high-end income goes to fund needed social benefits, while Carol Goar offers a few more suggestions as to how to pay for the Libs' campaign promises.

- CBC reports on the Canadian Institute for Health Information's latest study on the persistence - and in some case expansion - of health inequalities in Canada. And Canadian Doctors for Medicare calls for the federal government to step in and ensure that access to health care doesn't become a privilege reserved for the rich.

- Yves Engler writes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is all about corporate control rather than free trade. And Michael Geist points out how the TPP is particularly flawed in its restrictions on digital policy.

- Barrie McKenna reports that the Libs are dropping at least one of the Cons' most gratuitous corporate giveaways by eliminating a mandatory P3 screen for infrastructure funding.

- Finally, the New York Times rightly argues that mass surveillance is neither necessary nor particularly helpful in trying to keep the public safe.

New column day

Here, on the decision-based evidence-making behind the Sask Party's selloff of Crown land and planned gutting of publicly-operated liquor stores.

For further reading...
- The Sask Party's announcement of a program to sell off farm land (and ratchet up lease rates for anybody who doesn't want to participate) is here. And the consultation process which made absolutely no mention of that plan is documented here (PDF).
- Similarly, yesterday's liquor retailing announcement is here. And while I've already discussed some of the problems with a glaringly biased survey, it's worth noting the massive gap between what people were asked about (PDF) and what the Sask Party plans to impose on the province as a result.
- Finally, the CCPA's study (PDF) on the effects of privatizing liquor sales is well worth another read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Randy Robinson points out that while it's worth setting a higher bar for all kinds of precarious work, it's particularly problematic for governments to try to attack protections for the people charged with delivering public services:
These are many more examples of public sector jobs gone bad. And let’s not forget all the contracted-out services paid for by government but now delivered by private employers. When it comes to these services, government is no different from any company that aims to dodge union wages for its “non-core” functions by sending work to the lowest bidder. Cost, not job quality, is what matters most.

The ritual punishment of all public employees after recessions is cyclical and—we hope—soon coming to an end. But the growth of a precarious public sector workforce is a structural transformation that mirrors what is happening right across the economy. If the current government is serious about helping precarious workers, it can’t ignore its own.
- Leslie Young reports on a spike in food bank usage among other indicators of poverty and precarity in Canada. Matt Bruenig breaks down the face of poverty in the U.S., while Bryce Covert looks at the added difficulties facing single mothers trying to raise children without any secure source of income And Ina Jaffe discusses how gender inequality continues into retirement.

- Danyaal Raza, Steve Morgan and a group of health experts make the case for a national pharmacare program.

- David Climenhaga takes a look at the University of Calgary's corporate influence scandal - and why we shouldn't be the slightest bit surprised.

- Finally, John Klein duly slams John Gormley, Brad Wall and everybody else seeking to create a mob against convenient minority targets. And Paul Orlowski highlights the fact that Saskatchewan as a whole is more than ready to welcome refugees even if its current premier wants to foment suspicion, while Climenhaga is optimistic that Wall's cynical attempt to play to bigotry will lead to political repercussions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Kitchen cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Martin Whittaker reminds us that the American public is eager for a far more fair distribution of income than the one provided for by the U.S.' current political and economic ground rules. But Christo Aivalis writes that there's a difference between a preference and a cause - and that we need to do far more to shift the fight for equality into the latter category.

- Ed Struzik discusses how climate change is affecting Alberta's cattle ranges facing unprecedented droughts. And Emily Chung reports on new research showing that our groundwater supplies are mostly non-renewable.

- Robin Sears argues that we shouldn't let terrorists succeed in their goal of undermining our shared humanity. Unfortunately, Brad Wall didn't get the memo - and is facing due outrage for his willingness to let refugees suffer for the crimes of others.

- But there's at least some good news when it comes to greater inclusion in Canada - in the form of both premiers looking to help settle refugees, and a federal government dropping some of the Cons' most egregious attempts to exclude minority groups.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tony Atkinson offers reason for hope that it's more than possible to rein in inequality and ensure a more fair distribution of resources if we're willing to put in the work to make it happen:
(T)he present levels of inequality are not inevitable; we are not simply at the mercy of forces beyond our control. If we want to reduce inequality, and that is a big “if”, then there are steps that we can take. They are not necessarily easy and they have costs. We would have to discard economic and political orthodoxies. If our leaders are serious about tackling inequality, then they have to move outside their comfort zone and to consider a wider agenda. But there are concrete measures that can be tried if we are serious about tackling inequality.

At the same time, I should emphasize at the outset that, while I make far-reaching proposals, I am not seeking to go to the opposite extreme: from dystopia to utopia. Rather, I am concerned with a reduction in inequality below its current level — that is with the direction of movement, not the ultimate destination. My reading of the current state of opinion is that many people feel that present inequality is excessive, while having different views about how much they would like to see it reduced. My book is directed at this broad coalition, allowing the reader to choose how far they wish to go along the road described.
Reviewers have accused me of being nostalgic for a bygone-era that never will be repeated. But much of the book is concerned with how the world has changed and how it will change in the future. I devote considerable space to the role of technology and robotisation; I stress how the labour market is changing so that we can no longer focus on “jobs”; I discuss the shifting relation between the ownership of wealth and the control of capital. These developments potentially have profound distributional implications. But they are not necessarily grounds for pessimism. The citizens of OECD countries today enjoy a standard of living that is much higher than that of their great-grand-parents. The achievement of a less unequal society in the period of the Second World War and subsequent post-war decades has not been fully overthrown. At a global level, the great divergence between countries associated with the Industrial Revolution is closing. It is true that since 1980 we have seen an “Inequality Turn” and that the 21st century brings challenges that I have not discussed — such as population ageing and climate change. But the solutions to these problems lie in our own hands. If we are willing to use today’s greater wealth to address these challenges, and — crucially — to accept that resources should be shared less unequally, there are indeed grounds for optimism.
- David Dayen argues that we need to revive the use of antitrust law to rein in corporate abuses. And CBC exposes another galling example of pharmaceutical profiteering, as an off-patent drug needed to treat childhood epilepsy on an urgent basis saw its price rocket from $33 per vial to $680 after a multinational purchased its previous manufacturer.

- But David Schneiderman points out that the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other corporate control agreements are instead designed to tie government hands - and makes the case that we need a serious public debate before signing on.

- Anne Farries discusses how ill-advised austerity has affected basic public protections such as firefighting - and the problem extends well beyond Farries' focus on rural Cape Breton.

- Finally, Andrew Potter nicely sums up the Harper Cons' philosophy as setting up provincial firewalls from the federal level - rather than allowing for the exchange of money and knowledge necessary for a federal system to function.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Robert Reich writes about the growing disconnect between the few well-connected people who have warped our political and economic systems for their benefit, and the rest of us who are on the wrong side of that system:
(C)orporate executives and Wall Street managers and traders have done everything possible to prevent the wages of most workers from rising in tandem with productivity gains, in order that more of the gains go instead towards corporate profits. Public policies that emerged during the 1930s and the Second World War had placed most economic risks squarely on large corporations. But in the wake of the junk bond and takeover mania of the 1980s, economic risks were shifted to workers. Corporate executives did whatever they could to reduce payrolls: outsource abroad, install labour-replacing technologies and use part-time and contract workers.

A new set of laws and regulations facilitated this transformation. Trade agreements, for example, encouraged companies to outsource jobs abroad, while enhancing protections for the intellectual property and financial assets of global corporations. Government budgets that prioritise debt reduction over job creation have undermined the bargaining power of average workers and translated into stagnant or declining wages. Some insecurity has been the result of shredded safety nets and disappearing workforce protections.
Given these changes in the organisation of the market, it is not surprising that corporate profits have increased as a portion of the total United States economy, while wages have declined. Those whose income derives directly or indirectly from profits – corporate executives, Wall Street traders and shareholders – have done exceedingly well. Those dependent primarily on wages have not.

Britain is not as far along the path toward oligarchic capitalism as is America, but it is following the same trail. Markets do not exist without rules. When large corporations, major banks and the very rich gain the most influence over the composition of those rules, markets invariably tilt in their direction – adding to their wealth and their political influence. Unaddressed and unstopped, the vicious cycle compounds itself.
- Meanwhile, Brent Patterson notes that even the Globe and Mail is calling for the Libs to put the brakes on the Trans-Pacific Partnership before we sign away even more decision-making authority to the corporate sector.

- Mariana Mazzucato points out that everybody can benefit from an entrepreneurial public sector. And Katie Herzog reports on the massive economic development and job growth we'd expect from a transition to renewable energy.

- Andrew Jackson reminds us that the Libs' much-hyped "middle class tax cut" serves mostly to shuffle money around the top 10% of the income scale, and suggests using any increased revenue to actually help the people who need it most.

- Finally, Andrew Defty examines the causes and effects of reduced party membership in the UK. And David Ball discusses the snowflake organizational model which offers one means of reaching more people than the relatively small number already engaged in politics.