Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses Jordan Brennan's research showing that corporate tax cuts have done nothing to help economic growth (but all too much to exacerbate inequality). And Andrew Jackson sets out the main fiscal choice the Libs will have to make in determining whether to keep going down the same path:
(T)he Liberal platform also envisaged temporary deficits to finance higher spending on social programs such as child benefits, a higher Guaranteed Income Supplement for single seniors, public health care, child care and First Nations programs, and did not increase overall federal tax revenues. The proceeds of the new top income tax rate will be recycled entirely into a proposed so-called middle class tax cut which in fact heavily favours the top 10% and weill not even cover the cost of the middle class tax cut.

Progressives will be expecting the government to deliver on its ambitious social agenda, and will note that this could be easily funded on the revenue side by implementing a modest corporate tax increase, by scaling back the so-called middle class tax cut, and by setting more ambitious targets for the promised Liberal review of tax loopholes for the most affluent. Meanwhile, business Liberals, perhaps including Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, will likely be pushing for less social spending than promised in the platform in order to balance the books on the original schedule.

Platforms are crafted to win elections, but governments must make real choices. The Liberal government should stick to its spending promises, but this will require some adjustment to their taxation plans and stated fiscal goals.
- Meanwhile, even to the extent one wants to presume that the Libs were bound to offer tax cuts of some sort, John Geddes notes that one focused on the lowest income tax bracket would produce far more equitable results.

- Deirdre Fulton comments on the hollowing-out of the U.S.' middle class. The Economist weighs in on the UK Cons' attempts to define child poverty out of existence. And Bethany Farr writes that a strong majority of the UK public considers it important to take action to ensure people have access to food - though sadly their government disagrees.

- Sara Mojtehedazeh exposes how Ontario's provincial government (like far too many others) is contributing to the culture of precarious work in its own hiring practices. And in case we needed more indication that the commercialization of government is based on ideology rather than evidence, CBC reports on Saskatchewan Auditor Judy Ferguson's findings that the Wall government hasn't lifted a finger to measure the effects of the "lean" program it's imposing across the public sector.

- Finally, Bryan Thomas and Colleen Flood write that if we want to improve our health care system, the answer lies in modernizing public structures, not selling out to private ones.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Musical interlude

Zeds Dead feat. Twin Shadow & D'Angelo Lacy - Lost You

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Les Leopold rightly argues that financial and political elites won't offer a more fair distribution of wealth or power unless they're forced to do so:
Right now, we lack a robust mass movement with the power to reclaim our economy and our democracy to make it work for the 99 percent.

Instead, we have thousands of individual groups working on every issue from racking to a living wage. We have unions fighting for their members and worker centers fighting for immigrant rights. We have protests ranging from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to climate justice. We have hundreds of progressive websites and jour nals to cover all this activity. But we do not have a coherent national movement with a clear and bold agenda that links us together.

We will show that runaway inequality is at the root of many of the problems we face, including the meteoric and disastrous rise of the financial sector, defunding of the public sector, environmental destruction, increased racial discrimination, the gender gap in wages and the rise of our mammoth prison population. And we will posit that if we share a clear understanding of runaway inequality - and the basic economic situation we face - we can begin to build a common, broad-based movement for fundamental economic justice that will take on America's economic elites.

The political system will not move unless we organize on a mass level like the Populists did over a hundred years ago, like the trade union movement did in the 1930s and like the Civil Rights movement did in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some liberal economists and politicians appeal to the self-interest of the super-rich. They argue that the rich would be (even) better off if they would just allow a fairer distribution of income and wealth. We disagree. Expecting the wealthy to help us secure basic fairness is a losing proposition.

Economic elites will only give up power and wealth when they're forced to do so by a powerful social movement.
- And Luke Savage notes that part of the problem lies in our acceptance of a withered conception of rights - as the economic and social rights recognized through much of the 20th century have never been given effect, and are now seldom treated as such.

- Philip Cohen and Jeff Spross both respond to a patronizing attempt to complicate the issue of poverty - Cohen by focusing on the ability to provide enough income to wipe out poverty at the source, and Spross by highlighting the potential effect of full-employment policies as well. And Bill Tieleman argues that we shouldn't have to rely on food banks and other charities to meet basic needs, especially on a systemic basis.

- Finally, the Star decries the misuse of cabinet secrecy to hide government operations from the public. And Claire Wahlen reports on the years of work required to identify and reverse the attacks on Canadian privacy implemented by the Harper Cons.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Dani Rodrik discusses the evolution of work, and notes that future development and sharing of wealth may need to follow a different model than the one that's applied in the past:
(T)he post-industrial economy opened up a new chasm in the labor market, between those with stable, high-paid, and fulfilling services jobs and those with fleeting, low-paid, and unsatisfying jobs. Two factors determined the share of each type of job – and thus the extent of inequality produced by the post-industrial transition: the education and skill level of the workforce, and the degree of institutionalization of labor markets in services (in addition to manufacturing).

Inequality, exclusion, and duality became more marked in countries where skills were poorly distributed and many services approximated the textbook “ideal” of spot markets. The United States, where many workers are forced to hold multiple jobs in order to make an adequate living, remains the canonical example of this model.

The vast majority of workers still live in low- and middle-income countries and have yet to go through these transformations. There are two reasons to believe that their future path will (or need) not unfold in quite the same way.
(T)here is both good and bad news for the future of work in developing countries. Thanks to social policy and labor rights, workers can become full stakeholders in the economy much earlier in the process of development. At the same time, the traditional engine of economic development – industrialization – is likely to operate at much lower capacity. The resulting combination of high public expectations and low income-producing capacity will be a major challenge for developing economies everywhere.
- Erin Anderssen weighs in on the desperate need for an effective national child care system.

- Andrew Coyne makes the case for public financial disclosure to be carried out by an independent body, rather than being limited to whatever format, timing and spin best suits the government of the day. And the CP reports on the ugly aftermath of the Cons' end-of-term patronage binge.

- Finally, Andrew Mitrovica explains why we shouldn't expect the Libs to fix what's glaringly wrong with Bill C-51 - even if we have every reason to demand it:
(I)f Trudeau truly wanted to use simple, clear language to offer Canadians some long-overdue information about the fate of this ghastly law, all he had to do was add five words to the [throne] speech, bringing the total up to 1,755: The Government will repeal C-51. Why didn’t he?

If the Liberals intended to repeal C-51, they would have said so. If they’d intended to repeal large parts of the law, they would have sent some signals by now. If they haven’t, common sense suggests it’s because Trudeau has chosen to leave C-51 largely intact.
Terrorism cannot be bombed or legislated out of existence. Bill C-51 and laws like it offer the gullible only the illusion of security. And they do so at a terrible cost to free societies. C-51 includes extremely dangerous language criminalizing the “promotion” of terrorism and the spread of terrorist “propaganda” — legal catch-alls that can’t help but erode the right to free speech.

It vastly expands the power of security services to make arrests without warrants, on suspicion. It targets things like interference with “critical infrastructure” (code for protesters messing with pipelines), gives CSIS the power to “disrupt” suspected terrorist plots without waiting around for the cops, and allows it to petition a judge for permission to violate the Charter of Rights.

This isn’t a slippery slope. It’s a cliff. The tired strategy of granting security services more powers in the immediate wake of the latest terrorist attack has been tried time and again, and has failed time and again.

On managing the system

Following up on this post, there doesn't seem to be much prospect of the Cons making any effort to pursue proportional representation as an alternative to a ranked ballot if Tasha Kheiriddin's latest reflects their' thinking. But I'll point out that there's reason for the Cons to give the option a second look even if the Libs have made up their minds.

It's absolutely true that a ranked ballot system will tend to favour a party positioned on the middle of the spectrum. And the exception on a single-election basis will arise only where voters are so disgusted with that one party that they drop it from the top of their lists and/or move it to the bottom (behind competitors on all sides of the spectrum).

In other words, the prospect of limiting the Libs' hegemony under a ranked ballot system depends on a national mood where people of different values can agree at least somewhat on the need (and reasons) for change. And multi-party agreement that the Libs have rigged the electoral system in their own favour in a way that's unfair to all other parties might offer the only plausible basis to get there in a first Trudeau term.

For that reason alone, the Cons would hurt themselves as much as anybody by sticking to an inflexible and exclusionary position, rather than looking for some common ground with other parties. But the longer the Cons operate as if they were still in power today, the more likely they are to be stuck with a system that keeps them away from it in perpetuity.

New column day

Here, on how the Libs' first major budgetary choice has been to continue the Cons' dangerous pattern of chipping away at the federal government's fiscal capacity.

For further reading...
-  Scott Clark and Peter DeVries have previously summarized the Cons' destructive revenue cuts and overall fiscal mismanagement. And Bruce Johnstone and Andrew Potter are among those who have pointed to the long-term elimination of fiscal capacity as a major part of the Cons' legacy.
- Meanwhile, the headline about the Libs' misnamed "middle class" tax shuffle features a $1.2 billion price tag due to the Libs' lumping in a reduction in the limit on tax-free savings accounts. But since the Libs planned (PDF) to make that TFSA change anyway, the real cost of barging ahead with the shift is the full $1.7 billion gap in income taxes.
- And finally, David MacDonald's alternative suggestions as to what the Libs could have done with any added revenue from the 1% are again worth a read.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

On earned media

Ideally, a new Parliament should have the opportunity to talk about issues of far more direct significance and practical value than keeping even offensive speech such as Donald Trump's out of Canada. And so it's a bit disappointing to see Tom Mulcair pushing that issue.

That said, it's not hard to understand the reasoning behind the push. Since this fall's election, the NDP has made strong efforts to fight discrimination against refugees, highlight the need for action on climate change, for federal involvement in the fight against poverty. And its reward has been...buried or nonexistent coverage of its actual work, coupled with the familiar complaint that it's the NDP's fault if commentators can't be bothered to pay attention.

In that context, it makes sense to look for positions which (a) are likely to draw attention based on existing storylines and (b) set the NDP apart from its competitors in a positive way. And so far, the Trump message is doing that much - and indeed receiving no opposition from Canada's other parties.

In the long run, though, the NDP needs its appearances in the public eye to match its core priorities. And in the absence of the default coverage previously received as the Official Opposition, the task of winning the right kind of media and public attention may be one of the more difficult challenges Mulcair and his team face in the near future.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Reich suggests that government should respond to corporations who engage in anti-social activity such as moving their earnings offshore by making sure they can't simultaneously take advantage of laws torqued in their favour. And Daniel Tencer reports on the $12.5 billion bonus pool being doled out by Canada's financial sector even as it cuts front-line jobs.

- Patrick Maze discusses the importance of investing in education as preventative medicine as well as a form of economic development:
If we agree that preventing an ailment is easier than curing it, and that being proactive is better than being reactive, then we should insist that our governments also apply this in policy development. At some point we need to flip our thinking, and our actions, from responding reactively to social needs and challenges, to working toward a vision of what we want for our future society. We should commit resources to support that vision appropriately, and faithfully.

Education is a key factor in the health of both individuals and communities. Many researchers have studied the causal relationships between the level of our citizens' education, and their requirements for societal supports like health care, social services and justice. They've found that as the education levels of a society increases, access to those supports all decrease.
When we combine these savings in health care and justice, and consider that more educated populations are also less reliant on social supports, it seems like such an easy decision to prioritize education as an investment in the health of our citizens, communities and our economy. The funding trends we have now are simply unsustainable, and at some point we'll be forced to look to sustainable alternatives. Shouldn't we want our government to be proactive, rather than reactive, when we try to take that approach with our own lives?

Let's consider a collective vision for our future. Let's plan proactively to prevent problems, instead of just reacting to new ones as they arise. Let's challenge our leaders to develop policy that addresses root-causes of the issues we care about, instead of relying on expensive treatment options like justice, social services and health care. If we flip our thinking, priorities and actions, we'll recognize that investing in the education of our children is far more cost-effective and sustainable.
- Meanwhile, Lawrence Carter and Maeve McClenaghan expose how climate denialists for hire are using their academic credentials to produce reports to fit the requests of secret corporate sponsors.

- Charles Mandel talks to Stephen Lewis about the need for Canada's new climate change talk to b backed by policy.

- Finally, Adam Dodek points out that there's reason for concern that the Trudeau Libs will back away from their promises on democratic reform. And Dave Meslin makes the case for a proportional electoral system - with particular emphasis on why the ranking and runoff systems which may be appropriate in non-partisan contexts are ill-suited to federal politics.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Couched cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David MacDonald offers some alternative suggestions that can do far more to reduce inequality and boost Canada's economy than the Libs' upper-class tax shuffle. And Karl Nerenberg reminds us that the most important scandal on our political scene is the constant stream of corporate tax giveaways which has done nothing to help anybody but the already-wealthy few.

- Meanwhile, Paul Buchheit challenges the right's constant effort to demonize people living in poverty.

- Mariana Mazzucato discusses the need for entrepreneurial government to fund and manage a transition to a clean economy. And the Vancouver Sun comments on the need for actual leadership rather than mere talk. But Thomas Walkom highlights Ontario's green strategy gone haywire as a reminder that money alone won't lead to the results we need either if it isn't paired with effective management.

- Don Lenihan points out that openness in government needs to include the willingness to actually engage with the people affected by policy choices, not merely to allow people to see one's own unilateral decisions. And Jim Bronskill's story as to how the Cons view peaceful protests as security threats signals that there's a long way to go on both fronts.

- Finally, Elizabeth Thompson exposes the Cons' deliberate (and less-than-surprising) attempt to continue imposing their agenda on Canada from beyond the political grave.

Monday, December 07, 2015


The Libs' top 10% tax giveaway will cost a total of a previously unbudgeted $1.2 billion per year. And that apparently hasn't caused anybody to think twice about whether it's a good idea.

For the sake of comparison, the Libs' total commitment to the entire areas of "Health", "Environment and the economy" and "Indigenous Peoples" in year 1 of their platform (PDF) is $1.105 billion.

So which of those choices looks like a higher-priority use of whatever fiscal capacity the federal government has to work with?

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Bryce Edwards comments on the politics of inequality in New Zealand, while noting that there's a huge gap between talk and action:
Could the political left benefit from more focus on economics and inequality? Absolutely, according to Labour Party dissident Josie Pagani - see her blog post, We need to talk about the one per cent. She makes the case that "Global inequality is the number one issue for the progressive left." She also argues for:
1) "switching taxes from income to wealth"
2) "managed markets"
3) international treaties and agreements to harmonise economic issues such as tax and trade.
But if the public is already so concerned with inequality, why aren't the parties of the left doing better? That's a question discussed by AUT's Peter Skilling in Perceptions Of Inequality. His answer - with reference to "system justification theory" - is that social psychology means that the framing of the problem can lead to resistance to change. See also Kirk Serpes' Why we need to stop talking about inequality.
- Mark Karlin talks to Susan George about the corporate sector's rewriting the rules of international relations for its own benefit. Hilary Osborne reports on Cadbury's glaring tax avoidance in the UK, while Richard Murphy offers a few simple fixes to corporate tax evasion. And Conor Lynch responds to the regressive promise of flat taxes.

- The National Post reminds us that we need tax revenue to pay for the public priorities we all value. And Charlie Smith discusses the long-term consequences of needless austerity - with a focus on Bill Bennett's past B.C. government.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that the Libs' supposed "middle-class" tax giveaways are in fact aimed at the top 10%. And Daniel Leblanc reports that they're planning to barge ahead even after acknowledging that their numbers don't add up, meaning they'll need to take away from other promises to do it.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon highlights why we need governments at all levels to be working on stimulating Canada's economy, not looking to cut back:
The bank was referring to what economists call "secular stagnation": a long-period of very low growth, with all its obvious consequences on unemployment and income inequality. Secular stagnation is receiving increasing attention amongst academic economists, and rightly so; and it is something Canada should try avoiding at all costs.

Secular stagnation is like quicksand: the longer we stay in it, the more difficult it is to get out of, especially with governments insisting on cutting back spending.
Economies are driven by demand, and yet, in the last few years, in Canada and elsewhere, governments have persistently adopted policies that purposely deflated demand, thereby condemning our economies to secular stagnation.

So the answer to both questions is the same: fiscal policy. This is why it is more important than ever that the government in Ottawa undertakes fiscal spending on a much larger scale. Yet, my only concern is that the proposed spending will likely not be sufficient: there is a general inability of the new government and technocrats to truly understand the serious nature of what is going on. It will require more than tinkering with fiscal policy. What we need is a full-fledged fiscal attack.

Combating secular stagnation will be difficult. Clearly, Canada cannot do it alone. It will require a concerted, international and sustained effort for several years.

What we need is a New Deal for this decade and beyond.
- Will Grice reports on Finland's work on implementing a national basic income - and the high level of support it's receiving from the public. And Matthew Yglesias points out that the gap between the corporate elite and the rest of the U.S. population was far smaller just a few decades ago than it's become since then.

- albertarabbit reminds us that there isn't much reason to expect a difference between the Libs and the Cons when it comes to putting corporate interests ahead of people.

- Meanwhile, Martin Patriquin too finds little evidence of change when it comes to the Libs' refusal to accept any criticism whatsoever. And Cathy Guill highlights the issues we should be addressing as a result of this week's news about the Trudeau family's publicly-funded nannies.

- Finally, Rachel Notley explains her government's much-needed efforts to ensure the safety of Alberta farm workers. And Naomi Lakritz writes that anybody protesting the effort has reason to be ashamed.