Saturday, January 02, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman discusses the connection between concentrated wealth and extreme anti-social political behaviour:
Wealth can be bad for your soul. That’s not just a hoary piece of folk wisdom; it’s a conclusion from serious social science, confirmed by statistical analysis and experiment. The affluent are, on average, less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder.

And it’s obvious, even if we don’t have statistical confirmation, that extreme wealth can do extreme spiritual damage. Take someone whose personality might have been merely disagreeable under normal circumstances, and give him the kind of wealth that lets him surround himself with sycophants and usually get whatever he wants. It’s not hard to see how he could become almost pathologically self-regarding and unconcerned with others.

So what happens to a nation that gives ever-growing political power to the superrich?
(T)he biggest reason to oppose the power of money in politics is the way it lets the wealthy rig the system and distort policy priorities. And the biggest reason billionaires hate Mr. Obama is what he did to their taxes, not their feelings. The fact that some of those buying influence are also horrible people is secondary.

But it’s not trivial. Oligarchy, rule by the few, also tends to become rule by the monstrously self-centered. Narcisstocracy? Jerkigarchy? Anyway, it’s an ugly spectacle, and it’s probably going to get even uglier over the course of the year ahead.
- Meanwhile, Michael Snyder weighs in on how precarious workers are being treated as things rather than people by employers - and how the resulting lack of security is affecting them. And Frances O'Grady makes the case for a meaningful industrial policy to make sure that everybody benefits from economic development.

- Neil Irwin comments on new research showing that an individual's view of the economy is based on partisan preference - but that most people in fact know the underlying facts when they're given even a tiny incentive to get it right.

- Gordon Pape examines the real impact of the Libs' upper-class tax cut - with an individual making $216,000 getting a handout, while somebody making a tenth as much gets nothing.

- Finally, Margaret Wente confirms that her preference for a first-past-the-post electoral system is based on a desire to limit voters' input to a periodic referendum on the incumbent. And Erich Jacoby-Hawkins makes a noteworthy point about the first-past-the-post apologists bleating about refusing to accept a new electoral system without a a referendum:
(W)hat's funny about this likely change are the demands, mainly from supporters of the status quo, that any electoral system reform come only after a successful referendum vote where more than 50% vote for the change. This flies completely in the face of the underlying value of our current electoral system, the one they would have us retain, where decisions aren't made by a 50%+ majority, but by the "majority" of MPs elected with a mere 39% of votes.
The basic principle behind first-past-the-post is that whichever party forms a "majority" based on enough local riding pluralities gets to make (and change) the laws. Anyone who argues that such changes should instead require support of 50%+ of voters in a referendum is, in effect, arguing for proportional representation, because under PR, only laws that have more than 50% voter support will pass. So which do you want, the "powerful, stable" false majority governments that FPP elects, or a proportional system that actually reflects voter desires? Because you can't use the latter principle to argue against the former.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Musical interlude

Royksopp - Here She Comes Again (DJ Antonio Remix)

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to start your new year.

- Paul Krugman points out that as tends to be the case, the U.S.' modest increase in high-end tax rates in 2013 managed to produce both more fair taxation and strong economic growth.

- But Michael Hudson notes that increasing inequality and wage suppression are still among the dominant economic forces in the U.S. And the New York Times' set of year-end charts features a stark example as to how the wealthiest Americans are still siphoning off more and more income at everybody else's expense.

- Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Inimai Chettiar study the costs of pointless mass incarceration, including its significant contribution to overall poverty.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail offers a list of laws calling for immediate rewrites by the federal government, with the extreme provisions of C-51 leading the way. And Bruce Cheadle notes that the cost of the Cons' bad judgment is still accumulating, as a challenge to their attempt to retroactively permit the illegal destruction of data is still making its way through the courts.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones writes that the UK's flooding is just one example of what happens when the public sector which is supposed to look out for the common good is slashed out of short-term political calculation. And J. Bradford Delong observes that the choice between an economy that works for everybody and one designed merely to transfer wealth upward is inevitably one to be made within the political system.

- Harold Meyerson highlights how stock-based compensation (and the resulting obsession with share buybacks) has utterly warped corporate decision-making.

- Meanwhile, Hannah Levintova reports on Shannon Liss-Riordan's success in ensuring that service workers aren't exploited by unscrupulous employers or contractors. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh discusses how workplace polarization (including both more high-priced managers, and more precarious workers lower down the scale) is affecting Toronto's library services.

- Finally, kev rightly argues that we should be spending more time discussing the type of electoral system we expect. Spencer McKay writes that there's no need for a referendum on a type of electoral reform which provides for better representation and is supported by multiple parties. And the Cons' threat of using unelected patronage appointees to block any electoral reform (no matter how many parties agree on it) makes clear that their position is based solely on partisan advantage rather than democratic principles.

New column day

Here, expanding on this post about Brad Wall's sad attempt to beg Justin Trudeau for federal money to make up for his own mismanagement.

For further reading...
- Once again, Wall's call for a bailout was here. And his previous decision to drop any attempt at a sound equalization system at Stephen Harper's request can be traced here and here.
- Meanwhile, the issues where Wall and his government have already tried to block any federal action since the fall election include climate change, pensions and refugees.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Steven Hill discusses some of the most glaring problems with an economy based on precarious work. And Tim Harford rightly asks whether a shift away from steady employment will necessitate more public delivery of social benefits:
Details vary but most advanced countries have a list of goodies that must be provided by employers rather than the government or the individual. In the UK a full-time worker is entitled to 28 days of paid leave. In the US the default provider of health insurance is your employer. In many countries, employees cannot be sacked without long notice periods and a decent pension is the preserve of people with a decent job. As for freelancers, they may enjoy flexibility and independence and sometimes even a good living — but as far as social protections go, they are on their own.
(W)e should end the policy of trying to offload the welfare state to corporations. It is a policy that hides the costs of these benefits, and ensures that they are unevenly distributed. Instead we should take a hard look at that list of goodies: healthcare, pensions, income for people who are not working. Then we should decide what the state should provide and how generously. To my mind, there is a strong argument that the state should provide all of these things, to everyone, at a very basic level. What the state will not provide, individuals must pay for themselves — or seek employers who provide these benefits as an attraction rather than a legal obligation. Call it libertarianism with a safety net.
- Meanwhile, Noam Schieber and Patricia Cohen report on the shadow tax system which has allowed the wealthiest Americans to avoid contributing to the country around them.

- Omar Arias and Dorota Chapko highlight the massive impact of early childhood education on brain development - with particular emphasis on the contrast between more efficient child care funding and the far-less-controversial job training measures which have significantly less positive economic effect.

- James Wood reports on the Alberta NDP's plan to make affordable housing one of its key priorities in the new year.

- And finally, both Gillian Steward and Don Braid highlight Rachel Notley's work to make Alberta into a constructive participant on the Canadian political scene rather than a rogue province.


Shorter Assorted Conservative Hacks with Too Much Time On Their Hands:
In keeping with the conservative movement's holiday spirit, we pose this most humanitarian of questions: why are there no workhouses?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with babies.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matthew Yglesias writes that The Big Short and other stories focused on the financial aspects of the 2008 economic meltdown miss by far the most important part of the picture in the real economic destruction wrought by irresponsible banksters. And David Dayen notes that U.S. mortgage lenders are now laughably pointing fingers at regulators who have made lending forms more understandable for the fact they aren't lending as easily as they were during the housing bubble.

- Martin Boucher discusses the urgent need for a shift to a low-carbon economy in Saskatchewan. And Seth Klein argues that it's time to move past pipe dreams like Christy Clark's liquid natural gas get-rich-quick scheme.

- Robin Sears sets out three crucial tests for Justin Trudeau - and while one can quibble with his order of difficulty, there's no doubt that major advances on climate change, electoral reform and First Nations relations would represent a first-term agenda worth pursuing.

- But it's also worth noting how the Libs may be tying their own hands on those among other issues - and the fact that they seem to consider a single e-mail address to be enough consultation on the Trans-Pacific Partnership doesn't bode well.

- Finally, Andre Picard highlights the dangers of a culture which pushes employees to work when they're sick - with the inflexible requirement for sick notes to excuse any absence serving as a particularly counterproductive policy.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Jordon Cooper offers his take on the many social issues we should be addressing alongside our work to welcome Syrian refugees:
All levels of government have passed resolutions to end child poverty in Canada and have done almost nothing to back it up. There has been the occasional study done or commission struck, but as soon as they report back that poverty is solved with more money, nothing gets done.

Chretien wrote that he saw Canadians were tired of activist prime ministers such as Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Mulroney. Constitutional battles had taken a toll on the country. Shackled by an overwhelming budget deficit, Chretien narrowed the scope of government by necessity and political choice. Ottawa got out of the business of making Canada better and simply managed what we had. Harper took that further, and narrowed the focus to the economy and security.

I am not sure that Justin Trudeau is correct in his vision for an expanded mandate for Ottawa, but it is encouraging to see a federal government thinking of what it can do rather than focusing on what it can’t. Settling 25,000 refugees is one of the most ambitious acts Canada has undertaken. Let’s hope it’s a first step in solving many of the serious social issues that exist in Canada.

How much longer can we keep ignoring homeless adults, hungry kids and families with unsafe water?
- Bryce Covert points out how limited any new social programming will be if it's coupled with a refusal to raise any revenue from an implausibly-defined middle class. And of course that lesson is equally important in Canada given the Libs' similar language.

- As for what we might be able to accomplish with a more reasonable revenue model, Joseph Brean discusses the prospect that the Libs' past discussion of a basic income might put it on the table at the federal level. And Allison Vuchnich reports on recommendations from the editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal to develop evidence-based health policies including universal pharmacare.

- Finally, Sean McElwee discusses the latest comparison of economic development development under different U.S. presidents - reflecting the familiar outcome that the right-wing parties who brand themselves as economic managers in fact produce far worse results than their further-left competitors.

On selective equalization

So apparently some unspecified event in federal politics this fall has caused Brad Wall to start demanding money from Ottawa which he'd never have considered seeking before.

Now if only he hadn't trashed Saskatchewan's bargaining position by dropping the court challenge which could have ensured that resource revenues didn't play a disproportionate role in equalization allocations - and all at the request of the Conservative Prime Minister he served at the time.

On failed diversions

Not surprisingly given my previous comments on the Libs' electoral reform promise, it's a plus that they're sticking with it rather than giving in to any demand for a referendum. And hopefully the temporary diversion raised by the Cons will lead the parties where they need to go, even if a couple have had trouble getting there.

Having ruled out other decision-making mechanisms besides Parliament, the Libs will need to ensure they're not trampling the views of other parties (in addition to consulting thoroughly with the Canadian public) for a new system to be seen as fair. And having failed in their attempt to block any change at all, the Cons now look to have little choice but to engage in the consultation process. 

So if there was ever any doubt, the task for all parties and interested members of the public is to discuss what we actually want in an electoral system. And it shouldn't take long for the ability to have each vote count toward what a voter actually wants to emerge as the key principle.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrew Jackson makes the case for a federal budget aimed at boosting investment in Canada's economy:
Public infrastructure investment has a much greater short term impact on growth and jobs per dollar spent than tax cuts since the import content is low and there is no leakage to higher savings. Increased income benefits for low income households, as through the proposed new system of child benefits, also have a relatively large impact on GDP.

The CSE study also found that in the short term the federal and provincial governments would each gain over 40 cents in additional revenues for every dollar of infrastructure investment, to a total of 88 cents per dollar spent. In the long run, governments would recoup almost all of the increase in investment by boosting productivity in the business sector and thus the future tax base.

The key point is that a 2016 federal budget heavily tilted towards infrastructure investment and higher benefits for low income households would give a significant boost to growth and job creation. The new government could and should give priority to areas of spending which have the greatest economic impact at the lowest net fiscal cost. This does not include tax cuts for the relatively affluent.
Some will argue that we cannot afford more spending as the federal government falls into deficit due to a deteriorating economy. But well chosen new investments could give a major boost to growth and jobs, and be at least partly self-financing due to higher revenues.
- Meanwhile, David Climenhaga points out how the right-wing model of total reliance on oil royalties at the expense of a steady revenue base is proving even more disastrous in Alaska than in Canada's oil-producing provinces.

- Molly Ball writes about Nick Hanauer's work on a fair minimum wage and other policies intended to reduce inequality, while LOLGOP contrasts that against the Republicans' determination to make inequality worse. And Sean O'Grady argues that other jurisdictions should follow in Finland's footsteps in developing a basic income.

- Sydney Sharpe rightly calls for an end to abuse and bullying in Alberta's legislature. And Paul Berton comments on the need to make kindness rather than nastiness the rule in discussing politics.

- Finally, Michael Harris offers some suggestions as to how the Cons could learn from their mistakes.