Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dennis Pilon highlights how the stubborn defence of disproportional electoral systems can only be explained by a fear of voters' preferences being given effect:
The issue is not whether it’s better to have a few or a lot of parties in Parliament — that’s irrelevant. The issue is whether Parliament should reflect what Canadian voters want. They may want a few or many parties — we won’t know until they get a chance to register their preferences effectively.

People don’t care about some abstract ideal like having a lot of parties in Parliament for it’s own sake; they care about their vote having an impact. They only prefer “having a few big parties that try to appeal to a broad range of people” if they think that their party will be one of those parties. After all, the whole reason we’re discussing this issue of electoral reform is because our current ‘big parties’ have been pretty miserable failures in their efforts to “appeal to a broad range of people.”

And this is why the question is so one-sided. Where are the questions exploring the trade-offs and risks involved in keeping our current voting system — the fact that single-party governments typically come at the cost of electoral competition and inclusive representation, and seem to trigger a pronounced policy lurch with every change in government? The costs in this trade-off discussion, it would appear, only apply to the proposed alternatives — not to the status quo.
The subtext of their rhetoric, whether deliberate or not, speaks to a Liberal/Conservative majority of voters, basically asking, ‘Do you think the system that benefits you should be kept in place’? Meanwhile, their constant focus on the prospect of ‘instability’ or ‘extremism’ that might result from moving away from the status quo suggests a deep distrust of voters. The fear that voters might make poor choices (ones that these political scientists don’t agree with, in other words) sounds a lot like 19th century arguments against extending the franchise to working people generally.

You have to be a democrat to do justice to discussions of democratic reform. In Canada, a great many political scientists prefer focusing on legitimating our current governing order to empowering voters and adding substance to Canadian democracy.
- Meanwhile, Alex Boutilier points out the incoherence of the Libs' backtracking from a clear promise of electoral reform. And Alex Tyrrell reports on the consensus on proportional representation reached by Quebec's opposition parties.

- The Star makes the case for a national child care system for the good of children, parents and the overall economy alike. And Kevin Carey and Elizabeth Harris write about new research showing a clear connection between investment in education (particularly in lower-income areas) and students' economic opportunities.

- Finally, Paul Mason takes note of the obvious implications of Mark Carney's warning against inequality, particularly as it relates to the proliferation of low-wage and precarious work:
Carney’s solutions, though couched in language eviscerated in order to avoid offence, boil down as follows. First, economists have to accept that the current form of capitalism is failing the 99percent. Gains from both technological progress and globalisation flow more to the rich than the poor. Second, he says, we have to stimulate growth by relying less on creating money, and more by creating growth: governments have to start using taxpayers’ money to invest, and redesign the economy so that our dire productivity is reversed. Third we have to redistribute wealth downwards instead of upwards.

If Theresa May’s government was actually listening to Carney (instead of trying to undermine him as in reality), they should scrap Philip Hammond’s austerity targets, raise tax revenues, shut down tax havens and take decisive measures to end the creation of low-wage, low-productive jobs. To do that you would have to re-regulate the economy and hard.

It would, in short, have to be somebody’s responsibility that 20,000 low-wage cash business appear out of nowhere; somebody has to care about it other than the police, whose raids on such businesses frequently scoop up just enough trafficked migrants to hit the headlines, but never enough to actually put the traffickers out of business, nor to raise wages.

At the same time, you would have to redistribute wealth aggressively. Not all of that needs to be done through taxation. If, instead of privatising public services, you ran them as non-profit corporations, providing rail, broadband and energy at prices below the cost of production, the redistributive effect would be significant. People on rock-bottom wages would suddenly have a lot more to live on.

On top of that you need to actively raise wages. That needs more than a worker on the board: it needs a recognised union rep in every workplace. If Amazon, Pret a Manger, the courier industry and the construction firms were obliged by law to negotiate with unions, and to cease repressing them, there would be upward pressure on wages across the whole economy. Another way of creating that pressure would be for local and national government to hike public sector pay.

Call it what you will, it would no longer be globalisation as we know it, and it would reverse 30 years of free market labour reforms.

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