Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Jackson offers his prescription for Canada's economy in the face of plunging oil prices and a sinking dollar. And Murray Dobbin argues that the Libs' handling of trade agreements reflects a fundamental economic choice between a socially-oriented economic outlook which has worked in the past, and a neoliberal one which hasn't:
Even if these agreements actally enhanced trade, international trade will almost certainly remain in the doldrums for the foreseeable future. This is the case not just because of the slowdown in growth in China but because most developed countries are struggling and following neoliberal policies of austerity and suppression of wages -- the same deadly combo Canada has experienced. It all adds up to chronic low demand and diminished world trade.

One can only hope that Trudeau and his advisers will conclude that when approaching economic growth they should focus on the things they can change and avoid those they can't. Between 75 and 80 per cent of our economy is domestic: good and services produced and consumed here. If the government actually wants to grow the Canadian economy it has to find a way out of its trade straightjacket and stimulate the domestic economy. The country that rejects the ideological extremism of neoliberalism first will have a huge advantage over the next 10 years.

But to do so requires an actual rejection of some key neoliberal policies -- including, of course, rejection of any more investment protection agreements. Additionally, as I argued in a recent column, a return to fair and robust taxation sufficient to bring the government share of the economy back to 1980 levels -- levels necessary to permanently stimulate the domestic economy.
- And in a similar vein, David Lane makes the case for market socialism as an alternative to neoliberal economic assumptions.

- Maude Barlow writes that nobody wins when businesses are able to dictate public policy on all sides of a trade deal. And PressProgress points out the absurdity of reopening the CETA to slightly reduce its level of corporate control while refusing to do the same with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

- Bruce Cheadle reports that the Harper Cons' political attacks on charities are finally being wound down, though it's not clear whether the Libs are willing to reverse the damage already done. And Richard Murphy discusses how the UK's tax authorities are inexplicably allowing Google to bargain away its tax obligations - leaving the public to pick up the tab.

- Finally, Susana Mas notes that the Cons' attempt to sell Canadian residency to plutocrats has run into a lack of interested buyers.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Musical interlude

Tourist feat. Will Heard - I Can't Keep Up

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Edgardo Sepulveda writes about the role of the federal government in combating inequality - while noting that Canada has gone in the wrong direction over the past few decades. And Michal Rozworski points out that we're entirely accustomed to talking about economic development and distribution solely in terms of what benefits the elite:
Talking heads for and against talk about fiscal stimulus “shovels in the ground”, a kind of bastardized Keynesianism that ignores the loss of power on the part of the majority. As the elite discussion over the future of policy grabs the big economic headlines, we also learn that 78% of Ontario employers are breaking basic workplace rules and protections.

So while policy elites care about interest rates, your boss cares about the length of your lunch break or skimping on safety at work. It’s a neat package. Policy debates over “the economy” are important, but this basic, workplace-level injustice shows just why we have to rebuild power from the bottom up and how far there is to go.

When the options from the commentariat are “grin and bear it“, “help us get richer by driving up asset prices and your debt” or “give us fat contracts to build things”, it’s easy to lose track—and lose hope. Let’s remember that the economy isn’t some separate special part of the world, and especially not one that works by some special set of rules always rigged by elites against regular people. As we look set to join the club of global economies mired in stagnation and inequality, there is no point wasting time in getting started turning the economy around in our favour. Elites will keep trying to leave this bust better placed to get the most out of the next boom. We shouldn’t let them get away with it.
- Mike Moffatt suggests that a food rebate linked to GST/HST credits would represent both an important form of economic stimulus and a buffer against increased food prices. (And that's without getting into how it would also reduce inequality.)

- But Paul Willcocks exposes British Columbia's denial of rental assistance to some of its most vulnerable citizens as an example of how programs now are all too often designed to exclude the people who need help the most. And Andy Blatchford reports on the Parliamentary Budget Officer's conclusion that the Libs' upper-class tax shuffle will cost even more than their already-revised estimates.

- Yves Smith discusses the U.S. presidential campaign, with a focus on Hillary Clinton's tone-deaf appeals to Wall Street and to right-wing rhetoric in trying to fend off Bernie Sanders. And Glenn Greenwald sets out the seven stages of establishment backlash against progressive populism.

- Finally, John Nichols weighs in on the fallout from Flint's disastrous experience with "emergency" austerity.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Compare and contrast

One option in responding to a precipitous decline in commodity prices which has exposed a province's overreliance on resource extraction is to work on developing an economy which isn't so vulnerable to predictable shocks:
Ceci said his main focus is to stabilize public services and invest in infrastructure that will help diversify the economy when the current slump comes to an end.
Another option is to pour still more public money into an even more expensive bet on the same single commodity.

Need we ask which one Brad Wall plans to push, all in the name of serving oil companies?

New column day

Here, with my take on the factors NDP members should take into account in evaluating Tom Mulcair's leadership.

For further reading...
- I've written numerous previous posts on the future of Mulcair and the NDP which expand on the points made in the column.
- Michael den Tandt offers his view of Mulcair. Chantal Hebert and Tim Harper serve as examples of the knee-jerk "dump the leader!" reaction which I see as calling for pushback. And while Justin Ling is somewhat alarmist about the NDP's past actions, his analysis deserves a serious look for the future. 
- Finally, I'll reiterate my view that the NDP's long-term focus needs to be grassroots-driven and inclusive rather than relying on yet more central control - meaning that limiting a review to the party's executive (or putting MPs alone in charge of assessing Mulcair's future) doesn't look to be a useful response.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- David Sirota and Andrew Perez expose Steve Schwarzman's galling complaints that his perceived lessers dare to complain about declining security and stagnating incomes. And Aditya Chakrabortty discusses how the wealthiest few people have manipulated our political and economic systems into their own playthings:
(D)ecades of burgeoning inequality – of the Davos set scooping more and more of the gains from growth – have enabled the super-rich to pretend that their narrow sectional interests are what’s good for the world economy. Policies as manifestly unfair as QE would never have happened in a fairer economy – the UK and US would have relied instead on public investment and government programmes.

Massive inequality has allowed the 1% to buy political influence as never before in postwar history. Indeed, the super-rich now practically write their own tax laws – such as the way senior executives of Britain’s biggest businesses were invited by George Osborne to advise on overhauling corporation taxes. They get to ensure that tax havens are treated with due leniency, all the better to hide their trillions in them. They buy their own politicians, as with the shadow-bankers who funded the Conservative election campaign or the billionaire Koch brothers using their fortune to tip the US presidential contest. Indeed, the more ambitious decide to become politicians. Think not just of Donald Trump but former bond trader turned media mogul turned mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg.

The great mistake made by the mainstream left and right, even by NGOs such as Oxfam, is in imagining that the super-rich, now enjoying such massive riches, are somehow playing by the same rules as the rest of us. That they are “wealth creators” providing jobs and investment for the rest of us, or that they might give up their tax havens. If that ever were the case, it isn’t now. A tiny minority has gained from massive tax cuts and legislative leniency about where they shove their money. They have siphoned off gains in salaries and profits wherever possible and enjoyed hundreds of billions flowing into their asset markets. Meanwhile, the rest of us who provide the feedstock for their revenues see our welfare states hollowed out, our wages frozen and our employers failing to invest. But none of that matters very much in Davos.
- Fram Dinshaw reports on Tom Mulcair's work to highlights the problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while Sujata Day provides her own critique of another plan to transfer money and power from people to corporations. And Janyce McGregor reports that the "there is no alternative!" talk surrounding the CETA is giving way to renegotiation due to justified concerns about its dispute settlement provisions.

- Seth Klein offers his ideas for the next federal budget. And PressProgress points to Alberta's decades of conservative mismanagement as an example to avoid.

- Finally, Alvaro Bedoya reminds us that there's nothing new in governments claiming "national security" as an excuse to abuse civil rights - and that the same excuse has been regularly used to spy on and disrupt the likes of Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Kuttner writes about the increasing recognition that extreme inequality arises out of power imbalances rather than any natural state of affairs:
(I)nfluential orthodox economists are having serious second thoughts. What if market outcomes and the very rules of the market game reflect political power, not market efficiency? Indeed, what if gross inequality is not efficient, and there is a broad zone of indeterminate income distributions consistent with strong economic performance? What if greater liberalization of financial markets produced tens of trillions of costs to the economy, benefits that are hard to discern, and billion-dollar paydays for traders that don’t comport with their contributions to general economic welfare? Evidence like this is piling up, and hard to ignore.
- Medical News Today discusses yet another measurable manifestation of child poverty in the form of altered and weakened brain connectivity. And Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Nattavudh Powdthavee examine how inequality reduces well-being across an entire society:
While life satisfaction was negatively related to increased income inequality, we did not find a relationship between positive emotional well-being and inequality at the very top of the income distribution. This is probably because the things that make up positive emotional experiences have little to do with income and rank.

But the flip side of daily positive emotional experiences are negative emotional experiences — and we did find that these rise along with the incomes of the top 1%. In societies where the richest hold most of the country’s income, people were more likely to report feeling feeling “stressed,” “worried,” or “angry” on the day before the survey.

So, on aggregate, as the incomes of the 1% pull away from those of the rest, people’s overall life satisfaction is lower and their day-to-day negative emotional experiences are greater in number. The effects at work alone are numerous: other research has shown that unhappy workers tend to be less productive; studies have also found that unhappy workers are more likely to take longer sick leaves, as well as to quit their jobs.

Since our evidence is at the country level, there are obvious implications here for economists and policy makers. But corporate leaders also would do well to consider the possible implications for pay and compensation policies in the microcosms of their organizations, where executive salaries are now as much as 200 times what median workers earn.
- Martin Regg Cohn points out the desperate need for a national pharmacare plan to make sure Canadians have access to medication, while Ian Bailey finds several provinces agreeing. And the Star makes clear that a move toward bulk buying alone falls short of the mark.

- But on the bright side, Elizabeth Church notes that David Naylor's report on health innovation which was ignored by the Cons is getting a second look.

- Finally, Mike de Souza reports that the federal government was well aware of issues with the Mount Polley mine before its dam breach disaster.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats askew.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Simon Kennedy highlights another key finding in Oxfam's latest study on wealth, as the global 1% now owns as much as the other 99% combined. And Dennis Howlett reviews Gabriel Zucman's Hidden Wealth of Nations, while noting that like the works it seeks to update it may fall short of measuring how much is being hidden from tax authorities:
Zucman  dissects several failed attempts to reign in tax havens including the G20/OECD on-demand exchange of information, the American Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA) (link is external)legislation and the European Union’s Savings Tax Directive. He estimates that globally about 8% of households’ financial wealth is held in tax havens. That works out to be about $7.6 trillion dollars or about $200 billion a year in lost revenue. He arrives at these numbers by comparing the national balance sheets to identify the difference between the assets and liabilities between nations. This seems like an elegant and simple solution to estimating what is hidden in tax havens.  But Zucman admits that this estimate “excludes a certain amount of wealth.”

James Henry, in a more detailed study, The Price of Offshore Revisited (link is external), done for the Tax Justice Network in 2012, estimates that the figure is closer to $21 to $32 trillion. Henry says Zucman vastly underestimates the role of developing countries and kleptocracy. He also notes the ommission of  offshore currency hoards, estimated at  $1.8 trillion. Henry also claims Zucman ignores estimates of private bank Assets Under Management -- now at least $13 trillion. Finally, Henry points out that Zucman ignores offshore nonfinancial assets like real estate, gold, precious metals, art, and ships, which is worth at least $10 trillion.

Henry plans to update his study which will likely show even more wealth going to tax havens. Zucman also acknowledges that his figure does not include corporate tax avoidance, which is often done legally, taking advantage of all the loopholes and weak tax laws that allow them to do this. Zucman does estimate that corporations are depriving governments of a third of corporate tax revenues by employing tax haven based subsidiaries to shift profits and lower their tax bill.
- Jessica Toale writes that the need for sustainable and broadly-shared economic development is just as obvious in the UK as in the countries normally associated with development goals.

- Deirdre Fulton notes that the U.S.' TTIP trade deal with Europe is rightly coming under fire for prioritizing the wealthy few over everybody else. And Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines the findings of a new study showing that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will actually destroy jobs in Canada, while doing more to shift money from the bottom to the top than to boost economic growth.

- Max Stanfield discusses how postal banking would provide needed services in underserved communities while reducing reliance on predatory payday lenders.

- Finally, Ryan Meili offers a preview of what could be accomplished at this week's health minister summit. And Austin Frakt points out that even discussion about the unfairness of drug costs may be enough to reduce prices - though of course any resulting policy figures to be important to preserve the gains.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Oxfam offers its latest look at global inequality, featuring the finding that 62 people now control as much wealth as half of the people on the planet. And the Equality Trust discusses how that extreme inequality is eroding any sense of community:
Inequality is a huge threat to economic and democratic systems, social cohesion and the health and wellbeing of entire populations. We know from the now vast array of research on the subject that in more equal countries you’re more likely to trust others, live longer with better physical and mental health and your children are more likely to achieve a decent education.
The huge imbalance in the resources, wealth and incomes people now enjoy should concern us all. Most recognise it when they see their children growing up in a country where it is harder to find a well-paid job, or to get on the property ladder. But we also see it every day in our relationships with others. Inequality stretches society, making it harder for people to recognise and understand others who are not in the same position as they are. It’s why trust is so low in more unequal countries and mental and physical health problems are so high.

We often hear politicians talk of equality of opportunity, of giving everyone a fair chance at the start of life. But when some start with access to unimaginable wealth, and others enter the world in poverty and deprivation, it’s clear that’s just not possible. Oxfam’s work today shows just how vast and indefensible inequality of outcome now is. It’s high time politicians took seriously the task of reducing it.
- Meanwhile, Stephanie Fontana examines the massive amounts of money hidden away in tax havens for the sole purpose of avoiding any contribution to any social good.

- Gus Van Harten lists a few of the ways in which the Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to funnel still more wealth to those who need it least at the expense of everybody else. And Michael Geist notes that the TPP's damage to health care may go far beyond inflating the cost of medication through gratuitous drug monopolies.

- Finally, Larry Schwartz warns us of the dangers of relying on corporate advertising based on cherry-picked or outright fabricated numbers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Will Wachtmeister reviews Malcolm Torry's book of arguments for a basic income, focusing in particular on social cohesion and innovation as important reasons why individuals should enjoy economic security. But Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel write that the U.S. Republicans (among other parties) are looking to play up divisions based on race and nationality in order to attack the concept of equality - and all too often reaping political gains in the process:
Identifying as ideologically conservative also increases opposition to inequality-reducing action, but the size of that effect is dwarfed by the effect of identifying as a Republican. Perhaps most surprisingly, factors related to income and feelings of economic peril or insecurity have no significant impact on opinions regarding whether government should take action to reduce income inequality.

We find similar results when we examine attitudes toward one of the most effective policies to reduce inequality: government aid to the poor. Again, those with high levels of racial resentment are significantly more likely to prefer decreased federal aid to the poor compared to those with low levels of racial resentment. Unsurprisingly, Republicans prefer that federal aid to the poor be decreased, while Democrats and Independents want it increased.
These results should lead progressives to reconsider the importance of race as a motivating factor on attitudes related to a wide swath of policy issues. Indeed, consideration of race should be central to analysis of even issues, like economic inequality, that seem to not be about race. But further, they show that the idea that Republicans will ever go so far to the right that Americans will reject them is unlikely. The sad reality is that most Americans don’t see a large causal connection between government policy and their lived experiences. Instead, they’ll likely blame the poor, immigrants and blacks.
- Duncan Kinney discusses the economic and social benefits Alberta could enjoy by transitioning toward cleaner energy quickly, rather than doing so only because it has to later on.

- PressProgress looks at yet another study showing that opponents of a higher minimum wage are wrong to presume that fair wages have any substantial impact on job numbers.

- Andrew Coyne reminds us that a more proportional electoral system would encourage true majority governments (composed of one or more parties), rather than the false ones generated by first-past-the-post or alternative vote options.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg writes about the Libs' lack of commitment to do anything about C-51 and other Con intrusions onto civil rights.

On timing

Following up on the subject of the federal NDP's leadership, I'll note that the Edmonton convention won't figure to be the only one before the next federal election - and that there might be a case to hold off for now.

The NDP's constitution provides for conventions not less than every other calendar year, meaning that another one should take place well in advance of the 2019 election. And there are factors mostly beyond the NDP's control which may influence any question as to who is best suited to lead the party.

In particular, there's likely some truth to the theory that a different electoral system might produce different incentives for political parties in general. And Mulcair may be a textbook example of a leader better suited to some systems than to others for members primarily concerned with electoral viability.

Mulcair's broad acceptability is a particularly strong asset under first-past-the-post or alternative voting systems, particularly if his relative fortune compared to Justin Trudeau gets reversed again. But in a more proportional system, somebody with a stronger personal connection to issue-based organizing might be better suited to take on the leadership role.

And there are plenty of other risk/reward considerations involved in holding a leadership race sooner rather than later. Even if one assumes a leadership race will happen at some point, the value of building a new leader's personal brand over a longer period of time can be weighed against the advantage of knowing who other parties (notably the Cons) will be putting forward before making any final decisions.

I won't presume to wade through all of the considerations which might affect a party decision as to who ought to lead it. But I do think it's safe to say there might be something to be gained by gathering more information before making any irreversible choices.

On organization

Given some of the odd twists and turns in Paul Wells' latest piece on Tom Mulcair's future, I'm hesitant to give too much credence to his unnamed sources. But to the extent it's accurate, Wells' take on the lack of much organization on any side of a leadership vote seems fairly important:
Back to my first anonymous source. “There are a few angry, angry, angry people,” this person said, “who I would say are concentrated among the MPs. They’re pinning everything on Mulcair.” This person thinks it’s harsh to blame Mulcair entirely for the loss of 51 seats last October. Justin Trudeau also had something to do with it.

“But I would say there’s a growing consensus that Mulcair needs to step aside,” this person continued. “But there’s no organizing or campaigning going on.”

The constitutionally mandated leadership review after an election is a simple matter. Delegates to a national convention vote on whether there should be a new leadership convention. In any party, dissatisfaction with the leader is unlikely to crystallize unless there’s a present and available alternative.
Maybe Mulcair will launch his charm offensive when the House returns at the end of January. Maybe he has no need to charm anyone. With no credible replacement, his opponents may well fold their tents. That’s not an ideal campaign slogan for 2019, but you make do with what you’ve got.
Now, I'd disagree with the theory that any new leadership vote would be predicated on there being some obvious successor waiting in the wings. But even if any leadership campaign could wait until later, the "organizing" side is rather important.

If there were indeed a broad consensus as to the need for a new leadership contest, we'd expect it to be relatively easy for somebody to build some structure around that position. Conversely, if it's true that no substantial organizing is happening around the leadership vote, that would tend to signal that complaints about Mulcair are better classified as meaningless backseat driving, rather than a significant rallying point.

Of course, I've pointed out that some of the most important questions about Mulcair himself revolve around his fit to lead a movement-based party rather than a government-in-waiting. And I'm certainly hoping we'll see some more visible steps in that direction in the near future - whether or not they're seen as responding to a leadership challenge.

But if the most important potential weakness on Mulcair's part applies even more strongly to anybody trying to oust him, that hardly serves as an impetus for change.