Saturday, March 05, 2016

On gross excesses

It shouldn't be news to anybody interested in climate change (and the Wall government's role in exacerbating it) that Saskatchewan has a shameful track record in polluting our atmosphere. But Joseph Heath summarizes just how embarrassed we should be:
Keep in mind that the general target we want to get to, globally, is around 2 CO2/tonnes per person. This makes “Canada” seem a long way off. But if you look more carefully, some provinces are a lot closer than others. Quebec is at 9.7 (because of hydro power), and even Ontario is at a not-so-bad 12.5 (and that’s before implementing cap-and-trade, just by abolishing coal). The numbers from Alberta and Saskatchewan though are insane — 64 and 68.8 CO2/tonne per person respectively. (It is worth noting that SK is not the worst offender in absolute terms, it just has a low population compared to Alberta.) This is of course tar sands production (and coal dependence). What’s amazing is that this only counts up the emissions associated with producing synthetic crude. To the extent that the oil subsequently leaves those provinces, the contents of what is in the barrels does not count toward the Alberta and SK emissions totals.
And those numbers are particularly worth highlighting in the wake of Brad Wall's attempt to put off any emission reductions or carbon pricing whatsoever.

Of course, it's silly enough to insist that carbon prices be avoided when oil prices are down, given that they'd both plug some of the government's fiscal hole in the short term, and minimize any disruption to consumers compared to adding extra costs when prices are already high.

But when we put the scope of our emission excesses in the context of the emission level our planet can handle, Wall's position is the equivalent of someone who regularly gorges himself on 34 unhealthy meals a day complaining that he has to put off changing his diet in the slightest. And while he may see short-term and political benefits in saying we should keep pigging out rather than even considering how to get healthier, Saskatchewan's voters might want to insist on making at least some change for the better.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Jackson discusses how large inheritance and accumulated capital lead to gross economic and social distortions:
Inheritances are quite heavily concentrated among the most affluent families and thus compound income and wealth inequality over time.

Inheritances continue to play a significant role in the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the richest Canadians. Forbes Magazine rankings of billionaires show that the ten richest Canadian families include at least four heads of families whose fortunes were at least partly inherited: those of David Thomson, James and Arthur Irving, and Galen Weston.

Wealth, especially financial wealth, is highly concentrated in Canada and produces a significant source of income and economic well-being for the rich which is not earned in the same sense as income from wages and salaries. At a minimum, inequality of financial wealth greatly reinforces inequality of income.

This is hard to justify on the normative grounds used by liberals to justify economic inequality, namely that individual rewards reflect the productive contributions of individuals. Accordingly, it is not “unfair” to consider taxation of inheritances and large accumulations of wealth.
- Leiliani Farha weighs in on the inescapable connection between inequality and homelessness of all types. And PressProgress highlights Derek Fildebrandt's attempt to minimize discussion of any social issues whatsoever.

- Marc Lee offers his take on what happened at the first ministers' meeting on climate change in Vancouver, while John Paul Tasker reports that the federal Libs' plan on making sure carbon pricing is in place regardless of any provincial obstruction. And Joseph Heath explains why Brad Wall's position to the contrary can only be explained by fealty to corporate backers over sound governance:
(W)e all know that the current price of carbon – zero – is too low. You don’t have to know how high it should be to know that $0 is not the correct price. (Actually, in practice it’s less that zero, because of the various ways in which fossil fuel production is subsidized.) So in order to get a properly structured market, and to eliminate the unfair competitive advantage that hydrocarbons enjoy over other energy sources in the current market, one needs to put a price on carbon. What will be the effects of raising the price? Who knows? The beauty of the market is that we don’t have to know. What we do know is that raising the price will improve the allocation of resources and increase welfare.
Wall’s support of the “free market” is not the sort of ideological conviction that arises from a sober assessment of the virtues of private enterprise, but more like a set of ideas picked up on the golf course, from hobnobbing with CEOs. It is essentially class politics, not responsible governance.
- Meanwhile, Eric Holthaus points out that at least on a temporary basis, we've already reached the two-degree threshold seen as the point of no return for climate change.

- Finally, CUPW makes the case for postal banking as both an important social service and a source of public revenue.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Musical interlude

Hooverphonic - Mad About You (Orchestra Version)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Carol Goar writes about the need for Canada's federal government to rethink how we view taxes. And Simon Wren-Lewis tries to explain the resilience of austerian ideology even as it fails every test in the real world.

- Paul Krugman discusses how Donald Trump's greatest sin in the eyes of Republicans is his disruption of their own existing cons, while Matt Phillips interviews Branko Milanovic about the economic disparity behind the rise of Trump among other toxic leaders. And Joel Schlesinger writes about the growing number of younger workers who don't see retirement ever becoming a realistic option.

- Suzanne Goldenberg reports on the U.S.' publicly-funded work into new battery technology which is significantly outpacing private-sector research. And Valentina Ruiz Leotaud discusses the joint effort between the environmental and labour movements to develop a strong, sustainable renewable energy economy.  

- But Chris Hall writes that this week's much-ballyhooed federal-provincial meeting produced far less than promised, as nobody seems to agree on what was actually decided. And Michael Harris notes that the most retrograde of the politicians involved - and particularly Brad Wall - figure only to doom themselves and their provinces to obsolescence in the process.

- Finally, Mark Dance highlights the important role several public institutions have played in securing funding fairness for First Nations even at a time when the Harper Cons were doing everything possible to neuter them.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Stanford offers a warning to Australia about Canada's history of gratuitous corporate tax giveaways:
(S)uccessive cuts reduced combined Canadian corporate taxes (including provincial rates, which also fell in several provinces) from near 50 per cent of pre-tax income in the early 1980s, to 26 per cent today. In theory, the resulting boost to profits should have stimulated a strong response in business investment. Unfortunately, hopes for this “jobs and growth” dividend have been repeatedly dashed.

Instead of growing, business spending on fixed capital (machinery, structures, etc.) declined under lower company taxes, by about one full point of GDP since the reforms began. Business innovation spending (one of Mr. Turnbull’s top priorities) fared even worse: business R&D outlays shrank by over one-third as a share of GDP, to a record low of just 0.8 per cent. In fact, over the last decade real business investment performed worse than during any other era in Canada’s postwar history. Several provincial governments have given up waiting for the promised investment boom, and are now increasing company tax rates to help address chronic deficits.
One especially painful side-effect of lower company taxes has been the sustained accumulation of liquid assets by Canada’s non-financial businesses. Corporate cash hoarding accelerated dramatically after the turn of the century. Non-financial firms now hold cash and other liquid assets equal to over 30 per cent of GDP. IMF researchers have shown that corporate cash holdings grew faster in Canada than any other G7 economy (and twice as fast as in Australia).

With businesses investing less than they receive in after-tax cash flow, lower taxes only add to the stockpile of idle liquid assets, draining spending power from the economy. In this regard, lower corporate taxes may very well have weakened growth and job-creation, not strengthened it. In any event, Canada’s experience is a sobering reminder to Australian policy-makers: anyone expecting a tax shift to generate a big growth dividend is likely to face chronic disappointment.
- In a similar vein, Marc Lee points out that British Columbia's poorly-designed carbon tax system has fallen short of what's possible on several fronts - particularly in its "revenue neutrality" including corporate tax cuts.

- And Charles Mandel highlights the dangers of Brad Wall's addiction to fossil fuels (which I'd hasten to add includes reliance for the purposes of providing both political funding and provincial revenues).

- Ned Simons reports on Joseph Stiglitz' observation that the UK would be better off taking a step back from trade arrangements which tilt the playing field toward investors at the expense of the public. And Scott Sinclair notes that revisions to Canada's trade deal with Europe fall short of the mark.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail points out that it shouldn't be hard for the federal government to adopt a policy of openness as the Libs so regularly promised.

New column day

Here, on the contrast between Brad Wall's choice to spare no public expense in planning for his own comfort while travelling, and his apparent lack of any forethought in navigating the national political scene.

For further reading...
- The NDP broke the news about Wall's use of "travel scouts" to seek perks and upgrades in advance of his travel to Asia here.
- I've pointed out Wall's extracurricular activies in posts including these. And Susan Wright nicely contrasted Wall's belligerence against Rachel Notley's work building connections to other governments.
- Finally, for the more visually inclined, I'll end with this (with apologies to Paul Dechene):

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Carol Goar summarizes the Institute for Research on Public Policy's review of the steps needed to rein in inequality in the long term, while pointing out the one factor which will determine whether anything gets done:
At first glance, it looks intimidating. But on closer examination, it is a sensible and coherent blueprint.

It has seven basic elements:

  • Expand the Working Income Tax Benefit. This refundable tax credit, brought in by former finance minister Jim Flaherty, makes work, even in a low-wage, precarious job, better than welfare. It could be broadened in next month’s federal budget

  • Revamp Canada’s outdated, threadbare, employment insurance system. Trudeau is promising to fix two easily correctable problems: cut the waiting time for benefits and channel more money into skills training. But much more is required. The two biggest imperatives are broadening coverage to all workers (as opposed to 40 per cent) and eliminating regional disparities in benefits.

  • Raise social assistance rates which fall below the poverty line in all 10 provinces. Regrettably Trudeau can’t raise the bar. Social assistance is a provincial responsibility and none of the premiers sees any urgency. Last week’s Ontario budget made it clear that Premier Kathleen Wynne is in no hurry to lift welfare recipients out of poverty.

  • Get moving on early-childhood education. It has been promised since 1984. Trudeau’s position is unclear, although the Liberal party is in favour of universal early education and child care. To give all kids a strong start, Ottawa would have to provide the provinces with funds to create thousands of preschool learning centres.

  • Improve high school teaching of science and math. Canada needs a generation of workers as numerate as it is literate to compete globally. Again, this is a provincial responsibility. Ontario has a litany of plans and goals. Qualified, enthusiastic teachers are harder to find.

  • Move gradually toward higher minimum wages. “Gradually” is clearly the premiers’ watchword. Not one province has a minimum wage that allows workers to cross Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off. Ontario raised its minimum wage to $11.25 last October — an increase of 25 cents an hour.

  • “Executive compensation needs to be reviewed and addressed,” the authors submit, leaving readers to figure out who will do it and how.
  • If these proposals sound familiar, maybe that’s the point. There’s no mystery about what it takes to make a society fairer. It is a matter of political will.
    - Nick Falvo's review of Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff’s book on working with homeless people highlights both the human factor on all sides of providing services, and the key connections between homelessness and other policy considerations. But PressProgress points out that the Manning Centre and assorted right-wing groups are still doing their utmost to destroy the labour movement which serves as one of the most important forces for fairness and inclusion.

    - Jim Bronskill reports on the Libs' decision to suppress government documents about options for increased transparency.

    - Finally, David Moscrop offers a detailed review of the benefits of a more proportional electoral system, along with responses to the major criticisms of proportionality.

    Someone forgot the United Way update again

    Shorter Brad Wall:
    I plan to use every means at my disposal to personally veto any national plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But since somebody mentioned pipelines, the idea of a single premier unilaterally vetoing a national project is utterly offensive.

    Tuesday, March 01, 2016

    Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

    Wiped cats.

    Tuesday Morning Links

    This and that for your Tuesday reading.

    - Glen Pearson makes the case for transcending cynicism in our politics, including the choice to stay involved once an election is done. And Ian Welsh reminds us that our definition of property is socially established - meaning that many of the assumptions as to what we can and can't do are subject to change:
    The larger we expand the sphere of property, as with intellectual property and the right to patent genetic codes, the more we say “only person X can make decisions about what to do with these resources”.  We had better be damn certain that that one person, or corporation or whoever owns this resource is making at least good decisions, and ideally better decisions than would be made if that resource stayed in the commons, available to be used by many people.

    And when we give a very few individuals and corporations the right to control a plurality or majority of our resources, locking out virtually everyone else from real decision-making beyond the anemic level of “consumer” and the neutered level of “voter”, we had best, again, be sure that those few people are making better decisions, for everyone, than would be made if a larger number of people had control over those resources and were making the decisions.
    Freedom is the ability to choose what you do from meaningful choices.  The choice to work for Oligarch A or Oligarch B is not a meaningful choice.

    Maximal property definitions and maximal acceptance of property concentration, deprive most of the population of their freedom. It is that simple.
    A sane property definition allows people to own what they need to do their work and take care of themselves and any dependents. Larger concentrations of property, meant for big projects, are necessary, but they must not be allowed to balloon in oligarchical control of politics and economy.

    And I will suggest to you that this is both a much nicer world to live in and a more vibrant one.  A world in which we are not slaves, but have freedom, will burst with creativity and projects.  A world where ideas can be used by anyone will be a world in flower.

    If you want freedom, look hard at property.  The larger the sphere of property and the more it is concentrated, the narrower most people’s world will be.
    - But of course, some people are going out of their way to enlarge the power of entrenched capital at the expense of public freedom. On that front, Brent Patterson notes that the Trudeau Libs are going full speed ahead in giving corporations the right to challenge Canadian governments under CETA. And Eric Lipton reports on a U.S. giveaway to Monsanto ensuring that it will never be liable for the public health damage done by its chemicals.

    - Emily Badger discusses how precarious housing is both an effect and a cause of poverty. And Michele Biss is the latest to weigh in on the need to address poverty with a rights-based model.

    - Finally, Chris Selley writes that electoral reform might prod the Cons to remember the concept of independent thought, rather than looking for somebody to give orders like Stephen Harper did throughout his tenure.

    Monday, February 29, 2016

    Monday Evening Links

    Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

    - Tom Parkin writes about the tendency of far too many Canadian governments to put the wealthy at the front of the line, and leave the rest of us to wait:
    (O)ver the past two decades, corporate tax rates have been slashed in half. Canadians were told low corporate taxes would create jobs and increase wages. But the evidence is all around us. Even the IMF now admits trickle-down economics doesn’t work.

    But trickle-down economics is great at starving our governments for revenue.

    So – want childcare? Sorry, no money. Want transit? You’ll have to wait. Want social housing fixed? Send in a work order. Want health care money? Sorry, can’t.

    But – want a tax cut? If you’re affluent you’re in luck – because cutting high earners’ income taxes, stock options taxes and corporate taxes is a priority. Our government will even borrow money to give it to them.
    The growing power imbalance presents a huge obstacle to unwinding tax unfairness and getting back to Canada-building.

    Because it’s a lot easier to set up priority lanes than it is to shut them down. A politician who just wants to chum around with big shots, eat free and get on TV is no threat.

    But someone motivated by justice and social progress is a real danger. Any politician with the courage to shut down the priority lanes for special people will come under heavy fire. Well-funded heavy fire.
    - Cameron Fenton highlights the gigantic climate change loophole in the Libs' new pipeline review process. And Bob Weber points out that Canada stands to suffer some of the most drastic effects of climate change if we can't massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    - Matthew Campo investigates the impact of privatized liquor retailing on the small Saskatchewan communities which have already seen public stores replaced with private sellers. And Cory Collins discusses the cost of privatizing food services in public institutions.

    - Meanwhile, David Cochrane reports on one of the Saskatchewan Party's most ridiculous fiscal choices yet - as due to Brad Wall's choice *not* to repay a federal loan when he had a billion dollars of NDP surplus to work with, Saskatchewan is now having to scrape together loan payments when it can least afford it.

    - Finally, Ian Welsh offers up some worthwhile reading on the basic ethics which all too often seem to be lacking in public policy-making.

    [Edit: fixed wording as per comments.]

    On poor excuses

    I've previously discussed why there was little reason to think we'd ever see Brad Wall's government lift a finger to deal with poverty in Saskatchewan. But I must admit I'm amazed at how underwhelming the election-driven "strategy" actually is.

    So with that in mind, here's the Shorter Saskatchewan Party Poverty Strategy:
    We must do more of the same - only less, and not until later.

    Sunday, February 28, 2016

    Sunday Morning Links

    This and that for your Sunday reading.

    - Steve Roth discusses how inequality and excessive concentration of wealth result in less growth for everybody - even as the researchers finding that correlation try to report the opposite.

    - Meanwhile, Davide Furceri and Prakash Loungani examine how loose financial and capital regulation lead to more severe inequality. And Daniel Tencer reports on Toby Sanger's work documenting Canada's most damaging tax loopholes.

    - Brent Patterson highlights a new paper on how corporate control agreements stand in the way of meaningful action to fight climate change. And Tim Radford writes that we may need to take far stronger steps than previously anticipated to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in order to avoid a climate catastrophe, while Justin Fisher comments on the need to view climate issues in terms of justice.

    - Finally, Luke Savage offers a noteworthy response to the Manning Centre's recent conference - including this observation on how the Cons' leadership contestants look to be out of touch with the social reality facing young voters:
    It occurs to me that each and every one of the prospective candidates for the leadership of the CPC came politically of age at around the same time in the 1980s or early 1990s, i.e. during the ascendency of movement conservatism. Then, its calls for “self-sufficiency”, “personal responsibility”, and “individual liberty” over and against the state had an emotional and spiritual resonance that often transcended lines of gender, race, and class. But the lived experience of today’s young people is quite different from those who consider themselves children of the Reagan revolution.

    In an economic context characterized by precarious work, low wages, poor financial security, and the widespread exploitation of young labour by employers (who are often from a different generation) across the workforce, solutions that emphasize personal grist and the imperative of an improved work ethic are unlikely to be well-received.

    Looking south, it is quite the opposite: Young people appear drawn in much greater measure to Bernie Sanders’ message, and its various attacks on oppressive economic structures, than to movement conservatism’s pickled ethos of “individual liberty” or its various ideological stepchildren (including the Clintonite variant).

    Movement conservatism may have dominated the past three decades. But everything I’ve observed this weekend suggests the possibility that something very different may come to dominate the near future.