Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ed Finn comments on the history of neoliberalism - but notes that while the public is rightly skeptical of corporate spin, that awareness hasn't yet translated into a strong alternative:
(S)cores of well-known thinkers, writers, economists, and activists have vociferously denounced the many abuses of large business empires driven by their greed and unchecked power. The upsurge of Occupy Wall Street, Idle No More, and other public protest movements have all specifically targeted the big investment firms, banks, and other corporate giants.

Corporations and their CEOs are now commonly portrayed as villains in movies, TV shows, and books. The proliferation of insider trading and other "white-collar" crimes make front-page news. Many thousands of people have had a personal bad experience with an insurance or investment firm. And most are now also aware that the worst pollution of the environment comes from the chemicals and effluents spewed out by the big industrial complexes.

The majority of the populace realizes that there is something seriously wrong with the prevailing political and economic systems. They may not trace their unemployment, low wages, or shoddy living conditions to the inequities of laissez-faire capitalism, but they know that sweeping changes of some kind need to be made.
So it's clear now that simply exposing big business atrocities will have no deterrent effects, either by governments or the corporate scoundrels themselves. Even the opposition parties in our legislatures rarely, if ever, mention corporate malfeasance during election campaigns or Question Periods. And since the politicians we vote for are the only ones with the authority to stop the titans of capitalism from further impoverishing billions, worsening inequality, and eventually wrecking the planet, we find ourselves at an impasse.
- Meanwhile, Jason Stahl makes the case for a socialist think tank to put workers' interests on a more level playing field with the corporate voices amplified by dozens of well-funded astroturf organizations.

- Lana Payne notes that the effort assembled in response to the Fort McMurray fire offers a reminder of the power and positive effect of collective action.

- Andrew Jackson discusses how a transition to clean energy could form the basis for a global economic recovery. And Bartley Kives offers a bleak look at how our climate could change in the absence of such a shift - with the Canadian prairies taking on the dry, stifling climate patterns now associated with the southern U.S.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg highlights how the Libs are refusing to allow for a fair study of electoral reform. And PressProgress points out that if the Libs are at all serious about gender equity, they should be ruling out preferential or ranked ballots as options.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Musical interlude

The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Ben Casselman writes that rather than looking to manufacturing jobs alone as a precondition to gains for workers, we should instead focus on the unions which helped to make the manufacturing sector the source of stable, higher-wage work:
Why do factory workers make more in Michigan? In a word: unions. The Midwest was, at least until recently, a bastion of union strength. Southern states, by contrast, are mostly “right-to-work” states where unions never gained a strong foothold. Private-sector unions have been shrinking across the country for decades, but they are stronger in the Midwest than in most other parts of the country. In Michigan, 23 percent of manufacturing production workers were union members in 2015; in South Carolina, less than 2 percent were.

Unions also help explain why the middle class is healthier in the Midwest than in the Southeast, where manufacturing jobs have been growing rapidly in recent decades. A new analysis from the Pew Research Center this week explored the state of the middle class in different parts of the country by looking at the share of households making between two-thirds and double the national median income, after controlling for the local cost of living. In many Midwestern cities, 60 percent or more of households are considered “middle-income” by this definition; in some Southern cities, even those with large manufacturing bases, middle-income households are now in the minority.
For all of the glow that surrounds manufacturing jobs in political rhetoric, there is nothing inherently special about them. Some pay well; others don’t. They are not immune from the forces that have led to slow wage growth in other sectors of the economy. When politicians pledge to protect manufacturing jobs, they really mean a certain kind of job: well-paid, long-lasting, with opportunities for advancement. Those aren’t qualities associated with working on a factory floor; they’re qualities associated with being a member of a union.
- Meanwhile, Hanna Brooks Olsen writes that we should be looking to recognize that service work is skilled work which should be compensated accordingly - a point which is emphasized by Canada's high demand for labour in areas where employers expect to get away with paying less. Christine Saulnier points out how a fair minimum wage represents a broad, bottom-up solution to both inequality and economic stagnation.

- But Nadia Prupis writes that economic trends are headed in the wrong direction, with workers falling further behind both past standards of living and (especially) the current upper class. And Jim Hightower offers his take on how the gig economy makes matters worse for workers.

- Jeff Spross highlights how a housing first system represents a simple starting point in combating both homelessness and numerous other related problems. And Carol Off interviews Marni Brownell about the effectiveness of small cash investments in improving child health.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig makes the case for postal banking to improve both the sustainability of Canada Post, and public access to needed financial services.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Neil MacDonald discusses the unfairness in allowing a wealthy class of individuals to set up its own rules, while Jeffrey Sachs notes that the U.S. and U.K. are among the worst offenders in allowing for systematic tax evasion. And Alex Hemingway rightly points out that the recognition that a privileged few are able to flout the law makes it more difficult to establish the trust needed for society to function.

- Meanwhile, Jared Bernstein highlights the costs of trade agreements in transferring wealth and power to those who already have the most, while noting there are other factors which need to be counterbalanced as well:
There are a lot of forces other than global trade suppressing the earnings and opportunities of large swaths of workers, but trade is often the most visible one. Most economists think the lion’s share of wage inequality and stagnation is because of changes in technology that have increasingly tilted against noncollege educated workers, and Froman is saying that there’s nothing much in the way of technology dynamics against which opponents can rally.

In fact, there’s less in the way of solid, ADH-style evidence that technology is a lead culprit here. The decline of unions, eroding minimum wages, the rise of non-productive finance, and especially the persistent absence of full employment labor markets all reduce worker bargaining power, and that is the fundamental force driving wage stagnation amid growth. But Froman’s point that trade bears a disproportionate share of the public’s anger is a good one.

Still, the main message from ADH, Bivens, and the rest of us who’ve been trying to raise this cost side of the equation for decades is that these costs are real. They’re acute for many people and places and diffuse to some degree for others. Economic platitudes about how trade is always worthwhile as long as the winners can compensate the losers are an insult in the age of inequality, where the winners increasingly use their political power to claim ever more winnings.

If we don’t deal with these costs by creating real, substantive, remunerative opportunities for those hurt by trade, some demagogue is sure to come along Trumpeting a case for xenophobia, walls, tariffs and protectionism. If he’s not … um … here already.
- Matthew Yglesias theorizes that work is getting safer and more fulfilling with time - which may explain in part the lack of a concerted effort to further reduce the time spent on the job.

- David Wheeler offers his take on a universal basic income, while Allan Pall writes that social programs are instead headed toward exclusion of youth among other groups.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom reminds us of the importance of putting extreme weather events such as the Fort McMurray wildfire into the context of the environmental factors which cause them. And Martin Lukacs suggests that the cost of cleaning up and rebuilding should be borne by the industry most responsible.

New column day

Here, on how Justin Trudeau's control over the federal electoral reform committee looks to extend a familiar pattern of top-down government into the design of our electoral system. (And I'll add one point here which didn't make it into the column: the committee design features a bare Lib majority which is itself likely to create strong pressure against any of their MPs acting with any independence.)

For further reading...
 - Ed Broadbent, Alex Himelfarb and Hugh Segal make their case as to what we should want from our electoral system:
The central problem with our winner-take-all system is that the composition of our elected parliament does not reflect how we actually voted. A candidate who receives a plurality of the votes wins, even if a majority of the voters chose others. The majority of the votes in such a case have no impact on the outcome of the election.

That means a party that receives only a minority of votes, say less than 40 per cent, can form a majority government, taking full control of the policy agenda. In fact, this is the norm in Canada. But this cannot continue. In a representative democracy, representativeness surely should matter.
While some are pushing preferential ballots – where we rank candidates – this is not an improvement over winner-take-all. Ranked ballots can be introduced in either our current system or in a proportional system, but, on their own, they do not solve the problems. Indeed, if introduced into our current system they will create even larger false majorities and make things even less representative, as they inevitably disadvantage parties challenging the status quo whose voters deserve as much fairness as any others.

Electoral reform is not about what works for any particular party or parties in general. It’s about the public interest, what works for voters, what makes our democracy stronger. The only alternative to what we have now is a proportional system.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne is rightly suspicious that the Libs are conning us on electoral reform, while Chantal Hebert theorizes that the committee has been set up to fail. And Ryan Maloney reports on the Libs' continuation of the Cons' omnibus legislation and time limits.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Caroline Plante reports on Quebec's scourge of medical extra-billing and user fees (as identified by its own Auditor General). And Aaron Derfel notes that the federal government has done nothing to apply the Canada Health Act to rein in the practice.

- Erika Shaker highlights how federal funding for post-secondary education serves mostly to provide further advantages for students who already have the most.

- The Star makes the case for the Communications Security Establishment to answer for breaches of Canadians' privacy. And Kaveh Waddell discusses how big data in the hands of the corporate sector can lead to systematic discrimination against poor communities, while Dennis Howlett challenges KPMG's claim that confidentiality entitles tax cheats to avoid exposure.

- Susan Delacourt offers a few suggestions as to how Justin Trudeau could usefully use some political capital - with a particular focus on reversing the Cons' attacks on the political system. And Kelly McParland notes that the Cons themselves may be continuing down the path of artificial barriers against experience and competence with internal leadership term limits.

- Finally, Trish Kahle discusses the shared interest of the labour and environmental movements in a sustainable economy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Elevated cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Robert Frank examines how market outcomes are shaped disproportionately by luck rather than significant differences in merit:
(W)ith each extension of the highway, rail, and canal systems, shipping costs fell sharply, and at each step production became more concentrated...It’s of course a good thing that their superior offerings are now available to more people. But an inevitable side effect has been that producers with even a slight edge over their rivals went on to capture most of the industry’s income.

Therein lies a hint about why chance events have grown more important even as markets have become more competitive. When shipping costs fell dramatically, producers who were once local monopolists serving geographically isolated markets found themselves battling one another for survival. In those battles, even a tiny cost advantage or quality edge could be decisive. Minor random events can easily tip the balance in such competitions— and in the process spell the difference between great wealth and economic failure. So luck is becoming more important in part because the stakes have increased sharply in contests whose outcomes have always hinged partly on chance events.

What’s also clear is that the economic forces that have been causing the spread and intensification of winner-take-all markets have by no means run their course. We can expect continued growth in the intensity of competition on the buyers’ side for the best talent, and on the sellers’ side for the top positions.

In his widely discussed 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty suggested yet another reason for rising inequality, which is the historical tendency for the rate of return on invested capital to exceed the overall growth rate for the economy. When that happens, he argues, wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of those who own the most capital. All things considered, then, it appears prudent to envision a future characterized by continued growth in income and wealth inequality—which is to say, a future in which chance events will become still more important.

Because the enormous prizes at stake in many arenas attract so many contestants, the winners will almost without exception be enormously talented and hardworking. But they will rarely be the most talented and hardworking people in the contestant pool. Even in contests in which luck plays only a minuscule role, winners will almost always be among the luckiest of all contestants.
- Patrick Wintour reports on a new statement from top economists that tax havens serve no useful economic purpose. And Heather Stewart examines James Henry's studying showing that more than $12 trillion in wealth has been extracted from developing countries who can least afford to see their economic production parked offshore.

-  Laurie Monsebraaten reports on Kaylie Tiessen's latest study, discussing the growth of Ontario's poverty gap for single people in particular.

- Anjum Soltana and Antu Hossain rightly argue for increased access to sick days and other means of fitting work into a more secure life. And Jared Bernstein comments on the spread of non-compete agreements as a means of suppressing wages.

- Eric Holthaus points out that weather-related crises such as the Fort McMurray fire represent exactly the time to talk about how we're damaging our planet - and what we need to be doing to change course.

- Finally, Nate Cohn examines how Bernie Sanders' campaign - even if it ultimately falls short of the presidential nomination - shows a path to victory in the U.S. for a progressive candidate who doesn't need an alliance with big-money interests.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Carolyn Ferns writes that a long-awaited child care program would represent the best possible Mother's Day gift for Canadian families.

- Danyaal Raza and Ritika Goel remind us how housing affects a wide range of health issues. And Matthew Yglesias looks into the positive effect of new low-income housing on all types of neighbourhoods - but particularly poorer ones which otherwise lack for new development of any kind.

- Meanwhile, Kenyon Wallace and Mary Ormsby report that Ontario is just now getting around to systematically tracking the deaths of homeless people.

- Judith Lavoie reports on British Columbia's woefully inadequate mining enforcement within a ministry tasked with promoting the same industry it's supposed to be regulating. And Charlie Smith reports that Christy Clark's government has no intention of recognizing any responsibility for that utter neglect of the public interest.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne compares Kathleen Wynne's (however belated and partisan) eventual recognition of the problem of big-donor influence to Clark's continuing corporate cesspool. And Tom Parkin highlights the need for the Trudeau Libs to implement greater accountability and electoral reform before falling into the bad habits of a government accustomed to shutting out the public out of convenience.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- David Akin reports that MPs from multiple parties are rightly challenging offshore tax evasion - though it remains to be seen how many will actually demand a change to the practice. And Tanya Tagala notes that it won't be long before the people named in the Panama Papers will be identified publicly.

- Bob Kinnear points out the utter lack of a rational explanation for Ontario's giveaway of public assets and institutions - that is, other than to generate a source of unearned money for the financial sector. And Kasia Tarczynska highlights how U.S. funding for "job creation" tends to be biased toward large corporations which play jurisdictions against each other, rather than actually helping to develop small local businesses.

- John Vidal talks to Naomi Klein about the connections between climate change, austerity and the breakdown of social cohesion. 

- Elizabeth McSheffrey and Jenny Uechi find reason for concern that Christy Clark is actively punishing British Columbia's public education system. And Jon Woodward reports on the rationing of playground time within overcrowded Surrey schools as just another symptom of the underfunding of the public system.

- Finally, Owen Jones examines the backlash against the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership as a prime example as to how protest - particularly across borders - can result in important changes to policy.