Friday, June 03, 2016

Musical interlude

Krewella feat. Gareth Emery - Lights & Thunder

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rick Salutin argues that we need to say no to any more trade agreements designed to privilege corporations at the expense of the public. Will Martin reports on the IMF's long-overdue recognition of the failures of neoliberalism, while pointing out that there's still a long way to go in ensuring that recognition is reflected in its wider policy. And Benjamin Dangl notes that we shouldn't ignore the fact that the economic violence of neoliberalism has often been accompanied by political violence needed to force unwanted policies on citizens.

- Meanwhile, Barb Pacholik discusses the Saskatchewan Party's choice to single out Saskatchewan's less wealthy residents for punishment, while doing nothing to increase public revenues or otherwise bring in more money from people who can afford it.

- Andrew Jackson explains why employers would be far better off supporting a stronger Canada Pension Plan, rather than facing the double whammy of future retirees both requiring alternative social supports and having limited spending power.

- David Hughes studies the effects of new pipelines and finds that they figure to be both needless at current or foreseeable oil production levels, and useless in influencing the return on oil actually produced. And Joe Romm argues that while peak oil supply may not be an imminent issue, peak oil demand may not be far away due to the growth of renewable alternatives.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg discusses the Libs' belated acknowledgment that the NDP had the right idea in ensuring that any electoral reform has multi-party support while limiting the ability of one obstructionist opposition party to refuse any fairer system. And Democratic Audit explores how majoritarian systems are far more prone to gerrymandering and other abuse than proportional ones.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Christopher Jencks discusses why the U.S.' poor are only getting poorer (in part due to the misapprehension that social programs aren't available) in reviewing Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer's $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America:
In $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer argue that what they call “extreme” poverty roughly doubled between 1996 and 2012. If they are right—and I think they are—the reader might wonder how I can still claim that poor families’ living standards have risen. The answer is that inequality has risen even among the poor. Half of today’s officially poor families are doing better than those we counted as poor in the 1960s, but as I learned from reading $2.00 a Day (and have spent many hours verifying), the poorest of the poor are also worse off today than they were in 1969. $2.00 a Day is a vivid account of how such families live. It also makes a strong case for blaming their misery on deliberate political choices at both the federal and state levels.
(I)n Illinois, as in most other states, TANF’s primary goal is not to protect children whose parents cannot find work by ensuring that their family has shelter, heat, light, food, and shoes, but to cut program costs by reducing the number of recipients. (California, which now accounts for a third of all TANF recipients, is a partial exception to this rule.)

State efforts to cut the TANF rolls have been quite effective. The overall unemployment rate, which is a fairly good proxy for how hard it is to find work, was almost twice as high in 2009 as in 1996. Yet the number of families getting TANF in 2009 was less than half the number getting AFDC in 1996. Edin and Shaefer write about meeting poor parents who said they didn’t know anyone who got TANF. Some parents thought welfare had been abolished, or that it was no longer accepting new applicants. This grim story deserves more attention than it has gotten, and Edin and Shaefer deserve a lot of credit for emphasizing it.
- Matt McGrath notes that renewable energy production is reaching unprecedented levels around the globe.

- Samantha Page writes that the battle between people and corporations over access to water resources is just beginning - in large part because we have yet to appreciate the threat from businesses seeking to wall off and take rents from our public resources.

- Ian Young reports on Jens von Bergmann's modeling showing that the city of Vancouver as a whole made more money simply sitting on real estate assets than by actually working over the past year.

- Finally, Michael Geist points out that we're still lacking desperately-needed information about how telecom providers turn personal information over to police. And Colin Freeze reports on CSEC's concealed history of disclosing massive amounts of information about telephone and Internet use with international counterparts.

New column day

Here, on Shawn Fraser's attempt to move Regina toward a living wage - and the the sad delay tactics in response from Michael Fougere and the rest of City Council.

For further reading...
- Fraser posted about the motion here. And Natascia Lypny reported on the response.
- The CCPA study cited in the column is here (PDF), while anybody looking to adjust for inflation since 2014 can look to Saskatchewan's historical Consumer Price Index tables (PDF). And Living Wage Canada has details on the movement across the country, while Tom Cooper and Trish Hennessy again discussed its impact in Ontario.
- Finally, David Dayen looks to Seattle's minimum-wage increase as a prominent example of corporate spin about increased wages leading to higher costs bearing no resemblance to reality, while the Center for Economic and Policy Research likewise observed no effect on employment levels in other cities with their own minimum wages. And Jordan Brennan and Jim Stanford similarly found (PDF) no adverse effect on employment from Canadian minimum wage increases.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Brent Patterson points out the continued dangers of extrajudicial challenges to laws under the CETA. And John Jacobs examines (PDF) the likelihood that reduced tariffs under the Trans-Pacific Partnership would mostly push Canada toward further dependence on resource extraction.

- Ken Jacobs, Zohar Perla, Ian Perry and Dave Graham-Squire study the declining wages being paid to workers in the U.S.' manufacturing sector, along with the public costs of that drop. And Paul Sonn and Yannet Lathrop note that there's no reason to view lower wages as doing anything to influence the number of jobs available.

- CBC reports on new research into the connection between unemployment, economic insecurity and cancer deaths. And Emma Rumney discusses the OECD's conclusion that inequality leads to stagnating productivity and economic development.

- Stephen Hume notes that British Columbia's provincial clawbacks are essentially designed to force people with disabilities to live in poverty. And Travis Lupick reports that Vancouver's count of homeless people is at a ten-year high.

- Finally, Sophia Reuss discusses the need to hear from migrant workers in evaluating Canada's temporary foreign worker program - not only from the employers who seek to exploit them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Huddled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Greg Jericho is the latest to weigh in on the false promises of neoliberalism:
An article in the IMF’s latest issue of is journal Finance and Development notes that “instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality” and jeopardised “durable” growth.

The authors note that there actually scant proof that the standard policies of encouraging foreign investment and reducing deficits and debt levels has improved economic growth.

They found that it’s tough to actually establish “the benefits in terms of increased growth” from these polices but that the costs from “increased inequality are prominent”. Even worse for those who desire economic growth above all else, they found that the “increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth.”

The authors note that their study of economies found that “austerity policies not only generate substantial welfare costs due to supply-side channels, they also hurt demand – and thus worsen employment and unemployment”.

And as I have noted (repeatedly) lack of demand is a massive issue for our economy. Right now Malcolm Turnbull would have you believe that it is an absolute given that more foreign investment and lower taxation and government spending will deliver economic growth. The reality is such belief is based on a model that struggles to deliver proof that is actually works and which crucially ignores factors such as inequality that can actually undermine their goal of economic growth.
- David Calnitsky writes that a basic income would ensure a reasonable standard of living for everybody without the stigma that comes with a patchy social safety net. Teuila Fuatai discusses how Employment Insurance has been designed to cover perpetually fewer workers over the past few decades, leaving more and more without any fallback at all. And the Star's editorial board calls for Canada Pension Plan reform to ensure all workers have enough for a secure retirement.

- Pamela Cowan reports on the desperate - and thus far ignored - need for improved mental health services in Saskatchewan. And the U.S.' Council of Economic Advisers summarizes how mental health and other social factors affect incarceration rates.

- Noah Zon points out that the reinstatement of the long-form census is just the start of collecting the additional data we need to assess and meet Canada's social needs. And Anna Stanley writes about the continued discrimination against First Nations built into our federal fiscal framework.

- Finally, Paul Dechene points out how the Saskatchewan Party has in fact imposed somewhat of carbon price through their obsession with carbon capture and storage - only without any of the actual emission reductions which are supposed to accompany any sane pricing policy. And Andrew Nikiforuk comments on the alarming pollution emanating from the oil sands.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Nick Dearden discusses how the latest wave of corporate power agreements - including the CETA - stands to undermine democracy in participating countries:
Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.
The whole purpose of Ceta is to reduce regulation on business, the idea being that it will make it easier to export. But it will do far more than that. Through the pleasant-sounding “regulatory cooperation”, standards would be reduced across the board on the basis that they are “obstacles to trade”. That could include food safety, workers’ rights and environmental regulation.

Just consider financial regulation. The ability of governments to control banks and financial markets would be further impaired. Limiting the growth of banks that have become “too big to fail” could land a government in a secret tribunal.
Finally, through something called a “ratchet clause”, current levels of privatisation would be “locked in” on any services not specifically exempted. If Canadian or EU governments want to bring certain services back into public ownership, they could be breaking the terms of the agreement.
If you needed proof that modern trade agreements are actually nothing more than an excuse to hand big business power at our expense, you need look no further than Ceta. No wonder the public outcry is growing, and opposition to TTIP is spilling over to the Canadian deal.
- Meanwhile, James Wilt takes a look at how past trade agreements have painted Canadian governments into a corner, while also pointing out the ongoing lobbying effort by one oil industry claimant to grab a massive payout.

- Robson Fletcher reports on a new Policy Horizons Canada study discussing the reality that fossil fuels may be obsolete in a matter of decades, while the Economist (in a slightly dated report) discusses how many developing countries are skipping directly to renewables rather than building new, dirty infrastructure. And Gary Fuller reports on the climate damage caused by fracking.

- Finally, Sean McElwee highlights the connection between voter mobilization and progressive stances from nominally left-of-centre politicians:
Democratic politicians use the information of their vote margin to adjust their votes: a loss in vote share leads Democrats to vote in a more conservative way than they would have otherwise. They find, “a 2.5% Democratic loss results in an average 12.8 switches per incumbent.” A study by political scientists Thad Kousser, Jeffrey B. Lewis and Seth Masket finds that after a 2003 recall election in California recalled the Democratic governor, Democratic assembly members shifted their votes to the left. Previous research by political scientists Daniel Butler and David Nickerson suggests that when legislators are given accurate information about their constituents preferences, they are more likely to vote in line with those preferences.

It’s important to note that it’s difficult to disentangle the information effect from the turnout effect. It could be that representatives are gaining information about their constituents or it could be that higher turnout and thus larger vote share leads representatives to feel that they can move left.  Either way, the core finding – that a loss in vote share causes Democratic politicians to be more conservative – has important implications.
As I’ve argued repeatedly, higher turnout could shift change the American political landscape by shifting the constraints under which politicians make policy. A study of ten OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries by Jonas Pontusson and David Rueda find that, “Left parties will respond to an increase in inequality only when low-income voters are politically mobilized.” As Matt Grossmann tells me, “Democrats nearly always fear the electoral consequences of moving too far left, whereas Republicans tend not to view ideological conservatism and electability as a trade-off.” Thus, higher turnout would signal to Democratic politicians that they have space to move to the left.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrea Germanos follows up on the IMF's realization that handing free money and power to corporations does nothing for the economy as it affects people's lives. And Susie Cagle examines the role of tech money - like other massive accumulations of wealth - in exacerbating inequalities in both wealth and political influence.

- Jeffrey Sachs points out that Bernie Sanders' economic policy prescriptions are exactly what the U.S. in particular needs in order to offer a more secure life for the population as a whole:
The United States unleashed the power of CEOs to enrich themselves with mega-salaries, weakened trade unions and gave massive tax breaks to the super-rich. Sanders’s policies would go after all of these unconscionable moves, bringing the United States back into line with the rest of the high-income world. He would, in short, end the age of impunity in which the rich and the powerful get their way, while the rest suffer. Sanders’s policies include higher taxes on the rich, strengthening unions, raising the minimum wage, supporting families, providing free tuition at public universities and cracking down on financial crimes.

There is nothing magical or utopian about Sanders’s recommendations. He is advocating policies of decency long ago adopted by other prosperous high-income countries. Our own neighbor, Canada, is a case in point. Canada has lower-cost health care, a life expectancy two years higher than in the United States, much lower college tuition, far lower poverty rates and, not surprisingly, more happiness (ranking sixth in the world in life satisfaction, behind Scandinavia and well ahead of the United States, which is 12th). 

Mainstream economists long ago lost the melody line. Their models are oriented to the status quo and underemphasize the benefits of public investment. They take America’s bloated health-care costs as a given, not as the result of the influence of the U.S. private health lobby. They treat low growth as natural (“secular stagnation”) rather than as the result of chronic underinvestment. They have come to accept cruelly rising income inequality and rampant impunity for financial crimes. Sanders knows better, based on worldwide experience, an abiding sense of decency and a strong and accurate vision for a brighter economic future.
- Meanwhile, Robert Skidelsky discusses the futility of trying to boost a stalled economy solely through monetary policy when direct public spending figures to accomplish far more.

- Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder chart the connection between union organization and income equality.

- Finally, Elizabeth Thompson reports on the federal government's lack of a clue as to how many temporary foreign workers are actually in Canada. And it's particularly worth contrasting that lax attitude toward workers brought in at the behest of employers against the detention of immigration detainees.