Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Phillipe Orliange discusses the significance of inequality in the developing world as a problem for both fairness and economic development:
The question of inequality has become so important because societal cohesion broadly depends upon it. It is not normal for 1% of the population to possess as much wealth as the other 99%.
There is also a moral side to the question. We cannot say that we are building a shared world in which nobody will be left behind, while accepting this unreasonable monopolisation of wealth. This alone is reason enough to act.

We now also know that inequality is bad for economic growth. A number of studies from the IMF prove this to be true. And finally, the victims of inequality are at higher risk of exposure to the effects of climate change.

So not only is inequality morally reprehensible, but it is also economically inefficient. And the effect is cumulative.
- Meanwhile, Hassan Yussuff points out that all Canadians stand to benefit from the added security of an improved Canada Pension Plan.

- David Suzuki discusses the role of feed-in tariffs in encouraging the development of distributed renewable power. And Kevin O'Connor reports on Mark Jacobson's lesson to Brad Wall on the relative costs and benefits of transitioning toward cleaner energy as opposed to barrelling ahead with a fossil fuel-based economy.

- Finally, Marie-Danielle Smith reports on Libs' decision to provide extra funding to Canada's Information Commissioner to deal with a serious backlog of complaints. But as Keith Reynolds notes in discussing new plans in British Columbia, most governments reviewing the access-to-informatoin system end up taking obvious steps to undermine its operation where it seems inconvenient for the party in power - and the Trudeau Libs look to be no exception.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Ed Finn reminds us that "free trade" agreements have always served to increase the wealth and power of those who already have the most at the expense of social interests. And Scott Sinclair and Angella MacEwen each offer their take on Parliament's hearings into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

- Meanwhile, Zach Dubinsky reports on another set of unfair deals which have allowed corporations to send profits offshore to avoid paying taxes with (primarily the Cons') government approval.

- But in case anybody expected the Libs to live up to any different set of principles, Mia Rabson points out Robert-Falcon Ouellette's craven politicking around a basic income - consisting of seeking media attention for his support for at least studying the concept before going along with a party-line vote against it. (And it's particularly striking that even the Con members of the finance committee were willing to support the motion - leaving the Libs alone to shoot it down.)

- Frances Baum, David Sanders, Matt Fisher, Julia Anaf, Nicholas Freudenberg, Sharon Friel, Ronald Labonté, Leslie London, Carlos Monteiro, Alex Scott-Samuel and Amit Sen examine the influence of multinational corporations on the health of individuals, while pointing out the desperate lack of any meaningful assessment on an organizational basis. 

- Finally, Teuila Fuatai discusses how Canada's employment insurance system is set up to disadvantage mothers in lower-earning families.

Musical interlude

Lumineers - Stubborn Love

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Rafael Gomez and Juan Gomez offer a look at the state of Canadian workplace democracy, as well as some useful proposals to improve it.

- The New York Times editorial board points out how the U.S.' temporary worker programs are predictably being abused by employers to lower wages. And Sean Silcoff and Michelle Zilio report that the Trudeau Libs are going out of their way to make it easier for Canadian employers to do the same - even as their Labour Minister claims (at least in front of an audience of workers) that she'd prefer to rein in our reliance on temporary foreign workers.

- Rachel Obordo highlights the challenges facing young workers trying to pay increasingly inaffordable rents out of limited wages. Rayhanul Ibrahim discusses the contrast in spending patterns based on income, with the inability of poor individuals to afford durable goods standing out as a particularly stark difference. And Jim Tankersley points out that exactly that gap may exacerbate recessions as poorer people without sufficient social supports feel compelled to put off any spending during economic downturns.

- Andrew Nikiforuk examines some of the consequences of fracking which have resulted from dangerous development in the absence of meaningful study or regulation. And Katie Herzog discusses why we can expect the future to be shaped by renewable energy investment rather than by fossil fuels.

- Finally, Gus Van Harten studies the special privileges the Trans-Pacific Partnership would hand to the investor class at the expense of the general public.

New column day

Here, on the Senate's recent attempts to claim any relevance to Canadian politics, and what they should tell us about the failures of our actual elected representatives.

For further reading...
- OpenParliament's status report on Bill C-14 (featuring the votes from the House of Commons) is here. Catherine Tunney reported on the Senate's debate on amendments to Bill C-14, while John Paul Tasker follows up on its final vote.
- The report of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce seeking to undermine provincial governance is here (PDF). And for background as to the absurdity of demanding wholesale limitations on government based on a small number of "barriers" which could best be addressed individually, see here, here and here among other examples.
- And finally, for more on the Trudeau Libs' refusal to develop a federal policy on climate change, see my past discussion here and here

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon reminds us why even if we were to (pointlessly) prioritize raw GDP over fair distributions of income and wealth, inequality is bad for economic growth in general:
The more we redistribute income and wealth, the more consumption increases, which then increases demand. In turn, this should encourage the private sector to invest, thereby accelerating the growth process.

So reducing inequality, in addition to social and health benefits, has important economic implications: our economies grow, and growth itself becomes less volatile. In short, inequality is bad economics.
To restart economic growth, a major preoccupation of many Canadians, there are a number of policies that can be adopted. For instance, higher incomes can be taxed at a much higher marginal rate, including capital gains and income earned from dividends; wealth can also be taxed more.

In light of the Panama Papers, government can close tax loopholes; we can also prevent the private-sector practice of buying back their own shares, which unnecessarily inflates the dividends of shareholders, which in turn favours short-term financial gains to the detriment of long-term economic growth.

Finally, we can adopt a full employment policy.
- Meanwhile, PressProgress points out new research by Cristobal Younga, Charles Varnera, Ithai Lurieb and Richard Prisinzanob showing no statistically significant connection between tax rates and millionaires' locations - signalling that there's no reason to take seriously any threat that more progressive taxes will lead the wealthy to move to avoid paying their fair share.

- Aru Pande discusses how U.S. non-profits are being forced to try to fill in glaring gaps in public services for children living in poverty.

- Ian McLeod reports that the Libs' plans to do anything about C-51 are limited to secret Parliamentary oversight after the fact - meaning that the public will have continue to have no idea how its rights are being violated. And Michael Geist writes that there's no longer any doubt just how much needless surveillance is taking place in Canada.

- Finally, Zeynep Engin reviews Beth Simone Noveck's Smart Citizens, Smarter State on the future of governance:
The key terms that I believe best describe the spirit of the book emerge as ‘targeted expertise’, ‘crowdsourcing’, ‘experimental governance’ and ‘citizen engagement’. Instead of the traditional advisory committee model that mainly relies on stakeholder representation (missing the epistemic value of committee membership) and typically produces a report or a set of recommendations over months or even years, Noveck suggests that new technologies should allow us ‘to make consultation on a day-to-day basis and to strive for constant conversation with an engaged and knowledgeable public’. Going beyond ‘crowdsourcing widely to crowdsourcing wisely’ to match the right experts to the right opportunities on a large scale is more likely to lead to faster and better decision-making. Modes of expert engagement can be accommodated at all stages of ideation, discussion, formulation and assessment as opposed to limiting public participation to consultation on pre-formulated drafts of ‘professional policy-makers’ in government departments. This would also lead to redefinition of ‘the public service and the public servant as the steward of such a conversation’. The challenges with this type of engagement and potential strategies to overcome them are also covered widely.
Those with technology and ‘hard’ sciences backgrounds would hugely benefit from a comprehensive understanding of government and policy domains in order to set new research agendas with significant potential for wider impact. At the other end of the spectrum, those with politics and social science backgrounds would find it very helpful for understanding the current technologies of expertise and the new trends in public decision-making, offering great promise for transforming the ways that governments should operate under the ongoing data revolution.
 [Edit: fixed typo.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Bagged cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sherri Torjman discusses how the the gig economy is based mostly on evading protections for workers - and how the both employment law and social programs need to catch up:
Much of the labour market is morphing into freelance or gigs. More and more Canadians are becoming free agents who cobble together bits of work in order to get by. Workers increasingly are juggling two, three or more casual jobs. Exhaustion and stress take their toll on health as the working day gets longer and precious family time erodes.

These challenges are no different from those facing the current army of precarious workers in Canada, who earn low wages and have no job security, accident protection, sick leave or pensions. But the implications of the changing labour market may be bigger than quality of employment.
The new world of work is a less generous and less certain provider of these benefits. At the end of the day, governments may have to step in to fill the gaps in income adequacy, pension protection and health benefits that the new “gig economy” is leaving in its wake.

Perhaps all generations can agree that it makes no sense to slow down or stop technological innovation − especially with consumers embracing it full throttle.

But we do need to pay serious attention to improving the working conditions in the sharing economy. Only then can we all support this brave new world.
- Meanwhile, Dan Darrah highlights the spread of unpaid internships as a factor dragging down wages for all kinds of younger workers.

- Aravind Ganesh comments on the need for a focus on social determinants of health in providing care for seniors. And Canadian Doctors for Medicare offers a much-needed reminder that the federal government can't pretend anybody else has the jurisdiction to directly enforce the Canada Health Act.

- Tyler Clarke writes that Saskatchewan's municipalities can't afford the long-term corporate giveaways that come with P3 infrastructure schemes. And the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives studies the costs now being borne by Nova Scotia due to its earlier privatizing binge.

- Chris Mooney reports on new research showing that our atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has reached a new high with no apparent prospect of going back. And Suzanne Goldenberg and Helena Bengtsson expose how a single coal producer funded a web of climate denial.

-Finally, Yves Engler points out the damage Canadian mining firms are doing in Africa - and notes that if we in fact want to help the developing world, an end to a culture of corporate impunity would do far more than any number of self-promotional charity events.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Cynthia Kaufman discusses Moses Naim's theory that while a transnational ruling class has managed to exercise almost total control over the functions of government, it's set to lose power over the public at large. And 63Mag interviews Jennifer Hollett about the future of progressive activism and organizing in Canada.

- Sophia Harris reports on yet another round of fee increases from Canadian banks which will do little other than goose their already-massive profits. And Kelly Crowe highlights the pharmaceutical industry's track record of secrecy and falsified test results.

- Jim Bronskill writes that the Canada Border Services Agency's "Border Security" show has at long last been cancelled due to its blatant and inexplicable infringement on privacy rights.

- Tom Parkin calls for the Libs to get moving on ending the Charter abuses imposed under C-51. And Vincent Gogolek worries that Justin Trudeau's promises about improved transparency and access to information are about to be replaced by even more means of suppressing information.

- Finally, Bill Graveland reports on Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's observation that child protective services need to be able to track at-risk children across provincial borders.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lisa Phillips writes about the desperate need for Canadian courts to ensure a fair tax system, rather than allowing technicalities and loopholes to win out over the principle that everybody should pay a fair share:
With some exceptions, Canadian judges have defaulted to a literal reading of tax law that is based on 19th-century English precedents. This approach stresses, above all, the right of property owners to rearrange their affairs to minimize tax.

In the United States, the courts took a different tack, ignoring transactions that were designed purely to escape tax. By the 1970s, the English judiciary was also moving in this direction. In a series of landmark cases, they recognized that taxpayer liberty must be balanced with the need to distribute the cost of government services fairly, according to Parliament’s intentions. Canadian courts have been slower to leave 19th-century England behind.

Frustrated by our judiciary’s passive approach, the government added a general anti-avoidance rule to the Income Tax Act in 1988. The rule gives judges explicit authority to override tax planning that abuses the law by defeating its purpose. Yet, in many cases, our courts are hesitant to follow through.
Such rulings bear a share of the responsibility for eroding the integrity and fairness of Canada’s tax system. They signal that tax planners can be aggressive in pushing the limits of the law, creating a thriving market for new avoidance ideas. As soon as one implausible story succeeds, the race is on to manufacture more. Authorities struggle to keep up and understandably wonder whether it is wise to invest their limited resources to challenge these ventures in court. Rewriting the tax law to close technical loopholes must be done carefully. By the time it is done, tax planners have already moved on to the next gambit. It is easy to point the finger at lawyers and accountants as enablers. It is true that these professionals make a handsome living from helping their clients to reduce tax bills. Some will admit privately their discomfort with deals that seem to make a mockery of the progressive income tax. But, in most cases, they are only doing what the courts have licensed. Until the judiciary also sends a stronger message, we can expect a culture of aggressive planning to persist.
- Allan Holmes observes that a lack of access to high-speed Internet service represents a serious barrier to full public and economic participation for people living in poverty. And Don Pittis contrasts the compelling arguments against exploitative payday lending with the implausible claim that anybody is better off living in inescapable debt, while Nicholas Kristof laments the blight of debtors' prisons for poor individuals who have no prospect of paying off gratuitous fines.

- Felicity Hannah points out that self-employment tends to lead to poverty. And Kathryn May reports on a PIPSC study showing the dangers of outsourcing federal government services to precarious workers.

- Juliane Kippenberg discusses the International Labour Organization's efforts to eliminate abuses in global supply chains - despite the greediest efforts of the corporations who profit from them.

- Finally, Alex Press notes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to enrich biotech companies at the expense of both farmers' incomes and biodiversity. And Ben Parfitt looks at the Peace River - with its combination of landslides, toxic fracking chemicals and earthquake risks - as an alarming example of happens when multiple environmental factors are all subject to insufficient analysis and regulation.