Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Albert van Senvoort points out that poverty is more difficult to escape in Canada today than it was two decades ago. And Jean Swanson discusses the desperate need for more action from all levels of government to ensure the right to housing is met in British Columbia.

- Danielle Ivory, Ben Protess and Kitty Bennett shed light on the U.S.' widespread privatization of emergency services - with its obvious implication of putting profit before the most urgent needs of citizens:
The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life.

Today, people interact with private equity when they dial 911, pay their mortgage, play a round of golf or turn on the kitchen tap for a glass of water.

Private equity put a unique stamp on these businesses. Unlike other for-profit companies, which often have years of experience making a product or offering a service, private equity is primarily skilled in making money. And in many of these businesses, The Times found, private equity firms applied a sophisticated moneymaking playbook: a mix of cost cuts, price increases, lobbying and litigation.

In emergency care and firefighting, this approach creates a fundamental tension: the push to turn a profit while caring for people in their most vulnerable moments.

For governments and their citizens, the effects have often been dire. Under private equity ownership, some ambulance response times worsened, heart monitors failed and companies slid into bankruptcy, according to a Times examination of thousands of pages of internal documents and government records, as well as interviews with dozens of former employees. In at least two cases, lawsuits contend, poor service led to patient deaths.
- Michal Rozworski points out that a combination of corporate tax slashing and generous treatment of tax havens has led to massive amounts of cash being stashed offshore rather than being invested in

- Finally, Robert Reich argues that the key issue for Hillary Clinton in the midst of a tumultuous presidential campaign should be to clean up the mess that is the U.S.' political system and make democracy work for citizens. And James Wood examines the proposals on tap from Alberta's political parties to do the same at the provincial level.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Musical interlude

Pearson & Hirst - Endor

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- In the wake of yesterday's Brexit vote, David Dayen points out how the failure of technocratic policy left many voters believing they had nothing to lose in abandoning the European Union. Dawn Foster highlights the role Conservative-driven austerity played on that front. And Owen Jones comments on what comes next:
(W)hile much of the blame must be attributed to Cameron, far greater social forces are at play. From Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders, from Syriza in Greece to Podemos in Spain, from the Austrian far-right to the rise of the Scottish independence movement, this is an era of seething resentment against elites. That frustration is spilling out in all sorts of directions: new left movements, civic nationalism, anti-immigrant populism.

Many of the nearly half of the British people who voted remain now feel scared and angry, ready to lash out at their fellow citizens. But this will make things worse. Many of the leavers already felt marginalised, ignored and hated. The contempt – and sometimes snobbery – now being shown about leavers on social media was already felt by these communities, and contributed to this verdict. Millions of Britons feel that a metropolitan elite rules the roost which not only doesn’t understand their values and lives, but actively hates them. If Britain is to have a future, this escalating culture war has to be stopped. The people of Britain have spoken. That is democracy, and we now have to make the country’s verdict work.

If the left has a future in Britain, it must confront its own cultural and political disconnect with the lives and communities of working-class people. It must prepare for how it responds to a renewed offensive by an ascendant Tory right. On the continent, movements championing a more democratic and just Europe are more important than ever. None of this is easy – but it is necessary. Grieve now if you must, but prepare for the great challenges ahead.
- Steve Burgess discusses the difficulty in placing strong views on free trade at any single point on the political spectrum. And Branko Milanovic discusses the different underlying issues giving rise to populist movements around the globe.

- The Associated Press reports on the IMF's recommendation that the U.S. catch up to the world on minimum wage, social benefits and tax policy.

- Charles Mandel writes about Canada's failing fisheries. And Jason MacLean notes that our environmental laws as a whole need to be brought back up to par following their gutting by the Cons.

- Finally, Alex Boutilier reports on Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien's rightful concerns that Canadian privacy law is also decades out of date.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Oxfam points out the latest World Wealth Report showing that extreme inequality and wealth continue to grow around the globe. And AFP reports on the IMF's warnings that inequality and poverty represent significant dangers for the U.S. economy.

- Kim Moody writes about the state of the U.S.' working class, and notes that issues such as temporary and precarious employment are only part of the larger economic puzzle. And Robert Skidelsky makes the case that a basic income could address problems with both our current job market and our fraying social safety net.

- Shannon Daub discusses the connection between austerity and climate politics, as a starved public sector both forces people into survival mode in the short term and limits the resources available for a transition in the long run.

- Michael Wilshaw laments the continued disparity in educational outcomes based on wealth in the UK. And Sandy Garossino points out how private schools in Canada are subsidized with massive tax breaks, even as our public education system is under attack.

- Finally, HealthDay reports on new research suggesting that even a modest increase in the minimum wage can work wonders for child health.

New column day

Here, on this week's Canada Pension Plan announcement - and the Wall government's surprising decision to merely delay rather than outright obstruct a national boost to retirement security.

For further reading...
- Kevin Milligan, Sheila Block, Adam Mayers and the Canadian Press each offer useful looks at what the CPP expansion means. And Milligan has also pointed out this chart from the OECD on the small amount of social security contributions currently made by Canadians:

- Meanwhile, Jennifer Paterson compares Canada's pension system to other countries in terms of the benefits currently offered. And anybody looking for source information can find it from Service Canada.
- In light of the distance Canada has to go in order to catch up to other developed countries, Jeremy Nuttall reports on Hassan Yussuff's push to further strengthen the CPP.
- Finally, CBC reports on the Saskatchewan Party's grudging acceptance of the deal - along with its spin that delaying implementation is somehow a worthwhile achievement. And David Giles highlights the view of the CFIB and other corporate spokesflacks that any income security for workers is too much.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Paul Willcocks discusses British Columbia's two-tiered education system and the role it plays in exacerbating inequality - which is well worth keeping in mind as Saskatchewan deals with the fallout from the Wall government's refusal to fund public schools. And Charlie Smith reviews Andrew MacLeod's A Better Place on Earth as an important contribution to understanding the reality of poverty and inequality in B.C.

- Meanwhile, David MacDonald highlights new Statistics Canada data showing how parental income tends to influence children's opportunities:
Previous estimates in Canada put our income transmission at 23%, but the new report pegs it at 32% . Put another way, a third of what you’ll make in your best years can already be predicted by what your parent made in their best years. That means that both advantage and disadvantage are passed down generationally from parent to child.

In Canada, our income transmission rate isn’t quite as bad as the US, where half of a person’s income is pre-determined by what their parent made. So, what does that mean for the rags-to-riches “American Dream?” Well, it’s actually a bit of an impossible dream. Of developed nations, the US is actually one of the countries where it’s least likely for children to move from abject poverty to millionaire’s row.
If you look only at the intergenerational income transmission of rich parents to their kids, it’s far higher than the average, at 45%. This means that half of the keys to the top 1% club in Canada are passed from parent to child. Since this linkage is so strong, it also means that it’s much more difficult for someone whose parents were middle class (or low income) to work their way up into the top 1%.
- Noah Smith comments on the IMF's belated recognition that forced austerity is generally an obstacle to economic development, not a factor promoting it. And Tracy Brown Hamilton outlines the Netherlands' upcoming study of the effect of a number of basic income models.

- Alison writes about the first meeting of Canada's parliamentary committee on electoral reform - with particular emphasis on Nathan Cullen's work to encourage direct public participating in the proceedings, coupled with Jason Kenney's determination to stifle it.

- Finally, Andrew Mitrovica points out the mathematical certainty that the Libs' idea of oversight for Canada's surveillance state will be insufficient.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Illuminated cats.

On risk factors

Yes, "grasping at straws" is the right analysis of the Sask Party's attempt to make excuses to gift SaskTel to the corporate sector. But it's also worth noting something those straws have in common.

Presumably any risk to SaskTel can be paired with an opportunity for another party looking to profit within the telecom sector.

For example, the risk that SaskTel will be sold off for scrap means that some corporate benefactor will profit at the expense of Saskatchewan's public. And so too does the presence of any risk from telecom providers looking to expand their presence in Saskatchewan imply a correlated opportunity for a telecommunications provider which is able to plan outside a single province's borders.

Needless to say, it was the Sask Party government's choice to take that opportunity away from SaskTel with a "Saskatchewan First" policy - which prevents SaskTel from even looking for ways to generate profits and mitigate risk by using its knowledge around the world. And if SaskTel is indeed weaker for that gratuitous decision, there's nobody to blame but Brad Wall.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Neil Irwin writes about the White House Council of Economic Advisers' study of employment policy which found that superior protections for workers (rather than the undermining of employment standards in the name of "flexibility") correlate to improved workforce participation.

- MaxSpeak discusses the value of universal social supports in contrast to means-tested programs which compromise the idea of a common interest - and warns of the dangers of pushing the latter at the expense of the former:
The fact is that the great, social-democratic systems of Europe are powered by mass consumption taxes that finance big spending programs. The most powerful, time-tested tool against inequality is universal social insurance, not means-tested benefits. The prominence of the latter in the U.S. welfare state is a bug, not a feature. Trading social insurance for means-testing is a concession to inequality. Sometimes such concessions can facilitate reasonable bargains for greater benefits, sometimes concessions are required in adversity. The problem is elevating such a device as a basic ideal.

A principled progressive would have welcomed discussion of Sanders’  proposals, rather than revert to bromides about fiscal austerity. The simple truth is that any universal benefit financed by progressive taxation will retain a net, progressive redistributive impact. This is not an economic theory; it’s arithmetic. Nobody has suggested that Sanders’ tax proposals are not progressive. Of course the practicality of any proposal is fair game, but that was not the basis for most criticism. Instead we had ostensibly liberal Democratic Party politicians upholding the tenets of neoliberalism.
- Fortunately, at least one of Canada's major social programs is now set to be expanded and improved thanks to the federal-provincial agreement to boost the Canada Pension Plan.

- Michael Hiltzik suggests that prescription drug costs can be expected to drop if manufacturers are simply required to account for their pricing.

- Judith Lavoie discusses a push by Canadian health care providers to end the use of coal power. And Charles Mandel points out the Canadian connection between big coal and climate change denialism.

- Finally, Katrina Vanden Heuvel comments on the importance of freedom of the press to challenge all forms of concentrated power. And Jordon Cooper points out that any place of power or privilege can and should be used to help the many people excluded from those positions.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Andrew Leach's after-the-fact addendum to his review of Alberta's climate change policy offers an important reminder as to the costs of inaction on climate change - and the message is one which applies equally to other jurisdictions which are seen as climate laggards:
Our emissions do not simply come from our large industries—almost everything else we do has greenhouse gas emissions impacts, whether it’s driving our cars and trucks, heating our homes, or purchasing goods delivered here by plane, truck or train. Reducing emissions in Alberta will not be easy—we don’t have a magic wand, and if cost-effective, lower-emissions substitutes were available in all cases today, we wouldn’t be facing this problem. But, not reducing emissions in Alberta is also potentially very costly. We’ve already seen policies and actions aimed at our resource sector whether through the rejection of pipelines, the application of low carbon fuel standards, or challenges to companies investing here from their shareholders or from sustainable investors. If Alberta chooses not to act, those costs won’t go away. And, we’re part of a federation, and our federation has committed to an ambitious target to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. There will be costs if Alberta is not a constructive partner in those efforts—continued market access challenges or unfavourable policy design. Those costs may be difficult to quantify, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real. Finally, of course, we know that emissions impose costs on others around the world—if we use the most recent estimates, we are each imposing on average $2,800 to $4,500 worth of costs on current and future global citizens every year with our emissions, and many of these impacts affect some of the poorest countries on earth.
(T)he business-as-usual case that a modeller might use to assess the costs of these actions does not exist for Alberta. We see today increasing pressure on firms to mitigate carbon risk, increasing pressure on governments to achieve their Paris commitments, and increasing focus on Alberta as a symbol of inaction on climate change. We do not see how a comparison to a case where Alberta can continue to find viable markets for its products and see investment return to the oil sands in the absence of credible action on greenhouse gases exists. What would likely exist as an alternative is a world where Alberta faces increasingly discriminatory and punitive policies and barriers to trade both from within and from outside Canada, and where firms face mounting shareholder and institutional investor pressure not to invest in Alberta. The costs of these are speculative, and more difficult to quantify, but we are confident that they far and away exceed the cumulative costs of the actions we’ve recommend. 
- Meanwhile, Larry Buhl reports on widespread wage theft by the U.S.' oil industry.

- Rejean Hebert makes the case for publicly-funded home care and long term care to avoid the need to use our hospital care system to address disabilities and chronic conditions.

- Charles Smith points out the dangerous (if consistent) precedent set by the Saskatchewan Party's refusal to fund the contract it negotiated with Saskatchewan's teachers.

- Finally, Martin Regg Cohn traces the path toward an expanded Canada Pension Plan. And Mark Hancock writes that an improved CPP needs to produce a more secure retirement for everybody, rather than being whittled down to nothing by exceptions and carve-outs.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Brian Nolan, Max Roser, and Stefan Thewissen study (PDF) the relationship between GDP and household income across the OECD, and find a nearly universal pattern of nominal economic growth which isn't finding its way into households (which is particularly extreme in the U.S.). Roy van der Weide, Christoph Lakner and Elena Ianchovichina examine (PDF) high-end house prices as an indication of the exorbitant high-end incomes which don't show up in individual tax records. And Sean McElwee and Roberta Barnett discuss how big-money donors are able to distort U.S. politics.

- Sujata Dey points out that even from the standpoint of gross economic numbers, there's reason to be wary of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other new trade agreements. But Cory Doctorow highlights the greater danger of deals which undermine democratic decision-making and public interests.

- Steven Chase reports on Canada's increased sales of military equipment to human rights abusers.

- Rob Carrick points out that financial institutions are being forced to plan for a millenial generation with little capacity to borrow or save.

- Finally, Nicholas Kristof acknowledges that the theory behind draconian welfare policies was entirely wrong - and that the primary effect of restricting access to social programs has been to foment poverty in a country which can afford to eliminate it.