Saturday, July 02, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Danny Dorling writes about the importance of empathy and kindness in establishing the basis for a more equal society:
When you cannot empathise with another group, it is very hard to think kindly towards them. It is when you feel “all in it together” or at least “there but for the grace of God, go I” that kindness comes more naturally. And it comes less and less easily in the UK. The UK is on a trajectory to become the most unequal of the richest 25 nations in the world. Those in power in the most unequal of rich countries today see kindness as weakness. Had they been kinder, less aggressive, when they were younger and making their way in the world, they would probably not have got to where they are today – they tell themselves.
Gross inequality creates a lack of respect for the other group – people who are not like us. There is a lack of respect among the rich for the poor, and that will be the same among the poor for the rich. Lack of respect breeds cruelty and hate. Lack of respect is not new and has grown between groups many times before, over religion, race, nationality, social class, sex and sexuality. These older divisions all remain and can be easily reignited, resulting in cruelty and hate, fear, suffering and despair. However, nowadays it is financial inequality both globally and in the UK that is the greatest source of our separation from each other.
- Neil Irwin recognizes that claims of economic efficiency are of little use to people who directly bear the risks of policies designed to prioritize raw GDP numbers over human interests. And Emmanuel Saez finds that income inequality in the U.S. remains on the rise as the spoils of a growing economy have mostly been siphoned off by the top end of the income spectrum.

- Meanwhile, Deborah Orr discusses how Brexit will serve as a prime example of the public interest being ignored in favour of the incessant drive for more on behalf of those who already have the most:
The elites decide how much they are prepared to contribute in tax towards the social and physical infrastructure they operate in. They’d rather do it privately, bleeding interest for their chiselling loans out of the public sector. They will always have free movement for themselves, and the threat that they will make use of it. It’s so easy for them to get their way.

They will always manage to bring in cheap staff from abroad, when and if they want it, safe in the knowledge that it’s the cheap staff, not them, who will bear the brunt of the anger of the people they refuse to employ because they want fair wages and decent conditions. People will learn the hard way how much Nigel Farage cares about their lives, how much Rupert Murdoch frets about their poor pay.

These men want ordinary people to be angry, because angry people make errors of judgment, blaming each other instead of the elites that plunder ideas about equality, fairness, freedom and democracy for their own ends. Britain. You voted for this. Now, once again, get ready to be told that There Is No Alternative.
- Mike Smyth reports on how British Columbia's provincial parks are being taken over by profiteers who are systematically excluding citizens from their publicly-owned resources with the Clark government's approval. And CBC examines the massive liabilities the province is carrying for contaminated Crown land long after mining operators have taken their profits and fled.

- Finally, Steven Chase reports on the Libs' plans to continue supplying human right abusers with military equipment.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Musical interlude

Tame Impala - The Moment

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- Marc Jarsulic, Ethan Gurwitz, Kate Bahn and Andy Green comment on how corporate monopoly power and rent-seeking produce disastrous public consequences:
Income inequality is rising, middle-class incomes are stagnant, and much of the current economic policy debate is centered on finding ways to counter these trends. A renewed focus on antitrust enforcement could make a significant contribution toward accomplishing this goal.

When firms with dominant market power are able to elevate the prices they charge and earn supra-normal returns—which are economic rents—they simultaneously lower the real incomes of those who buy from them. In other words: The seller benefits when market power elevates the price of hospital care or raises the price of an airline ticket, but the buyer has less income for other needs. Moreover, the tendency of monopolies to restrict output combined with reduced competitive pressure to invest can translate into reduced employment.
(T)here is systematic evidence—ranging from the disconnect of corporate profits and corporate investment to evidence of persistent supra-normal profitability—that points to an increase in rent extraction in the U.S. economy. And while large rent extraction is a primary outcome of unchallenged market power, there are additional and equally undesirable results. For example, the entry of new firms in the market can be blocked; innovation can be stifled; product quality can be degraded; the prices paid to workers and suppliers can be reduced; and influence with government officials can be increased.
- And as part of the CCPA's Monitor issue on the state of Canada's media, Fenwick McKelvey examines the need to make a diverse range of content available rather than allowing large providers to fully define and limit which options can easily be discovered.

- Paul Willcocks points out there's no evidence-based reason for concern that a higher minimum wage will affect the availability of jobs. And PressProgress notes that the corporate interests trying to shout down any improvements to the minimum wage are the same ones trying to use exploitative immigration schemes to lower wages for all workers.

- Michael Laxer highlights how the manufactured problems at Canada Post - with consistent profits deemed insufficient without explanation in order to attack working conditions, and plans for a postal bank which would both raise profits and provide an important public service given short shrift - are only part of the wider hostility against the public sector. 

- Finally, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group sets out the gross deficiencies in the Libs' plans for a security review committee even from the standpoint of basic oversight - to say nothing of the underlying lack of action to protect civil rights from a pervasive surveillance state.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Finn discusses how to fight for needed alternatives to neoliberalism in the face of seemingly daunting odds and structural barriers.

- Noah Smith points out how most economic analysis omits important social factors which ultimately matter far more to people than marginal GDP. And as a prime example, BBC reports on a new poll showing the UK's immense and growing class divide.

- Armine Yalnizyan responds to a spate of deficit hysteria by pointing out that Canada's public sector is entirely sustainable (particularly if the federal government uses its fiscal capacity for the public good).

- Iglika Ivanova discusses the growing number of people trapped below the poverty line while working in Vancouver. And Darlene O'Leary comments on the need for a national housing strategy as part of a Canada-wide effort to alleviate poverty.

- The Star-Phoenix reports on the billion-dollar annual costs of excluding indigenous citizens of Saskatchewan from full economic participation.

-  Finally, Sean McElwee and Ashley Jardina find that younger U.S. voters are rejecting racist rhetoric while favouring a more inclusive society.

New column day

Here, on the Brexit vote as both a dangerous step toward an even more business-biased system of international relations, and a cautionary tale about basing votes on frustration.

For further reading...
- John Hilary highlights the trade negotiations likely to follow from the Brexit vote. And Jamie Doward takes a look at the "passport" issue for UK banks.
- As another reminder beyond the column that not all trade structures are alike, Roland Smith points out the difference between the World Trade Organization's relatively limited role addressing tariffs and the far more limiting provisions of other trade deals (though I'd disagree with his presumption that we should favour the latter).
- Andrew Coyne argues that the concept of open borders should be presented to the public for approval rather than being foisted on an unknowing populace - which would at least avoid the type of backlash seen in the Brexit vote. And Evan Solomon wonders how much longer the current trend toward corporate-focused globalization can last.
- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan rightly notes that Brexit and other maneuverings around trade deals won't change the general movement toward a more connected world. But we still have every reason to be interested in the rules governing our international connections.

[Edit: updated link.]

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Mary O'Hara reviews Daniel Hatcher's new book on the U.S.' poverty industry which seeks to exploit public supports for private gain:
(A) new book published last week by law professor and advocate Daniel L Hatcher, The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens, exposes a largely unrecognised yet deeply disturbing additional dimension to the issue: the vast scale of disadvantaged people being fleeced for profit. In this meticulously researched book Hatcher, who has represented vulnerable people in court for years, including children in foster care, lifts the lid on a system that rather than helping the needy, systematically turns them into “a source of revenue”.

His summary of what he has coined the “poverty industry” is: “the private sector partnering with the state and local governments to use the vulnerable as a resource for extracting funds … strip-mining billions in federal aid and other funds from impoverished families, abused and neglected children, the disabled and elderly poor”.
(T)the book cites multiple incidences of children in care and older people in care homes, as well as young people in juvenile detention, being drugged to save money in staffing costs. In one state, 40% of all foster children were sedated using psychotropic drugs.

The resurgence of debtors’ prisons in some states, which trap the poor in a cycle of debt, is also featured. “Low-income defendants are first saddled with unmanageable court fines and fees, then the courts hire private collection agencies, probation companies … all tacking on more and more fees to the debts of the poor,” Hatcher says. One judge in Alabama told litigants to sell their blood to pay fines, or end up in jail.

As the book so clearly points out, if there wasn’t money to be made from the poor, there wouldn’t be so many companies vying for contracts and lobbying for a piece of the pie.

Hatcher’s analysis is a cautionary tale. Some companies chasing lucrative contracts in the US do the same in the UK. Private does not equal better, or more efficient. The only thing that matters is the welfare of the most vulnerable.
- And Ryan Moore points out that the Harper Cons' dumb-on-crime policies continue to push marginalized populations into a vicious and costly cycle - and there's little apparent indication that the Libs plan to change course.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon sees the Brexit vote as a working-class response to being neglected by governments of multiple political configurations, while the Resolution Foundation notes that most of the British public is facing at best a stagnant standard of living. And Mariana Mazzucato observes that austerity is the main culprit in limiting opportunities for all but the privileged few.

- Brent Patterson makes a case against selling off Canada's commonwealth - whether or not under some new label such as "asset recycling".

- Finally, Stefani Langenegger reports on the massive cost of the Saskatchewan Party's carbon capture and storage schemes compared to other forms of power. And David Suzuki examines the broken records linked to our climate crisis - as new highs in renewable energy development are still falling far short of what's needed to slow the rise of equally unprecedented climate conditions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Enclosed cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Noah Zon points out that while it's impossible to avoid rhetoric about eliminating "red tape" for businesses, we've seen gratuitous barriers put in place to prevent people from accessing needed public support:
It’s a good principle to make interacting with government as easy as possible. For example the Ontario government has ensured that businesses only have to call one number to get business information — whether about buried utilities or regulations more generally. The federal government has implemented service standards for when businesses need to deal with regulators, and they are reporting on performance. Without the red tape slogan, you might just call these efforts good policy, good governance, or good service delivery.

Despite these efforts, some of the most problematic and unnecessary hurdles have been left untouched: the ones that affect individual people, most notably people living with low incomes. The maze of requirements and departments that low-income individuals have to navigate to access the benefits and services that they need and are entitled to is often more complex than those faced by businesses. This red tape burden exacerbates problems for vulnerable people and runs counter to the point of the policies and programs — which is to help people.

The compliance cost of getting and keeping the support that people are entitled to can be overwhelming. It takes away time and money from things that would improve people’s lives and help them move out of poverty, such as joining a community group or taking a course. Accessing and keeping social assistance can require extensive paperwork, starting from participation forms through monthly reporting, that take up the time of people in need, caseworkers and non-profit agencies. An individual needing support because of a disability could face multiple assessments to prove his or her need in different ways for different programs. To get the tax credits that people are entitled to and rely on, vulnerable people may have to rely on tax preparation services or miss out altogether if they don’t file taxes.

Researchers have found that excessive time spent navigating red tape can exacerbate poverty. Our poverty reduction policies are making things worse at the same time that they are supposed to be making things better. Making it easier to navigate the systems that are meant to help those living in poverty is essential to making it easier for people to improve their lives.
- Daron Acemoglu, Jacob Moscona, and James A Robinson highlight the vital role technological investment by governments has made in past economic development. And Brendan Haley writes that a successful transition to a green economy will need to involve a combination of broad carbon pricing and targeted measures for polluting sectors.

- Marco Chown Oved reports on the Canada Revenue Agency's willingness to allow large-scale tax evaders to avoid being publicly named.

- The Star's editorial board writes that the Libs' plan for after-the-fact review by MPs sworn to secrecy falls far short of addressing the problems raised by an obtrusive security state. And Thomas Walkom is duly skeptical that the Libs will bother to address the real issue.

- Finally, Maxwell Cameron discusses the political incentives created by false majorities, and suggests that a more proportional system should lead to far better behaviour from our leaders.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jeremy Smith argues that the Brexit vote result should serve as a compelling reminder of the dangers of neoliberalism. John Hood focuses on inequality in particular as a driving force behind the willingness of voters to leave the European Union, while Mike Carter points out the connection between economic and industrial decay and the vote.

- The Economist highlights the value of pre-school funding in ensuring that children from all economic backgrounds are able to fulfill their potential. 

- Reema Patel discusses the need to give citizens a direct role in setting economic policy - as well as one project designed to achieve that goal.

- Tom Parkin points out the vital role the labour movement played in fighting to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan. And Lana Payne comments that younger workers will gain the most from the CPP expansion.

- Bruce Campbell writes that rail safety is still in desperate need of improvement three years after the Lac-M├ęgantic disaster.

- Finally, John Anderson questions why Netflix, YouTube and other online media platforms are being exempted from the obligations of other media entities operating in Canada.