Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses how entrenched inequality and unearned income hurt the economy for everybody:
We used to think of there being a trade-off: we could achieve more equality, but only at the expense of overall economic performance. It is now clear that, given the extremes of inequality being reached in many rich countries and the manner in which they have been generated, greater equality and improved economic performance are complements.
(A) key factor underlying the current economic difficulties of rich countries is growing inequality. We need to focus not on what is happening on average— as GDP leads us to do— but on how the economy is performing for the typical citizen, reflected for instance in median disposable income. People care about health, fairness and security, and yet GDP statistics do not reflect their decline. Once these and other aspects of societal well-being are taken into account, recent performance in rich countries looks much worse.

The economic policies required to change this are not difficult to identify. We need more investment in public goods; better corporate governance, antitrust and anti-discrimination laws; a better regulated financial system; stronger workers’ rights; and more progressive tax and transfer policies. By ‘rewriting the rules’ governing the market economy in these ways, it is possible to achieve greater equality in both the pre- and post-tax and transfer distribution of income, and thereby stronger economic performance.
- David Macdonald discusses Canada's growing consumer debt levels, and notes that matters figure to get worse before they get better. And the CP reports on Canada's high gender wage gap as another area where we're lagging even on an international scene where there's far more work to be done.

- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines the economic fallout we could expect from the CETA, while the Canadian Labour Congress suggests a few ways to minimize the damage. But Murray Dobbin asks why we're wasting any time on corporate power agreements when they've so thoroughly failed to live up to any promises to the public.

- Juha Kaakinen writes about the success of Housing First in alleviating homelessness in Finland. And Gary Bloch and John Silver point out how encouraging people living in poverty to file tax returns (and thus receive available benefits) can produce positive outcomes all around.

- Finally, PressProgress discusses Wayne Smith's resignation as Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada due to a lack of meaningful change from the Cons' attempts to politicize data collection and management.

In case we didn't have enough reasons to want Donald Trump to be trounced...

...he's now serving as Brad Wall's latest excuse for climate obstructionism.

We'll see if anyone asks the implied follow-up question: whether Wall is actually hoping for a Trump win on the basis that a bigoted lunatic trying to squeeze still more money and power out of the working classes to be sent to the top of the income spectrum is a perfect fit for the priorities of the Saskatchewan Party and its funders.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Musical interlude

Wild Strawberries - Lucky Day

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Henning Meyer interviews Tony Atkinson about the readily-available options to combat inequality - with the first step being to make sure people actually have a voice in the decisions which define how wealth and power are allocated:
So, if you dive into the potential solutions you seem to suggest institutional changes. You mentioned that public policy should aim at a proper balance of power amongst stakeholders; what exactly do you mean by this?

Well I think I should say first of all that my aim in writing the book was to try and dispel the sort of sense of inevitability about high inequality and therefore I was putting forward various ways of seeking to understand why it comes about and therefore how we can moderate it. And I think one of the things that has certainly happened is that institutions, like for example corporate institutions, companies, which used to have a broader view of their responsibilities, that they recognised that they had a responsibility in addition to that to their shareholders – also to their workers and to their consumers and their customers.

And I think it’s this broader notion of the social obligations of institutions and of course of individuals as well that we have responsibilities beyond both our own personal economic gains and losses. So I think that it’s part of a reaction that I have had to what seems to be a narrowing to a very much individual based self-interest which has come to emerge in the last two or three decades.

Okay, and then new ideas like Michael Porter’s shared value capitalism, they try to sort of, not revive the old dichotomy between shareholder and stakeholder models but try to align public and private interest in addressing some of the most pressing social and economic needs. Could that be one way of addressing these considerations?

Yes, I think in a sense part of the issues arise because we had in the post-war period some kind of balance of power between on the one side employers and the other side often trade unions or workers’ representatives. And that of course has shifted in quite a number of countries as a result of a number of things including, for example, the effect of privatisation resulting in reducing the power of trade unions to influence the behaviour of those institutions. So, I think we’ve seen a shift of power definitely away from workers towards capital, those who run firms.

So I think a number of proposals were designed to try and at least make sure that those interests of workers and indeed consumers should be represented. And a good example is provided by the negotiations with regard to trade agreements which seem to involve only one side as it were of that equation.
- And Van Jones writes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals are set up to block action against climate change.

- CUPE points out the leakage of massive amounts of revenue to tax havens and avoidance as a crucial factor in austerity politics. And Craig Wong reports on the latest increase in Canadian consumer debt as people borrow to try to make up for the lack of advancement in wages.

- Susan Ochs discusses Wells Fargo's widespread fraud as yet another example of workers and consumers being punished for the misdeeds of high-ranking executives.

- Alia Dharssi continues her reporting on migrant workers in Canada by highlighting how recruitment agencies exploit workers who can't stand up for themselves. And Chris Buckley argues that labour and employment laws in general need to be updated, particularly to protect people stuck with precarious work.

- Finally, APTN reports on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's latest order requiring the federal government to stop discriminating against First Nations children - though the fact that two previous orders haven't led to the government complying signals that the Libs' in following through may be rather less than advertised.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

New column day

Here, following up on my earlier column on racism in Saskatchewan with a look at the lessons we can learn from responses to similar issues in Alberta and the U.S. (And no, "do nothing" still isn't an acceptable answer.)

For further reading...
- Jesse and Julia Lipscombe's #MakeItAwkward campaign site is here. And Jason Markusoff's interview with Jesse Lipscombe and Don Iveson offers some further background.
- Matthew Yglesias and FiveThirtyEight offer some background to Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" comment. And Charles Blow examines Donald Trump's double standard as to what's to be considered "deplorable" in the context of the general lack of anything resembling honesty or principle behind his campaign, while Aliyah Frumin reports on Mike Pence's refusal to describe even David Duke with that title.
- Finally, in another example in which there's a great deal of work to be done in undoing the normalization of prejudice, Owen Jones discusses the need for all parties in the UK to work on extinguishing the anti-immigrant hatred stoked by the Brexit campaign.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Graham Lowe and Frank Graves examine the state of Canada's labour market, and find a strong desire among workers for an activist government to ensure improved pay equality and social supports. Oxfam reaches similar conclusions in studying workers and employers in Scotland. And Emma Teitel reports on Niki Ashton's work in reaching out to Canadian millenials to ensure their needs and expectations are taking into account.

- Meanwhile, Suzanne McGee writes that while the U.S.' national economic picture is improving slightly, any rising tide has left behind an increasing number of people living in poverty. And David MacDonald notes that we shouldn't overstate any progress from the new Canada Child Benefit - which seems to have been designed primarily to generate lower estimates of child poverty to based on unclear assumptions.

- Carimah Townes discusses how mass incarceration imposes unconscionable costs on the U.S.' economy in general, and vulnerable classes of citizens in particular.

- Jerry Dias points out that the federal government's internal report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership conspicuously omits well-documented costs from any cost-benefit analysis.

- Finally, Dennis Howlett comments on Google's elaborate web of tax avoidance schemes - and the need for Canada (like other countries) to ensure that it pays its fair share. And Ed Pilkington examines Scott Walker's fight against a recall election as a stark example as to how corporate money controls American politics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- George Monbiot observes that while few people would want to drive animals to extinction directly, we're all too often eager to settle for a consumerist culture which produces exactly that result.

- Carol Linnitt reports on the Trudeau Libs' appointment of an oil industry cheerleader to review the federal environmental review process as yet another indication that they're not taking the fate of our planet seriously. And xkcd offers a must-see timeline of climate change to point out how radically the Earth's temperature is changing.

- Anahad O'Connor exposes how the sugar industry torqued health and nutrition research to avoid a known link to heart disease.

- Roswynne Jones notes that the gig economy is serving mostly to apply new labels to longstanding means of exploiting workers. And Alia Dharssi reports that restrictions on workers relying on the temporary foreign worker program seem positively designed to set up an underground economy where they have no means to stand up for themselves.

- Corey Hogan makes a strong case for a $15 per hour national minimum wage, while also offering some suggestions as to how to overcome jurisdictional questions to get there.

- Finally, Jerry Buckland writes that we shouldn't tolerate payday lending which traps people in a cycle of poverty.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Flattened cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Bill Moyers writes about the conflict between the wealthy few seeking to preserve their privilege, and the balance of society seeking fairness for everybody:
I keep in my files a warning published in [The Economist] a dozen years ago, on the eve of George W. Bush’s second term. The editors concluded back then that, with income inequality in the United States reaching levels not seen since the first Gilded Age and social mobility diminishing, “the United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”

And mind you, that was before the financial meltdown of 2007–08, before the bailout of Wall Street, before the recession that only widened the gap between the super-rich and everyone else. Ever since then, the great sucking sound we’ve been hearing is wealth heading upwards. The United States now has a level of income inequality unprecedented in our history and so dramatic it’s almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around.

Contrary to what the president said at Rutgers, this is not the way the world works; it’s the way the world is made to work by those with the money and power. The movers and shakers—the big winners—keep repeating the mantra that this inequality was inevitable, the result of the globalization of finance and advances in technology in an increasingly complex world. Those are part of the story, but only part. As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago, “In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men. But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality.”
...The winners bought off the gatekeepers, then gamed the system. And when the fix was in, they turned our economy into a feast for the predators, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” The end result, Hacker and Pierson conclude, is that the United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by. 
- Chris Lehmann reviews Brooke Harrington's Capital Without Borders as a useful look at how "wealth management" serves to sever wealth from social responsibility. But Canadians for Tax Fairness point out some good news in the CRA's response to the Panama Papers - including audits of 60 individuals and corporations caught in the offshoring scheme.

- Unfortunately, John Ivison suspects that the Libs are gearing up to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership to further the trend toward corporate control.

- Phillip Inman reports on the latest study from Global Justice Now showing that corporations are pushing further up the list of the world's largest economic entities, leaving an increasing number of countries behind. But there may be some opportunity to direct that news toward positive ends: if we're going to need some outlet for Canadian national pride, surely staying ahead of Wal-Mart should be a reasonable minimum standard for global relevance.

- Finally, Kendall Worth offers some suggestions as to how to teach students about poverty in order to better understand the lives of people in their communities. Alana Semuels points out how the U.S. in particular has gone in the opposite direction by setting up institutional barriers to any serious economic study of inequality. And Peter Armstrong discusses how traditional economic policy is failing to produce the growth that would normally be expected - with a top-heavy distribution of wealth and power looming as the prime culprit.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David Dayen and Ryan Grim write that "free trade" agreements are in fact turning into little more than cash cows for hedge funds and other big-money speculators:
Under this system, a corporation invested in a foreign country can appeal to arbitration panels, consisting of three corporate lawyers, if that country enacts a law or regulation that violates a trade agreement or discriminates against the company. The ISDS courts can then award billions of dollars to the corporation to compensate it for the loss of expected future profits.

The problem is that these courts can also be used by speculators, who buy up companies for the sole purpose of filing an ISDS claim, or who finance lawsuits from corporations for a piece of the claim award.

“ISDS allows a small group of ultra-rich investors to extract billions of dollars from taxpayers while they undermine financial, environmental and public health rules across the world,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), an early opponent of ISDS, told HuffPost. “Our trade deals should not include ISDS in any form.”
The use of ISDS as a moneymaking engine, rather than for its initial purpose ― to protect foreign investors from having their factories expropriated or their businesses nationalized ― raises the question of whether there’s a better system available.

“Why should hard-won sovereign advances, like rules against polluting or consumer protections, be at risk when the obvious solution is for the investors to put their skin, not ours, in the game?” wondered Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden and a critic of TPP. “The simple solution is to have them self-insure against investment losses.”
- Mike Balkwill highlights the need to stop consulting endlessly about poverty, and instead take action by ensuring people have enough resources to meet at least their basic needs. Ann Hui reports on the especially dire circumstances facing First Nations families in Northern Ontario who have to spend upwards of half of their income on overpriced food. And Miguel Sanchez criticizes the Wall government's attack on benefits to people with disabilities in Saskatchewan.

- Nicole Thompson points out how the Libs' changes to the temporary foreign worker program are actually making matters worse for caregivers by eliminating any right to apply for permanent resident status. And Martha Burk documents how workers can lose out when employers force them to accept payroll cards rather than paycheques.

- Erich Hartmann and Alexa Greig argue that it's long past time for Canada's federal government to provide stable funding for health care in partnership with the provinces, rather than contributing only as much as it wants to at any given point. And Tom Blackwell reports on the dangers of relying on private providers by highlighting how they inevitably leave the public system to deal with complications.

- Finally, Tom Parkin notes that we should base our discussion of electoral reform on the actual experience of similar countries, not the obviously-false claims of people wanting to fearmonger us into accepting the status quo. And Andrew Coyne draws a parallel to the census as an argument for mandatory voting.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Christopher Ingraham points out that while many luxuries are getting cheaper with time, the necessities of life are becoming much more difficult to afford:
Many manufactured goods — like TVs and appliances — come from overseas, where labor costs are cheaper. “International, global competition lowers prices directly from lower-cost imported goods, and indirectly by forcing U.S. manufacturers to behave more competitively, with lower prices, higher quality, better service, et cetera,” Perry said.

On the flip side, things like education and medical care can’t be produced in a factory, so those pressures do not apply. Compounding it, many Americans are insulated from the full costs of these services. Private and public insurance companies pay most medical costs, so there tends to be little incentive for individuals to shop around for cheaper medical care.

In the case of higher education, the nation’s massive student loan industry bears much of the upfront burden of rising prices. To the typical 18-year-old, a $120,000 tuition bill may seem like an abstraction when you don’t have to start paying it off until your mid-20s or later. As a result, the nation’s college students and graduates now collectively owe upward of $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.
“Prices rise when [health care and college] markets are not competitive and not exposed to global competition,” Perry said, “and prices rise when easy credit is available.”
Hence, our current predicament. We can afford the things we don’t need, but we need the things we can’t afford.
- Alex Usher notes how one of the same cost pressures applies in Canada, as universities losing public funding are squeezing students for massive tuition increases. And Lindsay Kines reports that the Clark government's decision to make life less affordable for people with disabilities in British Columbia has led to 3,500 people giving up their transit passes.

- Natalia Khosla and Sean McElwee discuss the difficulty in addressing racism when many people live in denial of their continued privilege.

- Paul Wells comments on SNC Lavalin's long track record of illegal corporate donations to the Libs and the Cons.

- Finally, Gerry Caplan points out how Justin Trudeau is dodging key human rights questions. And Mike Blanchfield reports that the Libs' willingness to undermine a treaty prohibiting the use of cluster bombs represents just another area where they're leaving the Cons' most harmful policies untouched.