Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Neil Irwin examines one of the key ideas underlying the U.S. Democrats' economic plans, being that workers need to have meaningful choices rather than being trapped by a limited and slanted set of available employers and work structures:
Labor market monopsony is the idea that when there isn’t enough competition among businesses, it is bad news for workers. When an industry includes only a few big companies, they don’t have to compete with one another as hard to attract employees — and so end up paying their workers less than they would if there were true competition. It’s the flip side of how monopoly power lets companies charge higher prices to consumers.
The talk of monopsony is part of a shift in the policy tools that many left-of-center economic thinkers see as most promising for addressing the economic challenges of poor and middle-class Americans. Rather than focusing on policies that amount to redistribution — tax rates, the social welfare system — they are looking at how the rules of the economic game shape people’s outcomes.

Some use a term for this set of policies coined by the Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker: predistribution policy. This is policy that shapes how the market works in the first place, as opposed to redistribution policy, which assumes a free market will generate growth and then uses taxes and spending to give a lift to the economy’s losers.
Besides the monopsony research, the Obama White House has focused on evidence that inequality is fueled by a shift away from labor unions and by corporate consolidation within industries.

Elsewhere, the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank in New York, has explored the interplay between the outsize growth of the financial industry and pay for top corporate executives and the slow growth in the typical worker’s wages. And last week, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth issued recommended strategies for the next administration, which included ensuring that the minimum wage covers workers who depend on tips, and making sure that modern supply chains do not inhibit the creation of good jobs.
Many of the policies under discussion — a higher minimum wage, or tougher antitrust enforcement — have long been supported by liberal economists and politicians. What has changed is that they are being emphasized as a first-order set of priorities, and as part of a unified body of work.
- Emma Teitel discusses new research showing that the gap in opportunity between generations can't be explained by differences in work ethic - as in fact, millenials are more willing than their baby-boomer predecessors to put work first. And Angella MacEwen comments on a joint effort to propose a more fair system of employment leave for today's workers.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the structure of the Ontario basic income pilot project proposed by Hugh Segal. And Roderick Benns highlights the indicators which will signal the success of the concept.

- Mainstreet Research finds that a strong majority of Saskatchewan respondents want to see major changes to the province's political financing rules. And the Canadian Press reports that the Saskatchewan NDP is working to make those changes a reality despite the foot-dragging of a Wall government determined to keep the out-of-province donation taps flowing.

- Finally, Brett Dolter examines how Brad Wall's white paper is anything but a credible climate change plan - as it relies on little but cherry-picked assumptions and bluster to paper over a commitment to fighting against progress. And Bruce Johnstone writes that there's no reason to take Wall's posturing toward the federal government seriously. 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Musical interlude

Electrostatic - Duality (Fingertwister Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- John McDonnell outlines a progressive alternative to neoliberal economic policy:
The increasing automation of jobs, reduced dependence on carbon fuels, artificial intelligence and the so-called gig economy have provoked understandable anger among many workers whose jobs are under threat. More generally, concerns about the effect on the labour market are widespread: either threatening mass unemployment or a significant shift towards low-productivity, low-paid jobs.

This need not be the case. In a society where the benefits of technological advancement are shared, productivity gains can be made to work for the benefit of all. It requires original thinking – one possibility is a universal basic income – to suggest how we can make a society with less demand for medium-skilled labour become wealthier and less polarised.
(I)f we are to meet the needs of those who need health care, pensions and social security, we will need to find ways to tax wealth more effectively. Not just because it is fairer than taxing labour, but because our tax base has shrunk. And as more of the economy now goes to capital owners, taxing a fair share of this is essential to affording the public services that we want.

Finally, none of this is sustainable in the [long term] unless we change the ownership of this capital. Through new forms of democratic and small-scale ownership, such as employee-owned firms, and by sharing the ownership of society’s assets more broadly, we can reduce the need for redistributive intervention, while increasing society’s power to choose the future direction of our economy and address the urgent demands of climate change.
- Meanwhile, Amy Wood and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood highlight why the modification of CETA's dispute resolution provisions does little to address the fundamental flaws with the deal. 

- Laura Neidhart writes about the spread of precarity and poverty for younger workers. And Jessica Wynne Lockhart discusses the hidden poverty growing (with little public attention) in the suburbs of Toronto and other cities.

- Cory Collins comments on the regression in Atlantic Canada's labour legislation in recent decades - which, it should be noted, can't be seen as having had any economic effect other than to redistribute income and wealth upward. And Lynn Parramore compares our expectations for vacation time today to that of medieval peasants - concluding that despite centuries of productivity gains which were supposed to allow for increased leisure time, we're actually getting by with significantly less.

- Finally, Evan Balgord highlights new research from the Pembina Institute showing that the Saskatchewan Party's version of carbon capture and storage does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as any carbon captured is matched by what's released by resulting oil production and consumption. 

Thursday, November 03, 2016

New column day

Here, on what we need to do to clean up political funding - and how both the Saskatchewan and federal systems offer painful examples of the problems with big money in politics.

For further reading...
- Brad Wall's top-up pay from the Saskatchewan Party - being one of the many noteworthy uses of the corporate and out-of-province money finding its way to the party - was the subject of reporting here and here.
- Progress Alberta's report on the Saskatchewan Party's out-of-province fund-raising and other dubious practices is here. And it's particularly worth examining its comparison between provincial systems.
- For other reporting on the Saskatchewan Party's foreign ownership, see here, here and here.
- Robert Fife and Steven Chase reported on the federal Liberals' cash-for-access fund-raising. And Adrian Morrow summarizes a few of the questionable practices from Kathleen Wynne's Ontario government.
- And finally, Martin Regg Cohn and Andrew Coyne are among other commentators pointing out the need to get big money out of politics - whether through direct donations or through bundling.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Community Food Centres Canada highlights the need for social assistance benefits to keep up with the cost of living, while noting that Ontario (among other jurisdictions) has fallen well behind in that task:
It's been far too long since social assistance rates have been viewed through the lens of whether anyone can actually survive with dignity on them. Under Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution," social assistance rates were slashed by 21.6 per cent based on no criteria other than that government should spend less, that people deserved less, and that this approach would resonate with the public. Since then, rates have only inched up by tiny increments, never reaching anything close to what they were before the cuts.

In 2009, staff at The Stop Community Food Centre developed an online calculator as part of their Do the Math campaign. The campaign called for the public to input into the calculator the minimum amount of money they'd need to cover basic living expenses each. On average, people estimated that a single person in Ontario would need $1,400 to make it through the month -- more than double what people on social assistance actually receive, and still far below the poverty line.
At Community Food Centres Canada, our concern starts with food and food insecurity. But we understand something that governments of recent years have not acknowledged -- that food is intimately linked with all other budget items. The calculation of social assistance rates has to take into account the cost of housing, food and all other personal needs. Because when there's not enough money, food is the first to go. And when people go without food or turn to food banks, their health and well-being takes a serious hit.

We should care about this simply out of a sense of justice and empathy, of course, but there are also economic consequences: the University of Toronto's PROOF project on household food insecurity has estimated that health-care costs for food-insecure people are between 76 per cent and 121 per cent higher than those of adults who are food secure.

We applaud the fact that the Liberal government has a number of initiatives aimed at improving income security in Ontario, including a promising basic income pilot. But planning for and implementing this pilot will take time. The government needs to act now to fix a fundamental gap in the social assistance system, and help Ontario's poorest residents. We've been beggaring too many of our fellow citizens for too long, preventing them from having their basic needs met at a vulnerable time in their lives, and therefore from having a good shot at healthy and successful futures. Where is the common decency -- or common sense -- in that?
- Marc Lee makes the case for a progressive property tax as a first step toward putting idle wealth to work in the public interest. And Mark Leier reviews George Lakey's Viking Economics as setting out a useful model for a more equitable society.

- Preston Mulligan reports that Nova Scotia is paying $85.9 million to buy schools previously leased under a P3 model after a first-hand lesson in the costs of privatization. And D.C. Fraser reports on the Saskatchewan NDP's rightful observation that the Wall government's apparent plans to privatize Crowns would result in substantial revenue leakage to the federal government.

- Fiona Harvey points out that the greenhouse gas emission reductions promised at Paris fall far short of actually reaching the goal of avoiding catastrophic global warming. And Keith Stewart discusses the futility of Justin Trudeau's attempts to stay on the fence when it comes to fully tackling climate change. 

- Finally, Laurel Collins notes that the Libs' attempts to downplay broad support for proportional representation are contradicted by the strong views expressed through their electoral reform consultation process. And Marie-Danielle Smith reports on Maryam Monsef's admission that she and the Libs are carrying a preference on a new electoral model which may bear no resemblance to what's acceptable to the public or to other political actors.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- George Monbiot rightly makes the point that a general attitude of kindness is a must for a functioning society - while lamenting that anything of the sort is all too often lacking from public policy choices.

- James Di Fiore discusses Justin Trudeau's failed attempt at a triangulation strategy - as he's largely managed only to ensure nobody has reason to be satisfied with his government. Andrew Jackson criticizes the Libs' continued moves toward privatizing any common wealth at the federal level. And Michal Rozworski highlights how the Libs' infrastructure plans figure to little other than further enrich the rentier class:
(W)hile austerity may have fallen slightly out of favour among a section of the elite brokers of the global economy, privatization remains an important component of the new consensus being forged.  Even the IMF paper that argued neoliberalism is on its way out, and made so many headlines in the process, praised privatization as an important component of economic strategy. The private sector may not be investing enough on its own but we shouldn’t deprive it of profits! Canada has historically been open to policy experimentation from a “well-intentioned” technocratic elite. This is the 2016 model.

Compare Trudeau’s approach to a new national investment bank with a real progressive vision for the same thing put forward by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the UK. While Morneau is concerned with raising rates of return, McDonnell talks about economic transformation, bringing more democracy into the economy and transforming ownership to put workers in control. The focus is putting the spare capacities of people, not spare capital, to use.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank fits with the Liberal belief in markets and market processes as the ultimate economic guide. Government can at best support markets or give a kick start. This is the consistent thread that runs through recent decisions. The Liberals just outdid EU technocrats in pushing ahead the CETA free trade deal, one only slightly about trade and more about extending corporate power. Or take climate policy: new pipelines may be OK’ed because we now have a market mechanism (carbon pricing) that will supposedly push funds towards the right projects in the long run. This is even though the carbon price is too small in foreseeable future to make a significant difference and regardless of the coordination failures that stop the private sector from taking on the massive green investment needed for a real rapid transition.

Canada is back and we’re doing woke neoliberalism better than ever. While Keynes is rolling in his grave, the rentiers who continue to walk the earth are rubbing their hands at the government-sponsored feast that awaits.
- John Paul Tasker notes the Liberals' eventual support for the NDP's motion to stop discrimination against indigenous children - which should offer a helpful signal that even the decision-makers withholding resources from people who need them aren't prepared to defend that choice when challenged. But Jorge Barrera notes that the Libs had previously gone out of their way to avoid mediation which might have smoothed the way to comply with the federal government's obligation to treat children on reserve fairly.

- Mike Moffatt and Hannah Rasmussen make the case for "thicker" labour markets - where workers can be reasonably assured that they'll have opportunities in their home city beyond any single job.

- Finally, Benjamin Shingler reports that Canada's police state mindset now extends to having police deliberately spy on journalists in order to expose sources.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Paw patrol cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Toby Sanger offers some important background to the federal government's expected plan for privatized infrastructure by noting that the anticipated result would be to double the costs. And Luke Kawa notes that the Libs are already having trouble spending the money they've budgeted for infrastructure - leaving no excuse for agreeing to higher prices and worse services in order to bring private money in.

- Meanwhile, Simon Enoch responds to the Wall government's attempt to play word games with the definition of "privatization".

- Vaughn Palmer comments on the B.C. NDP's plan to win the province's next election by making bold commitments to improving citizens' lives. And Postmedia reports on a $10 per day child care plan as one of the most important promises John Horgan is offering to his province.

- Martin Regg Cohn writes that in order to avoid the influence of big money on our politics, we need to be willing to ensure enough public funding to support vibrant parties. And Emma Graney reports on the millions flowing from corporate Alberta to the Saskatchewan Party - which surely goes a long way toward explaining Brad Wall's lack of focus on the province he's supposed to be governing.

- Finally, Taylor Jackson and Lydia Miljan discuss why an alternative vote electoral system would only exacerbate the problems with first-past-the-post. PressProgress finds that even Conservative MPs are reporting substantial support for proportional representation after consulting with their constituents. And Marie-Danielle Smith notes that Justin Trudeau's own consultation reached the same result - though you'd never know it given the Libs' insistence on telling PR supporters that their opinions shouldn't count any more than their votes.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Branko Milanovic highlights the futility of pretending that market mechanisms will produce anything other than profit-oriented outcomes - and the observation represents an obvious reason not to put public services in corporate hands. And David Sloan Wilson (in introducing an interview with Sigrun Aasland) points out how Norway's active government has produced better social and economic outcomes than business-focused policies elsewhere:
Modern society requires an extensive infrastructure, which does not emerge bottom-up from unregulated markets. This has always been the case, in America as elsewhere, as my recent interview with Daron Acemoglu attests. One reason that the Nordic nations work well might be because they have not—yet—succumbed to the siren’s song of free market fundamentalism.

A strong state capable of building infrastructure is not enough. It must also be an inclusive state that works for the benefit of everyone, as opposed to an extractive state that works only for the benefit of an elite few, as my interview with Acemoglu also makes clear. Inclusiveness requires a balance of power among the various sectors of the society. Perhaps the Nordic nations work well for this reason also—strong states working collaboratively with a strong private sector, strong labor unions, and a strong, well-informed, and trusting electorate.

Even this is only necessary and not sufficient. A national economy that works well is a complex adaptive system, like an automobile with many interdependent parts. Even a strong and inclusive state won’t work well if it doesn’t put the parts of its economy together in the right way, which is not an easy matter for any complex system.
- Nick Dearden discusses how the CETA is nothing more than a ticking time bomb for citizens. But fortunately, Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew note that there will still be some opportunities to ensure it doesn't get ratified.

- David Macdonald offers a preview as to what to expect in the federal government's latest fiscal update. And Louis-Philippe Rochon reminds us not to obsess over deficit numbers when we have urgent needs going unmet.

- Ian MacLeod reports that the Libs are breaking another election promise by abandoning any pretense of providing for real-time oversight of Canada's security state. And Tom Parkin weighs in on Justin Trudeau's gross failure to improve the health and welfare of First Nations communities.

- Finally, Courtney Howard and Ryan Meili argue that a price on pollution will go a long way toward improving public health.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Deceptive by definition

The Saskatchewan Party's introduction of new legislation (Bill 40, PDF) to define massive Crown sell-offs as not being "privatization" has received plenty of due attention. But it's worth taking a close look at exactly what the Wall government is doing - and how it reflects an attempt to sneak the change through the back door for no obvious reason.

Let's start by taking a look at the Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act, which sets out two specific process requirements for legislative changes. One section of the CCPOA covers the privatization of a Crown (section 4), requiring a set of consultations including a provincial election between the announcement of an intention to privatize and an actual privatization. The other covers amendments to its own terms (section 5), and involves an increased level of public participation compared to other legislation.

The CCPOA also offers a hint as to what's considered privatization within its terms:
6  Nothing in this Act is to be construed as preventing or restricting a Crown corporation from carrying out operations, including selling, exchanging or otherwise disposing of its property, in the ordinary course of its business.
So for a Crown to carry on business as usual doesn't trigger a consultation requirement under the CCPOA. But the selling off of a Crown in whole or in part outside the ordinary course of business is intended to be included - barring some amendment to existing legislation.

To be clear, a definition could likely be added to the CCPOA itself using the consultation process set out under section 5. And that's effectively what the Wall government has done in introducing Bill 1 (PDF), which is intended to remove the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority from the scope of the CCPOA.

Not to say there aren't some severe problems with Bill 1. (And indeed, there's all the more reason to be suspicious of the Sask Party's plans for SLGA if it pushes through Bill 1 while also trying to pass legislation which would remove its liquor retail plans from the definition of privatization.) But it at least doesn't attempt a blatant procedural end-run around the CCPOA's consultation requirements.

In contrast, the effect of Bill 40 is to add a definition of "privatize" to the Interpretation Act, 1995 - which would affect the interpretation of the CCPOA without actually amending the CCPOA.

To see why that should raise red flags, let's compare the new definition to the normal use of the general definition provisions of the Interpretation Act.

For example, section 27(1) of the Interpretation Act - which is intended to be amended by Bill 40 - includes a definition of "person". And it makes sense to have a general definition of that term which can be applied across Saskatchewan's legislation and regulations because it is used frequently and consistently. The word "person" appears in 1,588 different statutes and regulations, and it would be an administrative nightmare to have to amend each of those every time a single word needs to be clarified.

By way of comparison, the word "privatize" appears in exactly one Saskatchewan law. So the effect of Bill 40 is to use a method intended to clarify definitions of general application in order to specifically change the CCPOA alone, while avoiding the CCPOA's consultation requirements for a direct amendment.

That choice makes especially little sense given that the Sask Party actually applied the CCPOA's own amendment process with Bill 1. But it's clear that Wall and company recognize the significance of opening the door to massive Crown selloffs at every stage of ownership other than the one transferring control of an entity - and that they don't want the public having any say in the choice.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Larry Beinhart argues that aside from the gross unfairness and economic harm from growing inequality, there's a basic problem trusting the uber-rich to make reasonable decisions with massive amounts of wealth. And George Monbiot makes the case that even as he pretends to be an outsider, Donald Trump epitomizes the problems with a political culture designed to serve those who already have the most.

- Leo Panitch points out that more "trade" deals such as the CETA being pushed by self-proclaimed progressive governments will only strengthen the prejudiced right. Thomas Walkom writes that we shouldn't see a slightly modified side deal as reason to be satisfied with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - and notes that in fact, additional protections for European signatories only confirm that Canada is giving up more sovereignty than it needs to. And the Mound of Sound weighs in on the Libs' obsession with trade over people:
Trudeau's Harperesque pursuit of CETA and TPP demonstrates that he means business. This goes straight back to those mandate letters he issued to his freshly minted cabinet ministers as they were sworn in. Even Catherine McKenna's marching orders stipulate that her priorities are to be the economy and the environment. There's no doubt that she meant it when she said she was "as much an economic minister as an environmental minister."

Trade it is then. But, if you're going to make trade your priority, your dominant responsibility, then surely you have to accept full responsibility for the fallout from that pursuit. That's on you, Slick.

One element of that fallout is the rise of Canada's homegrown "precariat." It's a term used to describe the future this free-trading government has bequeathed to our youth. In case you're wondering, that's a future fraught with insecurity and economic peril.
Morneau won't mention how his own government and its predecessors laid the foundation for this upheaval and uncertainty through its obsessive pursuit of neoliberalism and global free trade, the constant downward spiral. He won't explain why, when even the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can no longer remain silent on the social and economic damage inflicted by globalism, his government remains a faithful adherent to this toxic ideology.

I'm sorry Morneau and you too, Trudeau, but, when you tell Canadians to forego their hopes and resign themselves to a future in the precariat, what you're really telling them is that you won't change course and liberal democracy be damned.
- Kelly Rose Pflug-Back and Ena͞emaehkiw KesÄ«qnaeh write that one person's accumulation tends to be directly linked to another's dispossession - particularly when it comes to resource extraction over the objections of affected First Nations communities.

- Ryan Maloney reports on Charlie Angus' continued efforts to get the Trudeau Libs to stop discrimination against children on reserve - this time by having to point out that tribunal-ordered funding to meet children's basic needs is not "confetti". And Jonathan Charlton notes that the Saskatoon Health Region's own research show the Lighthouse homeless shelter saving more than twice what it costs - meaning that the Saskatchewan Party's arbitrary cuts to it represent nothing but gratuitous harm to everybody concerned.

- Finally, Emily Peck discusses the World Economic Forum's latest report showing that women work far more than men while being paid significantly less.