Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Anatole Kaletsky discusses the gross failures of market fundamentalism. And William Easterly points out that the risks to democratic governance which now seem to be materializing can be traced to the lack of a values-based defence of empowering people to decide their own future at the societal level.

- Julien Gignac reports on the glaring lack of comprehensive information about the state of homelessness in Canada, while also noting that what we do know shows the consequences of homelessness to be as much a problem in smaller communities as in big cities.

- Gary Mason discusses British Columbia's epidemic of drug overdose deaths, including the appalling lack of public interest to date.

- CBC notes that the introduction of private pay-for-plasma operators has cut into the volunteer donor base of Canadian Blood Services. 

- Finally, Andrew Jackson examines the possible effects of Donald Trump's trade policy - and notes in particular that a focus on protecting some established U.S. industries such as autos and steel might have significant spinoff benefits for Canada (even if that type of smart protection may be well beyond what we can expect from Trump himself).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Musical interlude

Radical Face - Always Gold

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Christo Aivalis offers some suggestions for a set of progressive and effective tax policies:
My view is that the Left has to combine the general philosophy of economic redistribution with the practical needs of getting the money to preserve existing social programs and build new ones. We have to make greater peace with forms of taxation that are currently deemed regressive, because they can offer efficient paths to revenue collection. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t also explore means to make existing tax models more progressive.
My suggestion is that we could consider raising sales taxes by a few percentage points, but increasing the maximum income at which one can access a GST/HST rebate. And to ensure that very low-income Canadians are not unduly shocked by increased sales taxes, you can make the payouts larger and more frequent than the quarterly payments we have now.
Seldom discussed today is the 1966 Carter Report on Taxation, which concluded that the government did not tax all forms of income equally; that you paid more tax on income earned through labour than income earned through capital gains. Carter’s suggestions—which were strongly supported by labour and the NDP at the time, and mused about by Brian Topp in recent years — was that all income be taxed on a buck-is-a-buck basis, meaning that if you made $50,000 selling stocks, you would pay the same tax as you would making $50,000 working. But despite the importance of this report, the buck-is-a-buck principle never became reality. As it stands, income made from investments and capital gains has an exemption level and, even after this, is taxed at only half the rate of labour-based income.

The Left should commit to the buck-is-a-buck principle, both ideologically, and because it is an effective tactic to shift a tax burden onto the sorts of people who typically make more than negligible incomes on investments and capital gains. Of course, some exemptions could still persist which protect selling a family home or dealing with small inheritances. And some potential pitfalls exist with this suggestion in our current tax code, as do some complications when we consider things like RRSP, RESP and TFSA accounts. Still, a system where flipping stocks for $100,000 nets you significantly lower taxes than working isn’t one conducive to progressive taxation, and could be addressed via a tax policy that has an effective populist edge that seeks a fair deal for Canadians who earn the vast majority of their income through work, unlike the “boys on Bay Street.”
- And Scott Santens notes that to the extent income gains are disproportionately being enjoyed by capital rather than labour, we should be particularly interested in pursuing opportunities to increase the public revenue taken in from that income.

- Martin Regg Cohn discusses the political hot potato that is health care funding - though we should expect the politics to be second to a commitment from all levels of government to the availability of effective care.

- Gordon Price writes about the "phantom affordability" of housing which places massive transportation burdens on commuters.

- Henry Fountain and John Schwartz discuss the latest evidence that global warming has taken hold to an extent exceeding the worst fears of climate scientists. And Kiley Kroh points out John Holdren's suggestions as to how subnational governments can lead the fight against climate change even as the likes of Donald Trump take power at the national level.

- Finally, Rick Smith argues that in addition to offering the promise of far more fair and democratic elections, proportional representation could also substantially improve our governance.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig writes about the dangerous spread of privatized health care which threatens to undermine our universal system:
Privatization advocates want us to believe public health care is no longer affordable. But in fact, it’s private, for-profit medicine that’s unaffordable.

The publicly funded portion of our health care spending – doctors’ fees and hospital stays – has remained fairly stable as a percentage of GDP for more than 30 years. What is out of control is the part controlled by the private sector – drugs, home care, physiotherapy, etc.

If we want to control health care costs, we should extend the publicly funded portion, not open more services to the private sector. But that would require more public funding, which provincial and federal governments, after years of deep tax cutting, are reluctant to commit to.

High drug prices, for instance, are a major contributor to rising costs. The solution, as many studies have shown, would be a national universal pharmacare program, which would cost money to get started but ultimately save Canadians billions of dollars a year.
In an age when the rich demand a fast lane to the front of every line, it will require resolve and determination to preserve our medicare system, a bastion of equality sharply at odds with the heartless corporate world we inhabit.
- Noah Smith discusses the connection between work and dignity, while noting that there's no reason to pretend there's any lack of work to be done by people who would like the opportunity to do it. But Van Badham notes that workers are instead being treated as disposable, with new challenges to employment and life security surfacing regularly. And Vincent McDermott highlights a Canadian example, as 170 camp workers near Fort McMurray are being terminated on Boxing Day for not agreeing to forfeit half of their income.

- Meanwhile, Elizabeth Thompson points out how the requirement of a high-speed Internet connection may freeze applicants from rural areas out of federal tribunal positions. And while the CRTC's steps to declare broadband Internet a "basic service" may help in the long run, they represent cold comfort for anybody whose employment prospects are limited now.

- The Australian Associated Press reports on research showing the minimal costs of paid domestic violence leave - such that there's no excuse for forcing anybody to suffer an abusive relationship in order to avoid employment consequences.

- Finally, Jennifer Graham, Jordan Pearson and Alex MacPherson each discuss the Wall government's refusal to be honest or accountable about past pipeline inspections. And Keith Leslie reports that Ontario's government has been tampering with document receipt dates in order to pretend to comply with its access-to-information obligations.

New column day

Here, on Justin Trudeau's broken health care promises - and the need for a concerted provincial push for an equal partnership in maintaining and enhancing a universal health care system for all Canadians.

For further reading...
- The Liberal and NDP 2015 election platforms (PDF) offer a useful indication of the expectations Canadian voters had of any replacement for the Harper Cons.
- Joan Bryden has already compared the Libs' platform to their current rewriting of history, while Campbell Clark calls out the games the Libs are playing. 
- But this exchange from the September 17 leaders' debate more clearly highlights Trudeau's dishonesty now in claiming to have campaigned on capping health funding:

Hon. Justin Trudeau:         Mr. Harper, Mr. Mulcair has talked about health care transfers ––
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper:  –– and the financial (crosstalk) government to make (crosstalk).
Hon. Justin Trudeau:         –– but he just stepped back from that promise. He promised to increase health care transfers, and now has said oh no, balancing the books is more important.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair:       We are increasing ––
Hon. Justin Trudeau:         That’s not what Canadians need.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair:       — investments, we are increasing them.
Needless to say, that couldn't be much less reconcilable with Trudeau's current position:
“Canadians voted, in part, for our commitment to increase health care transfers by three per cent,” he said in French.
“And yes, we were well aware we would be criticized for that during the election campaign but it’s a promise we made in terms of priorities. People should not be surprised that we are staying faithful to our election promises.”
- Finally, Thomas Walkom notes the need for both an expanded view of health care, and increased federal funding to support it, while providing background on the development of our national Medicare system. And my mention of current funding levels is based on Teresa Boyle's report on this week's meeting.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Vincent Bevins interviews Branko Milanovic about the economic roots of the working-class revolt against neoliberalism, while pointing out that there's nothing inevitable about globalization harming large numbers of people in the developed world:
Let’s start with the obvious question. Does the elephant graph explain Brexit and Trump? 

Yes, I think that it largely does explain Brexit and Trump. Why? Because it shows in very stark terms that people in the lower parts of rich countries’ income distributions have seen fewer benefits of globalization compared both to the people in Asia against whom they often compete in global supply chains and compared to the people in their own countries’ tops of the distributions. You just cannot undo these two facts.
Rich world governments, in say the US and Western Europe, failed to “mop up” globalization’s mess. What could they have done differently?

Perhaps it is easy to say it with hindsight, but they could have argued for trade pacts that would pay more attention to workers’ standards rather than to the protection of intellectual property rights and patents.

Rich countries, and especially the US, could have paid more attention to the quality of education and tried to not only equalize access to the best schools but make public schools’ quality similar to the quality of private schools. You may say that it is a generally desirable policy that has little to do with globalization: I agree, but I also think that it would have reduced the number of “losers” because it would have enabled larger swaths of the population to successfully compete globally.
- George Monbiot discusses how celebrity culture has facilitated the corporate takeover of our social sphere. Katrina vanden Heuvel notes that Donald Trump's false populism has given way to pure plutocracy in the naming of nothing but corporate elites to his cabinet. And Polly Toynbee reflects on a miserable 2016 for far too many people, while highlighting the need to fight against the trends toward corporatism and austerity in the year to come.

- Malcolm Buchanan writes that the CETA is yet another bad trade deal being sold as an inevitability in the face of serious concerns.

- PressProgress points out that a million Canadian retail workers are making do with less than a living wage while catering to holiday shoppers.

- Finally, Heidi Garrett-Peltier discusses how renewable energy stands to create far more jobs than fossil fuels. And CBC reports that both Canada and the U.S. have taken some steps to rein in oil drilling in sensitive Arctic waters.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with company.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Lynn Parramore interviews Mariana Mazzucato about the options available to build a more fair and inclusive economy even in the face of corporatist leaders like Donald Trump:
LP: In your earlier book, The Entrepreneurial State, you describe a model of capitalism that would address many of these problems. How does it work?
MM: My work has shown how a different understanding of the role of the state in growth can unlock private investment. Markets are not static entities that are ‘intervened’ in (for good or bad) but are outcomes of public and private interactions. In my view, the state should be active and work in cooperation with private businesses to spur growth that’s sustainable and inclusive. The policy process is about co-creating and co-shaping of markets, creating new opportunities for business investment —and negotiating a better deal for the public too.

Historically, it has been an entrepreneurial state that stimulates and gives direction to new technological opportunities. It is those opportunities that  stir the animal spirits of business to invest—and we can do that again. The examples I give in my book show that public investments are not only important for affecting the rate of growth but also its direction. And that these investments were most successful when mission driven, rather than aimed at single sectors. The venture capital industry entered biotechnology only decades after the National Institutes of Health led the way. Similarly, Apple’s i-products were only made possible due to the hefty public financing of all the technologies that make those products smart and not stupid: internet, GPS, touchscreen and SIRI. Today there are opportunities in green: indeed Germany is using its Energiewende policy as a way of envisioning a green transformation and innovation across many sectors.

If we want growth today to be more innovation-driven, more inclusive and more sustainable, then we need a more active state — not a less active one.
- And James Bloodworth argues that we should embrace the efforts of workers who are striking for better pay - particularly when the alternative is to have "emergency laws" applied to further attack already-low levels of industrial activism.

- Thomas Walkom discusses how the Libs have been little more than a more photogenic version of the Harper Cons, while Tom Parkin compares them to the Sex Pistols as having run little more than a political swindle. Althia Raj calls out the Libs' sudden belief that Parliament is no place to discuss matters of public importance, including political fund-raising and the rules associated with it. And Joan Bryden points out that Justin Trudeau seems to have long since forgotten that he ran on a platform to fund health care, not to starve it. 

- Shaurya Taran and Naheed Dosani write that Toronto's budget cuts figure to be devastating for people living in poverty.

- Finally, Lenard Monkman reports on the possibility that small and portable homes might help to address housing shortages on First Nations reserves.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Danielle Martin highlights how investments in ending poverty including a basic income can improve health outcomes among other key social indicators:
Far more than consumption of medical care, income is the strongest predictor of health. Canadians are more likely to die at an earlier age and suffer more illnesses if they are in a low income bracket, regardless of age, sex, race, and place of residence.
There are at least two ways in which income is related to health. First, income allows people to purchase the things that are necessary to survive and thrive, such as nutritious food and safe shelter. Second, income affects health indirectly, through its effect on social participation and the ability to control life circumstances. Put another way, the biggest disease that needs to be cured in Canada is the disease of poverty, and part of the cure is to implement a big idea: A Basic Income Guarantee for all Canadians.

We can eliminate income poverty by ensuring that no one in Canada has an income below what’s needed to achieve a basic standard of living. If we did so, we’d see a considerable improvement in the health of Canadians. The Basic Income Guarantee goes by various names (such as the guaranteed annual income, the negative income tax, and the basic income), and there are different ways to design it. The version I like best works like this: if your income from all sources falls below a certain level, you get topped up to a level sufficient to meet basic needs. That’s it. A true Basic Income Guarantee would ensure that everyone in Canada has an income above the “poverty line.”

The Basic Income Guarantee can’t and mustn’t replace all social programs. We still need good public education, publicly financed health care, quality affordable child care, affordable housing, and reliable unemployment insurance. But it would eliminate the need for the kinds of income support programs that invade people’s lives and limit their choices.
- And Robin Boadway and Roderick Benns similarly argue that a basic income should be included in our set of fundamental needs in setting labour policy - though we shouldn't pretend it's a complete solution to the problems facing workers either. 

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses how workers stand to lose out from Donald Trump's combination of trickle-down and crank economics. And Alan Blinder and Alan Krueger note that Trump's preference for corporate deal-making is likely to ensure that the most important work in building and maintaining necessary but unglamourous infrastructure doesn't get done.

- The Star rightly points out that we shouldn't use prison as a solution to individuals' mental health problems.

- Tamara Khandaker writes that the Libs' idea of reexamining the already-appalling civil rights abuses in Bill C-51 seems to be to push an even more intrusive and unaccountable surveillance state.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg observes that Justin Trudeau may be creating far larger risks for himself by passing up a clear opportunity for electoral reform, rather than working with the consensus in favour of a proportional electoral system. And PressProgress muses as to what an electoral reform survey would look like if it were designed to be as slanted as the Libs', only in the opposite direction.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ben Tarnoff discusses the two winners - and the many losers - created by the spread of neoliberalism:
Neoliberalism can mean many things, including an economic program, a political project, and a phase of capitalism dating from the 1970s. At its root, however, neoliberalism is the idea that everything should be run as a business – that market metaphors, metrics, and practices should permeate all fields of human life.

No industry has played a larger role in evangelizing the neoliberal faith than Silicon Valley. Its entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ways to make more of our lives into markets. A couple of decades ago, staying in touch with friends wasn’t a source of economic value – now it’s the basis for a $350bn company. Our photo albums, dating preferences, porn habits, and most random and banal thoughts have all become profitable data sets, mined for advertising revenue. We are encouraged to see ourselves as pieces of human capital that must ceaselessly enhance our value – optimizing our feeds and profiles, hustling for follows and likes and swipes.
Yet if Trump personifies neoliberal ideas, his victory also reflects a revolt against neoliberal policies. The uncaged capitalism fostered by neoliberalism has produced an era of spiraling inequality, stagnant wages, declining life expectancy, and an increasingly post-democratic political system that is more or less openly oligarchic. These things make people angry, and Trump used that anger to get himself elected.

The irony is that Trump will only intensify the crisis that put him in power. His cure for the social catastrophe of neoliberalism is a stronger strain of neoliberalism. Trump is like a lunatic doctor who, after a treatment has nearly killed his patient, decides to double the dose in the hopes of a better result.

Whether we survive depends on the political struggle ahead: not only in the streets and statehouses, but at the level of ideas. Defeating neoliberalism will require not just the creation of a movement, but the creation of a new common sense. At its heart must be the belief that democracy is a better way to organize society than markets – that some things are not for sale.
- Alex Tabarrok points out a new study showing the rapidly-diminishing returns on research within industries. And it's worth noting what that discovery means for our overall economic organization: first, we can expect better returns directing our efforts toward new fields rather than trying to prop up existing ones; and second, to the extent we've already harvested the low-hanging fruit in most current industries, we may need to focus our economic discussion more on distribution than growth.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Campion-Smith reports on PIPSC's success in negotiating a right for federally-employed scientists to share their research.

- Sherri Borden Colley reports on the difficulty social assistance recipients in Nova Scotia have making ends meet on insufficient benefits. And Iglika Ivanova writes that we should rely far less on private charity to meet basic needs, and instead use the collective power of government to ensure nobody is forced to live in poverty.

- Finally, John Whyte offers some suggestions to build a stronger participatory democracy in Saskatchewan.