Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Dean Baker discusses some of the myths about the effects of corporate globalization - with particular attention to how our current trade and immigration structures are designed to provide easy profits for capital at the expense of labour around the world. And Jason Hickel reports on new research showing how the developed world (or at least its upper class) is extracting trillions of dollars from the countries which can least afford to lose them.

- James Kwak comments on the massive gap between the effects of minimum-wage increases as threatened based on oversimplified economic theories, and the real-world impacts which have been beneficial for workers and the broader economy alike. 

- The International Labour Organization reviews the continued lack of secure employment around the globe. And Ashley Cowburn reports on the UK public's strong support for the idea of reining in CEO income compared to that of a business' general workforce.

- Alexander Kaufman highlights Rex Tillerson's implausible denial that he has any idea Exxon and other oil companies enjoy public subsidies. And Ross Belot points out that based on then Libs' combination of nominal greenhouse gas emissions targets and plans which fall far short of meeting them, we're likely to see yet another public giveaway to the oil sector in the form of carbon bailouts.

- Finally, Dennis Gruending offers his take on the need for a public response to the threat of mass surveillance.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Musical interlude

HAIM - If I Could Change Your Mind

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Per Molander examines new research on the sources of inequality which concludes that massive gaps in wealth and income inevitably arise purely out of chance rather than any individual merit:
Differences in income or assets that are based on differences in capabilities or effort are widely considered to be legitimate, but it is easy to verify that all observed differences cannot be explained in this way. In its 2016 report on the global distribution of wealth, Oxfam International reported that the richest 62 persons in the world own as much as the poorer half of the world’s population, about 3.5 billion people. Clearly, one person cannot be 100 million times as productive as another healthy and reasonably well-educated person. After all, a day and night comprises only 24 hours for all of us, rich or poor.

In a seminal paper on the drivers of inequality, Robert and Ricardo Fernholz have analysed the long-term distribution of wealth in an abstract growing market economy. They assume that the economy generates a surplus which is invested in a financial market. Even assuming that all individuals in this society are identical as far as capabilities, efforts, preferences, and initial assets are concerned, the distribution of assets will become increasingly skewed over time. In the long run, one household will own all the assets. The explanation for this is simple: small variations in return on assets will be magnified over time, because those who are lucky can afford to take somewhat higher risks and will be rewarded with even higher returns, and so on.

Simple as this mechanism may be, it has far-reaching consequences. Even in an imagined world of perfect equals, inequality will develop as a result of our innate tendency towards risk aversion – wealthy individuals can afford to take risks, whereas the less wealthy have to be more cautious. Equality is inherently unstable; even the slightest perturbation of a perfectly egalitarian equilibrium will cause it to degrade into a highly unequal society, where only the self-interest of the richer strata will set the limits.
In real societies, individuals differ in both capabilities and efforts. But, because of the self-reinforcing effect of differences, the inequalities that we observe will be completely out of proportion with differences in effort or capabilities. Inequality is largely a market failure. This is what makes the case for redistribution.
- Meanwhile, Seth Klein, Iglika Ivanova and Andrew Leyland highlight the desperate need for a poverty reduction strategy in British Columbia.

- Lola Butcher discusses how a housing first strategy can more than pay for itself by reducing burdens on the health care system and other social programs. And Marc Lee points out that tax incentives and subsidies for landlords figure to be far less effective than direct investment in affordable housing.

- Timothy Sawa and Lisa Ellenwood report on the massive amounts of money wasted on high-priced prescription drugs. And to her credit, Jane Philpott is at least examining how to reduce the cost of inflated drug prices - though it remains to be seen when that will lead to actual policy changes.

- Finally, the CCPA's submission to the SaskForward consultation process examines the futility of austerity.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alex Hemingway highlights the similarities between Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump in pushing infrastructure plans designed primarily to turn the promise of public services into long-term corporate profit centres:
But as I described recently in the Canadian context, these “partnerships” have proven enormously costly:
“P3s are simply less efficient – on average costing dramatically more than the public sector alternative. And it’s not hard to understand why…
Traditional publicly-funded and operated projects… don’t require paying out profits to private investors and, importantly, have lower financing costs, since government can secure much better interest rates than a private corporation.
This has all been well understood since the 1990s and documented over the years in a whole range of research on P3s.”
In fact, the Ontario Auditor General recently reported that the province had lost a jaw-dropping $8 billion over a decade by building projects as P3s rather than as traditional public infrastructure projects.

To top it off, privatization tends to increase inequality by driving down wages and ramping up user fees, while eroding the capacity of our public sector. That’s why many cities across Canada and around the world have begun bringing services back in-house after failed experiments with P3s.

Now, ignoring this body of evidence, our own federal government is working from the same playbook as Donald Trump, planning a major privatization of Canadian infrastructure.
This should all be deeply worrying to Canadians. The push for privatization illustrates how neoliberalism is alive and well – in Trump’s America and Trudeau’s Canada. Yet the evidence is clear: selling out our public infrastructure is both unnecessary and incredibly costly. And it’s taking us in precisely the wrong direction at a time when we need a renewed public sphere to meet huge collective challenges.
- Meanwhile, David Rider and Betsy Powell report on the fight against the privatization of Toronto's garbage collection. And D.C. Fraser reports that the Saskatchewan Party's first major move following from Brad Wall's attack on wages has been to threaten the jobs of over 250 custodial workers.

- While I'm still skeptical about what we can expect from Karina Gould as the minister of democratic institutions, PressProgress tracks down some past statements which would suggest she recognizes the need for a proportional electoral system.

- Finally, Andrew Potter discusses the de-institutionalism of media organizations as a means of ensuring reporting standards - while hinting that it may be possible to develop alternate ways to avoid being swamped by fake news.

New column day

Here, on how a change in government hasn't done anything to slow the spread of Canada's surveillance state - both in terms of intrusive new legislative proposals, and a continued determination to operate even outside the law.

For further reading...
- Again, Dave Seglins and Rachel Houlihan reported on the Cold War-era wiretapping approvals which are still being officially denied by the federal government.
- Justin Ling documented the history of "lawful access" legislation, along with the more recent effort of Ralph Goodale and the RCMP to repackage the same intrusions in a new message.
- Tonda MacCharles reported on both CSIS' admission that it too spied on journalists, and its subsequent broken promise to own up to its past surveillance - seemingly because it's still engaged in the same tactics now.
- Finally, Colin Freeze reports that CSIS has also been seeking bulk data collection mechanisms for years. Asha Tomlinson points out how many apps already collect far more data than they need for business purposes. And Sasa Petricic looks to China for a warning as to the implications for privacy and individual freedom when state power meets the centralized collection and use of data.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surrounded cats.

The Minister of Silly Excuses

Yes, Justin Trudeau has set up his predictable excuse for breaking his promise of electoral reform by putting a new minister in charge of the file during a crucial period. But let's see what Karina Gould has had to say about a more fair democratic system in communicating with her constituents (PDF):
Participants focused on the importance between direct and proportional representation. It was expressed that being able to vote directly for someone to represent constituents was important. Some felt that the Mixed Member Proportional system provides this ability. However, participants also expressed concern that most people do not understand proportional representation. Some participants also indicated that Canada is too large and sparsely populated in certain regions for Proportional Representation to be an appropriate option. 
The consultation demonstrated that electoral reform is a complex issue and there are many considerations to be made before one can identify an ideal system for Canada.
Sadly, that combination of blaming proportional systems for the confusion being fostered by the Libs themselves and otherwise stacking the deck against the very concept of proportionality (no matter what the people being consulted actually say) looks to explain Gould's appointment.

Which isn't to say it represents a reasonable formulation of any coherent approach to the state of our democracy. But it represents exactly the kind of smokescreen Trudeau favours as a statement of the Libs' self-serving opposition to their own core electoral promise - and it'll be a pleasant surprise if Gould offers anything more reasonable in her new position.

Update: Kady O'Malley links to the formal report (PDF) from Gould's consultation. While the first paragraph of the text above is very close to one within the report, readers can draw their own conclusions as to how the broader discussion was pared down in Gould's message to constituents.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jesse Ferreras reports that Canada's supposed job growth has included almost nothing but part-time and precarious work. And Louis-Philippe Rochon points out how the influence of the financial sector has led to economic choices which serve nobody else's interests:
What makes governments hesitate to pursue policies they have been told would benefit the economy and the working class?

I am forced to conclude that these choices do not depend on economic factors, but rather on political ones, and in particular, the over-influence of finance and financial leaders in the political arena.

Full employment is possible, if governments chose to pursue it. Nothing stops government from adopting policies that would reduce the great inequalities in income by increasing marginal tax rates, adopting inheritance taxes and more.

Inevitably, however, these policies would hurt the financial elites who have become way too tangled up with the political class. It would also inevitably shift social power toward the working class and away from finance. 
- Jim Stanford writes that much of the dogma underlying corporate free trade deals is at long last being met with scrutiny. And Noah Smith comments on the constant - and unfair - assumption that public policy shouldn't even be considered as a means of improving people's lives absent some discrete market failure.

- Andrew MacLeod reveals the results of the B.C. Libs' attempt to dodge a modest boost to the Canada Pension Plan - showing that two-thirds of respondents favoured the expansion which the Clark government tried to undercut. 

- Jessica Elgot reports on Jeremy Corbyn's call for a maximum wage law in the UK. And the Guardian's panel response offers plenty of food for thought - particularly to the effect that where the problem to be addressed is the disproportionate accumulation of income and wealth, the right policy prescription is likely through taxes rather than regulation.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne discusses the radically difference models which give rise to varied views on a basic income, while noting that Hugh Segal's proposed pilot program will offer a useful study of a model which should appeal to all sides.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Sean McElwee offers his take on the crucial failings which have led the U.S. Democrats to their current nadir in which principles and values have been discarded in the pursuit of power they've failed to secure.

- Mike Konczal and Marshall Steinbaum highlight the importance of effective government to counterbalance corporate control:
If there is one thing that both the Depression and the Great Recession taught us about how the economy works, it is that corporate power is a threat to public well-being—that it extracts its own rents. The economy’s only effective protection from that power is to be found in an activist federal government unafraid to deploy countervailing power and provide essential services in the form of public options and regulated utilities.

...Real free-market economics has little time for powerful countervailing mechanisms to private power like antitrust or banking regulation, let alone a healthy labor market powered by robust aggregate demand and full employment as government policy. Furthermore, whether the “pro-growth” policies advocated in this symposium would actually deliver growth and genuine security for everyday workers, much less challenge the power the elite have over the economy, is unclear. Luckily, the New Deal that Simons was hoping to keep at bay gave us a better set of tools to build an economy that serves the interests of the many, not the few.
- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the glaring uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration as a barrier to any substantial economic forecasting. And Jerry Dias and Maude Barlow offer their suggestions as to how a renegotiation of NAFTA could produce far better results for citizens of all of the countries involved.

- The Star's editorial board criticizes the lack of federal action to ensure that indigenous children have access to child welfare services. And Vicky Mochama writes that it's particularly galling to see the federal government whine that it doesn't have the money to comply with its human rights obligations while it plans high-priced birthday celebrations.

- Finally, Colin Freeze reports on CSIS' plans to collect bulk data for unspecified purposes without any apparent public notice or debate.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- James Wilt writes that the PR campaign pushing pipelines is based largely on the false claim that the only other choice is to allow even more dangerous means of facilitating the burning of fossil fuels. And David Suzuki argues that the cost of addressing obvious environmental problems including climate change is only increasing as we delay acting on them.

- Jim Stanford notes that an intelligent response from Canada (as opposed to one based solely in free-trade dogma) could secure some advantages out of Donald Trump's expected trade policies.

- The CCPA's latest Monitor examines how tax reform is an essential piece in resolving fundamental economic problems.

- Kevin McKenna points out the efforts of Labour Councillor Matt Kerr to promote a basic income in the UK. And Debora Von Brenk reports on Ontario's move to start a conversation about rural poverty - which would seem to be well worth replicating in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Doug Cuthand offers what seems to be a needed reminder that Canada's history goes back far beyond the 150-year mark being celebrated at great expense in 2017.

On litmus tests

Gregory Beatty raises some noteworthy possibilities as to how Ryan Meili's entry into the Saskatoon-Meewasin by-election may reverberate in Saskatchewan's broader political scene. But there are a few more potential effects worth pointing out.

For some time, there's been a generally-unexplained combination of dismissiveness and negativity toward Meili in some corners of the media, typically backed by anonymous NDP sources. And the point most frequently used to challenge him as a potential leader has been the lack of a seat in the Legislature (generally combined with some comment about how he should have pursued one sooner).

Needless to say, a run and win in Saskatoon-Meewasin would put an end to that talking point. But what would happen to the more general perceptions of Meili?

At this point, I'm fairly optimistic that the NDP as an institution is learning some lessons about working together, and that the combination of traditional party support and newly-motivated voters could propel Meili toward winning the seat. But the Saskatchewan Party will have a choice of its own to make based on whether it agrees with any criticisms of Meili's prospects as a leader.

If Brad Wall and company think there's some advantage in having Meili as a primary opponent, then they'd be best served not to put a great deal of effort into opposing him in Saskatoon-Meewasin. That would both allow them to claim the public shouldn't read too much into their own loss of the seat, and position Meili as a strong favourite in the NDP leadership campaign.

If, on the other hand, the Saskatchewan Party disagrees with the theory that they're better off facing Meili than other prospective NDP leaders, then their obvious response would be to leave no stone unturned in trying to keep him out of the Legislature.

Based on that choice, we should find out very shortly how the people with the most skin in the game actually see Meili's future as a leader. And if they confirm their recognition of Meili's potential by choosing the latter course of action, then the press won't have any excuse for trying to marginalize him.