Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Evening Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses the hollow promise of "populist" billionaires who ultimately serve only to enrich themselves and their class. And Lana Payne writes about the growing protest movement which culminated in massive rallies around the world this weekend - as well as the causes of its emergence:
Over a million women were expected to march today, Saturday, in more than 600 locations across the globe, including right here at home, for human rights, for equality, for justice and in solidarity for a better world. They march to push back against the rise of sexism and a growing attack on women’s rights, including by U.S. President Donald Trump.

And they march during a time of rising inequality which has a profound impact on women’s share of the economic pie and, in turn, their rights, and their social and political power.
...(T)here is rare global consensus on the dangers of rising inequality. Everyone from the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Economic Forum has identified it as a massive problem for the world economy and for societies.

Oxfam notes that, “our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all people. Accountable and visionary governments, businesses that work in the interests of workers and producers, a valued environment, women’s rights and a strong system of fair taxation, are central to this more human economy.”
This kind of inequality can’t go unchallenged and governments have a role to play. Indeed, a huge role to play. That’s why it’s not helpful when the federal government reneges on a promise to close a gigantic tax loophole for these CEOs costing federal coffers some $750 million in lost revenue every year.

As Stiglitz points out, the only sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity. And there isn’t much sharing going on.

As women march this weekend, they will be demanding that women’s rights, including their economic rights, mean they get a bigger share of that prosperity.

Because as Oxfam notes, gender equality must be at the heart of a human economy “ensuring that both halves of humanity have an equal chance in life and are able to live fulfilled lives.”
- Owen Jones sees reason for optimism that the U.S.' activist left will emerge anew  in response to the Trump administration. And Andrew Jackson examines Canada's options in a post-NAFTA world (particularly in the event the U.S. begins closing its borders generally).

- Max FineDay points out that no amount of talk will produce meaningful reconciliation with Canada's First Nations if it isn't accompanied by meaningful opportunities for Indigenous people.

- CBC reports on a shameful example of how the Saskatchewan Party's callous cuts to disability assistance are coming into play due to factors beyond a recipient's control such as being forced out of a rented apartment.

- Finally, Roderick Benns talks to Cheri DiNovo about the role a basic income can play (alongside a more fair balance of power in the workplace) in creating security for workers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Musical interlude

Illenium feat. Joni Fatora - Fortress (Seven Lions Roots Mix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Liam Byrne argues that it's long past time to reevaluate an economic framework which has produced only highly concentrated wealth for a lucky few at everybody else's expense. And Graeme Wearden reports on Oxfam's call to rein in both firm-level tax avoidance, and government policy oriented toward eliminating any corporate social responsibility to contribute to public revenue.

- Meanwhile, Aamir Bharmal, Jia Hu and Yassen Tcholakov assess how free trade agreements can be detrimental to social health, both by inflating the costs of medical care and by exacerbating inequality which produces ill effects.

- Russell Hixson reports on LIUNA's call for a review of the use of temporary foreign workers to suppress wages. And Dougald Lamont notes that public-sector jobs typically involve equality and security - which means we should be looking to make private-sector employment more like public-sector work, rather than the converse option of increased insecurity for all preferred by right-wing governments.

- Andrew Simms notes the possibility that it's too late to limit global warming to the generally-agreed target of 2 degrees Celsius, while recognizing that either way we need a substantial push to substitute clean energy sources for dirty ones.

- Finally, Kady O'Malley points out the good which could come from Nathan Cullen's proposal for multi-party participation in developing electoral reform legislation.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

New column day

Here, on the options available to the Wall government in responding to a budget deficit other than to renew its attacks on Saskatchewan's public servants - and why we shouldn't trust a premier whose answer to the failure of his anti-worker economics is to amplify the pain.

For further reading...
- In case we need a reminder of the Saskatchewan Party's systematic austerity no matter how much money is flowing into provincial coffers, here are just a few of the examples from 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
- Kent Peterson nicely sums up what Brad Wall's position seems to be on his own fiscal management:
- And I'll note again that SaskForward is offering an opportunity to propose better ways than the Wall slash-and-burn plan.

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Peter Goodman observes that any meaningful action to build a more equal economy needs to involve bolstering wages and workers' rights - meaning that the elites-only musings in Davos miss the point entirely:
Davos is — at least rhetorically — consumed with worries about the shortcomings of globalization. About the deepening anxieties of the middle class in many developed economies. About the threat of trade protectionism and its attendant hit to economic growth. About the fear that robots are on the verge of sowing mass unemployment.

It is a conversation fueled in part by fear: If the world is indeed in the throes of a populist insurrection, the pitchforks could do worse than to point here. The Davos elites have enjoyed outsize influence over economic policies in recent decades as a growing share of wealth has, perhaps not coincidentally, landed in the coffers of people with a need for bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands, while poor and middle-class households have seen their earnings stagnate and decline.

Yet the solutions that have currency seem calculated to spare corporations and the wealthiest people from having to make any sacrifices at all, as if there is a way to be found to tilt the balance of inequality while those at the top hang on to everything they have.
“People talk about inequality, how it’s a major problem, the greatest threat to globalization and the global economy,” Mr. Stiglitz said. “You have to recognize that the way we have managed globalization has contributed significantly to inequality. But I have not yet heard a good conversation about what changes in globalization would address inequality.”
That is not an accident, he surmised. Any sincere list would have to include items that involve transferring wealth and power from the sorts of people who come to Davos to ordinary workers via more progressive taxation, increased bargaining rights for labor unions, and greater protections for labor in general.
Same as every other year, Davos is again plastered with the slogan of the World Economic Forum: “Committed to Improving the State of the World.” But whatever improvements are supposed to be made, one can safely assume they will not conflict with those in attendance continuing to enjoy the state of the world as it is now, with canap├ęs and aged Bordeaux and private jets at the ready.
- Meanwhile, David Ball reports on a reminder from UNICEF's David Morley that Canada is backsliding even compared to other countries in our growing inequality.

- Desmond Cole laments Toronto's decision to take social housing away from people who desperately need it in order to throw more money at expressways and subways.

- Jorge Barrera reports on how Health Canada's callous refusal to fund mental health services in the face of urgent First Nations needs contributed to the suicides of two young girls at Wapekeka First Nation. And Mike De Souza and Riley Sparks note that Justin Trudeau is now explicitly breaking his promise to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by deciding to suppress the federal government's legal opinions about indigenous rights.

- Finally, Jessica Botelho-Urbanski reports on Niki Ashton's findings in consulting with millenials across Canada - including the glaring need to reverse a sense of hopelessness.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Star argues that a crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance is a crucial first step in reining in inequality. Susan Delacourt wonders when, if ever, Chrystia Freeland's apparent interest in inequality will show up in her role in government. And Vanmala Subramaniam reminds us why the cause of developing a more equal society is such a vital one:
So what?

If you’re upper middle-class or rich in Canada, that’s a question you might find yourself asking. Being rich-ish means that you will, for the most part, live a materially comfortable existence, relatively shielded from the day-to-day struggles of the bottom 40 percent of Canadian society. You’ll be able to save and invest a substantial chunk of money, live in a safe, quiet, green neighbourhood with good schools, travel, and put your kids through university so that they don’t graduate saddled with tens of thousands in debt. Inequality, in the short or even medium run, will probably not affect you. 

But if you’re at the two lowest rungs of the income ladder, the impact of inequality is what you see and feel and breathe every single day. Despite those 60 hour work weeks, you continue living paycheque to paycheque. You wonder why your hard work is deemed significantly less valuable than those in the upper echelons of the professional world. Your consumption patterns are, almost always, short-term. When it comes to spending, you cannot see beyond a month, or a week even. Forget saving or investing — those are goals as unattainable as being a unicyclist for Cirque Du Soleil. 

One of the biggest problems with living in a society with a massive income gap is that on an economic level, at least, growth will become unsustainable. “The rich cannot eat away all the money they’ve got because they have too much, but you can be sure that the poor will spend every penny they have because they have so little to begin with,” Armine Yalnizyan, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told VICE Money.

Indeed, increasing inequality reduces demand for basic goods since consumption levels depend more on the wages of those at the lower end of the income scale than the profits of the rich. When households struggle to consume on steady but low wages, they will increasingly rely on debt to maintain their lifestyles, worsening their long-term ability to consume, and save
- Mark Bulgutch warns against the dangers of running government (or public institutions) based on business principles. And Simone Chiose reports on a prime example, as Ontario universities are being required to justify higher education in terms of immediate economic outcomes.

- PressProgress examines how Christy Clark's government has pushed the cost of living ever higher in British Columbia, while Tara Carman discusses the advantages of making child care affordable and accessible. And Sean Boynton examines the public embarrassment arising out of the New York Times' report on the Libs' cash-for-access party operations.

- Reuters reports on China's massive shift away from dirty coal power - including by stopping construction which had already begun in order to move toward cleaner and more affordable alternatives. And James Wilt offers a quick look at the effects of coal power in Alberta, along with the health benefits of shifting away from it.

- Finally, Geoff Leo reports on the Saskatchewan Party's continued stonewalling of any attempt to investigate the Global Transportation Hub scandal.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tom Parkin points out that neither austerity nor isolationism offers any real solution to improve Canada's fiscal and economic standing. And Rob Carrick highlights what should be the most worrisome form of debt - being the increased consumer debt taken on to allow people to keep spending in the absence of wage increases:
“If wage growth slows, so does your purchasing power and so does the economy,” said Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This is our strange economic reality today – people are taking on debt to make up for stagnant or declining purchasing power, but it’s not enough to jolt the economy. Growth is still on the weak side, December’s strong job creation numbers notwithstanding.

Ms. Yalnizyan was one of the economists who contributed to a must-read collection of 75 economic charts that Maclean’s compiled as a guide on what to watch in 2017. Her input was a chart showing the growth rate for the average hourly inflation-adjusted earnings of salaried and hourly employees. The chart is headlined, “Canada just can’t shake off the slowth,” a term that means slow growth.

Unfortunately, the data in the chart may understate the problem of income stagnation. Ms. Yalnizyan said the average data are pulled higher by workers with incomes at the highest levels, and by the skew in our working population toward older workers at the peak of their career earning power.
We should probably spend a little less to keep our borrowing more in line with our incomes. But growth in household debt in the third quarter of last year was actually quite modest at 1.3 per cent. The debt-to-income ratio moved higher – to 166.9 per cent from 166.4 per cent in the second quarter – because disposable incomes rose a puny 1 per cent.

Higher incomes would help contain debt growth, but it’s hard to be optimistic about pay hikes in today’s slow-growth world. A report from CIBC World Markets late last year found that the quality of employment is falling, as judged by the proportion of part-time versus full-time jobs, self-employment versus paid employment and the compensation of full-time jobs....
There are two ways for the cycle of debt rising faster than incomes to end. Either an economic shock terrorizes people into borrowing less, or we get to a point where incomes rise faster than debt levels. The federal Liberals talk a lot about helping the middle class. We’ll know they’ve accomplished something if wage increases once again give us an advantage over inflation.
- Meanwhile, Simon Enoch writes about the futility of any attempt to cut one's way to growth - with particular reference to the Saskatchewan Party's ill-advised attacks on Saskatchewan workers.

- Maiji Unkuri examines how Finland's basic income trial should ensure that people are able to seek out desirable work. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports that Ontario is just now starting to make some effort to document workplace diseases and ensure that workers receive the support they need in response.

- Charles Marohn discusses the impact of different types of public investment in housing, and concludes that poor neighbourhoods offer a far greater return than affluent ones.

- Finally, the CP reports on Oxfam's latest look at wealth inequality in Canada - featuring the revelation that just two people now have more wealth at their disposal than 11,000,000 of their fellow Canadians.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Deep thought

Some of us might offer a lot more outrage over the histrionics in response to Justin Trudeau's statement of fact on the need to phase out fossil fuels if his own attack dogs hadn't fomented the exact same hysteria when it suited their purposes.

On corruptible structures

Yes, there's no doubt that Kevin O'Leary's suggestion of selling off Senate appointments is nothing short of asinine.

That's not so much because the idea is inherently unconstitutional, but because of its substantive implications. The sale of Senate seats it would involve institutionalizing the worst aspects of the Senate's historical purpose (creating a systemic on behalf of the wealthy against democratic decision-making) and practical use (to reward people based on their ability to shovel money into the political system).

But it's worth noting that the reason O'Leary is in a position to make the proposal at all is the continued existence of a legislative chamber which lacks both a check against abuses in appointments, and any coherent purpose.

At best, any explanation for the continued existence of the Senate (beyond complaints about the difficulty of amending the Constitution) tend to involve the fact that it includes some well-regarded public servants who sometimes use their authority to carry out useful research and analysis of public policy.

But that's a role which precisely the same people could engage in within their own areas of expertise through other structures, without their simultaneously receiving both a lifetime appointment and the ability to generally control the passage of legislation. And so "but sometimes it does good work!" doesn't serve as a particularly compelling argument for the Senate.

Meanwhile, O'Leary's scheme represents a new - yet entirely plausible - worst-case scenario.

To date, the worst the Senate has had to offer is partisanship run amok: appointees whose first and only loyalty is to to the political goals of the Prime Minister, resulting in little check on longstanding governments and potentially insurmountable obstacles to legislative action by new ones, as well as the occasional obstruction of legislation passed by our elected representatives. 

But O'Leary looks to be treating the Senate much as Donald Trump views the U.S.' cabinet: a source of substantial formal power without the constraints of democratic processes, which can be parceled out for the benefit of his corporate cronies. And it's frightening to think what could happen if O'Leary were to get his way, as the wealthy few who could afford to bid on seats would be able to secure the formal capacity to block any public policy which sought to serve any interests rather than their own.

Unfortunately, the Senate as it stands is plainly vulnerable to the whims of a Prime Minister who wants to use it for plutocratic ends. And we'd best ask whether that's something we're prepared to leave in place before O'Leary has sold enough seats to block any potential change.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- David Masciotra offers a cultural case for a basic income:
Reward, purpose and meaning are the abstractions meant to pacify the poor and the working class. The rich have wealth, comfort and pleasure. They also have a universal basic income. In Jacobin, Matt Bruenig recently reported that 10 percent of national income is paid to the top 1 percent of income earners as capital income. It is curious that no one worries about the mental health defects they will experience due to lack of meaning.

What provides most people with the greatest satisfaction, nourishment and fulfillment is high-quality relationships, creativity and contribution to a cause of personal conviction. Conservative commentators argue that the removal of an incentive to “work hard” is a potential problem with universal basic income. It is actually a benefit.

Few people could afford to live solely off of their UBI payment. So, while they would still have careers, they might have more time and energy to devote to the passions and priorities outside of their careers. They could dedicate themselves to the artistic or artisanal project they once felt too tired to consider making part of their weekly routine. They could enjoy more time with family and friends, and they might have the necessary surplus of energy to volunteer for charities and political campaigns that they support. Leisure might also become more abundant, and offer treatment for the addiction of careerist madness, along with the cutthroat competition of many offices, that leads Americans to sacrifice millions of paid vacation days every year.

The belief that most people, if given some free money every month, would transform into gluttonous sloths requires paralytic cynicism. Critics of the UBI are correct that most people want to feel the joys of accomplishment and importance, but it is stunningly narrow to believe that the average adult will spiritually and intellectually profit solely in traditional employment. It is more likely that the typical person will devote available time and energy to pleasurable and purposeful activities, even if they do not pay well or at all.

Universal basic income will not create a utopia — poverty will still exist, and many people will still spend too much time at what one Swiss economist calls “bullshit jobs,” but it will provide the poor with relief, and push everyone else in the direction of work-life balance, and overall sanity.
- Dan Levin's article on British Columbia as the "wild west" of Canadian politics is well worth a read - though it's of course worth noting that nearly all of the same criticisms apply to Saskatchewan's lack of fund-raising rules (and associated party payments to the Premier).

- Meanwhile, Murray Mandryk rightly questions why the lowest-paid public employees in Saskatchewan are bearing the brunt of the Saskatchewan Party's attacks on workers. And Anne Kingston discusses how the spread of private paid blood donation in Saskatchewan stands to affect Canadian health care more broadly.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey rightly recognizes the need to limit the use of "fake news" to content known and intended to be fictitious, rather than merely using it as a catch-all response to stories which contradict one's own preferences.