Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Brian Jones rightly argues that a fair tax system would go a long way toward eliminating any serious concerns about government deficits. And Marco Chown Oved offers some reason for optimism in the Canada Revenue Agency's response to the Panama Papers.

- David Macdonald examines what could have been in the Libs' federal budget, while Luke Savage calls out Justin Trudeau's combination of populist messaging and status quo, elite-friendly budgeting. And PressProgress notes that the main message to younger workers from the Libs is again to expect a lifetime of precarity.

- Russell Diabo discusses Trudeau's penchant for closed-door decision-making and surface consultations - and how First Nations thus need to be wary of empty words.

- Gary Mason writes that Brad Wall has thoroughly undermined any case for conservative economics (even as he continues to push its most inequitable aspects by handing freebies to big businesses while demanding massive sacrifices from citizens). And David Climenhaga wonders whether Wall is headed for a quick political exit - which would make sense given how his latest PR stunts are backfiring

- Finally, Daniel Bessner and Matthew Sparke point out that a few populist themes can't paper over Donald Trump's neoliberalism.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Musical interlude

Chicane - Dandelion

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Vicki Nash challenges the claim that unemployment in a precarious economy is generally a matter of choice rather than the absence thereof. And Jia Tolentino argues that we shouldn't pretend there's any value in being forced to work oneself to death:
It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news....
At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.
- Geoff Leo reports on the Sask Party's plans to make life even more precarious for the worst-off people in Saskatchewan as it looks for excuses to push people off of social assistance, while Adam Hunter takes note of the hundreds of cancer patients left stranded by the sudden demolition of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company. Which means that we can add compassion to humility on the list of attributes sorely lacking in Brad Wall's government.

- Lauren Pelley highlights how many Toronto renters are facing the constant threat of imminent homelessness due to a lack of affordable housing. And Christopher Pollon suggests reining in the capital gains giveaways which favours wealthier homeowners at the expense of those less privileged.

- Laura Bliss offers a reminder that public-private partnerships aren't a free lunch - only a means to pass a higher bill off to future governments. And Gordon Harris comments on the dangers of selling off public assets to pay for privatized infrastructure.

- Finally, Jim Bronskill reports on the Libs' broken promise of improved access to information, while the Star notes how that fits Trudeau's pattern of failing to deliver on core commitments.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- In the wake of a thoroughly disappointing budget day at both the provincial and federal levels, it's worth taking note of Ivan Sigal's view on the importance of building trust - rather than limiting citizens to either fake news or fake policies:
How do we begin to tackle the larger challenges, those beyond simple technological fixes or self-blame? There are no easy solutions for the economic and social inequities that create divisions, and the technological and economic incentives that underpin our current information ecosystem are deeply entrenched. Yet we need to find a way to start serious conversations about these systemic challenges, rather than tinkering with their effects or simply assigning responsibility to the newest players on the field.
Confronting our social and economic inequities is even harder. It is the challenge of our time to find the language to conduct honest and frank debate about how we construct our economies and our states, how we apportion benefits, and which values guide us. Building civic communities that are rooted in trust, both online and off, is the ongoing and vital work necessary for public conversations about our collective future.

It is no small irony that the communications systems that we built to support such debate are imperilled, both by those who would explode the social norms of civic discourse for their ideological ends, and through resultant attempts to control extreme or misleading expression. It is easy to find fault with the technologies that facilitate our collective civic life. It is much more difficult to look at our civic life as a whole and determine whether and how it may be failing.
- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin pointed out what a genuinely progressive federal budget could have included. Andrew Jackson laments the Libs' choice to go with a stand-pat budget instead. David Macdonald highlights the lack of action to rein in inequality, while Don Pittis points out that there never seems to be a point where Justin Trudeau is willing to follow through on the promise of requiring the wealthy to contribute their fair share. And Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood notes that the Libs are at best taking baby steps in addressing climate change when major strides are needed, while Citizens for Public Justice extends that analysis to poverty as well.

- As for the Saskatchewan budget, Tammy Robert rightly describes it as a bloodbath (even if I disagree with some of her specific takes, particularly as to the need for additional revenue). Murray Mandryk discusses the gross disparity between corporations who will contribute less, and citizens who will face both increased taxes and the slashing of many important services. And Sarath Peiris notes that Brad Wall is inflicting far more pain than necessary because he waited far too long to try to get Saskatchewan's finances under control.

- Alex Hemingway and Iglika Ivanova trace the B.C. Libs' history of tax giveaways to the rich. And Hemingway then points out that their latest budget does nothing but continuing the trend of putting corporations first.

- Among the glaring social issues which have been essential ignored in the latest set of budgets, Daniel Tencer notes that Canada has one of the highest rates of "severe" rental costs in the world. Greg Marchildon and Raisa Deber discuss the need for a more comprehensive system of health promotion and care. And David Jala reports on the broader social problems flowing from poverty.

- Finally, Katie Hyslop highlights how post-secondary students are affected by the spread of increasingly precarious work. And Avvy Go and Chris Buckley write about the importance of strong and effectively-enforced employment laws to reduce racial discrimination in the workplace.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Katie Allen reports on the growing gap between the privileged few and the working class in the UK. And Frank Elgar highlights how we all pay the price of inequality, even as our governments can't be bothered to rein it in:
For decades, the IMF, OECD, and World Bank have warned governments about its destabilising effects. Last month, the World Economic Forum in Davos reported that inequality constitutes the single greatest threat to the global economy. More than an ageing population. Even more than climate change.

And across academic disciplines, researchers have found that societies with smaller income differences between the rich and poor live longer, healthier lives with less crime, less corruption, and stronger social ties. Children too are happier, healthier, less likely to drop out of school, less likely be bullied, and more likely to move up the social ladder.
Trouble is, the rising inequality not only shortens lifespans and divides communities, it also blinds government to the needs of the most vulnerable. Despite its feel-good rhetoric about fairness and inclusiveness, the federal government seems content to double down on Conservative-era policies that will deepen inequality and send more wealth to the top income strata.

To figure out why this happens, consider this. Public spending serves the common good more than it benefits the rich, whom can probably manage fine with low taxes, private clinics, private schools, no public transit, and so on. When incomes and inequality rise together, as they are in Canada, the rich gains political influence to cut taxes and regulations and keep spending down.

The results are predictable: under-investment in health, education, and other social services, and cash transfers to low-income families, and rising relative poverty. A poor country for rich people. A plutocracy. Or, as the late economist JK Galbraith famously described it, private opulence and public squalor.
- Laura McInerney worries about the prospect that publicly-funded education might be stripped down to core subjects, leaving families who can't afford to pay without access to basic extracurricular activities. And of course that looks to be exactly where the Saskatchewan Party is headed.

- The Canadian Labour Congress offers its suggestions for today's federal budget. Paul Wells notes that the Libs' messaging about "middle class" and "innovation" hasn't been matched with any meaningful policy improvements. David MacDonald focuses on the tax loopholes the Libs should be closing rather than maintaining to enrich their donor class, while Canadians for Tax Fairness addresses the tax system as a whole. And the Huffington Post's report on Canada's declining position in the World Happiness Report should be a warning sign as to the need to at least stop falling behind the rest of the world.

- Finally, Paul Taylor's response as to how to manage the unaffordability of prescription drugs signals the need for a national pharmacare program. And Andre Picard writes that the fight against climate change is an essential public health issue.

[Edit: Added link, labels.]

New column day

Here, pointing out that Brad Wall's deficit can be traced primarily (if not entirely) to his unproductive tax slashing - and that even an austerity-laden budget is being designed to make matters worse.

For further reading...
- Jason Warick's series of reports on obvious ways to improve Saskatchewan's fiscal situation can again be found here, here, here and here. And his off-hand reference to the lost tax revenue is from the last of the reports on the lack of a sovereign wealth fund (emphasis added):
Instead of creating a fund, spending ramped up.

Government floated $180 million in loans and grants to build a new football stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, gave nurses a 36 per cent raise, and bought $21 million worth of land for Regina's Global Transportation Hub "not in a financially responsible manner," according to the provincial auditor.

Billions in tax breaks were given to resource, construction, agriculture and other industries.
Construction began on controversial projects, including the $235-million children's hospital in Saskatoon, the $1.5-billion carbon capture plant near Estevan, and the $2-billion bypass around Regina.
...More than 100,000 low-income residents have been removed from the tax roll. Overall taxes have been cut by $6.6 billion.
- CBC reported here on Wall's attempt to pitch still more income tax cuts as one of the selective "sacrifices" in the new budget. And Sophia Tesfaye offers a recent perspective on Kansas' experience with a combination of tax slashing and austerity.
- Finally, and to what I'm sure will be the disappointment of many, there is not in fact an Maybe next time a band of Harper-style vandals takes power federally.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surrounded cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jo Littler writes about the illusion of meritocracy, and how it has contributed to the unconscionable spread of inequality:
Over the past few decades, neoliberal meritocracy has been characterised by two key features. First, the sheer scale of its attempt to extend entrepreneurial competition into the nooks and crannies of everyday life. Second, the power it has gathered by drawing from 20th-century movements for equality. Meritocracy has been presented as a means of breaking down established hierarchies of privilege.
The fact is, meritocracy is a myth. Social systems that reward through wealth, and which increase inequality, don’t aid social mobility, and people pass on their privilege to their children. The Conservatives have made this situation far worse by raising the inheritance tax threshold. And their reintroduction of grammar schools would involve using extremely narrow educational measures to divide children and to privilege the already privileged (often with the help of expensive private tutors). As the geographer Danny Dorling has said, it is a system of “educational apartheid”.
It is not hard to see why people find the idea of meritocracy appealing: it carries with it the idea of moving beyond where you start in life, of creative flourishing and fairness. But all the evidence shows it is a smokescreen for inequality. As Trump, May and their supporters attempt to resurrect it, there has never been a better moment to bury meritocracy for ever.
- Meanwhile, Luke Harding, Nick Hopkins and Caelainn Barr discuss how anonymous corporate structures facilitate corruption and tax evasion. And Sophia Harris reminds us of the Libs' broken promise to close the stock option loophole.

- Justine Hunter reports on the B.C. Libs' continued exploitation of massive corporate donations to try to cling to power, while David Ball reports on the connection between those donations and industry lobbyists. And Kai Nagata notes that we can add U.S. trophy hunters looking for the opportunity to kill grizzly bears to the list of dubious groups supporting Christy Clark.

- Damian Carrington points out the latest research from the World Meteorological Organisation showing how carbon pollution has pushed our climate into unprecedented extremes. Emily Atkin writes that the corporate-funded climate denial industry is expanding into denying the existence of air pollution in any form. And the CP reports on the latest oil spill into a key waterway near Bragg Creek, AB.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board rightly argues that the Trudeau Libs have done nothing to earn the public's trust when it comes to the federal government's obligations and responsibilities to First Nations - meaning that it's long past time to start funding fair services on reserve.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Leadership 2017 Links

This and that from the NDP's leadership campaign.

- Among the coverage of the first leadership debate which I hadn't linked before, Karl Nerenberg offers both a ranking and a review. And Yves Engler asks why the first debate largely avoided foreign policy issues - though there's still plenty of campaign left in which to address them.

- Jeremy Nuttall reports on Guy Caron's plan to build the NDP's economic credibility. Althia Raj writes about Sid Ryan's possible candidacy. Dr. Dawg comments on the (overwrought) controversy surrounding Niki Ashton's reference to a Beyoncé lyric, while Jonathon Naylor rightly highlights Ashton's progressive platform and activist focus. And Cheri DiNovo is optimistic that the NDP's new leadership will provide the democratic socialist alternative Canada needs.

- Charlie Angus writes about the importance of a government willing and able to stand up for workers.

- Finally, Alex Boutilier offers a reminder as to the surprising prelude to the current leadership campaign. And Dru Oja Jay discusses the importance of also looking for opportunities to build future leaders for Canada's progressive movement - and ensuring that the NDP is the party which embodies their values.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Josh Bivens explains why increased fairness would likely lead to improved overall growth for the U.S.' economy:
(O)ne key driver of slow productivity growth in recent years can be fixed: the remaining shortfall between aggregate demand and the economy’s productive potential. Running the economy far below potential for a long time has led to insufficient investment to sustain rapid productivity growth. One way to close this accumulated investment gap is, of course, to simply have fiscal policymakers boost public investment. And this should indeed be a response.

But another crucial response is to ensure that the labor market and wider economy run hot enough to force businesses to boost investment simply to meet growing demand. When this is done, policymakers also need to keep the recovery strong until real wages begin consistently rising. From a policy perspective this means keeping interest rates low and not prematurely raising them due to misguided fears of inflation. The inflationary impact of a pick-up in real wages is likely to be quite muffled by the faster investment and productivity growth that will follow.

As with all macroeconomic predictions, this one about productivity rising to meet wage growth could be wrong. But the downside risk of being wrong is relatively small; a couple of years of above-target price inflation as wages push up costs. Given the many years of below-target inflation, one hesitates to even call this a “downside” of a policy that has the economy going for growth. The downside risk of reining in demand before we even test the virtuous cycle of rising wages leading to rising productivity growth, however, is enormous. The decline in potential output for 2017 between what was forecast in 2007 and what is estimated now is almost $2 trillion. If half of this—$1 trillion—could be clawed back through a policy that runs the economy hot and leads to higher productivity growth, it will be an extraordinarily consequential policy choice.
- André Magnan and Annette Aurélie Desmarais examine farmland investment patterns in Saskatchewan and find that outside money is making land unaffordable for residents.

- Jason Warick discusses not only Saskatchewan's missed opportunity to build a sovereign wealth fund, but also the choices which have frittered away a boom - including $6.6 billion in tax cuts which have accomplished nothing useful. And CBC highlights the workers who are now paying the price for Brad Wall's bad governance, while also reporting that Regina is on the hook for millions more than planned to finish the stadium which Wall saw as more important than providing for Saskatchewan's people.

- Meanwhle, the CCPA studies Justin Trudeau's privatization plans while questioning why he's determined to double the price of infrastructure in order to enrich Bay Street. And Emma Gilchrist discusses the long-term costs of Christy Clark's Site C dam boondoggle.

- Finally, Sophia Harris reports on the stock option loophole left open by the Libs, while wondering whether this year's budget will see a sorely needed change toward collecting revenue from the people who can most afford to contribute it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On pipelines to nowhere

I'll be taking a look at the individual candidates in the NDP's leadership race over the next little while. But before I start into that review, I'll pause to discuss the most bizarre development of the leadership campaign so far.

As I noted in reviewing the first debate, Peter Julian's choice to brand himself largely through his opposition to the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines figured to turn what could otherwise have been a broadly acceptable campaign into a highly polarizing one. And a combination of nonsensical reactions to Julian's message and a lack of pushback on his part has taken the division to extremes which look highly dangerous for the NDP as a whole.

At the outset, here's Julian's position on pipelines in the context of resource development generally (emphasis added):
Mr. Julian said it is “very clear” to him that the NDP must oppose pipelines and work towards transitioning to clean energy.

Mr. Julian says the government should refine and upgrade raw bitumen from the oilsands in Canada, instead of exporting it. The risk of spilling the diluted bitumen the pipelines carry was not worth the reward, he said. 
Mr. Julian said building refineries and using the resulting product in Canada would create more jobs than pipeline construction ever would, and it would decrease Canada’s dependency on oil imports. It would also eliminate the need for pipelines, he said.
The same article notes that both Guy Caron and Niki Ashton are also opposed to Kinder Morgan and Energy East, and that the comparatively pro-pipeline position among the current candidates is found in Charlie Angus' slightly different emphasis as to the balance between the interests of pipeline operators and the people whose territory they use.

Somehow, that modest different in positions - coupled with Julian's emphasis on pipelines as an issue - has led to outbursts from NDP supporters which would fit far more comfortably within a Wildrose Party policy debate.

In one case, that's consisted of the classic capital-friendly position that any questioning of a business' wishes is predominantly an attack on the labour share of the resulting economic activity.

On that front, pipelines offer less wage bang for the buck of profit stashed away than nearly any other type of development Canada could pursue. And Noah Evanchuk's form of the theory is also false in attributing a hatred of refineries to Julian when he's the one candidate actually proposing to encourage more of them.

Even worse, the latest criticism of Julian from Doug O'Halloran has sunk to the level of echoing Ezra Levant's tired theme that some fabricated difference between "our oil" and "their oil" trumps the problems with locking ourselves into a future of burning carbon generally.

Unfortunately, Julian himself doesn't seem to have done much to set the record straight. And that might make sense for his campaign: to the extent he's trying to paint himself as the top choice for environmental voters (defined by opposition to pipelines), he may well have more to gain than to lose by allowing those attacks to stand unchallenged. 

But from the standpoint of talking responsibly about resource management, it could be disastrous for the NDP if its leadership debate serves to legitimize exactly the messages the party is trying to fight in the wider political scene. And hopefully the candidates who are trying to downplay the pipeline question will make that fact clear - and push both Julian and his critics toward the right balance.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Heather Whiteside discusses how the privatization schemes being toyed with at all levels of government represent nothing more than reckless gambling with public money and goods:
When a federal, provincial, or municipal government builds a bridge, a highway, a school, or a hospital, we know who owns it: we, the people. But when equity changes hands, which happens frequently with these kinds of deals, the companies originally hired by the government to partner in a P3 are no longer the owners. So the private equity partners that any given government thinks it’s bringing to the poker game might not stay until the last hand is dealt.

Equity holders are the private partner of a P3 project. Their role is consequential: they run the operations and maintenance of whatever got built — a hospital, school, highway, or bridge. They set highway tolls, they collect user fees, they hire and fire staff, they set targets and standards. And they earn the revenue. Private profit, not necessarily high quality, affordable, accessible public services, would be their main priority.

When private partners sell their equity stake to new project companies after the P3 contract is struck, community projects are turned into mere budget line items in a global asset portfolio. Transactions favour the top bidder, not necessarily the best quality partner. Public assets become equity trading cards, changing ownership hands multiple times.

Whether highways or hospitals, the bottom-line determines the rules of the game and private partners are [hoarding] the gains. For instance, private equity in Vancouver’s Diamond Centre P3 hospital has already changed hands twice since 2007; but the hands of the hospital’s public partner are tied — the new equity holders hire and fire the cleaning and maintenance contractors.
Instead of opening the flood gates, the public must have a say: Canada should be taking steps to control or bar equity sales, to avoid a future where public infrastructure is exposed to remote investor decision-making, profit leeching through user fees, offshore revenue loss for communities, distorted value for money, and a lack of accountability.
- Brian Alexander examines the decline of one Ohio town in noting that the instability and precarity facing far too many workers and communities can largely be traced to corporate control over economic decisions. And Jordan Press reports on a federal government study showing how many jobs are in danger of being automated in the near future, while Alexander Panetta looks at the effects of foreseeable technological changes in greater detail.

- Lana Payne writes that women are rightly tired of waiting for promises of pay equity to be fulfilled. And the Canadian Press reports on a much-needed push for Saskatchewan to join the jurisdictions moving to ensure that people facing domestic violence aren't punished in the workplace.

- Finally, Robert Cribb, Vjosa Isai and Maham Shakeel expose the growth of pay-for-play health care in Ontario - which of course makes for a growing problem across Canada due to a lack of adequate resources for our universal health care system.