Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- David MacDonald studies the federal government's loopholes and giveaways targeted toward those who already have the most - noting that there would be plenty of revenue to fund the programs we're told are unaffordable if that preferential treatment was ended. And Felicity Lawrence highlights
how multinational corporations are planning to exploit international trade deals to siphon $55 billions away from the UK's public coffers.

- On that front, Jerry Dias argues that having dodged the bullet that is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada shouldn't waste any more time (or endanger the public interest) by trying to renegotiate and revive it.

- Andrew Jackson points out how inequality worsened during the Harper Cons' stay in power. Zohra Jamasi highlights how Canadian wages continue to lag behind inflation. And Pedro Nicolaci da Costa discusses the U.S.' similar lack of wage growth due to the destruction of workers' bargaining power, while Chris Rexrode writes that U.S. households are returning to their pre-crash pattern of borrowing against home values to paper over the gap.

- Meanwhile, Jim Stanford examines Air Canada's history of selling itself off for parts as an example of businesses similarly prioritizing easy and quick money over long-term planning - making a few insiders rich, and everybody else worse off.

- Finally, Ashifa Kassam calls out Justin Trudeau for using public relations stunts as a substitute for government accountability to citizens. And a few creative commentators (particularly @ajhtweeting) have put Trudeau's running away from issues into some handy visuals:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Musical interlude

Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts - I'm Shattered

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On sucker's deals

While my Leader-Post column won't be running this week, I'll take the opportunity to offer some context and an update on Geoff Leo's must-read report on Brightenview's founders who have become the Wall government's latest corporate darlings.

By way of background, Leo was also the one to break the news about how the Saskatchewan Party's campaign promise based on Brightenview was built on an incomplete deal, as well as the province's giveaway to CP which was supposed to provide an anchor tenant for the Global Transportation Hub to encourage other businesses to build without the need for massive public subsidies. And Julie Mintenko and David Giles reported on Brightenview's disappearance of its past promises of a Dundurn megamall.

With that in mind, should we expect anything different from Brightenview in the GTH? To answer that, let's take a photographic tour of its planned development.

First, here are artist's renderings of what it's supposed to look like (from Leo's report):

Second, the "breaking ground" photo op three weeks ago (also from CBC's report), showing what was advertised for public consumption as the start of work:

And for the punch line, the same site in its current condition:

Needless to say, the smart money looks to be on past performance predicting future results. But since Brightenview and the Saskatchewan Party each seem to have contributed to each other's confidence games, whether they lead to any benefit for the public is at most a secondary consideration.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett write about the psychological and social harms arising out of inequality:
Members of species that have strong ranking systems need social strategies for maximising and maintaining rank while avoiding the risk of attacks by dominants. Although there are many variations in the way ranking systems work in different species, what we might call the ‘pure’ logic of ranking systems is that position in the dominance hierarchy determines who has precedence over whom in access to scarce resources; orderings are based on strength and power, and disputes are resolved by trials of strength; you show respect and deference to superiors and treat inferiors with impunity and disdain.

This contrasts sharply with the social strategies that in more egalitarian societies replace rank as the main determinant of access to resources. These include social accounting systems based on reciprocity, sharing and cooperation, in which trust and trustworthiness are essential. People who seem to be more trustworthy, generous and kind will be preferred as mates and as partners in cooperative activities. But as well as selection for pro-social characteristics, Boehm shows that there was also deselection for anti-social characteristics: Selfishness and anti-social behaviour in hunting and gathering societies would result in people being ridiculed, ostracised or even killed (Boehm, 2012).

Because the contrast between the behaviour appropriate in each of these two systems is so great, it is important to match one's behaviour to one's setting. Generosity and selflessness are valued and rewarded among friends and in egalitarian settings but would simply be taken advantage of and exploited in a dominance hierarchy. Similarly, the naked pursuit of self-interest and self-aggrandisement appropriate to a rank ordered society would have led to ostracism in a typical hunting and gathering society. It is therefore crucial for behaviour to be sensitive to how hierarchical or egalitarian a society is.

This leads us to expect the pattern of differences in behaviour that we see between more and less egalitarian societies (egalitarianism as judged from the distribution of material resources or income). As we shall see, in more unequal societies, status becomes more important, status anxiety increases and self-serving individualism and self-aggrandisement increase. Community life, rooted in trust, reciprocity and public spiritedness, declines; bullying and violence increase. Of course, rather than using one social strategy or another, everyone uses a mix of dominance and affiliative strategies in different areas of life. Our hypothesis is simply that the balance between these strategies shifts depending on the level of inequality.
- Ann Pettifor discusses how democracy is suffering due to the failures of neoliberal economics. And the Kansas City Star points out that Donald Trump's choice to follow Sam Brownback's failed prescription only stands to make matters worse for most people.

- Alex Collinson points out how increased borrowing has replaced wage growth as a major support for consumer spending. And Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider comment on the stresses caused by income volatility.

- Freddie Deboer examines how the U.S.' exclusive private universities exacerbate inequality - particularly as public universities face severe government cutbacks. And Colette Shade laments the reality that the Smithsonian and other cultural institutions are serving to provide prepackaged corporate messaging rather than neutral or public-focused content.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board asks all levels of government to make sure that social housing is maintained and retained, rather than being allowed to crumble.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Gary Younge examines how Jeremy Corbyn and an unabashedly progressive campaign platform are making massive gains in a UK general election cynically called to exploit Labour's perceived weakness:
Seeing the response to Labour’s election manifesto last week was a clear illustration of just how powerful the amnesiac qualities of that system can be. For the past two decades, even as inequality grew to obscene levels, the notion that a government could tax the wealthy in order to fund public services had been all but banished from the public square. Similarly, the idea that we could take back into national ownership private companies delivering abysmal but essential public services, such as trains and utilities, was simply not discussed. These arguments were never lost; they were simply marginalised until we just stopped hearing them.
[Corbyn] was never going to succeed on the terms of the mainstream media and significant sections of the parliamentary party. For them, his failure was pre-scripted. Last Monday Corbyn was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds in Leeds while Theresa May was confronted by a woman with learning difficulties in Abingdon over the disability cuts. On Tuesday the Daily Mail front page headline was: “Corbyn’s tax war on the middle classes”. Meanwhile, those who abstained on the Tory welfare bill and ignored a million people marching against a war long ago abdicated the right to accuse anyone of failing to provide opposition.

The problem was that Corbyn was failing on his own terms. As such, the manifesto has had an almost therapeutic effect. Beyond reintroducing basic social democratic policies to the arena, it provides the clearest illustration yet of what the last two traumatic years within the Labour party have been about. This unexpected left turn in the party’s leadership was, it turns out, not about delivering the party to Hamas, but delivering decent public services and a programme for tackling inequality.
- Meanwhile, Abi Wilkinson sees Labour now having a substantial chance of winning an election where pre-election punditry focused on little more than a presumed wipeout. And Matt Zarb-Cousin notes that the requirement for fair coverage during a campaign is likely helping matters significantly.

- Dean Beeby reports on the real-time reaction of Canadians to the most recent federal budget - with higher taxes on the rich ranking as by far the most-appreciated message on offer. And Yves Engler suggests that the benefits of incorporation could be limited to businesses who act based on some recognition of social responsibility.

- Alex Hemingway discusses the social costs of poverty and austerity in British Columbia. Claire McIlveen highlights the social benefits of a $15 minimum wage. And George Crisp comments on the connection between inequality and poor health in Australia.

- Finally, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood studies the gap between promises and actions when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Sun-soaked cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Patrick Butler writes about the increasing number of UK families mired in poverty and insecure housing even with one or more people working. And Ali Monceaux and Daniel Najarian discuss the importance of a fair minimum wage in providing people with a basic standard of living.

- Kelly Grant reports on the Libs' baby steps toward dealing with the high cost of prescription drugs. And Andre Picard offers some suggestions as to how to make our health care system work better, while John Geddes points out that Maxime Bernier wants to lead the Cons toward trashing universal health care altogether.

- Damian Carrington discusses new research showing how even relatively small rises in the sea level caused by global warming will massively increase flooding risks, while Chris Mooney notes that levels are in fact rising increasingly quickly. But Hiroko Tabuchi and Eric Lipton highlight how a single bad actor - in this case the Trump administration - can undermine any effort to regulate the causes of climate change.

- Meanwhile, Maude Barlow examines (PDF) how corporate-centred trade deals threaten the availability of clean and safe water. And Edgardo Sepulveda takes a look at the needless public expense being created by the Wynne Libs in order to avoid answering for their damage to Ontario Hydro.

- Finally, Matt Bruenig argues that class struggle is key to ensuring that the benefits of growth go to the many rather than the few:
If you believe, as Piketty argues in his book, that a reduction in growth will inexorably lead to a higher wealth-to-income ratio and a higher capital share, then perhaps the best you can do is pare down wealth accumulation and spread out its ownership through a progressive wealth tax.

But if you believe instead that the capital share does not rise inevitably but only as a result of capitalists getting the upper hand in the perpetual battle over the distribution of output in society, then many more solutions become plausible. Increasing housing supply and imposing rent controls, weakening intellectual property protections, empowering workers to fight for a bigger piece of the pie — all would have the same or even greater egalitarian effects.

American Airlines’ decision to increase its workers’ compensation caused over $2.2 billion of national wealth to vanish almost instantly — not because actual capital goods were destroyed, but because capital’s share was ever so slightly reduced. Empowering workers to repeat this fairly mundane episode again and again, throughout the economy, would likely be a much stronger brake on runaway wealth accumulation and inequality than a global wealth tax or other similarly elaborate strategies.

Class struggle still gets the goods.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Leadership 2017 Candidate Profile: Jagmeet Singh

As I noted here, Jagmeet Singh's entry into the federal NDP's leadership race has attracted an enviable amount of notice from the media. But the combination of a relatively late start to his formal campaign and a lack of much definition so far does leave Singh with significant ground to make up. And it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to close the gap.


In a campaign which hasn't been marked by a lot of public notice, Singh's launch has already attracted more public and media attention than those of the current MPs in the race. And that represents an important factor both in standing out from the crowd of candidates, and in providing opportunities for the NDP as a whole to put its message forward.  

Meanwhile, the reasons for the media interest in Singh are also obvious pluses for him. He's well positioned to appeal both to specific audiences (as a regional candidate for urban Ontario, and as a voice for immigrant and non-white Canadians), and to people looking for charisma and professional credentials. And the fact that he's succeeded personally despite a difficult political tide in Ontario's most recent election offers reason for hope he can help the federal NDP do the same. 


The main point missing for Singh so far is any substantial policy focus. He has strong legislative credentials in policy areas including consumer affairs, law enforcement and labour. But none of those issues features prominently in his vague message so far; instead, he's saying little that hasn't been discussed in far more detail by the candidates already in the race.

Some commentators have also raised questions as to whether Singh will be able to maintain Quebec support for the NDP. But I'd consider that a secondary issue - both because he's also provided a well-thought-out answer to it, and because a campaign which succeeds in other areas should be able to convince voters that Singh can be a positive in defending and pursuing Quebec seats as well.

Key Indicator

Singh has already won a few key endorsements unveiled at his campaign launch, including former MP Mylene Freeman. But I'll be particularly interested to see which (if any) current MPs endorse Singh over their current caucus colleagues in the race - and if any substantial number do so, that should be an indicator that Singh will be difficult to stop.
Key Opponent

So far, Singh seems to be doing extremely pursuing both strategies and supporter groups connected to Charlie Angus. Either one should be able to win over supporters of the other based on their positive populist messages - and whichever lasts longer on the ballot should be very well positioned to win. 
Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: A groundswell of support carrying him to a first-ballot victory
Worst-case: A mid-tier first-ballot showing with little room for growth

Leadership 2017 Candidate Profile: Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury

I'll plan to add more to Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury's profile later on if he adds more public-facing content to his campaign. For now, though, I'll put forward at least a placeholder profile based on what's missing.


El-Khoury brings at least some political experience to the NDP's leadership race, including past campaigns for an NDP nomination and a City Council seat. And on paper, there would appear to be a niche available for a candidate fitting his profile, including a geographic base in Montreal and private-sector business and economic credentials.


But given his level of familiarity with the political process (in contrast to, say, Pat Stogran's scramble to assemble the basics of a campaign), it's been disappointing to see very little from El-Khoury beyond his registration with Elections Canada a month and a half ago. The blog he's used for other campaigns remains dormant. And he's taken to Twitter to complain somewhat about a lack of coverage, but done nothing of note to justify it.

In additional to signalling a lack of campaign organization, that also means there's little positive content available even for voters who are looking for it from El-Khoury.

Key Indicator

For now, let's start with the obvious: if El-Khoury can't assemble the resources to put together a substantial campaign presence, his potential pluses don't figure to matter. (I'll update this point if he clears that hurdle.)

Key Opponent

While I mention El-Khoury's potential niche above, it bears some obvious overlap to the strengths of Guy Caron's campaign. And El-Khoury's role when it comes time to vote might include either playing up a set of issues and priorities which works to Caron's advantage, or helping another candidate by offering down-ballot voters a signal that he can also speak to them.
Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: A sufficient show of support and campaign strength to establish a place for El-Khoury as a key voice within the NDP
Worst-case: A distant last place as his campaign never gets off the ground

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Krugman criticizes the use of non-compete agreements to trap workers at low wage levels with no opportunity to pursue comparable employment - as well as the Republicans' insistence on pushing employer-based health care which further limits workers' options:
At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

This shouldn’t be happening in America, and to be fair some politicians in both parties have been speaking up about the need for change (although few expect the Trump administration to follow up on the Obama administration’s reform push). But there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).
You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.
- Jim Edwards highlights how in the wake of deliberate attacks on workers' bargaining power, low unemployment rates aren't producing the wage gains which would normally be expected. And Linda Gorman's look at global corporate savings makes it clear that the extra money kept in corporate hands is being hoarded rather than put to productive use.

- Geoff Dembicki points out how Canada's overheating real estate markets are more the result of domestic speculation than foreign investment - even if the political response has been oriented almost solely toward the latter. 

- Ashley Martin reports on the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour's call for employers to ensure that work requirements don't trap people suffering domestic violence. And L.E. Reimer points out how the Saskatchewan Party's shuttering of STC will be particularly hard on women with low incomes who will lose a needed means of transportation.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board calls for Ontario's provincial government to finally reverse a multi-decade trend of reduced access to music and arts education in public schools.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Josh Bivens notes that U.S. corporations are already paying a lower share of taxes than has historically been the case - meaning that there's no air of reality to the claim that handing them more money will produce any positive economic results. And Noah Smith writes that public infrastructure spending would do far more than tax cuts to improve economic outcomes.

- Angella MacEwen discusses how NAFTA (like other trade agreements) has served largely to drive down labour and employment standards among all participants. And Michal Rozworski counters some of the corporatist myths being peddled in opposition to a fair minimum wage.

- Trevor Hancock reminds us of the outrageous levels of child poverty in Canada. Kings' College Investigative Workshop examines the woeful lack of mental health services in Nova Scotia.

- CBC reports on the Saskatchewan Environmental Society's push for the province to do its part in fighting climate change, while Abacus finds that Canadians in general recognize the need to transition away from fossil fuels. And Erin Weir points out that instead of inventing complaints about what the federal government might do, Brad Wall would be better served pointing out how the Libs are actively underfunding transit in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Rebecca Joseph and Jim Bronskill report on the continued public demand to repeal Bill C-51 and rein in the unaccountable surveillance state. And Matthew Behrens discusses his experience as a target of an "anti-terrorist" investigation.