Saturday, December 02, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Toby Sanger discusses how the Trudeau Libs' obsession with privatized infrastructure only stands to put control over public services in the hands of corporate predators:
Corporations are sitting on hundreds of billions of excess cash in Canada and trillions worldwide — money they aren’t putting into productive investments. So corporations and other investors (including pension funds) desperately want to achieve higher returns. But economic growth is slow (because wage increases are so low and profits so high), which leads to fewer private-sector investment opportunities. So corporations are now turning to the cannibalization of public-sector assets and infrastructure through public-private partnerships or other forms of privatization, including the new infrastructure bank.

The great attraction of these public infrastructure investments for private finance is that high returns are effectively guaranteed for decades through ongoing government payments, and/or through tolls and other user fees. Most forms of public infrastructure involve some form of natural monopoly. This allows private owners to exploit them for monopoly profits — which is why they were established as public assets in the first place!

In another sordid twist, the briefing notes and presentation about the bank that were prepared for delivery by Trudeau and his ministers at a session for foreign investors were developed in conjunction with Blackrock officials, as Globe and Mail reporter Bill Curry revealed, using documents obtained through access to information. In effect, the Liberal government turned over the design and development of this bank to the very people who will profit most from it: the largest private sector and pension investment funds in the world.
Numerous critics have outlined major problems with the proposed bank
  • it will lead to massive privatization of public infrastructure;
  • projects will cost much more, so Canadians will get less bang for their buck;
  • projects will require significant increases in user fees, which will restrict access, and punish middle and lower-income earners;
  • there will be little transparency and public accountability required of the bank and its projects or for its use of public funds. Information will be kept secret and will not be subject to the more stringent transparency and accountability rules that govern public projects, while those who disclose information could be subject to fines and jail time;
  • the bank is restricted from having any representation on the board from the federal or any other governments, which means the bank will be controlled by private-sector interests, even though the legislation claims it will act in the public interest.
It is important to resist each privatization proposal and expose each project for who it will benefit and who it will hurt, but ultimately the pressure to privatize and cannibalize the public sector won’t abate until we achieve a more profound shift of power from concentrated private capital to a much more equitable economic order.
- Meanwhile, Rick Smith highlights the importance of modernizing our social programs to fit an economy in which workers are treated as disposable. And PressProgress examines how some of the same businesses extracting more profits than they know what to do with are simultaneously underfunding the pensions they've promised their workers.

- Miriam Katawazi reports on the persistent and widespread gender pay gap in Canada. And while the Star's editorial board hopes that transparency will make a difference, it's well worth noting that mere awareness of the gap has done little to reduce it in the absence of meaningful policy steps.

- Paul Krugman writes about the fundamental dishonesty behind the Republicans' looting of the U.S.' 99%. But on the bright side, Dogwood notes that British Columbia's NDP/Green majority has ended the type of disproportionate donor influence which has polluted American politics.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey comments on the reactionary right's false assumption that media outlets (and people in general) are as uninformed as its audience.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Friday, December 01, 2017

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - One Good Piece of Me

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Matt Bruenig examines the multi-million-dollar increase in the household wealth of the U.S.' top 1% over the past decade. And Ian Welsh discusses how the extreme concentration of wealth bleeds into political choices:
The corruption of vast inequality is that it makes some people powerful enough to overthrow democracy: in general (Citizen’s United) and in particular cases.

Most rich people are not good people. It is well established now, in the academic literature, that rich people have an empathy deficit, that they give less as a percentage of their wealth and income, and that (to put it unscientifically) they tend to become assholes. They don’t need to care what other people think, or about their welfare.

But even when they do try to do good, well, they don’t need to go through normal democratic processes: they just buy the results.
Money is power. When the government relies on rich individuals and corporations to do what should be done by government it takes longer and produces less welfare than it should, and it leads to capture by the rich of government.

A 90%+ top marginal tax rate and punitive capital and estate taxes aren’t necessary because “government needs the money”, they are necessary so that the rich don’t become so rich they buy the State.

And that includes the ones who try to do some good...
- Richard Partington writes about new OECD research on the threats to the UK's economy posed by household debt and stagnant wages. And Linda Nazareth discusses how retirement security is declining between generations in Canada.

- Makda Ghebreslassie points out that food banks and other band-aid solutions do nothing to address underlying insecurity and social deprivation.

- Andre Picard wonders whether Canada has forgotten the hard-learned lessons of the tainted blood scandal - particularly as to the dangers of cost-cutting and profit motives when health is at stake.

- Finally, amidst so many real problems in our midst, Michael Coren comments on the right's attempt to fabricate a campus free speech crisis which ultimately means little more than trying to ensure that only reactionary voices get heard.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

New column day

Here, on how the spin behind the Trump administration's push for a massive tax giveaway to the rich has no basis in economic reality - and how Canada shouldn't be suckered into following suit.

For further reading...
- Michael Linden examines the overall effects of the Senate's version of tax reform legislation, with income levels under $50,000 in income all coming out with net losses (which are worse the lower a household's income). Lawrence Summers challenges the attempts to fabricate a case for regressive tax slashing. And Steven Greenhouse discusses how the Trump tax plan will exacerbate the worst problems the U.S. already faces.
- Jim Tankersley points out the unwillingness of businesses to take up an invitation to convert lower taxes into higher wages. And Tolure Olorunnipa notes that some CEOs are already acknowledging that they'll use any windfalls for share buybacks rather than productive activity.
- Paul Krugman has reviewed both the leprechaun economics that result in much of a tax cut being delivered offshore, and the Schroedinger's tax hike in which Republicans claim they'll avoid increasing the deficit by letting some tax cuts expire, yet somehow simultaneously extend those tax cuts.
- Cristobal Young discusses the fact that high-wealth individuals are relatively unlikely to move generally, and particularly aren't sensitive to progressive tax rates.
- And for the type of commentary aimed at forcing Canada to follow the U.S.' self-destructive lead by handing free money to the corporate sector, one need never look any further than Jack Mintz

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Matt Bruenig writes about the U.S.' alarming growth in student debt - which combined with diminished career prospects is leading to dim future outlooks for far too many young workers. And Eric Grenier's look at the latest release of data from Canada's 2016 census shows a stark drop in the number of working-age people with full-time employment - which looks to have dropped below the number of people with post-secondary education in the same age group.

- Sarah Halibagherji discusses the Social Mobility Commission's latest report on the UK's postcode lottery which sees radically different opportunities available based the geography of a child's home. And Dean Beeby reports on the failure of Canada's Working Income Tax Benefit to reach many families which need it. 

- George Monbiot writes that dirty air is one of the major threats to children's health - yet isn't being addressed even through such simple steps as limiting exhaust fumes around schools. And Alexander Kaufman reports on a new study showing that corporations don't tend to live up to their promises of environmental responsibility.

- Andre Picard highlights the sad reality that infectious diseases in particularly vulnerable populations are all too often treated as a norm to be accepted, rather than a preventable problem whose resolution would benefit everybody.

- Finally, Nick Falvo offers some important considerations for Alberta's next provincial budget (which largely apply equally to any other exercise in managing public resources).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Doug Henwood interviews Brooke Harrington about the role of offshoring in hiding and concentrating wealth:
(W)hat does it say about the state of capitalism that these immense fortunes are sequestered; not so much engaged with expansion of the system but are being kept from the prying eyes of government or relatives?

People who claim to love capitalism and care about capitalism thriving should be very worried about this, because what this concentration of capital in an increasingly small group of people’s hands means is that the economic system is ossifying. It’s going backwards towards feudalism, where wealth was tied up generation after generation among a very small group of families. That’s exactly what we see happening now.

You may have seen that every year, Oxfam produces a study in which they count the number of people whose wealth exceeds that of the poorest 50 percent of humanity. In 2010, that number was above three hundred. In 2017, as of January, it was eight. The number of people who could fit into an extra-large golf cart now own wealth equivalent to the bottom 50 percent of humanity. That’s neo-feudalism, and we’re already seeing the consequences in the extreme decline of upward mobility in the US.

Now when you get an inheritance in the US, that doesn’t just benefit children or grandchildren of the original rich people. It has a knock on effect to the fifth or sixth generation. Meanwhile, most Americans, especially African Americans, have nothing; nothing but debt when they die. Whereas a very tiny group of people at the very top of the socioeconomic scale have billions to distribute to their heirs when they die. We’ve essentially re-feudalized ourselves.
- Meanwhile, Max de Haldevang points out how hidden wealth makes it difficult to trust publicly-available data about our economy.

- John Bargh writes about the connection between personal security and political orientation - with people living in fear representing easy targets for conservative themes.

- But Luke Savage notes that we can't afford to let complacency about existing institutions form the basis for left-wing politics. And Danny Westneat comments on the corporatization of political decision-making - epitomized by the appalling offers being made to Amazon to house its new headquarters - as an imminent threat to popular governance.

- Finally, Joe Romm reports on a new study showing that renewable energy is not only more affordable to build new than dirtier power sources, but becoming cheaper than continuing to operate existing coal and nuclear facilities.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cowering cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin writes that the Trudeau Libs and Bill Morneau have taken the side of wealthy shareholders over workers who want only the secure retirement they've already paid for through deferred wages:
Morneau should be requiring companies to tell Canadians’ pension regulator about their dividend plans. He should be setting processes and rules that get healthy companies to fully fund pensions — before there’s another Sears-type pension fiasco.

Instead, Morneau is sponsoring Bill C-27. True, it does help eliminate pension liabilities — but not by funding them. Morneau’s bill would help employers permanently shift potential liabilities onto workers by replacing defined benefit plans with “target” plans.

On pensions, tax havens and private infrastructure finance, Bill Moreau has shown he’s a rich guy’s rich guy. That’s what he was as leader of a C.D. Howe Institute, which is little more than a CEO lobby group. That’s what he is as Finance Minister. He can’t be gone soon enough.
- And Alan Freeman echoes the view that Morneau can't be kept in a position which he's used mostly to enrich his own class of vulture capitalists.

- Meanwhile, Chris Varcoe reports on the Notley government's push to make sure that federal bankruptcy law doesn't leave the public on the hook for the costs of remediating abandoned oil wells.

- Alex Hemingway discusses the role tax fairness can play in reducing inequality - and how to make that work in British Columbia's next budget. And Dean Beeby reports on the Canada Revenue Agency's first steps toward cracking down on tax avoidance in the country's wealthiest neighbourhoods.

- Finally, Ed Finn writes that citizen happiness correlates far more strongly with genuinely democratic and responsive government than with raw GDP.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ed Broadbent discusses how Bernie Sanders offers an example to emulate - and in some cases a source of ideas well beyond what Canada has implemented so far:
It was clear to everyone watching that Canadians, in fact,  have a few things to learn from Bernie Sanders. His speech was significant for two reasons.

First, he is an unapologetic social democrat who has inspired a whole new generation of voters with those values in a country where hyper-capitalism is king. The enthusiasm he has generated has carried over to young people here in Canada and around the world.

Second, Bernie urged us to keep on fighting, to maintain and improve our healthcare system. He knows Canadian healthcare is under constant threat not just from right-wing forces, but also from complacency. He told the audience to “speak loudly” about the virtues of universal healthcare, because our public system not only needs to be protected, but urgently needs to be expanded.  

Social democracy transformed politics in the post-World War II era. We provided a political framework based on the belief that markets should be regulated and put in the service of social aims, and that high levels of social and economic rights like pensions, healthcare, and employment insurance should be available to all. These policies and programs lifted tens of millions in Europe and North America out of poverty.

It was our generation of social democrats, and that of our parents, that fought for such government investments in the common good, the protection not only of political and civil rights, but also of social, and economic rights – these were the original Game Changers. Thanks to successful struggles here in Canada, crucial social programs are now at the heart of our identity - Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and accessible post-secondary education. All of these had their origin in the egalitarian philosophy of social democracy.

As a lifelong social democrat, I am deeply troubled by rising inequality and the emergence of far-right political extremism today. I came of age believing that such things were relics of the past. Sadly, we are witnessing their growth once again.  As in the 1920s, economic insecurity and severe income inequality are sowing the seeds of division and resentment.

It’s our responsibility to stand up to the right-wing politicians. We must show Canadians that we can solve our social and economic problems, not by the politics of division and exclusion, but by banding together and taking on directly the cause of our political and economic inequalities. 
- Nils Pratley comments on a shift toward the nationalization of services after people experience the inferior quality and higher cost of privatization, with a particular focus on the offshoring and environmental damage by Thames Water.

- Lana Payne highlights the fact that governments could build far more at a lower cost by financing projects directly rather than looking for excuses to enrich third parties. And Keith Schneider points out the failure of the megaproject model for infrastructure.

- Trevor Hancock writes that urban sprawl is an important public health issue, but one which is a long way from being meaningfully addressed.

- Finally, Andrew Nikiforuk examines British Columbia's massive methane emissions - and how they were covered up by the responsible regulator under the Clark Libs. And Sarah Cox notes that the province lacks many kinds of environmental data to make informed decisions about the risks to its water supplies.