Saturday, December 09, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Christopher Ingraham discusses the U.S.' distorted distribution of wealth - and how both existing inequality and the Republicans' plan to exacerbate it run contrary to the values of the general public:
Among rich nations, the United States stands out for the extent of its wealth inequality. The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country's wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere. The American 1 percent gobble up twice as much pie (40 percent) as the 1 percent in France, the U.K., or Canada, and more than three times as much as the 1 percent in Finland.

This kind of extreme inequality is bad for the economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents a number of the world's richest countries including the United States, estimates that inequality has knocked nearly five percentage points off the economic growth in those countries between 2000 and 2015.

In high-inequality countries, people from poor households typically have less access to quality education. This leads to “large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility,” which directly harms economic growth, according to the OECD.

If you were designing a tax plan to reduce the extreme inequality in the United States, you'd probably try to find ways to redistribute some of the wealth from the richest households to the poorest ones. But the Senate GOP tax plan does precisely the opposite of that, according to the CBO: In the short term the richest households get the biggest tax cuts, while longer term the taxes of the poorest households actually increase.

Estate tax? Cut. Income tax rate for millionaires? Cut (at least in the Senate bill). Corporate tax rate? Biggest rate cut ever.

In the long term that probably means more of the pie for the super-rich, and less of it for everyone else.
- Noah Smith offers his suggestions as to how unions can start tilting the balance of power back toward workers, focusing on broader-based bargaining and increased direct service delivery. And Connor Wolf discusses how worker centers are already making a difference in shaping both workplaces and public policy.

- Michal Rozworski and Daniel Tseghay and Derrick O'Keefe each highlight why B.C. (among other jurisdictions) shouldn't be waiting to implement a more fair minimum wage. 

- Dean Baker makes the case for an economic system focused on forcing the rich to genuinely compete, rather than being able to rely on privileged treatment to retain and expand their wealth. And Meagan Day reminds us that class conflict is inevitable - such that the only effect of staying on the sidelines is to ensure that the upper class gets its way.

- Finally, Tim Harford discusses the dangers of "dark nudging" in the context of foreign interference in democratic politics. But it's worth noting as well how the principles behind "nudge" theory have also been adopted by the business sector to make it difficult to do anything but go along with corporate dominance and rent-seeking.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Robert Reich reminds us that sustainable economic growth is the product of bottom-up development, not a top-down trickle of wealth:
What’s the real formula for growth? Better access to education, healthcare, and transportation, all of which make workers more productive.

These more productive workers command higher wages. With higher wages, they purchase more goods and services. These purchases motivate companies to expand and invest, and create more and better jobs.

American experienced this virtuous cycle for thirty years after World War II. We invested unprecedented sums in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. We financed these investments through higher taxes on the rich and on big corporations.

The economy boomed and wages shot upward. The wages of the bottom fifth rose even faster than the wages of the top fifth. This unleashed consumer spending, which generated more growth.

The Clinton administration tried this formula on a much smaller scale in the 1990s, raising taxes on the top and investing in education and infrastructure. The economy boomed, 23 million new jobs were created, and for the first time since the late 1970s the typical American’s wage rose.
For years, Republicans have been selling tax cuts by lying that they spur growth, which trickles down to average Americans.

For just as long, Democrats have been selling fairness, but without explaining why a fairer economy is also more productive and prosperous.

It’s time for Democrats to make the case. It has the virtue of being true.
- Meanwhile, Simon Wren-Lewis comments on the importance of investing in our social and economic future, then reminds us why we shouldn't obsess over modest government deficits when human well-being is at stake.

- Norman Farrell reviews how the B.C. Libs and their corporate donors looted what had been a well-run and efficient BC Hydro.

- Finally, Juliette Garside discusses the EU's moves toward naming and blacklisting tax havens.

New column day

Here, on how the Saskatchewan Party's sad excuse for a climate change strategy (PDF) is really aimed at nothing more than excusing continued carbon pollution.

For further reading...
- I wrote just a couple of weeks ago about the Saskatchewan public's strong appetite for real action against climate change - making it all the more embarrassing to be stuck with a government which can't be bothered. And I've also written before about the problems with "intensity" emission targets - which are the only type to be found anywhere in the Sask Party's plan. 
- Andrew Leach charts the current emissions of Canadian provinces and industries. 
- Erin Flanagan offers the Pembina Institute's response.
- Murray Mandryk also sees the strategy as nothing but a sop to the oil industry. And Carl Meyer reports on the oil sector's deliberate refusal to cooperate with the global fight against climate change.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Rick Salutin writes that Ontario's provincial election shows that nobody is prepared to defend neoliberal ideas on their merits - which should provide an opening to start challenging them in practice. And Alice Ollstein examines how Donald Trump's corporate giveaway looks like an unmitigated economic disaster in the making.

- Phillip Inman notes that financial markets are in a similar position to where they were before the 2008 meltdown. And Robert Booth notes that the less-privileged in the UK are already facing as much homelessness and housing insecurity as they did during the most recent crash.

- Meanwhile, Jordan Press reports on a much-needed effort to ensure that lower-income Canadians receive the benefits available to them.

- Kristen Sze reports on California's dramatically-increased wildfire risks arising out of climate change, while Sarah Boseley notes that pollution is undermining the health value of outdoor exercise for people over 60. And Andrea Harden Donohue warns against accepting the premise that we're stuck with pipelines and/or coal.

- Finally, Anne Karpf points out how the most privileged people have managed to silence the real victims of entrenched power structures by feigning victimhood for themselves.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at home.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz writes about the need to learn from past mistakes in order to build a sustainable economy for the future:
To someone like me, who has watched trade negotiations closely for more than a quarter-century, it is clear that US trade negotiators got most of what they wanted. The problem was with what they wanted. Their agenda was set, behind closed doors, by corporations. It was an agenda written by, and for, large multinational companies, at the expense of workers and ordinary citizens everywhere.

Indeed, it often seems that workers, who have seen their wages fall and jobs disappear, are just collateral damage – innocent but unavoidable victims in the inexorable march of economic progress. But there is another interpretation of what has happened: one of the objectives of globalisation was to weaken workers’ bargaining power. What corporations wanted was cheaper labour, however they could get it.

This interpretation helps explain some puzzling aspects of trade agreements. Why is it, for example, that advanced countries gave away one of their biggest advantages, the rule of law? Indeed, provisions embedded in most recent trade agreements give foreign investors more rights than are provided to investors in the US. They are compensated, for example, should the government adopt a regulation that hurts their bottom line, no matter how desirable the regulation or how great the harm caused by the corporation in its absence.
American capitalism in recent years has been marked by unbridled greed – the 2008 financial crisis provides ample confirmation of that. But, as some countries have shown, a market economy can take forms that temper the excesses of both capitalism and globalisation, and deliver more sustainable growth and higher standards of living for most citizens.

We can learn from such successes what to do, just as we can learn from past mistakes what not to do. As has become evident, if we do not manage globalisation so that it benefits all, the backlash – from the New Discontents in the north and the Old Discontents in the south – is at risk of intensifying.
- Meanwhile, Martin Wolf comments on the Republican tax plan which is built to benefit nobody besides plutocrats. And Michelle Goldberg notes that there's every reason for millenials to hate a capitalist system which is creating nothing but obstacles to basic security and personal progress.

- Heidi Shierholz discusses the Trump administration's latest move to reward the worst of the worst exploiters, this time by allowing employers to pocket employees' tips.

- Brian Doucet and David Hulchanski both write that the Libs' much-ballyhooed "housing strategy" falls far short of earning that title.

- Finally, Mike Crawley reports on the massive amounts of consumer money going to Ontario's private power generators for inappropriate expenses. And Don Pittis discusses how Canada's electrical system is already far over the amount of generating capacity it needs - with the public purse bearing the cost of old and inefficient generation through corporate-friendly fixed contracts.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Murray Dobbin writes that corporate power is the greatest threat to our health and well-being - and reminds us that government focused on the public interest is a necessary counterweight:
The revelations of the Paradise Papers, the earlier Panama Papers and numerous articles in the western mainstream and alternative media demonstrate just one dimension, tax evasion, of an increasingly obvious truth: global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet. The deliberate starvation of government, climate change, grotesque inequality, Dickensian working conditions, environmental degradation, dwindling biodiversity, the slow (or not so slow) death of the oceans and the creation of the security state on corporations' behalf threaten not only the natural world but our capacity to democratically govern ourselves while maintaining some semblance of civilization.

The advent of the corporate state was truly unleashed when Canada and the U.S. introduced the first "free trade" agreement in 1989. In the 28 years since, hundreds of such agreements have been signed, all of them designed to erase borders for corporations and radically reduce the operational space for democratic governance.

Governments are the only institutions that can seriously challenge the power and reach of transnational corporations: they made them and they could unmake them. Only governments can curb their predatory nature, constrain their contempt for their workers, communities and the environment, and genuinely punish them when they openly break the law as part of their fiduciary "duty" to their shareholders.
- Kate Letterick reports on new research showing how people with disabilities disproportionately face deep poverty. And Laurie Monsebraaten and Sandro Contenta investigate how the child protection system provides minimal resources and supports for workers trying to meet desperate needs.

- Nick Falvo offers a look at the Libs' national housing strategy - though even his fairly generous take recognizes the large gap between rhetoric and action.

- Jacques Marcoux and Kristen Annable report on the lack of meaningful consequences for employers responsible for workers' deaths across Canada. And Adam Hunter points out that Saskatchewan's system of penalties for workplace fatalities stands out as being particularly weak.

- Finally, Matthew Yglesias discusses new research showing how inequality of opportunity leads to less innovation and progress for everybody.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Leadership 2018 Links

The latest from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign.

- Greg Nikkel reported on the Weyburn debate, but didn't note much by way of contrast in so doing.

- And local media also covered Ryan Meili's visits to Prince Albert and North Battleford, and Trent Wotherspoon's to Weyburn and the Battlefords.

- Alex MacPherson and D.C. Fraser's latest notebook discusses the impact of the Saskatchewan Party's retrograde candidates on abortion - though it's worth noting that contrary to their reporting, Meili and Wotherspoon both committed to improved access to reproductive services in response. 

- Finally, the Leader-Post and Star-Phoenix teamed up to write about the importance of widespread participation in Saskatchewan's leadership campaigns. And Jason Hammond rightly noted that we'd be better served with greater public engagement at all times.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Matt Bruenig proposes a social wealth fund as a fix for the U.S.' burgeoning inequality and income insecurity:
We seem stuck in the same policy equilibrium we have been in for decades, with conservatives denying that there is a problem and pushing policies that would make it even worse, liberals emphasizing the need for education and skills development, and leftists pushing for a unionized labor market and social-democratic welfare state.

Some of these ideas are good ones, which would make life better for vulnerable people. But they’d do little to directly target inequality in our society or to capture all the benefits that economic fairness brings.

The solution is simpler than it seems. There’s a tried and tested way, within the system we have now, of giving everyone a share in the investment returns now hoarded by the wealthy. It’s called a social wealth fund, a pool of investment assets in some ways like the giant index or mutual funds already popular with retirement savings accounts or pension funds, but one owned collectively by society as a whole. One that paid dividends not to the few, or even just to the shrinking middle class lucky enough to have their savings invested, but to everyone.
Creating a social wealth fund in which we all own an equal part is certainly not the only way to tackle wealth inequality directly, but it is one of the few ways that we know works well and is able to work within the system we now have. If policymakers want to get serious about trimming wealth concentration, and not just use these shocking statistics to promote the same old half-measures, then this would be a fair, effective and practical way to start.
- Meanwhile, Ed Pilkington reports on a UN mission addressing poverty in the U.S. And Danny Dorling and Stuart Gietel-Basten examine how the UK's increasing inequality and needless austerity is cutting into life expectancies.

- Pamela Duncan and Patrick Butler discuss the connection between lower-income areas and fast-food consumption. And Fatima Syed reports on rallies seeking to ensure that poverty isn't a barrier to access to financial services in Canada.

- The Star examines how Canadian governments are subsidizing environmental destruction by providing subsidies which far exceed the penalties corporations have paid for environmental violations. And Bill McKibben argues that a gradual shift toward dealing with ongoing carbon pollution (after decades of industry-funded delay) will prove to be a loss in the long run.

- Finally, Chris Parsons writes that we have every reason to be outraged about offshore tax avoidance - and particularly the policy choices which have allowed it to occur.