Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joan Hennessy writes that instead of limiting ourselves to holiday-season charity, we should insist on fair wages and dignity for our fellow citizens throughout the year:
ll the while, the economy has been on the mend and corporate earnings have risen, but the federal minimum wage remains $7.25 per hour, the level set in 2009. While the rate is higher in 29 states and the District of Columbia, it hovers below the $15 per hour that families need to put food on the table and pay the bills, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) living wage calculator.

This year, there were more ornaments on the giving tree in our parish lobby. The one we chose requested a gift for a girl, 10 to 12 years old. No word about whether this child is still at the Everything-Must-Be-Pink developmental stage or wishes to wear makeup. One thing is certain: if her parents made a living wage, she could have what she wanted for Christmas, as opposed to the crafts kit I grabbed off the shelf.

I enjoy giving. I enjoy Christmas. But no one likes being a chump, the little churchgoer who donates food and gifts, while the rich become richer and corporations fail to raise wages. It would be better for everyone, and for the economy, if that expectant mom we helped a few years back could stride into a big-box store and pick out her own stroller – in her favorite color, exactly what she had in mind.
- Phillip Inman reports on a new study of the systematic underpayment of temporary employees. Liz Alderman and Amie Tsang note that commercial piloting is just one of the many jobs being turned into a precarious "gig" rather than stable employment - though Stefan Stern offers an update that Ryanair has been forced to recognize pilots' unions to create a more workable environment. And Anelyse Weiler, Janet McLaughlin and Donald Cole write that a food strategy should include a fair shake for migrant workers.

- Meanwhile, Meagan Gillmore highlights the challenges facing people trying to find work with a criminal record.

- George Monbiot discusses the rapidly-accumulating damage we're doing to the natural world by closing our eyes to the environmental consequences of human activity.

- Finally, Lorraine Chow notes that a fully-renewable global energy system stands to be both feasible and cost-effective in the very near future. And Don Pittis points out the role that improved battery technology will play in getting the most out of renewable power sources.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New column day

Here, on some of the economic ideas on offer from Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon in Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign.

For further reading...
- I've talked about some of the points of commonality between the candidates' platforms here.
- And the column responds in part to Murray Mandryk's view that there's some lack of talk about economic vision and other pocketbook issues in the NDP campaign.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones discusses how an ideology of individualism has undermined both freedom and security for most of the UK's citizens:
There are several reasons why rampant individualism sits at the core of the Tory project. Individualism promotes the idea that our successes in life are purely down to our own efforts. That rationalises inequality, because it perpetuates the myth that the wealthiest are the brightest and hardest working while the poorest are the stupidest and the laziest. Inequality simply becomes just deserts, rather than the sign of a society rigged in favour of a lucky minority. Tax becomes a punishment for success rather than a contribution to the collective kitty.

Individualism transforms social problems such as poverty and unemployment into personality defects, rather than the ills of a poorly constructed society – to be cured by a change in an individual’s attitude rather than by collective solutions, such as a welfare state. It erodes a sense that the majority have shared interests and aspirations, which are not only different from those of the elite, but on a collision course with them. It is fatal to the logical conclusion of this sentiment: that the majority should deploy their collective strength to challenge the concentrated wealth and power of the few.

As a dogma, this form of individualism is a formidable obstacle to socialism. But in practice it has increasingly resulted in insecurity: no wonder, then, that solidarity is so hankered after by so many. Labour has an opportunity to fashion a new individualism, with the promise that only socialism can liberate the individual.
- The Guardian's editorial board weighs in on the choice between democracy and oligarchy - and the dangers of letting the latter triumph. And Lyle Jeremy Rubin writes that conservatives' affinity for unrestrained capitalism can be traced to its entrenchment of social hierarchy.

- Meanwhile, Ann Pettifor offers a reminder as to how citizens can use our power to rein in the excesses of the corporate sector and the privileged few:
It is time for the financial sector to serve the real economy, where people live, innovate and work. It is time for the sector to be dislodged from its position as master of the global economy. For if, in future, we want to tax the rich, to dismantle tax havens, to avoid another global financial crisis, to tackle criminality and inequality, it’s vital that we start to think differently about the global financial system. If we want a system that makes it possible for us to finance the shift of our economy away from fossil fuels, if we want to thwart the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism… we must begin to think differently about the system.

Above all, we, as taxpaying citizens, must begin to think differently about our own power to bring about change. We must think about how to use – or leverage, to use financial terminology – the powers we have. We must remind ourselves of how the private financial system depends on taxpayer-financed institutions. We need this understanding of our potential power to influence and make demands of the finance sector if we are to begin to manage offshore capitalism, to bring offshore capital back onshore.
It’s not enough to be shocked and awed by the publication of revelations such as those in the Paradise Papers. We have to learn that we are not powerless. We have to start thinking differently about tax-paying citizens’ relationships to these global corporations and incredibly wealthy individuals. We have to start understanding that we have power and political leverage over these tax evaders. That as taxpayers we prop up the systems – including the great public good that is our monetary system – without which these private capital gains would not be made. And that as taxpayers propping up the institutions from which the 1% derive huge wealth, we must insist on terms and conditions, regulations and controls over cross-border flows. 
- Finally, Tom Parkin discusses the detrimental effects on democracy arising out of a pattern of shoddy reporting - including this week's series of false reports about Jagmeet Singh's events in Scarborough. But in more accurate reporting on Singh, Ashifa Kassam takes note of his unifying progressive vision.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tom Campbell notes that we may not be far away from seeing the world's first trillionaire - and that there's a strong likelihood it will involve a confluence of extreme wealth and concentrated political power.

- Meanwhile, Robert Reich observes that the U.S. Republicans' tax scam is reinforcing the development of a new oligarchy. Matt Yglesias discusses how the Republicans are looting the country on behalf of their donor class. And Bryan Beutler points out that the politicians who have sold out to the uber-wealthy are already planning their getaways.

- The Canadian Press reports on new research showing how retailers may be making millions off of price rounding since the penny was phased out. And Marina Strauss reports on a decade-plus scheme of bread price fixing by grocers at the expense of consumers.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes about the importance of child care as a means of both improving overall economic performance, and closing the pay gap between men and women.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at rest.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ryan Avent discusses how wage stagnation is harming U.S. productivity - and how a shift toward empowering workers could be the solution to both:
If low wages are indeed inhibiting productivity, what can we do about it? A large corporate tax cut is unlikely to help. In an economy in which large firms enjoy market power while workers have none, such cuts will raise stock prices and dividends rather than wages and investment. Big increases in the minimum wage would certainly give companies an incentive to automate, but at the cost of jobs for the most vulnerable workers.

A better strategy would be to shift power from companies to workers, to allow workers to bargain for a bigger share of the gains from growth. Keeping companies from getting too big and too dominant would make a difference by increasing the number of companies competing for workers and the competitive pressure they face to maximize worker output.

Making it easier for workers to unionize would improve productivity, too. A strong labor movement, were one magically to appear, could bargain for higher pay, potentially pushing firms to invest in workers and new technology.

Perhaps most important, we should not allow a low unemployment rate to fool us into thinking that labor is scarce. The Fed should wait for much faster wage growth before taking steps to slow the economy. Governments at all levels should make sure that schools and agencies are fully staffed with qualified workers. And Congress should turn its attention to public investments, rather than counting on tax cuts to motivate private ones. Large-scale infrastructure spending would increase the economy’s growth potential while creating good jobs. So would concerted efforts to make postsecondary education as accessible and affordable as possible.
- Katie McDonough reports on the confirmation from U.S. executives that they plan to hoard the proceeds of any Republican tax giveaway. And the New York Times' editorial board discusses how a bill which can't be explained as anything but a service to greedy donors reflects unacceptable inequality in both wealth and political power, while Jared Bernstein focuses on the distortionary effect of big money in politics in arguing for public financing.

- Andrew Jackson writes about Canada's own persistent wealth inequality. Zoe Williams comments on the juxtaposition of massive corporate bonuses handed to executives who have enriched themselves and their shareholders by keeping housing unaffordable for people. And James Bloodworth offers a look at some of the regions of the UK which are being left behind.

- Finally, Zaid Jilani and Evan Malmgren each discuss how the end of Net neutrality in the U.S. may represent the beginning of a push for publicly-operated internet service providers.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Star's editorial board calls for a reworking of Canada's tax system to make sure businesses pay their fair share:
The tax bills of most big companies have declined significantly both as a proportion of their profits and as a proportion of Ottawa’s total tax revenue. This means that shareholders of Canadian companies, a disproportionately wealthy, often foreign group, continue to get wealthier, while the average taxpayer foots a greater portion of the bill for public expenditures and governments have less to spend on programs and services that help the many and particularly the most vulnerable.

Making matters worse, the decline of corporate contributions to the public purse is greater than even our diminished corporate tax rates would suggest. A six-month joint investigation by the Star and Corporate Knights Magazine has revealed that for every dollar corporations pay to the Canadian government, individual taxpayers now pay $3.50 - a result not only of repeated cuts, but also of a slew of tax loopholes and international treaties introduced in recent decades that promote or at least facilitate corporate tax avoidance.
The corporate tax system is just one part of the problem. While it’s true that corporate taxes are a smaller portion of the total of tax revenues after years of rate cuts, ever more loopholes, and the increasing ease of moving capital globally, that’s in a context in which the top marginal income tax rate has also gone down and overall tax revenue as a percentage of the economy has declined, putting us well below the OECD average.

As Gabriel Zucman, an economist at Stanford University, told the Star, “Some countries, including Canada, have attempted to dramatically cut taxes on the wealthy and let corporate tax avoidance prosper.” This process, begun in 1980s, has yielded a clear outcome: “income and wealth have boomed for a tiny fraction of the population, but this has not benefitted the rest of the population at all.”

The result of all of this is that governments have less revenue to do what’s needed, our tax system is less progressive and corporations pay a reduced share for our public goods and services even as their profits continue to break records.

Our tax system is a mess. It’s leaking resources government needs; it’s regressive, contributing to corrosive inequality; and it’s increasingly complicated and incoherent.

In response to the Trudeau government’s ongoing small-business tax reform fiasco, the Senate finance committee recommended that Canada undertake a comprehensive review of our tax system of the kind not seen since the Carter Commission of over 50 years ago. This is exactly what’s needed. The latest revelations about our leaky corporate tax system, on top of the bombshells of the Panama and Paradise Papers, make inescapable the unfairness and inefficiency of our tax system. The challenge won’t be met by mere tinkering.
- Matt Bruenig discusses how a social wealth fund could do far more than merely increased tax rates to ensure that everybody benefits from increased overall wealth. And Ann Pettifor notes that businesses which actually offer anything of use to people stand to benefit from policies oriented toward greater equality and social investment.

- The BBC reports on the findings of the Jo Cox commission, including the need to counteract social isolation. Darren McGarvey points out the reality of social immobility resulting from the stresses of poverty and insecurity. And Laura Kane reports on the effect of B.C.'s housing crisis which is forcing seniors into the streets.

- Meanwhile, Michael Fitzpatrick highlights how a focus on genuine social housing can lead to far more fair and functional communities.

- Finally, Grant Robertson and Tom Cardoso report on the lack of meaningful consequences for white-collar crime.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

On points of agreement

With both Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon having run leadership campaigns before, both could be expected to have plenty to offer by way of policy. And that’s proven true - though not necessarily in a way that will give NDP members a lot of distinctions to help in sorting out their choice.

To date, both Meili and Wotherspoon have released a number of issue-specific planks, with Meili also offering a general vision statement. And there are far more similarities than differences between the general themes and proposals involved.

Before I start examining the key differences, I'll point out some of the obvious similarities - as well as a few areas where agreements in principle aren't necessarily reflected in the candidates' policy proposals to date.

Among the points in common between the two, they're in agreement on:
- a $15 minimum wage;
- restoring decision-making authority to local school boards;
- eliminating the funding gap for Indigenous students;
- requiring a referendum before privatizing any Crowns, as well as expanding the mandate and geographic reach of existing ones;
- a retrofit program for energy efficiency; 
- a new provincial transportation system to replace STC; and
- a resource royalty review. 

Meanwhile, in a few extremely prominent policy areas, there's a notable difference in the candidates' willingness to commit to specific targets or actions even while they agree on the underlying principles.

For example, while both promise made-in-Saskatchewan climate change policies, only Meili has actually set out targets to be met (a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 45% in methane emissions by 2030). In contrast, the contents of Wotherspoon's plan are entirely to be determined.

And Meili specifically promises to introduce a universal pharmacare program - while Wotherspoon stays a couple of steps removed by saying only that he'll "work to deliver on pharmacare".

Conversely, Wotherspoon sets out a specific target of a $15 per day child care program. In contrast, Meili promises "the best child care and early childhood education program in Canada", but doesn't offer any detail about what that would include.

And Wotherspoon identifies specific revenue generators, including a new $250,000 income tax bracket and the reversal of tax cuts in the current top bracket. Meanwhile, Meili leaves tax policy to be dealt with in an overall revenue review which includes royalties.

Those differences offer a starting point in identifying both the relative priorities of the candidates, and the areas where they each see more work needing to be done before they're prepared to make firm commitments. And it's worth noting those contrasts before turning to the policy proposals which look to break new ground.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Matt Bruenig writes that the concentration of wealth and power which is largely being attributed to crony capitalism is a natural byproduct of laissez-faire economics as well:
An economy that distributes the national income based solely on the marginal productivity of each unit of capital and labor is an economy that will still feature massive levels of inequality and poverty. This is so for three reasons:
  1. Around half of the population neither works nor owns a considerable amount of capital. Their true factor income is around $0.
  2. There are considerable productivity differences between different kinds of jobs, and so wage differences would also remain very high even in the absence of rent.
  3. Capital is distributed extremely unevenly and so capital payments would remain very unequal even without rents.
No amount of increasing competition, trimming intellectual property rights, or lowering barriers to entry would solve these problems. More specifically, eradicating rent-seeking would not solve these problems because these problems are not caused by rents. Instead, we need a big welfare state to fix problem one, strong (“rent-seeking”) labor organizations to fix problem two, and the redistribution and socialization of capital to fix problem three.
- Ed Pilkington explores the widespread poverty already present in the U.S. And Heather Keller and Leah Gramlich discuss the massive costs of malnutrition beyond its direct impacts on health care.

- PressProgress exposes how the Harper Cons suppressed the federal government's own research into the connection between mental health issues and terrorism in order to demonize minorities instead.

- Vito Pelici reports on the decrease in public information about Ontario's power system due to privatization. And Beatrice Britneff notes that the Trudeau Libs don't seem to have much interest in appointing a replacement for Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault as her retirement looms in two weeks.

- Finally, Seth Klein, Shannon Daub and Alex Hemingway offer their suggestions to shape British Columbia's referendum on electoral reform.