Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Marty Warren highlights why Tim Hortons workers - and other people facing precarious and low-paying work - need union representation to ensure their interests are respected. And Christo Aivalis writes that the current discussion of minimum wage pairs fairness issues about distribution of wealth with the economic importance of shared prosperity, while Alan Freeman notes that a liveable minimum wage improves matters on both counts.

- Dani Rodrik argues that while exclusionary political populism is dangerous, some economic populism may be entirely appropriate in response to the risk of institutions which only entrench the privileged position of the wealthy. And Ian Buruma theorizes that Japan's stronger collectivist culture may be playing a part in limiting the perceived need for populist demagogues.

- Nicholas Sowels takes a look at the current state of inequality in the UK. Rachael Burford reports on the unconscionable adoption of - and hasty retreat from - a plan to explicitly segregate playgrounds based on parents' ability to contribute to fund-raising campaigns. And Dawn Foster laments the strategy of trying to hide the people who live in poverty, rather than ameliorating their lives:
It should be obvious that banning begging or criminalising rough sleeping will do little to combat homelessness. In July Oxford council considered fining rough sleepers up to £2,500 and attached notices warning of the incoming fines to the bags and belongings of homeless people. Most people in work couldn’t afford a £2,500 spot fine without a considerable impact on their day-to-day finances: someone forced to sleep in a shop doorway because they can’t afford their rent cannot possibly have the cash to hand. The fine is thus about engendering fear, rather than anything one might regard as a workable solution. When homelessness and poverty is hidden from the high street, you can pretend it no longer exists.

It seems foolish and unfathomable, but it also lends us a vision of local and national government for the next few years. With town halls finding budgets whittled down to the bone and struggling to fund the most basic services, addressing the root causes of poverty becomes an impossibility.

Street homelessness has more than doubled since 2010, when the coalition government was formed, but so, too, has the number of people in temporary accommodation and people approaching councils for help due to eviction and losing their home. But councils have few options when it comes to rehousing. Predictably, many are ending funding for domestic violence and homelessness services and hostels. With no resources to combat the causes of poverty, some councils adopt this backwards approach of criminalisation.

Threatening people with fines or legal action may temporarily move the sight of rough sleeping away from British high streets, but those people don’t evaporate, they can’t be coerced into a more acceptable lifestyle; they won’t rise up and rent a house on a whim. Without the resources and support, they will remain homeless, but under the radar, in the shadows. We will not see them, but they will still exist.
- Finally, in the wake of a series of broken promises and scandals, Michael Harris rightly questions whether Justin Trudeau's words mean anything at all. And Stephen Tweedale offers some suggestions as to what Trudeau could do if he wants to genuinely strengthen democratic engagement, rather than substituting a traveling road show for public participation.

[Update: added link.]

Friday, January 12, 2018

Musical interlude

Philosopher Kings - Charms

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Gwynn Guilford discusses how dependence on coal and other resources has left the U.S.' Appalachian region both poor and ill-equipped for the future after enriching a few corporate owners. And David Dayen notes that a national tax giveaway to the rich is leading to a new round of layoffs and attacks on workers papered over with one-time announcements:
(T)his may end up being the most aggressive corporate public relations scheme we’ve seen in America since a bunch of movie studios got together during the Great Depression to run attack ads smearing Upton Sinclair’s progressive campaign for governor of California. The money flowing to workers in these announcements are like a nickel in a tin can compared to the bounty rushing into corporate treasuries. In many cases, they seem to have been pre-planned prior to the tax bill, done to reap a tax write-off, or announced to mask layoffs elsewhere in the business.

Consider the one-time, $1,000 bonuses for employees that many companies, like Comcast and AT&T, have announced. First of all, one-time bonuses, while nice to have, are not wage increases. The promise of the tax cut was not that it would let companies throw a few bucks in the employee tip jar, but permanently raise pay. Bonuses don’t make up for stagnant wages, as Southwest Airlines’ mechanics union, which has been locked in a contract battle for over five years, told the company.

The Comcast and AT&T bonuses were also announced late last year, allowing them to be written off as a business expense in 2017. If a business gave a bonus in 2017, it went against the 35 percent corporate tax rate then in effect. If were to give one this year, the bonus would only go against the new 21 percent rate. In other words, it was cheaper for businesses to announce bonuses in December than January, suggesting we may not see much of their kind again.

But Comcast and AT&T in particular serve as the poster children for dishonesty in this matter. Because around the same time that they made a big show of rewarding employees with bonuses, both companies quietly engaged in layoffs. Comcast fired 500 members of its sales department before Christmas, and AT&T is eliminating “thousands” of jobs, according to its union, the Communications Workers of America. “We believe there's more than 4,000 people AT&T has (notified of layoffs) across the country,” Larry Robbins, vice president of CWA Local 4900, told the Indianapolis Daily Star.

Just to do the math on this, $1,000 bonuses to 200,000 AT&T workers is $200 million. Cancelling 4,000 jobs at the median US compensation of $59,000 per year (some of the workers affected likely earned less) would actually amount to a higher number, and unlike the bonuses, those layoffs are permanent. More to the point, any $1,000 bonus for workers is a drop in the ocean compared to chopping the corporate tax rate by 40 percent, as the Trump tax cuts will. AT&T, according to calculations from economist Dean Baker, will see $2.4 billion in annual savings from that tax cut, more than ten times the likely cost of its the one-time bonus.
(T)hese announcements are worse than a joke. They represent a deliberate strategy to curry favor with the public and President Trump while executives gorge themselves on tax cuts, most of which won’t trickle down to anyone. Corporations simply don’t make decisions based on taxes, and certainly not decisions to benefit workers over the long-term. These corporate PR departments are deceiving America to preserve an ideology of ultra-low taxes, and hoping nobody notices the truth.
- Erica Alini reports on the lack of uptake on Canada's disability tax credit (and associated benefits) due to the difficulty involved in applying. And Julie Ireton exposes the reality that the Phoenix pay system was designed all along to fail - including by using customized settings to pay employees the lowest possible salary for their pay band, rather than the amount actually offered.

- Jessica Ross points out why Ontario's plan to limit prescription drug coverage to people under the age of 24 falls far short of both keeping people healthy and making effective use of public resources.

- Finally, Richard Power Sayeed reports on Jeremy Corbyn's plan to ensure that UK Labour is a constantly-active mechanism for community activism - not only an electoral machine to be brought out of mothballs every few years.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jerry Dias writes that a new year has already seen far too many examples of corporate greed rampaging out of control. Elizabeth Bruenig highlights the contrasting treatment of poor people who face increasingly stringent requirements to access even meager benefits, and the wealthy who are being handed billions for doing nothing. And Elizabeth Kolbert discusses the psychological underpinnings of inequality - including the predictable harm done to people who face less than fair treatment.

- Meanwhile, Roderick Benns looks at some early data on Ontario's basic income pilot which shows low-income workers as the primary registrants so far.

- Philip Oltermann reports on the push by German workers for reduced hours in a standard work week.

- Danyaal Raza weighs in on the need for plasma collection to serve the public interest, not a profit motive. And Melissa Davey discusses the possibility of a sugar tax to raise revenue and improve public health.

- Finally, Zach Dubinsky compares the effects of the Panama Papers on tax enforcement in several countries, and notes that Canada is far behind our international peers in recouping money sent offshore.

New column day

Here, on the positive natural effects of minimum wage increases - and why we shouldn't lose them to the threat of artificial problems being created by employers looking for excuses to exploit their workers.

For further reading...
- The Bank of Canada's staff analytical note on the effect of planned minimum wage increases is here (PDF). And again, Michal Rozworski discusses the difference between the note's actual conclusions, and the media spin about job impacts.
- PressProgress debunks a few of the right-wing attacks on improved wages.
- Gillian Steward and Ian Hussey have both noted that Alberta is prospering while taking steps to make sure lower-income workers receive a fair wage.
- Finally, Aaron Saltzman reports on the Tim Hortons franchises and other Ontario employers who have tried to use a minimum wage boost as an excuse to attack workers. And Edward Keenan discusses how Tim Hortons in particular is undermining its own brand due to franchisees' treatment of employees. [Update: And Joel Harden calls for an end to employer retaliation against lower-income workers.]

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Gerald Caplan writes about the existential threats to humanity which are being either escalated or ignored:
We are rapidly approaching the same kind of escalation that led the world to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, with humankind on the very brink of nuclear war and nuclear destruction. I still recall it quite vividly. It was a uniquely terrifying moment in the lifetime of the world. Like everyone else, I too kept a sharp eye out for the very latest news to see how long we had left to exist.

If it sounds preposterously melodramatic now, it was real enough then. In the end, we were saved by both sides agreeing to back off. But it took the cool heads of the two most powerful men on earth, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, to spare us to try again one day.

Has that day now arrived? Surely no one would willingly entrust Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump with the future of humanity, yet neither seems controllable in the slightest. Who knows where their bizarre game of chicken may end up? It's perfectly plausible that one or another may stumble his way into launching the armed missile that would demand immediate retaliation by the other. The consequences, as we all knew back in the Cold War days, would indeed be mutual assured destruction. Who believes Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump can be trusted to choose sanity over nuclear Armageddon?

In any event, there are other roads to doom. For a start: the updating of nuclear weapons, climate wilding and Mr. Trump's America spinning out of control. Take the third: there's no reason to believe that this summer's outbreak of violent anarchy in Charlottesville, Virginia, will be the last. Countless Americans are ready to erupt. It's estimated that hundreds of heavily armed neo-fascist militias threaten to unleash their power, knowing they have an ally in the White House. Both furious African-Americans and frustrated whites have had enough. America feels ripe for its second civil war, which, like the first, would unleash forces that can hardly be imagined. How can any normal sensible person fail to be shaken? I include me.

Frankly, these feel to me like the apocalyptic End Times that the hysterical Old Testament prophets foresaw many millenniums ago. As Mr. Trump has provocatively warned, "fire and fury" are next. Perhaps my dear old Mama understood human nature better than Professor Steven Pinker.
- Paul Buchheit discusses how inequality in particular is reaching levels which are resulting in the wealthiest few being almost entirely detached from everybody else. David Dayen reminds us that the largest private fortunes in the world are largely the product of capturing public investments. And Christopher Ingraham notes that matters are only projected to get worse absent a major change in course. 

- Meghan McCabe reports on the plight of Sears employees who have seen their promised pensions disappear due to corporate raiding.

- Finally, Andray Domise highlights Harper Senate appointee Lynn Beyak as an example of how bigotry is passed between generations even in the face of social progress.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with companions.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Tom Parkin writes that job numbers inflated by part-time employment shouldn't distract us from the consumer debt and wage stagnation which are living more and more people with precarious financial situations. Ben Leubsdorf reports on the recognition by members of the American Economic Association that upper-income and corporate tax cuts won't lead to any meaningful economic improvements. Jeffrey Jones and Jacqueline Nelson take a look at the pile of dead capital already sitting around unused in Canada. And the Star's editorial board endorses Jagmeet Singh's plans for a more fair and progressive tax system as part of the needed response to burgeoning inequality.

- Stephen Tweedale responds to Andrew Coyne by discussing how fair minimum wage levels and a basic income can work together. Miles Corak discusses how to think about the minimum wage from the perspective of an economist (as distinct from the corporate mouthpieces who pretend to discuss economic effects). Sara Mojtehedzadeh debunks some laughable numbers from Tim Hortons franchisees complaining about paying fair wages to their employees, while Vanmala Subramaniam offers some perspective on the Bank of Canada's numbers which have been twisted beyond recognition. And Joe Lofaro reports on the efforts of the Ottawa and District Labour Council to monitor and expose any employer attempts to exploit workers as Ontario's minimum wage increases.

- Matt Elliott points out that Toronto's shelter crisis is the product of austerian design. And Kenan Malik discusses the class stratification of the UK's education system.

- Finally, Adrienne Tanner writes that an electoral reform campaign which is actually supported by multiple parties may finally be what British Columbia needs to lead the way toward proportional representation.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Leadership 2018 Links

The latest from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign as the January 19 membership deadline approaches.

- CBC and Colton Praill each reported on this weekend's debate in Moose Jaw, with both reports focusing on a combination of general similarities with slight nuances.

- Devin Wilger reported on Trent Wotherspoon's visit to Yorkton, while the Parkland Review noted his time in Nipawin.

- Meanwhile, Brian Zinchuk interviewed Ryan Meili in some depth about about his plans for energy and the resource sector, while Meili also launched an updated version of his book A Healthy Society. (For those interested, I've discussed the first version in previous blog posts.)

- Finally, Jason Hammond offers his take on how the Saskatchewan Party's leadership process might influence NDP voters - and theorizes that the styles and backgrounds of the two candidates could have substantially different effects depending on the Sask Party's choice of leaders.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Bloomberg View discusses how the U.S. is becoming a major tax haven. And the Economist reminds us of the role Canada's pitiful corporate disclosure requirements play in facilitating offshore tax evasion.

- Danny Vinik writes about the future of work - which includes plenty more "alternative" work arrangements designed to insulate businesses from both any responsibility for the well-being of workers, and any means of being held to account for their actions. And Stuart Trew notes that we should be eager to see and encourage genuine disruption of the trend toward precarious work and living.

- Ian Hussey examines the effect of Alberta's minimum wage increases, and finds that the service industries which have shrieked the loudest about paying fair wages have actually benefited the most from improved consumer spending power. Michael Coren discusses why Tim Hortons and other businesses trying to take benefits away from workers aren't deserving of sympathy, while the Star's editorial board points out how the move conflicts with supposed corporate values. 

- Andrew Coyne argues for a basic income as an alternative to an increased minimum wage, though there's no particular reason why the two can't coexist as means of raising the floor for lower-income workers.

- Finally, Johann Hari writes about the social and economic factors behind depression - and the implicit need to develop social structures which don't push people toward avoidable stressors.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

On entrenchment

Following up on my earlier post and column, let's start taking a look at some of the more distinctive policy proposals on offer between Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates.

Probably the most noteworthy single promise so far is this from Trent Wotherspoon as part of his platform on Crown corporations:
Lock down our Crown Corporations and ensure they’re around for generations to come by putting the requirement for a referendum before any sale into the constitution…
Of course, the previous NDP government took steps to protect the Crowns through legislation, with decidedly mixed results. The Saskatchewan Party was cowed into acceding to the Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act. But it eventually felt entirely comfortable both selling off any public assets that weren’t specifically named, and indirectly attacking or ignoring the legislation itself after acceding to its terms once (PDF).

The major advantage of Wotherspoon’s proposal would then be to avoid allowing a single provincial government to sell off a Crown on its own to the extent a sale fell under the new constitutional definition.

But even if the NDP found a federal government willing to cooperate in passing a constitutional amendment to protect public ownership (which is far from clear with either the Libs or Cons in power, plus a requirement for Senate approval), it would face some logistical difficulties.

In order to lock down all Crowns, a constitutional amendment would need to be extremely specific in limiting all means of disposing of or reducing the public ownership of a clear and expansive list of assets. But there's some point where wording intended to protect against ill-advised sell-offs would also limit the ability to operate Crowns effectively by deciding whether some assets and lines of business might no longer fit within the public interest.

Meanwhile, it's also not clear that any protection would be extended to future Crowns which might be developed absent another set of constitutional amendments. And so any debate over a constitutional amendment, as well as any actual implementation, would likely be backward-looking rather than forward-looking.

Finally, the same process used to apply a constitutional amendment could eventually be used to reverse it - meaning that a single term of right-wing government at both levels could undo it in an instant. (And unlike the legislation still on the books, that process wouldn't necessarily involve any public consultation.)

To be clear, some of Wotherspoon's other proposals do rightly address broader issues and opportunities in the Crown sector. But they rank lower in priority and prominence than the constitutional proposal.

In contrast, Meili's platform plank on Crowns includes substantially more discussion as to where it's possible to expand on the services and industries currently included in the sector. And the future of our common wealth likely lies more in confirming for the public how the province benefits from treating Crowns as a valuable part of our economy and political system - not focusing on process to save them in form.

In sum, while it's well worth discussing how to protect and build Saskatchewan's Crown sector from corporatist politics, it's also worth questioning whether a constitutional amendment is the place to start.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Wanda Wyporska highlights the UK's corporate executive fat cats, and argues that it's long past time for the public to stop rewarding them:
So let’s put fat cat pay in context. Yes it has come down slightly, as Sir Martin Sorrell has seen his pay cut from £70 million to a mere £40 million and organisations such as The Equality Trust have campaigned for pay transparency. But excessive CEO pay is also a hygiene issue for business and has been highly criticised throughout 2017. However, as we have calculated, the average CEO earned 242 times the wage of a minimum wage worker, 197 times the wage of a care worker, 108 times the salary of a nurse and 91 times the salary of a teacher. An indictment of the huge gap between those choosing Ferraris and those visiting foodbanks.

Furthermore, as an insurmountable bank of evidence shows, in countries with high levels of inequality (the UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world), there are also higher levels of physical and mental ill health, obesity, incarceration and crime and lower levels of social mobility, educational attainment and trust. So there’s a wider story than just fat cat pay.

Income inequality is a component of and result of a range of other inequalities, such as pay gaps experienced because of barriers such as race, gender and disability. The Equality Trust welcomes the Government’s commitment to legislation forcing companies to disclose their pay ratios and we shall be campaigning on this issue at our Pay Compare campaign. By highlighting the difference in pay between a footballer and the groundsmen, a CEO and the cleaners and the Vice Chancellor and university staff, we hope to demonstrate how unequal our pay systems are, how differently society values individuals, and how we can change this.

Inequality is not inevitable and we can reduce it.
- Meanwhile, Eric Levitz discusses the U.S.' increasing levels of poverty and consumer debt even as economic indicators linked to high-end wealth are seen as positive.

- Jo Littler asks what a more equal society should look like, with particular emphasis on the need to achieve improved equality of actual outcomes rather than pointing to theoretical opportunities. Stephen Tweedale writes about the importance of recognizing the intrinsic dignity and humanity of all people, rather than allowing meritocratic principles to excuse treating some people as more equal than others. And Peter Hicks comments on the value of a range of measures of poverty for different purposes - particularly to distinguish between alleviation and prevention.

- David Suzuki asks that we finally heed longstanding warnings about the environmental damage we're doing to our planet.

- Finally, Michael Harris hopes that 2018 will see Justin Trudeau and his party grow up - though I'd be inclined toward the view that Trudeau has already developed into exactly what he'd planned.