Saturday, January 27, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- David McGrane writes about Jack Layton's five great fights - and how they continue to provide an essential framework for social democrats.

- Rupert Neate reports on London's "ghost towers", which include tens of thousands of high-end homes sitting empty in a city facing a severe housing crisis. Ann Pettifor comments on the absurdity of pretending that more private construction will solve the lack of housing in light of that reality. And Matt Bruenig offers his take on how to work real estate into a social wealth fund.

- Meanwhile, Jacky Davis discusses how creeping corporatism and austerity are eating away at the UK's National Health Service. 

- Blake Eligh points out that low-income families lack for healthy food only as a result of availability issues rather than preferences. And José L. Peñalvo, Frederick Cudhea, Renata Micha, Colin D. Rehm, Ashkan Afshin, Laurie Whitsel, Parke Wilde, Tom Gaziano, Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, Martin O’Flaherty, Simon Capewell and Dariush Mozaffarian have studied how prices and subsidies can make a difference in ensuring healthier food is affordable.

- Finally, Alex McKeen and Victoria Gibson report on the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in Canadian politics. And A.H. Reaume highlights why whisper networks to distribute warnings about ongoing misconduct fall far short of creating the safe and inclusive system we should want.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Musical interlude

Henrik B feat. Christian Alvestam - Now and Forever

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Wanda Wyporska discusses why we can't expect a group of cloistered elites to do anything to solve the changeable dimensions of inequality.

- Jonathan Ford and Gill Plimmer write that the UK is beginning to learn its lesson about the dangers of privatizing public services. And PressProgress offers three reasons why Canada shouldn't follow down the road toward outsourcing,

- Ian Hussey debunks a few of the more tired arguments against a fair minimum wage. And Meagan Day discusses the psychological consequences of accepting the neoliberal view of atomized and constantly-competing individuals:
When identifying the root cause of this growing appetite for excellence, Curran and Hill don’t mince words: it’s neoliberalism. Neoliberal ideology reveres competition, discourages cooperation, promotes ambition, and tethers personal worth to professional achievement. Unsurprisingly, societies governed by these values make people very judgmental, and very anxious about being judged.

Psychologists used to talk about perfectionism as though it were unidimensional — only directed from the self to the self. That’s still the colloquial usage, what we usually mean when we say someone’s a perfectionist. But in the last few decades, researchers have found it productive to broaden the concept. Curran and Hall rely on a multidimensional definition, encompassing three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented, socially prescribed.
...(P)eople born in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada after 1989 scored much higher than previous generations for all three kinds of perfectionism, and that scores increased linearly over time. The dimension that saw the most dramatic change was socially prescribed perfectionism, which increased at twice the rate of the other two. In other words, young people’s feeling of being judged harshly by their peers and the broader culture is intensifying with each passing year.
One consequence of this rise in perfectionism, Curran and Hall argue, has been a series of epidemics of serious mental illness. Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The constant compulsion to be perfect, and the inevitable impossibility of the task, exacerbate mental-illness symptoms in people who are already vulnerable. Even young people without diagnosable mental illnesses tend to feel bad more often, since heightened other-oriented perfectionism creates a group climate of hostility, suspicion, and dismissiveness — in which the jury is always out on everyone, pending group appraisal — and socially prescribed perfectionism involves an acute recognition of that alienation. In short, the repercussions of rising perfectionism range from emotionally painful to literally deadly.

And there’s one other repercussion of rising perfectionism: it makes it hard to build solidarity, which is the very thing we need in order to resist the onslaught of neoliberalism. Without healthy self-perceptions we can’t have robust relationships, and without robust relationships we can’t come together in the numbers it would take to rattle, much less upend, the whole political-economic order.
- Finally, the Canadian Labour Congress is taking a stand against Justin Trudeau's choice to lock Canada into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Larry Elliott writes about the fragility of the political and economic structures which the world's most privileged people are seeking to entrench in Davos. And Branko Milanovic discusses the importance of intra-country inequality which is getting worse around the globe.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on new research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showing that we can achieve better health outcomes by investing in social supports.

- Katherine McGilton and John Muscedere comment on the need to listen to people living with frailty. And Patrick Butler takes note of widespread but hidden malnutrition amount UK seniors.

- Linda McQuaig points out how the spread of the franchise model has made it difficult for workers to effectively organize. But Martin Regg Cohn theorizes that Tim Hortons' offensive response to a long-overdue minimum wage hike might help lay the ground work for a more union-friendly labour law environment.

- Finally, Tom Parkin discusses how Justin Trudeau's insistence on signing onto the Trans-Pacific Partnership will hurt the auto sector among other key Canadian industries. And Kelly Steele reports on the Libs going into hiding after realizing they couldn't possibly defend their decision to the public.

New column day

Here, on how Carillion's collapse points out one of the most important failings of Brad Wall's tenure in office.

For further reading...
- Plenty of others have also weighed in on the Carillion story and the dangers of putting corporate interests in charge of public services, including Simon Jenkins, Will Hutton, Jonathan Freedland and  John Crace
- CBC reported on the direct connection between Carillion and North Battleford's new hospital, while SaskBuilds' list of P3 projects offers a preview of the other public infrastructure at risk.
- And again, David Climenhaga points out the connection between Carillion and Alberta, while Jonathan Gatehouse discussed the wider Canadian implications of Carillion's liquidation.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andrew Sheng discusses the role of oversimplified assumptions about economic development in exacerbating wealth and income inequality:
The American era has been very comfortable with the timeless, universal model of the free market. Inconvenient problems such as inequality are market failures, which the state can take care of, ignoring the reality of political capture and vested interests. Free market economics suited the privileged elite because “everyone can get rich, we can always redistribute later”. But once the elite got rich, few paid serious attention to redistribution.

The tax cut proposals in the US prove this. All indicators are that the rich will benefit from them more than the poor. The hope is that the rich will invest and the middle class will spend, while welfare and health care for the needy are cut.

Politics drives economic theory, which legitimises the status quo. Recognising inequality is therefore not difficult. The real question is: what can we really do to reduce inequality?
- The OECD offers an overview of its efforts to measure social capital. And Frank Huyler discusses how institutional breakdowns including regulatory capture by the pharmaceutical industry have played the main part in causing the U.S.' opioid crisis.

- Thomas Walkom writes that Justin Trudeau's agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership confirms that he's primarily interested in appealing to the corporate class. And Andrew Mitrovica discusses how Trudeau's silence makes him complicit in Donald Trump's bigotry.

- David Roberts reports on Colorado's example of renewable energy outclassing fossil fuels as a cheaper and cleaner means of generating power.

- Finally, Stanley Tromp offers some suggestions to modernize British Columbia's access-to-information system (which also bear review elsewhere).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lounging cats.

On consistent patterns

It's certainly worth being cautious about leadership campaign polling which is met with a challenge almost as soon as it's first released. But the NDP side of Mainstreet's new poll may nonetheless be worth noting, particularly as it fits in with other indications as to the state of the race.

In particular, the "Meili has a lead of 25 per cent!" theme may sound surprising because of how it's framed. But a 62.5%-37.5% lead now would be entirely consistent with the comparative vote share the two candidates won in the first ballot in the 2013 leadership campaign (61.5%-38.5%). And it's not so far off of Meili's 55.5%-44.5% lead in current fund-raising (PDF) as to look out of place either.

Of course, we'll have a better idea how Mainstreet's attempt to reach the voter pool holds up once polling is conducted based on the NDP's actual membership list, rather than an analysis limited to federal donors. And it's entirely possible that a similar critique of Mainstreet's Saskatchewan Party methodology may apply to some extent to its NDP poll.

But for now, there's at least some indication that relatively little may have changed from members' prior voting preferences. And if that holds true, then Meili looks to be in a strong position as the voting window approaches.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Elizabeth Kolbert comments on the psychology of inequality, and particularly how the current trend in which a disproportionate share of gains goes to a small number of wealthy individuals produces no ultimate winners: 
As the relative-income model predicted, those who’d learned that they were earning less than their peers were ticked off. Compared with the control group, they reported being less satisfied with their jobs and more interested in finding new ones. But the relative-income model broke down when it came to those at the top. Workers who discovered that they were doing better than their colleagues evinced no pleasure. They were merely indifferent. As the economists put it in a paper that they eventually wrote about the study, access to the database had a “negative effect on workers paid below the median for their unit and occupation” but “no effect on workers paid above median.”

The message the economists took from their research was that employers “have a strong incentive” to keep salaries secret. Assuming that California workers are representative of the broader population, the experiment also suggests a larger, more disturbing conclusion. In a society where economic gains are concentrated at the top—a society, in other words, like our own—there are no real winners and a multitude of losers.
(Payne) has come to believe that what’s really damaging about being poor, at least in a country like the United States—where, as he notes, even most people living below the poverty line possess TVs, microwaves, and cell phones—is the subjective experience of feeling poor. This feeling is not limited to those in the bottom quintile; in a world where people measure themselves against their neighbors, it’s possible to earn good money and still feel deprived. “Unlike the rigid columns of numbers that make up a bank ledger, status is always a moving target, because it is defined by ongoing comparisons to others,” Payne writes.

Feeling poor, meanwhile, has consequences that go well beyond feeling. People who see themselves as poor make different decisions, and, generally, worse ones.
Preschoolers, brown capuchin monkeys, California state workers, college students recruited for psychological experiments—everyone, it seems, resents inequity. This is true even though what counts as being disadvantaged varies from place to place and from year to year...

Still, there are choices to be made. The tax bill recently approved by Congress directs, in ways both big and small, even more gains to the country’s plutocrats. Supporters insist that the measure will generate so much prosperity that the poor and the middle class will also end up benefitting. But even if this proves true—and all evidence suggests that it will not—the measure doesn’t address the real problem. It’s not greater wealth but greater equity that will make us all feel richer.
- Timothy Taylor charts the state of inequality in countries around the globe. And Branko Milanovic comments on the farce that is a discussion of inequality at Davos by the people who have put in place the policies most responsible for its spread.

-  David Olusoga discusses the return of Victorian-era slums to the UK, while Lucy Pasha-Robinson reports on declining life expectancies arising out of austerity.

- Rajeev Syal reports on a study from the UK's National Audit Office showing how privatization has resulted in the government paying more to get less. James Bloodworth notes that the Carillion privatization model amounted to little more than a Ponzi scheme which depended on a continually-increasing flow of public money to enrich its executives. Tom Pride observes that one of the prime culprits in (and profiteers from) Carillion's collapse has been rewarded by being put in charge of nuclear safety. David Climenhaga discusses the connection between Carillion, the Klein government and Alberta's privatized highways which rely on a now-failed corporation for their maintenance. And Will Hutton rightly questions why we'd ever trust the corporate sector to manage public services again.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom questions Justin Trudeau's determination to keep the NAFTA dispute resolution provisions which have been used primarily to tie the hands of Canadian governments.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jim Hightower writes about the importance of a popular movement to build the policy foundation for middle- and working-class prosperity. And Doug Henwood notes that the U.S. union movement managed to hold its ground in 2017.

- Ellie May MacDonald points out how austerity imposes a disproportionate burden on women:
Firstly, austerity measures are likely to decrease the ability of women to gain employment – the most effective route out of poverty. Changes to Universal Credit provide greater incentives for single-earner households and penalise two-earner households through benefit reductions. Women, more often the ‘second earner’, will face disincentives to work. The cuts to the public sector (in terms of both jobs and the real value of earnings) harm women more than men, since around two-thirds of the public-sector workforce is female. 73 per cent of those that are affected by the public sector pay freeze were women, according to the Women’s Budget Group. The continuation of these cuts will decrease the incomes of many women or deplete them altogether.

Secondly, the welfare state cuts have unacceptable consequences for women. Women are more dependent than men upon the welfare state; care responsibilities prevent many from entering employment and earning an independent income. Even within employment, women may suffer in-work poverty because they are only able to maintain part-time, low-paid jobs whilst caring for dependents.
Thirdly, Universal Credit is changing the structure of the family – to the detriment of mothers. Universal Credit creates incentives for single-earner ‘breadwinner’ households, due to the withdrawal of benefits from two-earner households. Furthermore, UC is paid in one lump-sum into one bank account (usually the primary earner’s). These measures are likely to increase incidences of households with one primary earner and a partner that is either a second earner or not earning. Women are much more likely than men to be the latter, increasing their dependence upon their male partners.

Dependence upon the income of a partner has two effects. Firstly, it may leave some women without sufficient resources to meet their minimum needs. Breadwinner ideology can affect who accesses resources within the household, because it can reduce women’s bargaining power if they are not seen to be contributing to the household income. Secondly, it is likely to increase the risk of future poverty, since economic dependence means that an individual’s continued economic stability and wellbeing depends on two conditions: their partners keeping their income, and their families staying together. Dependency reduces the ability of women to get a source of stable income after separation (either through a good job or from a pension), whilst also leaving her with fewer assets and wealth.
The problem of poverty should be the priority of policy makers, not only for those focused on social injustice but also for those seeking economic benefits. The cost of increased spending on public services, particularly child care services, is likely to be mitigated by the increased economic activity. In 2011, the IPPR published a report making the economic case for universal childcare: on the basis of their cost-benefit analysis, they show that universal childcare pays a return of £20,050 over four years to the government.

The government is not doing enough to combat the entrenched nature of women’s poverty. This is either through ignorance – since official statistics conceal the true extent of this poverty – or because neither women nor poverty are the priority of policymakers in a time of austerity. The current government should be held to account for this injustice, particularly given that the Equality Act of 2006 provides the legitimate grounds to do so. This is a legal obligation to pay ‘due regard’ to gender equality when making decisions relating to spending plans. This requires a long-standing commitment to social change, not quick-fix measures that improve poverty rates in the short-term.
- Gary Mason comments on the unacceptable abandonment of Sears' workers, as people who dedicated decades to their employer saw their pensions siphoned off by corporate profiteers. Jesse McLaren and Kate Hayman discuss how the treatment of workers by Tim Hortons franchises is antithetical to their health and welfare. And Talia Jane shares her story of seeing her career derailed for the crime of trying to seek out fair pay.

- Stewart Smyth writes that the only way to get housing policy right is to prioritize the availability of homes over the use of housing as a means to accumulate wealth. And William Rees discusses the role international capital has played in shifting us in the wrong direction. 

- Finally, Luisa D'Amato points out how Justin Trudeau is now insulting Canadians in trying to excuse his own broken promise of a fair electoral system.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On permanent repercussions

When Trent Wotherspoon first announced that he was considering pursuing the Saskatchewan NDP's permanent leadership, I pointed out some of my concerns about how his previous tenure as interim leader - when he was elected after offering his assurance that he wouldn't seek the permanent position - might result in question marks over the leadership campaign. 

Now, a prime example of the problem with Wotherspoon's about-face has turned into a campaign flashpoint, as the administrators of the Save Saskatchewan Libraries group have issued an endorsement of Wotherspoon which couldn't be any more closely tied to his role as interim leader.

To be clear, I don't take issue with the administrators themselves taking a position in the NDP's leadership campaign.

The NDP should be eager to hear new voices participating in the leadership campaign, particularly ones who have so effectively marshaled widespread support for Saskatchewan's key public institutions. And the fact that a group was generally intended to be non-partisan doesn't mean its administrators should have any hesitation in applying their experience and opinions to the leadership campaign.

But that's an entirely separate issue from the need for fairness in the leadership campaign itself. And to see how that's been affected, here's Christine Freethy's own account as to how she came to endorse Wotherspoon:
I literally GOOGLED “Saskatchewan NDP” and said to the first person who answered the phone “I am running that library facebook group and I think you guys need to get your shit together and help us” Later that day was the first time I ever talked to Trent Wotherspoon.

At the time, Trent Wotherspoon was interim leader. And I am a political nobody who lives in Rabbit Lake. But he had seen the group and was plugged in enough with Carla Beck and the staff to know I was reaching out. I told him my plan - a non-partisan movement to bring attention to the library cut and force Brad Wall to reverse his decision. Trent listened and said “What can I and the NDP do to help your group?”
Needless to say, there's little reason to think Ryan Meili (or any other person who might plausibly have held a leadership position) would have done any differently given the opportunity. But only Wotherspoon enjoyed that. 

Because Wotherspoon was in the interim leader role based in part on his promise not to seek the permanent leadership, he was charged with leading the NDP's communication with Freethy, with the party's staff assisting him in that effort. And he was thus able to build a close relationship with an outside group which was doing widespread organizing complementary to that of the party - resulting in an endorsement which reached a wide range of actual and potential members just in time for the membership deadline.

There may not be much which can be done to alleviate that gap now. But in comparing the candidates, the NDP's members will need to test their own impressions of Wotherspoon to see how they might reflect the advantage he captured in the interim role. And there may be significant legitimacy issues for the party as a whole if the race ends up turning on a candidate's gaining an advantage from a broken promise.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jesse Winter is the latest reporter to tell the stories of a few minimum-wage workers who will see a raise as a result of improved employment standards. And Erika Shaker points out that a substantial minimum-wage increase is a long-overdue response to outdated statutory standards and stagnant wage levels, not a meaningful imposition on employers:
(W)hat’s truly surprising is that so many businesses didn’t seem to see it coming, even after a two-year $15 minimum wage campaign in Ontario. After all, increases have been studied, debated and implemented in several American states, Britain, and Australia (to name a few), not to mention Alberta. All this strikes me as something that might be considered “market research” or simply “planning ahead” for a business concerned with its bottom line.

So while this is certainly a significant change, Ontario businesses had time to rethink their decision to pursue a low-wage business plan in the broader socio-economic and political context (the Changing Workplaces Review was initiated back in February 2015 “to consider issues brought about in part by the growth of precarious employment”), seven months to adjust to being compliant with the legislation (if the mere desire to treat their workers well wasn’t strong enough), and another year before $15/hr kicks in.
The increase to the minimum wage shouldn’t be seen as a shock, but rather a long-fought-for correction…which suggests that those businesses arguing loudest had perhaps become too comfortable counting on an outdated business model whose profit margins depended on low-wage employees. The much-publicized decision by a few (“rogue”, according to Head Office) Tim Hortons franchises to find ways to gouge their workers betrays a somewhat Dickensian nostalgia for a time when the highest costs of doing business were borne by the worker — not the cutting-edge, forward-looking business acumen that we’re often told tax breaks will encourage.
- Lydia Dobson criticizes Ontario employers whose reaction to an improved minimum wage is to steal employees' tips. And Heidi Shierholz, David Cooper, Julia Wolfe, and Ben Zipperer document the billions of dollars workers stand to lose from Donald Trump's plan to let U.S. employers do exactly that.

- Matt Bruenig points out the problems with fetishizing small businesses, rather than focusing on the importance of workers' protections and needs regardless of the size of their employer.

- The Star's editorial board argues that Google and Facebook should be required to pay a fair share of taxes proportional to the corporate revenue they accumulate from their Canadian operations.

- And finally, Mary Papenfuss reports on the Koch family's six-figure payout to Paul Ryan (and other donations which represent a small portion of the Republicans' tax giveaway) as a prime example of the corruption inherent in politics dominated by big money.