Saturday, February 24, 2018

On historical perspective

I'll give Roland Priddle this much: he's absolutely right in his impression that the best way to argue for waving through expanded tar sands pipelines without an unbiased review is to pretend that nobody has learned anything about environmental protection, oil or dilbit spills, climate change, or energy industry trends over the past six-plus decades.

But I'll suggest that the public interest is probably best served by analysis based in the present rather than 1951.

Leadership 2018 Links

The latest from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign in advance of next weekend's convention.

- Murray Mandryk's questions for the candidates led to substantial agreement on most of the areas covered. But one offers a potentially striking difference in their respective economic plans - with Trent Wotherspoon's tendency toward stark yes/no answers suggesting surprising acceptance of head office subsidies:

Would you continue with the policy of offering subsidies to companies to move to or maintain head office jobs to Saskatchewan?

RM: No. This has not been particularly successful, and there are more effective ways of increasing economic activity and jobs than direct subsidies to large companies.
TW: Yes.
- CBC reports on the latest fund-raising numbers showing Ryan Meili with a continued lead. But Candace Daniel's interview with Wotherspoon includes the noteworthy take that Wotherspoon had already met his fund-raising expectations even while trailing Meili - suggesting a leadership budget below than the $200,000 maximum.

- Meanwhile, D.C. Fraser reports on Meili's concerns with the late mailing of ballots which were just received this week.

- Finally, Jason Hammond offers his take as to why members should consider voting for Meili as the candidate who inspires the most support among the people whose involvement could help renew the NDP.

Update: I'll add a link to Tammy Robert's apt analysis of the campaign - but add only that contrary to her expectations, Meili hasn't been shy about using change as a theme even in talking about the steps the NDP needs to take as a party.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Noah Smith comments on the damaging effects of corporate concentration for workers, consumers and even the financial sector:
The biggest threat from the increasing dominance of big companies isn’t to Goldman Sachs, or even to retirement plans; it’s to workers and consumers. When companies squelch wages and raise prices, it reduces economic activity. It pushes workers out of the labor force entirely, sending them home to play video games on the couch as their job skills and work ethic rot. And it can result in lower output too -- fewer plane rides, fewer people buying broadband internet, few people buying new cars.
The risk is that economy becomes trapped in a toxic cycle. As industries grow more concentrated, dominant companies become a bigger piece of the stock market, and their profit margins push stock valuations higher. Politicians naturally will be less willing to take steps to make markets more competitive, allowing superstar companies to become even more powerful. All the while, retirement accounts do OK, but workers’ wages and the economy suffer from decreasing competition.

It’s important to reverse this vicious cycle before the problem becomes too severe. A bit of antitrust now would go a long way toward preventing oligopoly from turning into oligarchy.
- Meanwhile, Jennifer Wells writes that the stripping of workers' pension funds demands action, not Trudeauvian platitudes. And Mio Tastas Viktorson discusses some of the alternative models of ownership which can ensure that economic development is structured with positive social outcomes in mind.

- But Andrew Kurjata reports on the Libs' establishment of a democracy-free zone in Prince George which looks like a prime example of government allowing the corporate sector to operate without making any contribution to the public good.

- And Nav Persaud and Andrew Boozary note that opioid manufacturers who have faced crackdowns in the U.S. for misleading marketing have been allowed to keep operating without scrutiny in Canada.

- Finally, Mitchell Anderson points out the lack of any case for pipeline expansion based on anything other than wishful thinking. And Tzeporah Berman comments on the Libs' warped definition of a "public interest" in allowing biased assessment processes to govern the building of pipelines.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Musical interlude

Santigold - Disparate Youth

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Livia Gershon discusses why relative equality plays a far greater role in people's well-being than absolute income in developed countries. And Stefanie Stantcheva writes about the cultural roots of the U.S.' relative acceptance of extreme inequality (though it's worth noting that even in the U.S. public preferences are far more egalitarian than actual results):
Despite their country’s mounting income gap, Americans’ support for redistribution has, according to the General Social Survey, remained flat for decades. Perhaps John Steinbeck got it right when he supposedly said that, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

For those who believe that a society should offer its members equal opportunity, and that anyone who works hard can climb higher on the socioeconomic ladder, redistribution is unnecessary and unfair. After all, equal opportunists argue, if everyone begins at the same starting point, a bad outcome must be due to an individual’s own missteps.

This view approximates that of a majority of Americans. According to the World Values Survey, 70% of Americans believe that the poor can make it out of poverty on their own. This contrasts sharply with attitudes in Europe, where only 35% believe the same thing. Put another way, most Europeans consider the poor unfortunate, while most Americans consider them indolent. This may be one reason why European countries support more generous – and costlier – welfare transfers than the US.
An even more striking pattern is that Americans are overly optimistic about social mobility in parts of the country where actual mobility is low – including the southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In these states, respondents believe that mobility is more than two times greater than it is. By contrast, respondents underestimate social mobility in northern states – including Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington – where it is higher.

As part of our study, we shared data on social stratification in Europe and America with our participants. We found that self-identified liberals and conservatives interpreted this information differently. When shown pessimistic information about mobility, for example, liberals became even more supportive of redistributive policies, such as public education and universal health care.

Conservatives, by contrast, remained unmoved. While they acknowledged that low social mobility is economically limiting, they remained as averse to government intervention and redistribution as they were before we shared the data with them.
- George Monbiot discusses how a program to combat isolation has produced substantial social and health benefits for one UK community.

- The CCPA has released its Alternative Federal Budget as a reminder of what we could accomplish at the federal level with a modicum of political will and social values, while Andrew Jackson focuses on the opportunity to expand the Working Income Tax Benefit. And Paul Willcocks comments on the potential long-term benefits from the B.C. NDP's first budget under John Horgan.

- Nav Persaud makes the care for a national pharmacare program by pointing out the problems with tying prescription drug access to jobs.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall highlights the lack of any improvement in the latest iteration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership - no matter how reflexively the Liberals slap the term "progressive" on it.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Elizabeth Piper reports on Jeremy Corbyn's much-needed declaration that under a Labour government, the financial sector will serve the public rather than the other way around. And George Monbiot comments on the role the left needs to play in reversing the accumulation of wealth and power:
(O)nce you have money and property, you can use it to accumulate more money and property, taking an ever greater share of society’s wealth, through the harvesting of economic rent. By economic rent I mean charging people over the odds to use a non-reproducible resource over which you exercise exclusive control. Think, for example, of the ridiculous price we pay in the UK for train tickets, because the train companies have us over a barrel.

By this means, through no enterprise of their own, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. This process has no natural limits. Eventually, as we’ve seen in the past, the very rich can capture almost the entire production of society.

At this point, the debt, destitution and unemployment that results can cause economic collapse: the Great Depression is a good example.

This predicament is not a perversity of the system. It is an innate characteristic. It is bound to work this way, unless there is a political movement capable of breaking the vicious circle of wealth accumulation.
The right will never break the power of patrimonial wealth, because the right exists to defend it. But the left, when it remembers what it’s for, exists to confront it.

During the 1940s, when the left was arguably at the peak of its power in mainstream politics, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. Economists today look back on these rates and describe them as irrational. They argue that the Laffer Curve suggests that governments raise no further revenue above a rate of about 70%. But this is to miss the point. The point of these taxes was not just to raise revenue, but to break the power of patrimonial capital, and the vicious circle of wealth accumulation and inequality.
- Meanwhile, Frances Ryan discusses how the UK's punitive system for social benefit recipients is doing nothing but adding gratuitous stress for people already struggling to get by.

- Mike de Souza reports on the National Energy Board's attempt to weed out staff for providing accurate information to the media. And Barry Saxifrage examines how continued expansion of the tar sands is utterly incompatible with any serious attempt to meet Canada's already-unambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets, while Marc Jaccard calls out Justin Trudeau's Orwellian attempt to claim we can only cut carbon pollution by increasing it.

- Finally, Daniel Leblanc reports on the parting message of retiring Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault - and particularly the reality that access to information isn't getting any better under the Libs than it was under the Cons. And de Souza notes that the Harper Cons' habit of muzzling federal scientists remains standard operating procedure under Trudeau.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Rick Smith writes about the Filthy Five loopholes taking the most money out of Canada's public coffers for the least benefit to anybody but the wealthy. And Ed Finn reminds us to follow the money in figuring out who stands to gain from unconscionable policy choices.

- Douglas Quan reports on the justified outrage against Vancouver for trying to pitch itself as a low-wage jurisdiction in an attempt to cater to Amazon. And Raymond Wong discusses how youth have paid the price for out-of-control house prices - though yesterday's provincial budget offers some much-needed hope and help on that front.

- Meanwhile, the Maytree Foundation offers its recommendations for Ontario's forthcoming budget, while Fred Hahn points out how that province's citizens will be paying the price for the Libs' power privatization for decades to come. And ProgressAlberta traces the history of exorbitant public spending on high-priced private schools at the expense of accessible education under that province's Conservative governments.

- Brent Patterson comments on the Libs' contempt for the Canadian public surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as they plan to simultaneously hype "side letters" as their primary negotiating accomplishment while keeping them secret until it's too late.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board weighs in on the need to address child care at the national level. And Sarah Kliff examines the connection between child-rearing and long-term wage disadvantages.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Relaxing cats.

Leadership 2018: The Endorsement

The ongoing Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign isn't the first time I've chosen between the two candidates. And it likely won't come as much surprise that there's little change in either my overall assessment of both candidates as eminently qualified and suited for a leadership role, or my ultimate choice between them.

But it's worth noting what's changed since the 2013 leadership campaign - and how it leads to my renewed endorsement of Ryan Meili for the NDP's leadership.

The most obvious imminent role of the NDP's next leader will be to serve as leader of the opposition. And while Wotherspoon's tenure as interim leader may give him some advantage in public awareness, either will still need to reach a large number of voters who lack familiarity with both current party leaders.

Each brings some distinct skills to the task of building a contrast against Scott Moe, with Meili's storytelling holding at least as much prospect of winning over voters as Wotherspoon's camera-friendly persona. And while Wotherspoon's stronger support among the current core of the party can't be entirely overlooked, nor can Meili's reach beyond the existing party apparatus.

I also wouldn't foresee either candidate having any trouble uniting the NDP alongside existing and new allies in the lead up to the 2020 election. And that brings us to the question of what might happen afterward.

In the longer term, the more important question for members to consider is what each candidate would figure to do if given the chance to govern. (Of course, that factor is also highly relevant to the goal of winning an election to the extent a vision resonates - or fails to resonate - with voters.)

This leadership campaign has seen Meili develop an appealing mix of both specific proposals and general principles for a future NDP government. And that makes it easy to envision what would change for the better under a Meili government - not only in terms of reversing the Saskatchewan Party's damage, but in the "what" and "how" involved in building the province I'd like to see.

Wotherspoon largely held his own on the policy front at the beginning of the campaign, emphasizing mental health and fixed-price child care as important signature proposals. But his policy offerings essentially ground to a halt midway through the campaign, while offering less detail than Meili's from the outset. And that makes for a particularly significant omission for a candidate who's also prone to speaking in terms of generalities rather than clear principles.

As a result, a comparison of positive campaigns has strengthened my take that Meili is more likely both to choose the right priorities in government if given the opportunity, and to better manage the unforeseen as it arises.

In sum, rather than deciding based on a count of reasons, I'll stick with one overarching consideration: Ryan Meili offers the best-case scenario for progress as Saskatchewan's next premier. And hopefully we'll get the chance to build toward that outcome in the provincial election ahead.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Family Day reading.

- Gloria Galloway reports on Jagmeet Singh's strong case for fair tax revenues as a key highlight from the NDP's federal convention:
In his speech to delegates, Mr. Singh lamented income inequality, urged the protection of pensions, called for publicly funded pharmacare and dental and eye care, and said it is time to take on "a rigged tax system" that allows foreign internet companies to avoid paying their fair share.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Sunday morning, he said that he wants to "change the frame" on taxation because taxes are necessary in a society where people aim to lift each other up.

"My mom always told me that we are all connected and we all suffer together or we rise together so there is a connection that we have," Mr. Singh said. "So, if we look at what we pay into our society as an investment, it's a different way of looking at it. You don't look at it as something that's being taken away from you, as taxes that are being taken away from you, it's something that's being given back to everybody."

Taxes, he said, are investments. "And investments are good. You make investments because you want your home to be better. You invest in your home, you invest in your local park to make it a prettier park, and you invest in society to make it better."
- Meanwhile, Caroline Newman points out Peter Belmi's research on the sources of inequality within both particular organizations and society at large. And Gaby Hinscliffe comments on the UK's sad attempt to substitute a voluntary "guilt tax" for the collection of reasonable revenue from its wealthiest residents.

- Brent Patterson notes that Justin Trudeau is actively trying to push India to sign away its sovereignty through ISDS trade provisions. And Marianne Lavine exposes the U.S.' reliance on the honour system to enforce worker protections - which surely won't be the subject of anywhere near as much pressure from Trudeau.

- Jessica Elgot reports on the hundreds of millions of pounds the UK will be paying in windfall profits to the corporate sector as a result of privatized schools.

- Finally, Robinson Meyer discusses the massive subsidies which underpin the oil industry and its massive profits. And Norman Farrell offers a reminder of the multiple ways in which fossil fuels pollute our environment.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Zoe Williams highlights how misleading framing has caused far too many people to accept destructive austerity and inequality:
Not unreasonably, given the financial crash and its worldwide consequences, the economy was seen as intensely volatile, susceptible to grand forces whose actual nature fell into a cognitive black hole: “market forces” were seen as determining but utterly mysterious. Words like “falling” and “tumbling” were ubiquitous. The language was of natural disaster, and it was highly unusual to link this back to any human responsibility, except that you shouldn’t take too much out of the bucket. This may explain the paradox that, while inequality is seen as a bad thing, there was very little support for redistributive policies; asymmetry may be destructive, yet, like a weather event, it was beyond the wit of man to correct.

Dora Meade, the lead researcher, was shocked by the “ubiquity and level of fatalism”. If you combine the feeling that the economy is something beyond a normal person’s understanding or control, with the sense that the system is rigged, “people are left feeling there is very little they can do. There’s no role for the general public, even if they believe it’s broken and unfair.”

Perhaps the most dispiriting element is that, when asked to describe or imagine a functional, healthy economy, people turned always to an idealised past, when wages were high, inequality was low and we were more “self-reliant”. The resonance here is not with austerity, but with Brexit arguments: people weren’t necessarily blaming immigration for low wages; but they were imagining a past in which wages were higher, and linking that nostalgia to an era of self-determination whose erosion can only, logically, have come from elsewhere.

The report goes on to describe the economic frames and images that might make us feel differently, less impotent, more optimistic: yet before we can talk about the economy as an ecosystem fostering meaning and fulfilment, rather than a bucket full of money, we need to have the courage, not of one’s convictions, but of one’s confusion.
- Sergei Guriev, Danny Leipziger and Jonathan Ostry note that an economy which provides growing spoils for only a lucky few is unsustainable. And Seth Ackerman interviews J.W. Mason about the instability created for investors and workers alike when more money is funneled to the top while workers borrow to give the appearance of keeping up.

- Meanwhile, Mark O'Connell writes about the steps the .01% are taking to isolate themselves from the social challenges they're unwilling to help address.

- Erik Hertzberg reports on the sky-high levels of Canadian consumer borrowing against home values. And Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani notes that home purchases themselves are increasingly being financed by consumers dipping into their retirement savings.

- David Moscrop writes that the much-hyped automation of work is merely the latest iteration of the long-standing question of who will control - and benefit from - technological progress.

- Finally, Ioana Marinescu and Herbert Hovenkamp examine the possibility that competition law could be used to challenge corporate mergers based on their effect on the labour market (rather than merely because of the impact for customers). And Rob Davies discusses how Carillion's collapsed privatization scheme continues to affect workers, suppliers and public services alike.