Friday, March 23, 2018

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - Come What May

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Owen Jones discusses the need for wealth taxes as part of any plan to meaningfully reduce economic inequality:
Much is made of income inequality, and rightly so. Labour’s 2017 manifesto, which proved the tombstone for a neoliberal political consensus that has prevailed for a generation, pledged modest rises in income tax for the top 5% and in corporation tax. Those proposals, while welcome, did not go far enough. On taxing wealth, there is a far greater lack of ambition. This may smack of a lack of gratitude: “Come back when you’ve written a manifesto that buried New Labour’s acquiescence to neoliberalism,” a Labour staffer could justifiably respond. But even if it was the most radical manifesto of my lifetime, that does not mean it was radical enough, given the multiple social crises confronting us. It was a start. Wealth inequality, after all, is about twice as great as income inequality. While wealth inequality fell in the decade following 1995, that trend has since shuffled into reverse. And, according to the Resolution Foundation, while wealth has more than doubled as a percentage of the economy since the 1980s, we still raise only 4% of our tax from it.
So what are the solutions? The first is a radical overhaul of property tax. When a mass movement of civil disobedience and protest in the early 1990s succeeded in defeating the poll tax – in which all households paid the same amount regardless of their economic circumstances – a new council tax came into force. Not only is council tax calculated on valuations that are now more than a quarter of a century out of date, but it is also profoundly regressive. According to the Resolution Foundation, in some areas it has become almost a flat rate, like the despised poll tax. Labour did, in fairness, pledge to review council tax and business rates and to consider a land value tax, but with no firmer commitment than that. The party needs to commit to either a land value tax or at least to an overhauled property tax – one levied as a percentage of current property values, for instance.

Then there’s inheritance tax. The inheritance tax paradox is that it is the most progressive and fair tax of all – arguably it is a tax on the class system – and yet is the most reviled, probably because it is hard to separate from the loss of a loved one. One suggestion floated by the Green party is to replace it with a levy on the recipient, rather than the deceased donor – that would make it harder to caricature the charge as a “death tax”. Portes goes further: why not replace inheritance tax with a principle that any money received from any source is treated as income unless it can be proven otherwise, whether it’s a £10,000 gift from a grandfather or £10,000 left in his will.

And then there’s capital gains tax: Labour promised to reverse Conservative cuts to it, but why not go even further? The IPPR’s commission floats other possible game changers, such as establishing a British sovereign wealth fund, much like Norway’s. One of the many tragedies of Thatcherism was the shameful waste of North Sea oil revenues as it built a fractured society, in contrast to the more prosperous and equal social-democratic Norway, where the state owns nearly 60% of wealth and 76% of non-household wealth. There’s also the proposal to give workers stronger shares in the ownership of companies, and the creation of workers’ ownership funds – as well as a monthly pay cheque employees would also get an annual dividend. We should go even further: why not an annual wealth tax on the top 2% or 5% of households?
...(I)f Labour wishes to enact a truly transformative programme it may have to raise wealth taxes on, say, the most affluent quarter of society. This is certainly fraught with political risk. Yet consider the challenges: a struggling NHS, public services under strain, an ageing population, a national housing crisis, creaking infrastructure. If a new Britain is to be built, Labour will surely have to be more ambitious.
- And Marc Lee argues that British Columbia's new tax on empty homes represents at least a step in the right direction. 

- Meanwhile, Emily Stewart examines how the Republicans' tax scam has served only to make inequality worse in the U.S.

- Meagan Day points out how a few private operators are making a killing abusing the needs of health care systems - including by exploiting their own supply failures to raise prices. And CBC reports that misguided attempts by past Alberta PC governments to outsource operations to Carillion have resulted in the province having to funnel money into a failed corporate entity to maintain basic infrastructure.

- Finally, Noah Smith highlights how non-compete agreements not only damage the bargaining power of the workers bound by them, but also undermine economic development generally. And Terry Gerstein rightly criticizes Donald Trump's plan to make sure that employers who get caught stealing wages  are no worse off for taking money out of the hands of their workers.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Dylan Walsh interviews Jeffrey Pfeffer about his book Dying for a Paycheck, and the ways in which employer demands make people worse off:
Has this connection always been there, or has there been an evolution in workplace culture that got us to this point?

I think the connection as just described has always been there, because the physiology and etiology of disease have not really changed. But I would say that with all the evidence I’ve encountered — and it’s not perfect evidence — I’ve seen nothing inconsistent with the statement that the workplace has generally gotten worse.

Job engagement, according to Gallup, is low. Distrust in management, according to the Edelman trust index, is high. Job satisfaction, according to the Conference Board, is low and has been in continual decline. The gig economy is growing, economic insecurity is growing, and wage growth overall has stagnated. Fewer people are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance than in the past, according to Kaiser Foundation surveys. And a strikingly high percentage of people, even those covered by insurance, say they forgo treatment and medications because of cost issues.

I look out at the workplace and I see stress, layoffs, longer hours, work-family conflict, enormous amounts of economic insecurity. I see a workplace that has become shockingly inhumane.
- Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati take note of the movement building to ensure reasonable balance between the compensation handed to top executives, and the wages paid to workers generally. And Dana Goldstein writes that Oklahoma's teachers may be the next to hit the picket lines in response to grossly inadequate pay.

- Paul Buchheit discusses how a modest tax on U.S. financial wealth could ensure a substantial basic income for everybody.

- CUPE highlights a new study showing how P3s have proven to be an unacceptable model for public infrastructure through painful experience in Europe. And Andrew Longhurst, Marcy Cohen and Margaret McGregor approve of British Columbia's plan to deal with surgical waiting times through effective investments in the public health care system.

- Finally, Make Votes Matter points out how the disproportionate effect of a few swing votes makes first-past-the-post electoral systems particularly vulnerable to manipulation and disinformation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andre Picard notes that contrary to our self-image, Canada actually lags behind international peers in health and social spending. And PressProgress points out the same conclusion in new OECD research.

- Andrew Mitrovica writes that Doug Ford's ascendancy in Ontario politics suggests that Canada is catching the Trump virus - and not for the first time given his brother's history. And Jim Stanford highlights how Ford's planned austerity would affect the people who rely on strong public services:
The People’s Guarantee pledged to balance the provincial budget by 2020, and then run a small surplus. With no carbon tax, and no concrete plan for “efficiency” savings, how will Mr. Ford square that same circle?

Arithmetically, he has three options: increase taxes; tolerate a deficit; or cut spending. At door one, Mr. Ford could seek other sources of tax revenue. That’s a non-starter, given his rhetoric about long-suffering taxpayers. Door two is to tolerate deficits, converting lost carbon-tax revenue and the likely failure of the efficiency audit into higher debt. That also clashes painfully with Mr. Ford’s pledge to wrestle the debt to the ground.

Almost certainly, Mr. Ford will choose door number three: still-deeper cuts in provincial spending. He needs $10-billion in cuts over three years to offset carbon tax revenue; $6-billion more to meet the efficiency target; and still more to pay for any additional tax cut promises. All that’s on top of $1.9-billion in annual spending cuts from cancelling cap and trade. All told, he will need to cut spending by close to $25-billion over three years – and around $10-billion in the third year alone. Cuts of this magnitude would significantly damage government services (all the more so given continual inflation and population growth).
Mr. Ford won the leadership by stoking populist resentment against government, taxes, sex-ed and environmentalism. That mobilized enough grassroots party support to put him over the top. Completing a similar journey from centrism to austerity in a provincial budget, however, will be much harder. And many Ontarians will pay a steep price for the trip.
- Meanwhile, Cindy Blackstock offers a reminder of the fundamental injustice of forcing Indigenous children to keep waiting for their basic public services to be incrementally brought up to par.

- Adam Gartrell discusses the Australian Council of Trade Unions' plan to ensure that casual workers have a predictable path to stable employment after six months. And Sean McElwee, Colin McAuliffe and Jon Green argue that a jobs guarantee (already backed by Kirsten Gillibrand) would make for both a highly desirable public policy step, and a political winner for U.S. Democrats.

- Finally, the National Post's database of political contributions across Canada looks to make for an essential resource in tracking the influence of money on our political choices.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dick Bryan argues that the minimum wage should reflect the financial risks faced by low-wage workers, while Nick Day offers some lessons in successful economic activism from the $15 and Fairness movement. And Yasemin Besen-Cassino points out that gender-based pay inequity starts from the moment people enter the workforce.

- Tom Wall notes that an attempt to provide housing for corporate benefit result in the UK's government paying wealthy landlords to exploit poor tenants. And Bertrand Badre discusses the need for the financial system to serve people, not the other way around.

- Meanwhile, Keith Spencer's observation that younger workers are increasingly anticipating that they have a better chance of retiring through a renewed social safety net than through individual savings. And Jasmin Gray explores the price of unpaid internships which preclude anybody who isn't already dependently wealthy from finding a place in the job market.

- Irene Mathyssen makes the case for Canada Post to add postal banking to its range of public services.

- Finally, D.C. Fraser reports on the continued failure of the Global Transportation Hub to accomplish anything other than enriching a few lucky corporations and Saskatchewan Party cronies. And Jason Warick highlights the Wall government's utter failure to save anything during boom times as setting Saskatchewan apart in lacking sovereign wealth.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cuddled cats.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Stanford discusses what can be done to make international terms of trade serve the public, rather than merely offering multinational corporations control over all participants:
 Acknowledging that globalisation produces losers as well as winners, allows us to imagine policies to moderate the downsides of trade – and purposefully share the upsides. The next step is to make a crucial distinction between trade and “free trade”. The former is the pragmatic day-to-day flow of goods and services between countries. The latter is the set of specific, lopsided rules embodied in the plethora of trade and investment agreements enacted over the last generation.

These “free trade” rules often have very little to do with actual trade: describing tariff elimination, for example, usually takes up just a tiny part of the text of each trade deal. The rest is devoted to a raft of provisions securing and protecting the rights of private companies to do business anywhere they want, on predictable and favourable terms.

Proof of the dissonance between trade and “free trade” is provided by Australia’s lacklustre trade performance over the last two decades. Exports of actual goods and services constitute a smaller share of total GDP today, than at the turn of the century. Sure, the volume of resource exports has surged – not surprisingly, since that’s what our trading partners wanted. But resource prices have been shaky, and meanwhile our other value-added exports flagged badly. If the goal of all the free trade agreements signed since then (a dozen) was to boost Australia’s exports, they failed miserably. But of course, that wasn’t the goal: the deals were actually intended to cement a business-friendly policy environment, even in sectors that have nothing to do with international trade.

Progressives can endorse mutually beneficial international trade, and even international flows of direct investment, without accepting the lopsided, business-dominated vision of “free trade” agreements. In fact, a progressive approach to managing globalisation would actually boost real trade more effectively: by supporting purchasing power on all sides, and avoiding the contractionary race-to-the-bottom unleashed by current free trade rules.
- And Tom Parkin comments on the need for Canada to use its own trade negotiations to improve labour standards and job prospects.

- Ryan Tute reports on the UK's parliamentary inquiry into P3 schemes which have resulted in both inflated costs and public services being put at risk.

- Jeff Spross points out how Toys R Us has been stripped bare by vulture capitalists, leaving tens of thousands of workers to pay the price for corporate greed.

- John Nichols writes that U.S. Democrats should follow the example of Conor Lamb's successful run for Congress in proudly and unapologetically advocating for the importance of unions. And Greg Jericho approves of Australian Labor's plan to eliminate boutique tax credits which primarily benefit the wealthy from their existing tax system.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk discusses the importance of apologizing for the Sixties Scoop as just one part of a desperately-needed effort toward reconciliation which will necessarily include challenging the racist attitudes the Saskatchewan Party has regularly fomented. And Kendall Latimer notes that the word "reconciliation" itself may be inaccurate in implying thre's some past state worth restoring.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Spencer Piston argues that it's unreasonable to blame people living in poverty for not participating in political structures designed to exclude them - while noting that many Americans want to see a far more progressive tax system which politicians have made no effort to pursue.

- And Sean Murphy notes that Oklahoma has joined Kansas as cautionary tales about the dangers of  regressive fiscal and economic policy.

- Peter Gowan discusses Rudolf Meidner's model of public ownership as a needed step to ensure people can chart their own future rather than being constrained by capital interests. And Lex highlights the importance of public equity as a check against corporate takeovers.

- Richard Wiles writes that time is running out to start taking meaningful action after 50 years of procrastination in addressing greenhouse gas emissions. But Carol Linnitt points out that a British Columbia inquiry into fracking will deliberately avoid addressing public health risks and climate change. 

- Finally, Tabatha Southey offers a reminder as to what Doug Ford's brand of governance looks like - featuring a complete lack of coherent planning, and a distaste for the public interest. And Kristin Rushowy reports on the better alternative on offer from Andrea Horwath and the NDP, including universal pharmacare, expanded dental coverage, and a needed prioritization of public investments over private profits.