Saturday, March 31, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lee Drutman points out that Donald Trump's presidency represents an entirely foreseeable result of a two-party, first-past-the-post electoral system:
(C)ontrary to claims that American political parties have to appeal broadly to win, they only need to win a quarter of the voting-age population to gain unified control of government in Washington, and their presidential nominee needs to win far less than that. Lest you think I’m picking on Republicans, the same was true (roughly) of Democrats in 2008.

Part of this is because unlike in Germany, where voter turnout hovers closer to 80 percent, American voter turnout is usually in the mid-50s in presidential elections, and closer to 40 percent in midterms (an international laggard). Many US voters don’t bother to vote because neither of the two parties appeals to them, or because they live in a safe state where their vote doesn’t matter, or because by comparative standards, there are significant hurdles to voting in the United States (such as more complicated registration, or voting being on a workday instead of on a weekend).

In short, there is nothing structural about a two-party system that guarantees moderate parties that have to appeal broadly.
In the debate about whether democracy is in decline in the West, there’s some important cross-national variance. In a response to the widely discussed democratic decline findings of Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk, Pippa Norris compared support for democracy across Western democracies and found whatever cohort decline existed, it was largely limited to Anglo-American democracies, which tend toward two-party systems.

By contrast, in parliamentary democracies with proportional voting, there has been no consistent erosion in support for democracy. As Norris argues by way of explanation, “parliamentary democracies with PR elections and stable multiparty coalition governments, typical of the Nordic region, generate a broader consensus about welfare policies addressing inequality, exclusion, and social justice, and this avoids the adversarial winner-take-all divisive politics and social inequality more characteristic of majoritarian systems.”
- Joe Romm notes that any business case for fossil fuel power continues to crumble based on the decreasing cost of both solar and wind power, and the battery storage needed to use them most effectively.

- Ben Parfitt highlights the illegal building of 92 fracking dams in British Columbia - along with the province's disappointing response which seems limited trying to validate their construction.

- Susan Delacourt discusses the potentially large - but difficult-to-verify - role that big data plays in Canadian politics. And Colin Horgan offers an unnerving look at the type of personal information collected by Facebook and Google.

- Finally, Sandy Hudson comments on the unfair and racially-tinged burden the corporate press has placed on Jagmeet Singh (but not on his fellow federal leaders). But it's particularly worth noting - contrary to the spin being placed on Singh's leadership by other commentators - that Singh has the highest net public impression among the leaders of the official federal parties, and that the NDP is near the upper end of its typical polling range.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Musical interlude

Arty & Mat Zo - Rebound

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Benjamin Austin, Edward Glaeser and Lawrence Summers make the case for economic policy focused on reducing regional disparities. And Chad Shearer and Isha Shah highlight how inclusion is a necessary element of sustainable economic development:
(B)etter performance on one measure [out of growth, prosperity and inclusion] is associated with better performance on the other two measures in all three time periods. Gains in one category, like growth, are typically accompanied by gains in others, like prosperity and inclusion, and vice versa. For example, Table 1 shows that over the one year from 2015 to 2016, each one-unit increase in metro areas’ composite growth score was associated with a nearly half-unit increase in composite prosperity scores, on average. This relationship is moderately strong: growth scores explain about one-quarter of the variance in prosperity scores. The magnitude and strength of this relationship is relatively consistent over each of the time periods.

Growth and prosperity’s relationship to inclusion, however, grows larger and stronger with time. Table 1 shows that over the one-year period, each one-unit increase in metro areas’ composite growth score was associated with less than a quarter-unit increase in their composite inclusion scores. This relationship is tenuous: composite growth scores explain just 8.9 percent of the variance in their inclusion scores over a year. But the magnitude and strength of this relationship are greater over the five-year period and even greater over 10 years. Prosperity and inclusion, similarly, show little relationship over a one-year period, but exhibit an even stronger relationship over 10 years than prosperity and growth.
(P)rogress on inclusion seems to stand out even despite the unevenness noted above. Of the 38 metro areas that achieved above-average performance on growth from 2006 to 2016, 28 also achieved above-average performance on inclusion. Twenty-five (25) of the 38 also performed above average on prosperity. Of the 45 metro areas that achieved above-average performance on prosperity during that period, 32 also achieved above-average performance on inclusion. Twenty-five (25) of the 45 also performed above average on growth.

This admittedly wonkish analysis thus points to a simple insight that should guide regional economic development efforts: although it may be elusive from year to year, in the long run, inclusion may provide the key to true economic success.
- Meanwhile, Naomi Jagoda and Niv Elis write that the Trump Republicans have realized they can't claim with a straight face that their tax scam helped anybody other than the wealthiest Americans.

- The Chicago Sun-Times examines the disastrous results of privatized custodial work in public schools. And the Canadian Press reports on the Parliamentary Budget Office's conclusion that the Trudeau Libs' capital-focused infrastructure scheme is already delivering far less than promised.

- Michelle Chen discusses how co-operatives are more productive than corporations designed solely to exploit workers and consumers in the name of shareholders.

- Finally, Doug Saunders rightly argues that the only speech crisis on campuses is the disproportionate attention being paid to people laughably claiming that their already-privileged positions should be granted even more deference.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Mitchell Thompson discusses the absurdity of setting up Canada's banks for collapses and bailouts, rather than ensuring they serve the public interest. And Colin Butler reports on CUPW's continued push for a postal banking option to provide better service to far more people and communities.

- Barry Saxifrage writes about the glaring gap between Canada's supposed greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and the minimal policies actually in place. And Emily Pasiuk notes that Saskatchewan is the worst offender in lacking even a willingness to take the first step of setting meaningful targets.

- Meanwhile, Geoff Leo reports on Andrew Stevens' concerns that Scott Moe will leave Regina on the hook for the waste and scandal linked to the Global Transportation Hub after already exploiting the city for a la carte services.

- Nathan Laurie warns of Doug Ford's plans to send Ontario over a fiscal cliff. And Chris Selley points out that voters looking for an alternative would be best served voting for the Andrea Horwath's NDP rather than the party cynically copying its plans.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail wonders why the Trudeau Libs are dragging their feet on any improvements to Canada's electoral system - not to mention appointing somebody to oversee it.

New column day

Here, on Canada's failure to live up to our self-image as a generous and compassionate country - and the reality that we have plenty of fiscal capacity to close the gap.

For further reading...
- The abstract for the JAMA article referenced in the column is here, and has already been the subject of comment by Andre Picard.
- Meanwhile, PressProgress has weighed in on the OECD's latest data (PDF).
- Finally, the OECD's Society at a Glance reports - such as this one (PDF) - help place Canada's social outcomes in context.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Nathaniel Lewis laments the state of the U.S.' woefully insufficient social supports, while emphasizing the importance of public social spending in particular:
(P)rivate “social spending” is, for the most part, regressive and narrowly distributed. Households are bearing the cost directly for the goods and services that they themselves consume (like health care).

Public social spending is different. Often (though not always), it is a transfer of funds from the better-off to the worse-off. Think of a progressively funded, single-payer system. You get health insurance whether you have a job or not, and if you have a low-paying job, it will cost proportionally less than if you had a high-paying job.
There is a strong, direct relationship between public social spending and poverty reduction. This is even more impressive when you consider that “public social spending” does not automatically mean “progressive.”
...(P)ublic social spending does not just reduce poverty. It also creates a more equitable environment for society as a whole.
(I)t follows fairly obviously from the above that the US should be making large outlays on social welfare that it currently is not making. While other wealthy countries apparently view their inhabitants as part of a society with universal needs, the US largely leaves its people to fend for themselves.
- Elizabeth McIsaac writes that social assistance should be a key point of comparison for Ontario voters in this year's election. And David Pfrimmer points out that the federal Libs are again kicking the can down the road rather than putting any meaningful resources into fighting poverty.

- Meanwhile, Peter Martin reports on new research estimating the cost of Australia's tax giveaways to the rich at $68 billion per year. And Andrew Leigh notes that the current government's plan is only to make matters worse - even in the face of opposition from four out of five citizens.

- Marshall Steinbaum, Eric Harris Bernstein and John Sturm study (PDF) the economic and social harms resulting from corporate monopolies.

- Jia Tolentino highlights the perversity of a gig economy which treats the eradication of "life" from any attempt at work-life balance as a plus. 

- Finally, Ian Capstick offers a worthwhile read on the dangers of looking at politics solely through a partisan lens - particularly to the extent the result is to limit empathy toward political competitors.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Reaching cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- James Wallace calls out the Ontario Libs' track record of consistent cuts to health care and other vital public services (with the exception of election-year promotional items). And Tom Parkin contrasts that pattern against Rachel Notley's protection of public services from the cuts threatened by her competitors.

- Meanwhile, Andre Picard writes about the need to deal with social inequalities in order to bring a long-overdue end to tuberculosis in Canada:
The rate of tuberculosis among the Inuit is 300 times higher than among Canadian-born non-Indigenous Canadians not because they are more susceptible to illness, but because they lack adequate housing, malnutrition is commonplace due to a lack of affordable food and scant employment opportunities mean too many families have trouble making ends meet.

Going forward, we cannot underestimate the size of the challenge. But the way to tackle public-health problems is with precise goals and concrete plans and, to its credit, Ottawa is taking that approach.
Dealing with chronic housing problems, punishingly high food prices and financial challenges in the part of Canada with the fastest-growing population is going to require much more money and visionary plans that extend well beyond tackling one disease by 2030.

TB is a symptom of social inequity. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate what reconciliation means in practical terms.

The litmus test for success will not be if the bacterium stops spreading, but whether the conditions that have allowed it to spread for so long disappear.
- Eryk Bagshaw highlights the tens of billions of dollars Australia loses every year by electing not to get full value for resource extraction.

- Finally, Laurin Liu examines the new wage gap facing young workers. And Gaby Hinsliff points out that organized labour and citizen activism is already shaping a gig economy which to date had done little but make work more precarious.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Vanessa Brcic offers some observations on the connection between poverty and health, including the importance of ensuring marginalized people are treated with respect:
The economic argument for poverty reduction is clear, but we see in health care what is more plainly obvious and compelling: the argument for human dignity. The deeply colonial, broken and inaccessible “poverty policing” that occurs in the current welfare and disability support systems have negative health impacts. Various papers and reports describe the impact of discriminatory systems, which for too long have perpetuated the shameful trend of labeling the poor and marginalized as undeserving. I invite anyone who believes that any person is undeserving of food, housing, or opportunity to thrive and contribute to contact me for a conversation: let’s talk.
A fair income program must not allow governments off the hook for, or take the place of, other universal programs that patients depend on for their health (pharmacare, primary care and mental health), for their families (child care, elder and caregiver support, and housing), and for belonging (community and cultural programs, and so much more). If we dare look beyond a four-year political term, these public programs are cost-saving and economy-boosting measures. Further progressive policy (such as fair taxation and increasing private sector accountability for social and environmental externalities) can also help with this.

Support for people marginalized by current policies of oppression and colonization must include person-to-person support. People must be seen, heard and respected. Systemic change—including essential public services and basic income support—must provide the foundation for this support so that people can live with dignity, rather than systemically endorsed shame and isolation.
- Nicole Mortarillo reports on new research showing that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch includes 16 times more plastic waste than previously known. And Graham Readfearn points out the World Health Organization's concerns about large amounts of plastic in tap and (especially) bottled water.

- Meanwhile, Julia Belluz reports on the U.S.' use of NAFTA to try to prevent Canada and Mexico from warning citizens about unhealthy food.

- Finally, Kate Aronoff writes about the difficulties advocates have faced in pursuing even first steps toward combating climate change in the U.S. And Robson Fletcher and Brooks DeCillia discuss how Jason Kenney and other right-wing politicians have muddied the waters on climate policy - and how the few measures they're occasionally willing to tolerate are particularly inefficient.