Saturday, April 14, 2018

On the social environment

Having written my column this week on one of the more glaring areas of increasingly alarming neglect from the Saskatchewan Party under Scott Moe, I'll take a moment to point out the other single policy change that I find most striking.

D.C. Fraser has reported on a reduction in funding to climate change programming, with that choice having been the subject of some commentary. But a cut in what was already a pathetically small budget line for ministerial operations stands out particularly in the light of one of the few (if tiny) additional revenue sources the budget actually includes:
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced the PST exemption on both light used vehicles and Energy Star appliances will be discontinued. 
The Finance Ministry says energy savings already provide a strong financial incentive to buy Energy Star appliances. The removal of this exemption is expected to generate $3 million in revenue.
That explanation is especially noteworthy in treating individual financial considerations as effectively the only reason to value energy-efficient appliances. 

Never mind the seemingly obvious advantages of energy conservation for the purposes of reining in climate change, or minimizing the load on the province's power system. Moe has decided that he doesn't care about those issues - and only wants people making positive consumer choices where (and to the extent) they're based on purely individual financial considerations. 

Of course, that position is entirely on brand with the Saskatchewan Party's hostility toward any policy oriented toward broader environmental issues. And indeed, the removal of incentives for greener consumer purchases can be seen as a mirror image of Moe's intractable refusal to discuss responsible carbon pricing (or any other form of greenhouse gas emission reduction).

But by singling out energy efficiency for higher taxes even while applying his party's boilerplate anti-tax rhetoric elsewhere, Moe is making clear that his party is determined to make the complete rejection of environmental responsibility into a foundational principle - a view which is also consistent with the slashing of the province's already-meager climate change branch. And voters who recognize that we have a common interest in a liveable environment have every reason to push back.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Simon Enoch offers his take on Saskatchewan's latest budget - including what little the Saskatchewan Party has learned, and how much it's still getting wrong:
(W)hile the 2018 budget is more measured in that it doesn’t replicate a 2017 budget that saw cuts and tax increases land disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor while simultaneously lavishing multiple tax breaks on corporations, it certainly doesn’t do the more vulnerable in our province any favours. The province is suspending the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement (SRHS), which will force the poorest in the province to devote even more of their meagre earnings towards rent. This continues the government’s myopic focus on wrenching cost-savings from programs explicitly designed to support the poorest in the province. While the government did increase education spending by $30 million, it restores little more than half of the $54 million that was cut last year. School boards will be forced to find even more “efficiencies” in the classroom, even as student enrolment expands.  As we have seen in the past, these “efficiencies” seem to fall disproportionately on special needs supports and programs.

If there is a small sliver of a silver-lining in this budget, perhaps it’s the government’s growing recognition that austerity during a downturn is bad economic policy. It’s better to allow positive economic growth fight your deficits than deep cuts that can jeopardize positive economic growth, a point the CCPA Saskatchewan Office has been at pains to make over the past few years. After two years of negative economic growth, the economic assumptions in the 2018 budget are betting that a return to positive economic growth will do much of the heavy lifting of fighting the deficit. While this is welcome, it further throws into question the wisdom of the 2017 budget cuts and the government’s embrace of austerity, all evidence to the contrary.
- Bruno Caprettini, Fabio Schmidt-Fischbach and Hans-Joachim Voth study the connection between U.S. welfare spending and a willingness to volunteer support for World War II efforts - signalling the reciprocity of expectations between governments and citizens.

- Mike De Souza reports that Justin Trudeau was warned by the civil service that it was pushing the Trans Mountain expansion too quickly and without adequate consultation. And Gary Mason points out how Trudeau's bungling of the issue could cost him support among all kinds of voters no matter what ultimately happens with the pipeline proposal.

- Tom Korski exposes the Libs' commissioning and placement of state-sponsored "news". And Alex Boutilier reports on what may be the most appalling suppression of actual government records yet, as Library and Archives Canada wants to wait eighty years to respond to a single access-to-information request.

- Finally, Lana Payne offers a warning about the spread of anti-social, right-wing populism across much of Canada.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Musical interlude

Eels - Last Stop: This Town

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sean Farrell reports on a new OECD study recommending the application of inheritance taxes to reduce wealth inequality.

- And Harry Quilter-Pinner discusses Finland's confirmation that the obvious solution to homelessness - providing housing to people who need it - is also the best.

- Nicole Goodkind analyzes how the Trump Republican tax scam has served entirely to enrich the already-wealthy. And Paul Krugman charts Paul Ryan's political progression from economic snake-oil salesman to fascist enabler - while noting that it mirrors that of the Republican party as a whole.

- Ethan Cox highlights how Kinder Morgan is shaking down Canada in trying to have the Trans Mountain expansion rubber-stamped (and paid for by the public to boot). Jennifer Ditchburn offers a reminder that any discussion of the constitutional implications of Trans Mountain needs to account for the Indigenous rights which have been edited out of most mainstream discussion, while Rachel Gilmore reports on Perry Bellegarde's warning about First Nations being left out of any new decision-making process. And Alyssa O'Dell writes about the wave of activism to protect land and water in British Columbia - and the hundreds of arrests so far in response.

- Finally, Joe Romm reports on new research showing that some of the most drastic anticipated consequences of climate change are materializing a century earlier than expected.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

New column day

Here, on how Scott Moe's first budget is just more of the same in leaving Saskatchewan's low-income residents behind in the face of rising costs of living.

For further reading...
- D.C. Fraser's general report on the budget is here.
- The inflation data cited in the column is here, while basic information on the Saskatchewan Assistance Program is here. And for an example of the Saskatchewan Party touting the indexing of the tax system even as the province's finances crumbled, see here.
- Finally, Bridget Yard has reported on the plight of people living with low incomes in the face of inflation. And Arthur White-Crummey reports on the effects of eliminating the provincial housing supplement.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ashley Renders reports on the Canadian mining companies which are using corporate trade deals to threaten developing countries with billion-dollar claims to stifle environmental protections. And Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford report that China wants any trade deals to similarly privilege investors alone while making no allowances for workers or the environment.

- Chantal Hebert notes that there are few options to paper over the conflict between the reasonable expectations of British Columbians - based on political promises and environmental interests - and his subsequent attempt to push through the Trans Mountain expansion. Linda McQuaig argues that there's no reasonable way to compromise about the health of our planet - which is what's ultimately at stake in debating large fossil fuel infrastructure. And David Climenhaga writes about the dangers of looking to Ottawa to override provincial authority.

- Alana Semuels exposes the predatory lending practices which are perpetuating the U.S.' racial divides in housing and wealth.

- Richard Foot points out that a tragedy such as the Humboldt Broncos' bus accident should spur discussion of ways to make highways safer. And Terra Ciolfe observes that Saskatchewan's track record has long been one of extreme danger compared to other provinces.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that Ontario's election looks to be a battle for working-class votes - with the main question being whether Andrea Horwath's NDP can win over enough voters to ensure that Doug Ford can't win as a perceived default alternative.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Linda Givetash reports on the increasing cost and decreasing availability of housing in Canada. And Patrick Greenfield and Sarah March note that an appalling increase in the number of homeless people in the UK is being reflected in the number of deaths on the street.

- Tithi Bhattacharya points out that the resurgence of labour activism in the U.S. is developing largely in the education sector which is increasingly treated as unappreciated "care work". And Sandi Tolksvig discusses the grossly undervalued work which women contribute disproportionately to others' well-being. 

- Ainslie Cruickshank and David Ball write that there's no way a remotely competent pipeline operator could be surprised by the public reaction to the TransMountain expansion, while Tim Harper notes that Justin Trudeau has trapped himself by deciding to cheerlead for a project which has never addressed either environmental concerns or aboriginal rights. And Jeff Carruthers argues that the logical resolution involves upgrading more bitumen in Alberta, rather than imposing its transportation in a dirtier and more dangerous form.

- Finally, Patrick DeRochie discusses the need for federal climate policy to meaningfully work toward our emission reduction targets, and not defer to provincial schemes (particularly ones which fall short of the mark).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Clutching cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matthew Yglesias examines the direct effects of social programs, and finds there's every reason to invest more in them:
  • Mercury emissions (mostly from coal plants) end up in the water, where they end up in fish, from whence they end up in the bloodstreams of children and pregnant women, poisoning their brains and lowering IQ. This problem was tackled in a limited way by the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency, but the transmission of coal emissions into fish and thus into food is a highly globalized process that, like the better-known issue of climate change, really requires an international solution.
  • As a bonus inconvenience, if you skip past the toxic heavy metals contained in most fish, eating fish is really good for kids’ neurological development, so to the extent that parents respond to environmental degradation by reducing the quantity and variety of fish that kids eat, kids’ brains suffer on the other side.
  • Relatedly, neurologically damaging levels of lead are present in the soil of essentially every American city. There is also a lot of toxic lead lurking in the paint on old houses.
  • Beyond heavy metal toxicity, there’s considerable evidence that good old-fashioned welfare works well. Research on the Mothers’ Pension programs from the early 20th century showed that kids whose mothers received a very modest welfare check ended up with early-adult incomes that were 20 percent higher than those of mothers who didn’t receive checks, and were also 35 percent less likely to be underweight as adults and received additional schooling.
  • More modern welfare programs work too. A January 2015 paper by David Brown, Amanda Kowalski, and Ithai Lurie studied Medicaid expansions in the 1980s and ’90s and concluded that kids who benefited from expansion ended up paying more in cumulative taxes and receiving less in EITC disbursements than those who did not.
  • Speaking of the EITC, in 2013, a paper by Michelle Maxfield found that kids whose parents benefited from increased EITC generosity had higher math scores, were more likely to graduate high school, and were more likely to complete one or more years of college.
  • Indeed, it is in some ways likely that standard methods are undercounting the benefits of social assistance programs. Chloe East, Sarah Miller, Marianne Page, and Laura Wherry found in September 2017 that the grandchildren of low-income pregnant women who benefited from Medicaid expansion in the 1980s were less likely to suffer from low birth weight (which itself seems to correlate with low IQ, among other health problems).
As a society, we can, and should, take decisive action to reduce environmental contamination and improve the material living conditions of poor children and their parents. The evidence that doing this will have broad secondary benefits for cognitive development is overwhelming.
- Rowan Walrath discusses the need for improved mental health services for U.S. farmers. And Murray Mandryk makes the case for investments in mental health across Saskatchewan.

- Meanwhile, Lynn Parramore writes that the right's attacks on education are aimed largely at rendering much of the workforce unable to envision anything other than going along with the status quo.

- Terri Gerstein notes that many of the Sinclair anchors who embarrassed themselves spouting corporate propaganda on the air face severe financial penalties for questioning their employer. And Alexander Colvin studies the spread of mandatory arbitration provisions to cover 60 million American workers - though it's worth noting that if workers are required to deal with issues through arbitration in any event, they may have a strong incentive to ensure they have a union on their side in that process.

- Finally, Drew Brown highlights how the Libs' criminal justice bill is just another example of faux progressivism. Jordan Press examines their housing plan and finds that it falls far short of the mark. Duncan Cameron writes that Trudeau's incoherence on the environment is only creating more problems for Canadians. And Michael Harris sees Trudeau as a prime example of practicing politics based solely on short-term calculation rather than long-term vision.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Suresh Naidu, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl highlight how the economy as a whole suffers when employers exercise too much control over wages and working conditions:
In a competitive labor market, employers must vie for workers; they try to lure workers from other firms by offering them more generous compensation. As employers bid for workers, wages and benefits rise. An employer gains by hiring a worker whenever the worker’s wage is less than the revenue the worker will generate for the employer; for this reason, the process of competition among employers for workers ought to result in workers receiving a substantial portion of the output they contribute to.

And as the economy grows over time — which has historically been the case in the United States — this dynamic should naturally lead to a steady increase in compensation for workers.

It turns out, however, that labor markets are often uncompetitive: Employers have the power to hold down wages by a host of methods and for numerous reasons. And new academic studies suggest the markets have been growing ever more uncompetitive over time.

It is sometimes mistakenly thought that wage suppression, even as it hurts workers, at least benefits consumers, who pay lower prices for goods and services (since the cost of production is lower for companies). In fact, that’s not the case: Employer market power, sometimes called “monopsony,” harms economic growth and raises prices. (Monopsony is the concept of monopoly, or dominance of a market for a given good, applied to the “buy side” — namely, the inputs that firms purchase, including labor and materials.)

Monopsony harms growth and raises prices because it works much like monopoly: by reducing production. To increase its profits, the monopolist raises prices and thus lowers production (because fewer consumers are willing to pay these inflated prices). 

Similarly, to raise its profits, a monopsonist lowers wages below the value of the workers to the employer. Because not all workers are willing to work at these depressed wages, monopsony leads some workers to quit. 

Firms bear the loss in workers (and resulting lowered sales) in exchange for the higher profits made off the workers who do not quit. The resulting group of workers looking for jobs are what Marx called the “reserve army of the unemployed.”

Employer labor market power thus reduces employment, raises prices, and depresses the economy. 

Those sound a lot like the harms that conservative economists have long attributed to excessive taxation. And that’s no coincidence. Wage suppression is just like a tax: a tax on the labor of workers.
- Chris Dillow examines the persistent pay gap between men and women, along with a few of the factors which perpetuate it. And Kate Farhall argues that family violence leave needs to be paid for many people to be able to escape abuse.

- Jeff Sprass writes that the growing movement of teachers' strikes may be the start of stronger "alt-labor" organizing in response to a political environment designed to suppress collective action. And Syed Hussan offers some activists' suggestions as to how organized labour should participate in Ontario's provincial election.

- Finally, Tim Harper points out that millennial voters will be playing a far larger role than ever before in that election (and others to come). And Neil MacDonald comments on the effectiveness of school shooting survivors in organizing to respond to right-wing suppression. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Michael Savage discusses new projections showing that the luckiest 1% could control two-thirds of the world's wealth in a little more than a decade:
World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance.

An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today.
Danny Dorling, professor of geography at the University of Oxford, said the scenario in which the super-rich accumulated even more wealth by 2030 was a realistic one.

“Even if the income of the wealthiest people in the world stops rising dramatically in the future, their wealth will still grow for some time,” he said. “The last peak of income inequality was in 1913. We are near that again, but even if we reduce inequality now it will continue to grow for one to two more decades.”
- Lois Weiner writes about the much-needed renaissance of labour activism in the U.S.' red states, while LOLGOP points out the link between tax giveaways to the rich and the recognition that it's time to take to the streets. And Nick Hanauer discusses rules around overtime as the minimum wage for the middle class - while noting the urgent need to ensure excess hours lead to fair pay.

- Meanwhile, Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar take note of an Australian push to ensure that employers face a real prospect of jail time for wage theft.

- An anonymous library worker comments on how homeless people and others with urgent needs suffer the most from attacks on public library funding. And Nicola Slawson reports on research showing that GP visits to care homes can substantially reduce the disruption and cost of future hospital visits.

- Finally, Azeezah Kanji writes that any ignorance of systemic racism is utterly disconnected from reality. And Noah Smith rightly challenges the claim that demographic uniformity enforced through the repression of minorities somehow contributes to social cohesion or trust.