Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne rightly criticizes the World Bank for trying to push discredited and inhumane trickle-down economics as a substitute for viable economic development.

- Gary Younge calls for some much-needed recognition of the toxic masculinity behind so many mass killings. And Nora Loreto examines the combination of atomization, insecurity and discrimination that leads to preventable violence.

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman calls out the Republicans' war on the poor - which combines with their politics of bigotry to exacerbate all of those problems.

- Emma Gilchrist discusses the global shift toward cleaner energy - and the need to account for it in determining what to do with proposed fossil fuel infrastructure. Paul McKay laments the corporate media's lack of meaningful coverage of Canada's bitumen bubble. And Martin Patriquin comments on Justin Trudeau's cynicism in co-opting the language of the environmental movement while planning to ignore its concerns.

- Finally, APTN reports on the concept of Indigenous "support" for pipelines - which all too often results from the lack of anything close to sufficient resources to do anything but reluctantly accept whatever a corporate operator puts on the table.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Musical interlude

Big Sugar - Better Get Used To It

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Vanessa Williamson rebuts the myth that fair tax policy will drive away wealthy residents. And Mike Maciag notes that tax giveaways to the corporate sector and the wealthy serve only to exacerbate inequality within the population as a whole.

- Malika Sharma, Andrew Pinto and Arno Kumagai write that we should view the social determinants of health as factors which can and should be changed, rather than inevitabilities to be observed but not acted upon:
In our paper “Teaching the Social Determinants of Health: A Path to Equity or a Road to Nowhere?”, we explore how contemporary SDOH education does little to reduce health inequities, for two key reasons. First, most training fails to acknowledge that the social determinants of health are man-made results of social, economic, and political decisions in how money, power, and resources are (unequally) distributed in society. Second, emphasis is often placed on knowing rather than acting. Rattling off socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and food insecurity as contributors to poor health outcomes does little to change the situation of people actually living these realities.

As such, students do not gain skills to allow them to act at systemic or societal-levels. They may feel overwhelmed when faced with complex social circumstances, or may feel that addressing the social determinants of health is someone else’s problem. They may not recognize that failing to address the SDOH will limit any clinical intervention they suggest. In addition, covering the SDOH as a simply a list to be known allows medical institutions to say they have fulfilled their social responsibility mandate, without forcing a reckoning of how they may themselves perpetuate and benefit from the status quo.
- Catherine Colebrook discusses the need for better measuring sticks for economic and social development beyond GDP alone. And Ploy Achakulwisut points out the importance of accounting for the health effects of pollution in developing environmental policy.

- Finally, Larry Elliott comments on the exploitation inherent in the gig economy and other models of precarious work.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Thursday, April 26, 2018

New column day

Here, on the Trudeau Libs' biased approach to the Trans Mountain expansion - and the need to take a fair look now, rather than allowing Kinder Morgan to dictate timelines and play governments against each other and their constituents.

For further reading...
- Mike De Souza's report on the Libs' refusal to consider anything but approval of Trans Mountain is here. Thomas Sisk wrote about his experience trying to provide current science about the risks of a dilbit spill to the Trudeau government. And Andrew Nikiforuk offered needed background on the connection between Kinder Morgan and its origins in Enron.
- Trish Audette-Longo reports on the role of bots in manipulating the flow of information about Trans Mountain online.
- Both Sisk and Elan Global point out the utter incompatibility between any serious effort to rein in climate change and the continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.
- Denise Balkissoon writes about the importance of a just transition for workers in the resource sector.
- Finally, while the column doesn't go into any detail about Indigenous rights as another crucial aspect of the federal government's responsibility, Eriel Deranger offers an important look at the continued colonialism involved in the approval of a pipeline over the protests of affected communities.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Sunil Johal and Armine Yalnizyan discuss the importance of building an economy based on a race to the top in labour and environmental standards, rather than the pursuit of the lowest common denominator.

- Kevin Corinth and Claire Rossi-de Vries examine the importance of social ties as a buffer against homelessness. Suzanne Fitzpatrick reports that even social housing is becoming unaffordable in the UK. And Brakkton Booker reports on the Republicans' plans to ensure the same result in the U.S.

- Meanwhile, Heather Timmons comments on Mick Mulvaney's determination to turn a consumer protection bureau into a servant of the financial sector. And Kate Aronoff notes that the most scandalous part of Scott Pruitt's role in Donald Trump's cabinet is his determination to turn the U.S. into a full-on petro state.

- The Star weighs in on the Ontario NDP's ambitious yet responsible election platform. And Duncan Cameron offers a preview of the federal Libs' plan to once again use progressive language to paper over a fundamentally conservative agenda. 

- Finally, Andrew Jackson maps out the road toward a needed national pharmacare program.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On unequal treatment

With the Trans Mountain pipeline dominating as much news coverage as it has, it's inevitable that we'd see the usual debate as to the relative desirability of different types of economic paths come to the surface. And I'll point out just a couple of the which look to signal a distortion of the actual impact of different economic options in favour of oil (and at the expense of the public interest).

Let's start with Kevin Milligan's Globe and Mail column which has been thrown around repeatedly as a definitive statement that oil is a solution to inequality.

Unfortunately, Milligan's assertion isn't founded in any data addressing inequality in particular, but instead treats overall income as a proxy for equality without apparent explanation. So let's take a look at some data on the point which is supposedly being addressed.

In fact, for the approximate time period used by Milligan, inequality increased slightly in Canada as a whole. And the most obvious increase in terms of both before-tax and after-tax inequality in the broader time period when we've shifted toward reliance on natural resources occurred in Alberta, which Milligan singles out as an example of resource revenue reducing inequality:

The relationship between economy type and inequality does look to be ambiguous. (In particular, Saskatchewan reduced its inequality while also seeing a resource-based boost in incomes in the 1990s and 2000s.)

But there's certainly no basis to suggest that Canada's shift toward a resource economy in recent decades actually reduced inequality as a rule, either on a national scale or within any particular province. And Milligan's position is particularly jaw-dropping in minimizing even the possible results of redistributing the unequal wealth normally found in resource-dependent jurisdictions (including the ones charted above), while instead asking us to assume that "oil = equality!!!".

Meanwhile, the usual foil for resource development is a focus on value-added manufacturing. So let's turn to Kevin Carmichael's admonition that we shouldn't focus unduly on manufacturing jobs when "only about five per cent of employed Canadians work at a factory".

On its own, that's a fair statement. And Carmichael does note that the real implication of the composition of Canada's economy is that we should be more focused on services.

But if we're going to apply that raw-job standard to manufacturing with no allowance for spinoff effects, surely we need to do the same for the resource sector - which leads us to Statistics Canada's data on employment by sector. And that shows manufacturing providing 1,508,942 jobs in 2017 - compared to 199,780 for "Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction" combined.

The effect of singling out manufacturing for minimization is to create more space for the even more obviously-flawed argument to prioritize resource extraction above both competing sectors and the public interest - at a time when we're seeing far too many governments eager to do exactly that.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Oleg Komlik takes note of Wade Cole's research showing how income inequality affects political dynamics. And Hannah Finnie recognizes that young people are joining unions (among other forms of social activism) in order to gain some much-needed influence on both fronts, while Paul Krugman weighs in on the Republicans' war on education in an attempt to hold onto power.

- Arjumand Siddiqi and Faraz Vahid Shahidi write about the potential for Ontario's next government to improve health and social outcomes through improved income supports and labour market conditions for workers. And Peter Baker writes about the history of the minimum wage, as well as its place in the broader power struggle between workers and employers.

- Adam Gaffney points out that the U.S.' health care system is increasingly designed to inflate profits rather than to achieve health outcomes, while Lee Camp zeroes in on Goldman Sachs' admission that it sees curing diseases as bad for business. And Andrew Coyne notes that similar problems apply to the availability of prescription drugs in Canada - even as the Libs appear likely to ignore the growing body of evidence as to how the public would benefit if it was given priority over entrenched corporate interests for once.

- Finally, Rick Smith discusses the increasing recognition of the persistent hazard posed by plastic particles. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Couched cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Louis Uchitelle discusses how the decline of organized labour in the U.S. has harmed not just workers' direct interests, but the economic sectors where unions previously thrived:
Want to make America great again and keep factories in the United States? Try strengthening labor unions.

That may seem counterintuitive, and certainly contrary to the direction the country has been moving in lately. But the reality is that when organized labor dug in its heels — as it did regularly in the United States until late in the 20th century — manufacturing companies thought twice about shutting a factory and transferring production to another country.
As union membership declines, labor has less leverage to intervene in the management of a corporation, or to galvanize the public into boycotting the products of manufacturers who put too many factories overseas while exporting less from the United States.

Strikes work when union membership is high enough to encourage the public to support the strikers, or at least feel a kinship with them. My parents, who lived comfortably on my father’s earnings as a textile broker in New York, never crossed a picket line thrown up by a labor union in pursuit of a favorable contract. They might not have agreed with a union’s demands, or even known what they were. But they respected a strike as an often-necessary tool in reaching a compromise acceptable to both sides.
The street demonstrations and marches so characteristic of today’s resistance can be immensely meaningful, but they don’t force the sort of permanent economic change that a union can achieve through a binding contract that emerges from a strike.

Or at least they haven’t yet. Perhaps in time new organizations will emerge — heirs to the old union movement — and one of their priorities will be to pressure manufacturers quite publicly to put more of their factories in the United States.
- Alex McKeen reports on a needed push for labour market indicators which recognize the reality of gig work and other forms of precarity. Julia Horowitz points out that WalMart represents a particularly egregious example of inequality between executives and workers. Chris Parsons offers a reminder that one of the greatest threats to free speech is employer suppression of workers' views - particularly where they involve asserting rights in the workplace. And UFCW points out one recent Alberta example of an employer's anti-union tactics leading to a remedial certification.

- Daniel Tencer examines the assumptions behind the sticker price of a basic income, and notes that the savings in social costs could make a secure income into a bargain for everybody.

- Marc Lee highlights the full cost-benefit analysis which shows a Trans Mountain expansion to be a poor deal for everybody but its corporate operators. And Tzeporah Berman writes about the importance of protest movements in ensuring that the people excluded from the Libs' decision-making are still able to influence the course of events.

- Finally, Brent Patterson reminds us of a few of Justin Trudeau's most important broken promises.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Robert Costanza reviews Mariana Mazzucato's The Value of Everything, and highlights its focus on attaching proper importance to priorities that aren't reflected in prices:
(T)he current mainstream ‘marginalist’ concept bases value on market exchanges: price, as revealed by the interaction of supply and demand in markets, determines value, and the only things that have value are those that fetch a price.

This has major implications for ideas about the distinction between value creation and value extraction, the nature of unearned income (‘rent’) and how value should be distributed. As Mazzucato notes, it stokes inequality because the market, simply by generating income, is seen to justify its level and distribution: “All income, according to this logic, is earned income: gone is any analysis of activities in terms of whether they are productive or unproductive.”

Mazzucato lays out disturbing implications of the marginalist approach. These include (mis)measuring national income and real wealth, confusing financial speculation with the production of value, perverting the patent system (which stifles, rather than rewards, innovation) and undervaluing government and public goods, including public infrastructure, ecosystems and social networks. Her engaging and insightful exploration reveals how embedded the marginalist approach has become, and how it distorts economies’ ability to foster innovation, equity and real progress.
Economics has been defined as the use of scarce resources to achieve desirable ends. In the Anthropocene epoch of human influence on the planet, we need to redefine those ends, and reevaluate which resources are truly scarce. Value should be viewed as contribution to the sustainable well-being of Earth and all its inhabitants...Mazzucato’s trenchant analysis is a compelling call to reinvent value as a key concept to help us achieve the world we all want. 
- Meanwhile, in a prime example of how reality is being warped to achieve surface financial goals, Matthew McClearn discusses how Ontario's Libs are condemning citizens to decades of avoidable interest payments in order to avoid answering for the costs of power privatization.

- Richard Florida examines the role housing prices play in the growth of inequality.

- Howard Mann views the Trudeau Libs' determination to put the resource sector and its foreign profiteers ahead of the public interest through backroom deals as a hallmark of third-world governance. Andrew Nikiforuk takes a look at the Enron roots of Kinder Morgan, the latest beneficiary of the Libs' largesse. And Ralph Surette offers kudos to John Horgan's NDP for being able to tell the difference between the "national interest" and the profit motive of the fossil fuel sector.

- Finally, Isabella Lovin discusses the need for countries to not only reach their modest climate change commitments in the short term, but to reach net zero carbon emissions in a matter of decades to avert a climate catastrophe.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Denise Balkissoon writes about the importance of ensuring a just transition for fossil fuel workers - rather than using their jobs as bargaining chips to preserve oil industry profits. And Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton and Randy Besco point out that there's plenty of public support for carbon pricing and other elements of a strong climate change policy in Saskatchewan.

- Meanwhile, Nick Falvo offers a list of takeaways from the Moe government's first provincial budget - including multiple choices which will make life even more precarious for people facing poverty and precarity:
6. Social assistance benefit levels in Saskatchewan remain very low. For example, a single employable adult on social assistance in Saskatchewan receives approximately $9,000 annually on which to live (and pay rent). A person with a disability gets between $12,000 and $16,000 annually, depending on the severity of the disability. Every year, the value of inflation erodes the value of these benefits. (All of these figures can be found here.) 

7. This budget announced the phasing out of a rental housing benefit for low-income households. The Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement provided some additional rent money for low-income households with either children or a disability; but this budget announced that no new applications will be accepted as of July 1. The provincial government expects this will save the provincial treasury $5 million in the first year (or 0.03% of the total budget). Without the rent supplement in place, I believe it’s likely we’ll see more people becoming homeless in Saskatchewan, which itself comes with added costs to the public treasury. 

8. The budget’s decision to extend the PST to used car sales may disproportionately impact low-income households. The budget removes the PST tax exemption on (light) used car sales, which may translate into almost $100 million in new annual revenue. This will make it slightly more expensive to purchase a used car in Saskatchewan. The budget also restores the trade-in allowance when determining the PST—so, when a car owner is trading in a vehicle, they will only pay the PST on the difference in price of the trade in and the selling price for the vehicle they’re buying. 

9. The budget fails to address on-reserve child poverty. According to Census data, Saskatchewan’s on-reserve rate of child poverty (as measured by the After Tax Low Income Measure) is nearly 70%, second highest in the country after Manitoba. Neither this year’s budget nor last year’s takes meaningful steps towards addressing that.
- Heather Stewart reports on UK Labour's push for genuinely affordable housing - rather than stretching the term to fit homes priced far beyond people's means.

- Michael Geist discusses the dangers of allowing - and even encouraging - corporate giants to monitor and control online content. And Murad Hemmadi talks to Charlie Angus about Facebook's influence over public policy (even as it fails to register to lobby government).

- Finally, Ruth Dreifuss and Richard Elliott make the case for the decriminalization of personal drug use and possession in order to reduce the social harms arising out of prohibition.