Saturday, May 05, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Alex Himelfarb warns about the dangers of participating in Donald Trump's race to the bottom for public revenues - and the importance of highlighting the value of collective funding for social priorities:
Sure, our tax revenues as a share of the overall economy are lower than they’ve been in over five decades. Yes, government expenditures are lower than they have been since the days before we had public pensions, medicare and mass education. But more tax cuts are still offered up as the best—or even the only—option.

The failure of decades of tax-cutting to yield the promised increases in innovation and productivity has not constrained the willingness of some political parties and governments to treat ever-deeper cuts, especially for businesses and the rich, as indisputably good economic policy. If past cuts didn’t have quite the effect they were meant to, they say, perhaps the cuts just weren’t deep enough. Failed economic ideas don’t die easily.

Clearly, Canadian politicians cannot ignore the implications of tax cuts or other major economic policy changes in the United States. But they would be wise to ask what our neighbour may be giving up with these latest cuts, and where our comparative advantage might really lie. We oughtn’t to assume the benefits of tax cuts or to ignore their costs.
Tax cuts never pay for themselves. Invariably, they have real costs: public services are squeezed and opportunities to improve government programs lost, with the consequences falling most heavily on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, and on future generations who of course don’t get to vote.

Ironically, as we weaken government and undermine public services, as wait times go up while access goes down and out-of-pocket costs rise, we increasingly question just what our taxes are buying. Austerity is self-perpetuating.
 Decades of austerity, during which we have been asked to view ourselves as primarily taxpayers and consumers rather than as citizens pursuing some common good, have no doubt reshaped our collective view of taxes. So long as taxes are viewed as a burden, or worse, a punishment, rather than as how we operationalize the common good, austerity will continue to blunt the political imagination and limit our sense of what’s possible.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who died just over a year ago, spent the latter part of his career documenting the decline of the collective, the loss of trust in one another and in our governments, the loss of confidence that we can together shape the future. He worried that our collective action problems—those things we can solve only together—have never been more challenging, but that our collective toolkit has been severely weakened by decades of austerity. Rethinking taxes, which are, after all, how we pay for those things we do together because we could never do them at all or as well on our own, will be essential to rebuilding the collective.

We cannot hope even to begin to achieve a just transition to a green economy, or to provide a measure of economic security in an increasingly precarious world, or to reverse growing inequality and persistent poverty if we don’t reconnect taxes to the common good.
- Frances Coppola challenges the mindset that would sacrifice human well-being in the pursuit of balanced government budgets. And Mathew Snow writes about the problems with reliance on the charity of the obscenely wealthy rather than a fair system of social revenue.

- Sophie Hardach examines Thomas Piketty's latest work on the reversal in political orientation based on education. And Branko Milanovic discusses the ongoing (and indeed increasing) relevance of Karl Marx' analysis of capitalism.

- Andrew Nikiforuk observes that government revenues from fossil fuels and other natural resources have been drying up over a period of decades. Stephen Leahy estimates the climate costs of a Trans Mountain expansion at $8.7 billion - without factoring in the added emissions from the end use of any fuel shipped through the pipeline. And Tom Rand notes that the Trans Mountain debate is highlighting the need for everybody to contribute to emission reductions, rather than demanding special dispensations based on the ongoing choice to prioritize oil over other economic options.

- Finally, Edgardo Sepulveda studies the public costs of decades of privatization and politicization of Ontario's power system.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Musical interlude

Kikagaku Moyo - Kodama

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Terry Schwadron writes about Donald Trump's war on the poor, while Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson highlight how U.S. businesses and their political pawns have undermined the labour movement. And David Climenhaga and PressProgress point out that we should expect exactly the same from Jason Kenney should he get the chance to make life worse for Albertans.

- Meanwhile, Matt Bruenig suggests that workers learn from the corporate consolidation of power to push for coordinated wage levels:
In theory, setting wages across the economy in a coordinated way through centralized labor agreements can solve both of these problems. It can make it to where you can employ everyone normally without risking inflation and can stop the wage suppression caused by low population and job-seeking frictions.

To understand why centralized labor agreements can solve the inflation problem that [a job guarantee] can’t, it is useful to conceptualize wage-price inflation as a classic collective action problem. Each individual, acting alone, has an incentive to maximize their wage, but if all individuals do it simultaneously and beyond a certain level, it sets off unsustainable wage-price inflation that ends up biting the workers one way or another. Coordinated wage-setting can solve this problem by ensuring that workers, and their representatives, hash out appropriate wage levels every few years. If the worker groups act responsibly, they will take note of what sort of wages productivity growth will permit and restrain their wage growth accordingly. In theory, this sort of wage price-fixing means that you can nip wage-price inflation in the bud and push unemployment all the way down without the need for jobseekers to bid down wages.

Centralized labor agreements also solve the employer market power problems that antitrust cannot. Rural workers will never have that many employers to choose from, but if those employers are forced to abide by the central wage agreements, the workers will be still be compensated fairly. Additionally, the diminished power that results from job-switching frictions need not suppress wages where strong unions can provide countervailing power that does not rely upon the threat of switching jobs.
- Neela Banerjee discusses how the U.S.' regulatory apparatus - and particularly the EPA under Scott Pruitt - has been turned into a servant of the corporate interests it should be regulating. And Carl Meyer reports on how the power of the state is being used to stifle reporting on public protests in Canada.

- Luke Savage reviews two new books on the causes and implications of increasingly authoritarian right-wing parties. 

- Finally, Sachin Jain comments on the role social interaction plays in individual health.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jake Johnson writes about the obscene amount of money handed to the wealthy in the U.S. by the Republicans' tax scam. And Robert Reich discusses how the spread of inequality and isolation helped to lay the groundwork for Donald Trump's destructive presidency.

- Meanwhile, Mel Rothenburger points out how the UCP-fueled attack on an honourary degree for David Suzuki should highlight the danger of universities seeing themselves as bound by corporate actors (or their political puppets). 

- Carl Meyer reports on a push from the chiefs of over a hundred First Nations in opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Bill Hafker acknowledges that the oil industry needs to come to terms with the fight against climate change. And Damien Gillis discusses Justin Trudeau's two-faced handling of environmental and energy issues.

- Nick Falvo laments Scott Moe's decision to make housing even more unaffordable for Saskatchewan's residents who already have the least. And Eli Day interviews Ryan Cooper about the importance of affordable public housing - along with the urgent need for far more (and far better) housing than is currently available.

- Finally, Jordan Pearson cautions against drawing too many conclusions from basic income pilot projects which are too small in scope to generate the benefits which have already been identified.

New column day

Here, on Regina's longstanding rail-freeway conflict as an example of the need to take the long view of infrastructure decisions - and the dangers of locking ourselves into dying and dirty industries with the choices we make on pipelines.

For further reading...
- CBC reported on the City of Regina's feasibility study into moving rail lines which currently cross the Ring Road. And Craig Baird has previously pointed out why options such as an overpass/underpass are likely off the table due to the disruption to existing traffic.
- Ryan McNally reported on the City's motion dealing with solar energy. And Paul Dechene offers a preliminary (and highly affordable) look at what we should expect to see reported back.
- Finally, I'll point again to David Roberts' observations as to how infrastructure lock-in may affect the fight against climate change.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Yanis Varoufakis discusses the loss of freedom when one's whole life needs to be planned around corporate wishes and sensitivities:
A capacity to fence off a part of one’s life, and to remain sovereign and self-driven within those boundaries, was paramount to the liberal conception of the free agent and his or her relationship with the public sphere. To exercise freedom, individuals needed a safe haven within which to develop as genuine persons before relating – and transacting – with others. Once constituted, our personhood was to be enhanced by commerce and industry – networks of collaboration across our personal havens, constructed and revised to satisfy our material and spiritual needs.

But the dividing line between personhood and the external world upon which liberal individualism based its concepts of autonomy, self-ownership, and, ultimately, freedom could not be maintained. The first breach appeared as industrial products became pass√© and were replaced by brands that captured the public’s attention, admiration, and desire. Before long, branding took a radical new turn, imparting “personality” to objects. 

Once brands acquired personalities (boosting consumer loyalty immensely and profits accordingly), individuals felt compelled to re-imagine themselves as brands. And today, with colleagues, employers, clients, detractors, and “friends” constantly surveying our online life, we are under incessant pressure to evolve into a bundle of activities, images, and dispositions that amounts to an attractive, sellable brand. The personal space essential to the autonomous development of an authentic self – the condition that makes inalienable self-ownership possible – is now almost gone. The habitat of liberalism is disappearing.

The irony is that liberal individualism seems to have been defeated by a totalitarianism that is neither fascist nor communist, but which grew out of its own success at legitimizing the encroachment of branding and commodification into our personal space. To defeat it, and thus rescue the liberal idea of freedom as self-ownership, may require a comprehensive reconfiguration of property rights over the increasingly digitized instruments of production, distribution, collaboration, and communication.

Would it not be a splendid paradox if, 200 years after the birth of Karl Marx, we decided that, in order to save liberalism, we must return to the idea that freedom demands the end of unfettered commodification and the socialization of property rights over capital goods?
- Meanwhile, Noah Smith points out that any dogma about "efficient markets" is rapidly being refuted by economic experience.

- D.C. Fraser reports on Scott Moe's insistence that Saskatchewan's low-income workers survive on the lowest minimum wage in Canada.

- David Roberts writes about the importance of supply-side policies as part of a full strategy to rein in climate change - with the particularly important advantage of avoiding infrastructure lock-in. And Michael Harris notes that Justin Trudeau's determination to instead tie Canada to a dying fossil fuel industry may represent his political undoing.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail's editorial board makes the case for Alberta to join the rest of the country in funding public services through a sales tax.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Contented cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Scott Gilmore discusses how Canada is actually backsliding in some crucial development goals. And Colin Gordon writes about the inequality growing on multiple fronts around the globe.

- Kathy Tomlinson uncovers a Vancouver real estate market rigged to benefit developers and speculators. And Ryan Cooper points out the importance of a meaningful social housing policy to ensure that development can benefit the people who actually need a home:
Upzoning advocates argue that if we simply went on a wild private building spree, we'd eventually burn through all the luxury demand and actually reduce the price of midrange and affordable units (as opposed to only slowing the rate of increase). But that could take easily take decades, if it even works at all.

Great big new social housing projects, by contrast — say, one million in California for starters — are a way to efficiently cram in tons and tons of housing supply directly where it is most socially necessary, not where it is most profitable. And unlike traditional American-style public housing which is means-tested for poor people only, social housing could be largely self-funding by including many tenants paying market or somewhat subsidized rents (though a good fraction would be reserved for poor and working-class people, of course). That would have the side benefit of making projects socioeconomically integrated, not poor-only ghettos.
(B)ackers should abandon the neoliberal frame of this being a simple issue of free markets versus government over-regulation. Jonathan Chait, for instance, argues that while there may be complex sub-details, at bottom the housing crisis is explained by an "Econ 101 model of supply and demand." Gentrification is simply caused by "artificially constricted housing supply," and California progressives simply will have to choke down de-regulation and working with private developers if they want to solve the housing crisis. (It's a mark of how influential this frame is that both climate writer David Roberts and leftist Hamilton Nolan present the issue in much the same way.)

As we have seen, this is a terribly mistaken way of thinking about the issue. Neoliberal thinking is not just a highly sub-optimal way of addressing the problem, it is big source of the problem in the first place. NIMBY politics are bad, and often quite racist, but they are also in large part a natural outgrowth of the way the American housing market is structured. A great deal of NIMBYism is simply being a good capitalist by defending the value of one's major asset. (This raises the question of why so much American housing policy is dedicated to helping upper-middle class people put their money into a highly-leveraged, highly-illiquid speculative investment, but that's a subject for another post.)

Incoherent Republican-style notions about deregulation and the markets will be most convincing to the people dead-set against solving the housing crisis at all. Granting the reality that the state is inextricably part of all decisions about the ownership of property is more accurate, allows for better policies, and can then help create an anti-NIMBY coalition that might actually win.
- But if we needed another example of the Libs going in the opposite direction, Brent Patterson weighs in on their plans to turn public services into financial profit centres.

- Finally, Anna Mehler Paperny reports that Justin Trudeau has been trying to rewrite Canada's safe third country agreement with the U.S. - not to protect asylum seekers being denied a fair hearing under the Trump administration, but to further restrict when they're able to apply to be safe in Canada. And Brendan Kennedy and Michelle Shepard discuss how Canada is providing minimal aid to victims of war in Yemen while simultaneously arming the countries responsible.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Kady O'Malley writes that after years of delays on their promise to reassess Bill C-51, civil rights are just one more area where the Libs' proclamations about "open government" have given way to a closed-door process where only their plans are being given any meaningful consideration.

- Meagan Day makes the case for clinical pharmaceutical trials to be publicly funded (and their full results disclosed). But Jordan Press reports that rather than ensuring that matters of public interest are under public control, the Libs are bargaing ahead with to turn social services into opportunities for corporate profit extraction.

- David Climenhaga highlights the underreporting of workplace injuries in Alberta - and the importance of correcting that problem in order to ensure that safety rules can be effective:
Alberta government statistics for 2016 show that more than 45,500 workers suffered disabling injuries on the job. But because of underreporting, the researchers concluded, the real number was closer to 170,000, and that more than 400,000 experienced one workplace injury in 2016.

"The data suggest a breakdown in the internal responsibility system that is at the heart of the workplace health and safety system in the province," said Matsunaga-Turnbull, executive director of the Alberta Workers Health Centre.

Barnetson, an Athabasca University labour studies professor, acknowledged that Alberta's NDP Government legislated real improvements in worker health and safety when Labour Minister Christina Gray last year brought in the first major changes in occupation health and safety legislation in Alberta in more than 40 years.

However, Barnetson and Matsunaga-Turnbull suggested, the improvements legislated by the NDP won’t mean much without meaningful enforcement.

Accordingly, they called for more, and more vigorous, workplace inspections -- which, of course, would require the hiring of more inspectors. Other recommendations included publication of workplace safety orders, mandatory penalties that escalate for repeat offenders, public shaming of violators, prosecution of employers who retaliate against workers, and an end to the Tory blame-the-worker tactic of ticketing employees.
- Carl Meyer reports on the announcement of federal regulations addressing methane emissions - albeit only on the oil industry's preferred timetable. And Kate Lyons looks at some geoengineering possibilities to counter the effects of climate change.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that the Trans Mountain expansion may soon be going the same way as the Northern Gateway - and for the same reasons as the Trudeau Libs' neglect of Indigenous rights has become clear. 

[Edit: added link.]

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Martin Wolf reviews Mariana Mazzucato's The Value of Everything, including its distinction between value creation and value extraction. And Yvonne Roberts points out how millenial workers are being left with little but large debts as a result of inequality between classes and generations.

- Matthew Yglesias discusses the significance of a jobs guarantee as a matter of values, while noting that its goals may best be met indirectly. But Ian Welsh argues that we should instead work on ensuring a more fair allocation of resources by challenging the claim that people's worth is limited to what they can get paid through a job.

- Meanwhile, Hassan Yussuff writes that nobody should have to put up with harassment or violence as the price of keeping a job.

- The Council of Canadians, Sierra Club U.S. and Greenpeace Mexico jointly review the effects of NAFTA in limiting climate policy across North America. And Raisa Patel reports on the parliamentary budget officer's study showing that CETA's giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry will cost Canadians more than $500 million ever year.

- Finally, Joan Bryden reports on the warning of the acting chief electoral officer that the Libs have left any change to Stephen Harper's unfair election rules too late for matters to improve in time for the 2019 federal election.