Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Noah Smith writes that public resentment toward the U.S.' wealthiest few is based on a genuine (and justified) concern about an economic system rigged to exacerbate inequality across generations, not mere envy toward the people who have more:
(R)esentment of the super-rich is probably not simply envy. It likely has to do with notions of fairness. As economist N. Gregory Mankiw conjectured in a 2013 essay, people are more likely to begrudge vast fortunes if they feel the wealth wasn’t earned. Technology company founders may be rich, but they mostly got that way by creating new products or services that benefit many people’s lives — think PayPal or iPhones or Facebook. Similarly, rich athletes or entertainers used their talents to make life more enjoyable for millions of Americans.

But about 38 percent of American billionaires inherited at least a substantial part of their fortunes. These heirs and heiresses tend to be less in the public eye, but they hold vast sums nonetheless. Taxing these unearned billions seems like a great way to allay public concerns about the super-rich.

Economics provides both empirical and theoretical support for the idea of taxing inheritances at much higher rates, and making the tax much harder to avoid. Surveys find that informing people about wealth inequality makes them much more likely to support higher estate taxes, but only slightly more likely to support other forms of taxation. And economic theory suggests that taxing wealthy inheritors can increase economic efficiency if many of them are bad investors.

So one idea to address popular anger over the dramatic success of a few super-rich individuals is to stop them from passing most of those fortunes on to their children. That won’t take the Elon Musks and the Mark Zuckerbergs out of the news, but it will reassure Americans that most of their crazy-rich countrymen made their own money through hard work and talent, not just the luck of having rich parents.
- George Eaton discusses the combination of popular support which is leading toward increasing public ownership of the UK's public services. And David Zarnett reports on the Wynne government's giveaway of a profitable casino for pennies on the dollar - representing just one more example of how the public loses out when neoliberal government focus on privatization over competent management.

- Adam Litwin, Ariel Avgar and Edmund Becker study (PDF) how the outsourcing of cleaning services in hospitals leads to the increased spread of infectious diseases.

- Bernard Goldstein comments on another of the Trump administration's moves to prevent regulators from doing their jobs, this time by making a policy of rejecting some of the best available environmental studies.

- Finally, following up on this week's column, Samir Shaheen-Hussain points out another policy choice which results in children being deprived of family support when it's needed most, as air ambulances refuse to allow parents to accompany Inuit children to receive care.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Musical interlude

Sloan - 500 Up

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- George Monbiot discusses the dangers of treating our natural environment solely as something to be priced and commodified.

- The Mound of Sound comments on Stephen Leahy's work in crunching the numbers on the climate change impact of a Trans Mountain expansion. And Matt Scuffham and Rod Nickel report on Bill Morneau's apparent plan to divert Canada Pension Plan funds into forcing through a pipeline which can't find private investors.

- Nora Loreto writes about Canada's criminalization of dissent on the left. And Nathan Robinson argues that the right's perpetual persecution complex serves mostly to distract from the suppression of anti-establishment speech:
I want to suggest a hypothesis that may sound outlandish: What if the whole narrative is backwards? What if people who think they are voicing suppressed dangerous ideas are actually the ones suppressing the truly dangerous ideas? What if this effort to condemn the irrational excesses of political correctness is in part a way of avoiding having to engage with its arguments and listen carefully to its advocates? What if people who seem to be “challenging” a dissent-stifling power structure are actually defending one? Now, I’m not saying this is the case; I’m just asking some questions. But let’s, for a moment, because we are rational and skeptical, consider the possibility that the conservative narrative is totally upside-down. Let’s picture a topsy-turvy world in which Donald Trump is the president and left ideas are actually marginal. 
...I’m just asking us to imagine a strange world in which the interests of the wealthy mattered far more than the interests of the poor, and in which the good people got left behind while the bad people were honored and celebrated. But let’s stick with the idea, just a moment longer. In this kind of world, what would we make of people like the members of the “Intellectual Dark Web,” who insist that their ideas pose a challenge to the mainstream consensus? Well, first we’d have to look at the ideas themselves. But if those ideas turned out to coincide remarkably well with the interests of those who are already wealthy and powerful, and if those ideas seemed to downplay, deny, and evade all of the contrary evidence, we might begin to suspect that these Dissident Intellectuals should not, in fact, rightfully be considered dissidents. In this kind of world, the real dissidents would be the ones whose names we didn’t know, the ones who were trying to dredge up the truths nobody wanted to listen to, rather than the people whose faces and opinions were constantly in the newspapers. The dangerous ideas would be the ones that weren’t spoken from the White House and on cable news, because they actually indicted those institutions rather than benefiting them.
- And finally, Rinaldo Wolcott and Naomi Klein discuss how Ontarians can prevent Trumpism from spreading into their provincial government by voting for the change they actually want.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alex Boutilier discusses the glaring gap between hype and reality when it comes to tech sector jobs. And Virgina Eubanks writes about the futility of expecting miracles from algorithms in allocating grossly insufficient funding for social programs.

- Meanwhile, Dean Baker argues that if anybody should face the prospect of workfare, it's the financial-sector profiteers who enrich themselves while offering poor service managing public assets such as pensions.

- Geoffrey Stevens warns Ontario voters not to once again saddle their province with the mindset which brought them Walkerton and other avoidable tragedies. And Vjosa Isai's report on toxic chemicals in Canadian baby products should instead confirm the need for far stronger protection of the public against corporate irresponsibility.

- And Rachel Cohen discusses the findings of Alex Taborrok, a libertarian economist who wanted to prove a connection between regulations and economic stagnation - but instead demonstrated that one has nothing to do with the other:
(F)or the first time, economists could more confidently measure federal regulations over time and by industry. In theory, that would make it easier to build the case that regulations were hurting the economy.

For his first paper using the database, Tabarrok decided to analyze the effect of federal regulation on “economic dynamism”—a catch-all term referring to the rate at which new businesses launch and grow, and at which people switch jobs, lose jobs, or migrate for work. There has been a notable and somewhat mysterious decline in dynamism over the last few decades. The rate at which start-ups form is half of what it was forty years ago, the fraction of workers who bounce from one job to another—a sign of competitive labor markets—has plunged, productivity has slowed, and adult employment remains well below its early-2000 peak.

Armed with RegData, Tabarrok and Goldschlag set out to show that regulations were at least partly to blame. But they couldn’t. There was simply no correlation, they found, between the degree of federal regulation and the decline of business dynamism. The decline was seen across many different industries, including those that are heavily regulated and those that are not. They tried two other independent tests that didn’t rely on RegData, and came to the same conclusion: an increase in federal regulation just could not explain what was going on.
Indeed, the new paper undermines one of the most deeply held convictions of the American right, one that unites libertarians like Tabarrok with mainstream conservatives: that regulations inevitably impose “deadweight loss” on the economy and are therefore an enemy of economic growth. This idea has been a mainstay of Republican politics since the Reagan era, and the Trump administration has taken to deregulation with missionary zeal. In fact, it’s probably the policy objective that the administration has pursued most successfully—rolling back the Clean Power Plan, repealing net neutrality, freezing the fiduciary rule, and on and on.

The premise that regulations come at the expense of economic activity—that we must always make trade-offs between safety and jobs—is so pervasive that even the American left tends to accept it, defending regulations as necessary evils to promote other social goods. Yet there has never been strong evidence that these trade-offs actually exist. To the contrary, federal regulations have often driven growth and innovation, whether it’s fuel standards spurring new electric cars and solar energy, or the Dodd-Frank law causing an entirely new industry—financial technology—to appear out of whole cloth.
- Finally, Marie Burge criticizes the P.E.I. Liberals' latest efforts to avoid a fair referendum on electoral reform.

New column day

Here, on how Canada continues to tear Indigenous children away from their families due to the lingering effects of discriminatory policies.

For further reading...
- Katie Hyslop has been reporting on the causes and consequences of a severe lack of attention to the welfare of Indigenous children.
- CBC News previewed last week's Federal Court hearing into the sixties scoop settlement, while Jason Warick reported on it afterward.
- Meanwhile, Jennifer Ackerman has reported on the continued delays in the work survivors are being forced to put in just to pursue an apology from Saskatchewan's provincial government.
- Finally, Doug Cuthand comments on the lingering effect of the sixties scoop. And the Star's editorial board has also highlighted the need to stop the cycle of family disruption.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The CCPA offers some questions and answers on the problems with "social impact bonds" designed to turn the delivery of needed programming into a source of corporate profits. And Andy Blatchford reports on the Trudeau Libs' secretive attempt to undermine any prospect of prosecutions for corporate crimes.

- Mike De Souza exposes the existence of a "mystery safety gap" in the Trans Mountain expansion which the Libs are concealing from the public. Mitchell Anderson examines the environmental time bomb of unfunded oil sands tailings ponds. And Bess Levin writes about the Trump administration's suppression of a report on chemical threats to drinking water - based on its being far more concerned about public relations fallout than the lives of people with unsafe water supplies.

- Murray Mandryk points out that Saskatchewan's grim job numbers show weakness going far beyond immediate trends in the resource sector - and that indeed, the damage inflicted by the Saskatchewan Party is lasting even as oil prices rebound.

- And Adam Hunter reports on Scott Moe's strategy of contrived cluelessness in response to important questions about his facilitation of Bill Boyd's environmental violations.

- Finally, Annalisa Merelli highlights the high cost of motherhood in the U.S. And Gabriel Arsenault, Olivier Jacques and Antonia Maioni examine why other provinces haven't yet matched Quebec's success in developing a comprehensive affordable child care program - with a lack of emphasis on building a program to include the middle class serving as the main obstacle so far.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Floored cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Joel French discusses the need for Alberta to implement a more thorough and progressive tax system in order to ensure it has the revenue to support its residents. 

- Meagan Day highlights how Bernie Sanders' new labour bill would empower workers and enhance workplace democracy:
The bipartisan neoliberal attack on unions, which began in earnest in the 1970s, has been enormously effective in undermining the power of the United States labor movement. As a result, the percentage of US workers who currently belong to a union is about 10 percent, down from its peak of nearly 28 percent in 1970.

Again this problem is fundamentally political, stemming from the balance of power in our society and not from a natural or inevitable economic process. The solution, too, has to be political — and it’s in that spirit that Bernie Sanders has introduced a new bill called the Workplace Democracy Act, which aims to clear obstacles to the labor movement’s growth, and ultimately increase collective worker control over the economy. The chances of such a bill passing in a GOP-controlled legislature (or even in a Democrat-controlled legislature; a weaker bill was opposed by moderate Democrats during the Obama administration) are basically nil, but Sanders’s bill is a strong political move anyway. It signals an uncompromising commitment to unions and invites other politicians to support an ambitious vision of a revitalized movement for worker power — or oppose that vision at their own risk.

The Workplace Democracy Act makes three crucial interventions. First, it would overturn a provision in the 1947 Taft-Hartley law that replaced card check — a system where employers have to recognize a union if more than 50 percent of employees in a particular bargaining unit say they want one — with an elaborate secret-ballot election process overseen by the National Labor Relations Board...A national card check system would allow workers to unionize by simple majority, avoiding the messy electioneering process that’s tilted in favor of employers, who inevitably have more resources.

Second, Sanders’s bill would repeal so-called “right to work.” Also a legacy of the Taft-Hartley Act, right to work prevents unions from negotiating contracts with employers that require all employees to join or pay a bargaining fee to the union...

Third, according to some reports, Sanders will seek to increase financial penalties on employers who fire workers for union organizing, a practice that is illegal but ubiquitous, due in part to the lack of consequences. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that “one-in-five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign.” The share of union drives that saw illegal firings of workplace activists rose steadily from the the mid-seventies to the mid-2000s. The paper’s authors note that employers “are unlikely to fire workers randomly, or simply for expressing pro-union views. Employers maximize the return to illegal firing by focusing on union activists.” The result is a climate of fear and a chilling effect on union activism, especially organic leadership among the rank-and-file, who are the least likely to take risks regarding their job security. Corporations are not currently forced to pay penalties when they’re caught retaliating against labor activists — all they need to do is make up lost income, which is not sufficient to distance them from the practice.
- Paul Barrett writes that contrary to the trumped-up complaints of the bigoted right, the only real threat to free speech on campus is the precarious work environment which prevents far too many part-time instructions from speaking up. And PressProgress notes that right-wing astroturf operations are still flouting Canada's income tax laws by pretending not to be involved in political activity.

- Finally, Robert Bea notes that Canada's environmental assessment process has approved BP to conduct offshore drilling based on the same assertions which were rejected by Australia. And Rob Antle reports on Husky's attempt to suppress information about a near-miss incident off of the coast of Newfoundland.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Equality Trust highlights the perpetual concentration of wealth among an extremely privileged few in the UK. LOLGOP points out how U.S. Republicans would rather let people die than see them adequately sustained by a fair minimum wage and secure social supports. And Paul Solman writes about the effects of poverty on cognitive function in light of research showing how a lack of income consumes mental resources. 

- Tom Parkin warns that both Doug Ford and Jason Kenney similarly want to similarly take away from nearly everybody to further enrich the wealthy, while holding out hope that Ontarians will instead vote for change for the better:
About 10 days ago, Jason Kenney, Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader, pledged a $900 million tax cut for Albertans earning over $129,000 — the top 10%.

Yes, that’s $900 million for people who already have the most, taken from everyone else. It’s $900 million in cuts to health care and education and other services Canadians rely on.

And last week, in Ontario, PC Leader Doug Ford joined this exclusive club of Canadian politicians who help those in exclusive clubs. Not to be outdone by Kenney, Ford promised to give away $2.3 billion in public money, with the maximum benefit going to those in the top tax bracket.
Ford won’t say what he’d cut and privatize. He just waves it away with one word — “efficiencies.” Just a $20 billion cut — it won’t hurt a bit. Believe me, folks.

Canadians have been on this cut and privatize journey for a couple of decades now. But maybe something is changing.
Canadians are on a treadmill. The Conservatives cut — so we throw them out and put in the Liberals. Then the Liberals cut — so we toss them out and vote the Conservative back in. And nothing changes.

[Andrea] Horwath’s early success suggests Canadians may want off the treadmill. I’ll wager even many people who get these tax cuts would rather have it invested in a better society.

Cynical politicians have been crushing Canadians’ hopes by turning politics into a competition between bad and worse, selfishness and greed. But maybe they underestimate Canadians.
- Meanwhile, Chris York reports on a growing activist movement demanding a new deal for UK workers.

- Bethany Lindsey discusses the dangers of trying to base a province's standard of living on constantly increasing real estate values rather than actual economic development. And Sean McElwee and Henry Kraemer write about the need for housing policy based on making rent more affordable.

- Kevin Taft points out a few key facts about the oil industry's domination of Alberta politics. And Christopher Guly comments on the collective insanity driving the push for the Trans Mountain expansion.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk notes that a continued refusal to be honest about the Global Transportation Hub scandal represents just one more way in which nothing has changed for the Saskatchewan Party under Scott Moe.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Dana Brown and Thomas Hanna discuss the possibility of a public option for access to medication in the U.S. And while the Winnipeg Free Press warns that Brian Pallister might want to stand in the way of a national pharmacare program, that hardly seems a reasonable excuse to discard the possibility.

- Elaine Povich reports on the unexpectedly high revenue from Seattle's soda tax.

- Michael Geist is duly skeptical of the latest attempt to excuse the gouging of Canadian consumers by the telecommunications sector, while Bill Curry reports on Jim Balsillie's warnings about the spread of surveillance capitalism. And Yves Engler reminds us that rather than reining in the excesses of Stephen Harper's surveillance state, the Trudeau Libs are pouring more money and power into extending it.

- Ivan Ascher points out why corporate thinking patterns won't lead to the action we need to combat climate change, while Chantelle Bellrichard reports on Kinder Morgan's willingness to accommodate Nestle and other business interests even as it ignores the needs of people who stand to be affected by any Trans Mountain expansion. And Tom Embury-Dennis notes that Costa Rica's government leadership has led it toward becoming the world's first decarbonized society.

- Finally, Drew Brown rightly slams the plans of Jason Kenney and Alberta's UCP to forcibly out LGBT children to their parents.