Saturday, June 02, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- CBC talks to Robert Frank about the role of luck and privilege in generating concentrated wealth. And Kate Bahn highlights the reality that collective action is needed to help level a playing field currently tilted to benefit those who already have the most.

- Samantha Eyler-Driscoll interviews Gabriel Zucman about the dangers of inequality (and the financial secrecy which enables it). And Richard Brooks offers a warning that big accounting firms are too close to the corporations they're supposed to be monitoring, while Matthew Yglesias writes that the Republicans are setting up another financial crisis by letting the financial sector run amok.

- Peter Goodman discusses Stockton, California's plans for a basic income experiment. And Johann Hari notes that a secure income can have massive mental health benefits - while financial precarity can instead feed into depression and other illnesses:
For several decades now, we have been taught to see our deepest forms of pain—our depression, our anxiety—as primarily problems with our internal brain chemistry: some missing serotonin here, some missing dopamine there. This is how I was told to think about my depression by my doctor. But the UN’s leading medical figures have warned that this view is “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good” and “must be abandoned.” There is, they claim, a different way of looking at this problem—one that offers meaningful solutions.
...If depression is primarily—as we have been led to believe by pharmaceutical company marketing campaigns—a problem with our brain chemistry, this makes no sense. The brains of the people of Dauphin did not suddenly evolve in those three years. But the World Health Organization, the leading medical body in the world, has explained: “Mental health is produced socially. The presence or absence of mental health is above all a social indicator and requires social as well as individual solutions.” In reality, depression and anxiety are produced by a broad range of factors. Some are biological—but many are social and psychological.

This requires us to think differently about how we respond to depression and anxiety. Dr Forget told me, after she interviewed many of the people who had been on the guaranteed income program, that it “works as an antidepressant.” Severe financial anxiety is one of several factors which has been proven to cause depression. Reducing that cause reduces the amount of depression. All over the world, I hunted for alternative antidepressants that should be offered alongside chemical antidepressants—and I kept seeing this key insight that had been discovered in Canada in the 1970s: the most effective strategies for dealing with depression are the ones that deal with the reasons why we are in such pain in the first place.
- But Stephanie Nebehay reports on a UN human rights investigation showing how the Trump administration is going out of its way to further impoverish the U.S.' lower classes, while Ed Pilkington notes that core Trump supporters in rural areas are likely suffering some of the worst effects.

- Finally, Jessica McCrory Calarco notes that the "marshmallow test" referred to regularly in behavioural economics likely has more to do with socioeconomic status than any inherent self-discipline.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Musical interlude

Tom Cochrane - I Wish You Well

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Cherise Seucharan interviews Andrew MacLeod about his new book on the health benefits of investing in income, housing and education. And Kyle Edwards discusses the unconscionable number of Indigenous children being put in foster care.

- Ben Smee reports on the UK's parliamentary inquiry into franchising - including evidence that franchisees have been advised to use wage theft and exploitation of vulnerable workers as regular business strategies. And Jeffry Bartash examines new U.S. data showing that an unusually high number of employees are seeing no raises despite a supposedly tight job market.

- Meanwhile, Jude Kirton-Darling and Agnes Jongerius report on a new EU law - fought tooth and nail by the UK's Cons - intended to ensure that the free movement of workers doesn't serve to undercut wages and employment standards.

- Robert Benzie reports on the Ontario NDP's plan for a rent registry for transparency in housing pricing (and as a safeguard against "renovictions").

- Finally, Kevin Taft comments that the Trans Mountain buyoff and expansion look to be symptoms of a continued addiction to fossil fuels. And James Wilt interviews Peter Erickson about the long-term ramifications of those choices today.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

New column day

Here, on how the Libs' willingness to throw tens of billions of public dollars at the Trans Mountain pipeline (and its corporate partners) confirms the broken promise that infrastructure money would serve the public interest.

For further reading...
- Campbell Clark wrote about the slow pace of the infrastructure spending which was put forward as evidence of the Libs' supposed vision for the public good. And Mia Rabson reports on the Canada Infrastructure Bank which will divert public infrastructure funding toward the generation of corporate profits. 
- David Ljunggren, Liz Hampton and Gary McWilliams document how Kinder Morgan schemed its way into a no-lose situation while making laughable pleas of hardship. And Robyn Allan has previously written about Kinder Morgan's refusal to contribute its fair share to the government which has now decided to pay it off. 
- Paul Willcocks takes a look at the combined cost of buying Trans Mountain and planning to fund its expansion, while Perrin Grauer examines a few of the other ways the Libs could be spending the same money to meet far more urgent and important social priorities. And both Matt McClure and Vanmala Subramaniam find that experts see the purchase as indefensible.
- Finally, Pam Palmater points out a few of the additional promises the Libs are breaking by buying Trans Mountain.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Frances Ryan rightly calls out the anti-choice right for having no interest in the well-being of children once they're born:
(S)mall-state ideology can make it devastatingly difficult for a low-income parent to look after a child. Look at the controversial “two-child” limit to child tax credits under universal credit (UC). From its inception, it was predicted the policy would lead to hundreds of thousands of additional children living in poverty, but it’s now emerging that some women are even feeling forced to have abortions because they can’t afford to go ahead with the pregnancy. “It wasn’t planned but it was very much wanted. I was crying as they wheeled me in,” one woman told the Mirror this month about her abortion; without the safety net of tax credits, she had no way to afford another baby. Women in Northern Ireland in similar positions have an even more restricted choice: the rape-exemption clause that gives some women on UC a financial reprieve endangers women who haven’t reported their attack to the police (in Northern Ireland, failure to report a crime is an offence) and, as the renewed calls for reproductive rights in light of the Irish vote has highlighted, Northern Irish women have no legal access to abortion in their own country if they feel they can’t raise a child.

Recent years have in fact seen a determined removal of support from low-income mothers – everything from forcing single parents (90% of whom are women) to look for work once their child turns three or have their benefits sanctioned, to the benefit cap, a policy so regressive it was actually ruled to be unlawful when forced on single parents with toddlers.
In the post-crash austerity era, this sense of social solidarity towards children has noticeably lessened. Under each policy to remove state support from parents there’s a lurking narrative that working-class women are “breeding too much” or that low-income children are drains on the “hardworking taxpayer”. (“Why should I pay for someone else to have more kids?” is the rejoinder on most articles advocating child benefits). In the real world, pregnancy is rarely predictable – contraception fails, relationships end, and jobs are lost – and besides, even the most ardent individualist would admit low-income children have done nothing to “deserve” their own poverty.

We are at the point in which it is not rare to hear of infants living in B&Bs, sleeping on cardboard, or even scrambling for food in school bins. If the ongoing debate over abortion rights teaches us anything, it’s that there are no shortage of voices content to defend the “unborn”. It’s a shame few are willing to give the same care to those children who are already here.
- And Elizabeth Wall-Weiler points out the vicious cycle of separating children from teenage mothers in care - which tends only to ensure a lack of family security across generations.

- Edgardo Sepulveda examines the effect on inequality of the party platforms in Ontario's provincial election, showing the stark distinction between the increased fairness of the NDP's platform and the exacerbated inequality on offer from Doug Ford. And Michael Laxer's roundup contrasts the real Conservative scandals which have been downplayed by the media against the contrived attempts to manufacture controversy surrounding the NDP. 

- Andrew Jackson reviews Christo Aivailis' The Constant Liberal on Pierre Trudeau's consistent pattern of trying absorb progressive activity into centrist power structures to dilute its ultimate effect.

- Finally, Helene Laverdiere criticizes the Libs' insistence on enabling the sale of arms to human rights abusers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lambert Strether points out that standard estimates of income inequality (jarring though they are to begin with) tend to ignore the capital gains which accrue disproportionately to those who already have the most.

- Scott Alexander makes the case for a basic income as opposed to a jobs guarantee - including the observation that the requirements of work (including housing location and transportation) can themselves be contributors to poverty and stress.

- Josh Eidelson points out how the U.S. has allowed "prevailing wage" data which is intended to ensure reasonable pay on federal projects to fall decades out of date. And Noam Scheiber reports that Donald Trump is attacking both the job security of federal employees and their ability to defend themselves collectively - while William Brown and Chris Wright write that exactly the opposite steps represent the best hope of protecting the UK's labour standards in the face of Brexit. 

- Harry Quilter-Pinner argues that there's no excuse for failing to limit avoidable air pollution which causes serious public health risks. 

- Finally, Andrew Nikiforuk examines the true costs of the Libs' Trans Mountain subsidies and giveaways - with a price tag likely to approach $20 billion. Bill McKibben criticizes Justin Trudeau's decision to become an oil executive rather than governing in the interest of Canadians, while Thomas Walkom notes that buying up a pipeline doesn't solve any of the underlying factors pointing against pipeline expansion while rewarding Kinder Morgan for its petulance. And Vicky Mochama offers some suggestions as to Trudeau's anticipated pitch to try to sell off the pipeline in the years to come.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at play.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Peter Goodman discusses how austerity has changed society for the worse in the UK:
For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being — crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness — point to a deteriorating quality of life.
By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier, or more than $900 annually for every working-age person in the country, according to a report from the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. In Liverpool, the losses will reach $1,200 a year per working-age person, the study says.
But the reality at hand is dominated by worries that Britain’s pending departure from the European Union — Brexit, as it is known — will depress growth for years to come. Though every major economy on earth has been expanding lately, Britain’s barely grew during the first three months of 2018. The unemployment rate sits just above 4 percent — its lowest level since 1975 — yet most wages remain lower than a decade ago, after accounting for rising prices.
In the blue-collar reaches of northern England, in places like Liverpool, modern history tends to be told in the cadence of lamentation, as the story of one indignity after another. In these communities, Mrs. Thatcher’s name is an epithet, and austerity is the latest villain: London bankers concocted a financial crisis, multiplying their wealth through reckless gambling; then London politicians used budget deficits as an excuse to cut spending on the poor while handing tax cuts to corporations. Robin Hood, reversed. 
- Noelle Sullivan and Lisa Ann Richey offer a reminder that we won't successfully fight poverty by throwing money at self-serving corporate public relations campaigns. And LA Kouffman comments on the need for protest and other collective activism to push for social change.

- Jim Stanford examines the spread of precarious work in Australia, with less than half of current jobs meeting a basic definition of "standard" secure work. And Tracey Warren argues that any discussion about work-life balance needs to take into account the individual effects of poverty-level wages.

- Finally, Richard Florida warns Ontario voters about the economic risks of allowing Doug Ford to tear down progress in the name of know-nothing populism.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Laura Basu discusses the media's role in accepting and perpetuating the corporatist ideology behind privatization campaigns:
(R)esearch carried out by myself at Cardiff University has shown that while austerity has been controversial, trickle-down reforms like privatisation, deregulation and corporation tax cuts have been embraced by the media. In the sample of five UK mainstream media outlets, only one – the Guardian – took a more critical stance towards these reforms than a supportive one. Even that outlet contained almost as much favourable coverage as critical coverage. The right-wing sections of the press, which dominate the British media landscape, were unflinchingly supportive of these measures and urged the government to go even further.

The idea behind these policies is that what’s good for business is good for everyone. If businesses are handed more resources, freed from regulation and handed tax breaks, they will be encouraged to invest in the economy, creating jobs and growth. The rich are therefore ‘job creators’ and ‘wealth creators’. One exposé revealed that in the UK, business is handed £93 billion a year in this kind of corporate welfare. With a few notable exceptions, there has been a black hole around corporate welfare in public discourse.

This is despite the fact that these policies have an impressive fail rate. Business investment and productivity growth remain low, as corporations spend the savings not on training and innovation but on share buy-backs and shareholder dividends. Share buy-backs are when a company purchases its own shares, decreasing the number of its shares on the open market and thereby increasing their value. According to the Financial Times, in 2014, the top 500 US companies returned 95 per cent of their profits to shareholders in dividends and buybacks. Meanwhile, inequality is spiralling.
By the time of the 2008 crash, neoliberal ideology had become so dominant that other positions were virtually invisible. And so, the same people responsible for financial collapse were called upon to offer solutions.

In my study, business and finance representatives were the second biggest category of sources featured in the media coverage. The biggest category was politicians, who until the Corbyn shake-up have been pursuing a blindly pro-business agenda. These two groups got to set the news agenda and the terms of debate. Other voices – trade unions, campaign groups, activists and academics – were sidelined. These groups helped manufacture an amnesia that was taken up zealously by some sections of the media and passively reproduced by others.

It has taken the Grenfell fire tragedy costing the lives of at least 70 people and the collapse of Carillion for the political consensus to even begin to be questioned. If we are to build on this progress we will need to start having grown-up conversations about corporate welfare and the strengths and weaknesses of market capitalism.
- Meanwhile, Tom Wall exposes how UK landlords are exploiting the opportunity to extract millions of pounds by offering unsafe housing as publicly-funded temporary accommodation to people who can't find anywhere affordable to live on a permanent basis.

- Alex Matthews-King discusses new research on the connection between inequality and increased obesity among other health risks.

- Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin reveal the Trump administration's attitude toward climate change - with ignorance and deliberate undermining of scientific evidence both treated as viable options, while acting based on reality was left off the table. And Ellen Knickmeyer reports on the collusion between Trump's appointed environmental regulators and the climate change denial industry.

- Finally, Ben Choiniere reports on Rhode Island's proposal to offer employees the chance to turn layoffs or closures into a first step toward cooperative ownership.