Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The OECD examines the generational implications of inequality and poverty - with the descendants of poor children in some countries requiring up to nine generations to project to reach an average income.

- Dean Baker writes that the Trump administration is only seeking to further entrench class disparities by locking in exclusionary rights through international trade agreements. And Michael Geist discusses how a few corporate actors have taken over Canada's copyright consultations.

- Meanwhile, Howard Davies notes that a new IMF database shows global debt at at all-time high even after the supposed attempt to rein in unsustainable borrowing after the 2008 economic crisis.

- David Ball reports on Kinder Morgan's disregard for environmental rules in building its Trans Mountain terminal. Needless to say, nobody is expected to face any consequences as a result of that lawlessness - in contrast to David Dodge's willingness to see activists killed in the name of pipeline expansion.

- Finally, D.C. Fraser reports on the Saskatchewan Party's decision to tear down the Justice for Our Stolen Children in the name of expunging any recognition of the abuse of Indigenous peoples from Regina's Canada Day events.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Musical interlude

The Watchmen - Do It

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Ed Finn reminds us that ending child poverty makes good economic sense in addition to being a moral necessity:
The same huge financial benefit would be reaped in Canada from an equivalent investment in curbing poverty here. Based on the variance in populations and socioeconomic issues, it’s clear that, if it would save more than a trillion dollars in the U.S., it would save as much as $100 billion annually in Canadian dollars.

Unfortunately, given the deeply entrenched neoliberalism rampant in both the United States and Canada, it’s highly unlikely that Rank’s strong anti-poverty case will fare any better with politicians on either side of the border than did similar previous studies.

The prospect of saving billions in the future by spending more to alleviate child poverty today doesn’t appeal to conservative corporate CEOs or their political minions. They are fixated on maximizing profits in the next quarter, not in 10 or 20 years from now.

The same avarice-fueled capitalist myopia that keeps them plundering non-renewable resources, polluting the environment, and propagating inequality also compels them to keep on keeping children poor. The less spent on helping the poor, the higher their profits. It’s that blatant.

Blinded by greed, committed to turning their millions to billions, their billions to trillions, these modern-day robber barons remain indifferent to the poverty, misery, deprivation and distress they inflict on billions of other people.

Tragically, their most traumatized victims are the young, the helpless, and the innocent – those most in need of adult love and care.
- Robert Frank notes that even billionaires are recognizing the grossly distorted distribution of income and wealth - and the social harms which result. And Jennifer Ditchburn discusses the need for genuine policy to deal with the future of work, rather than distractions from the reality that financial security is out of reach for far too many people. 

- Ben Zipperer points out how the U.S.' minimum wage has eroded to the point where it serves as a guarantee of poverty.

- The Independent reports on polling showing a strong majority of Britons looking to bring railways back under public ownership.

- Finally, Seth Klein and Vyas Saran counter any attempts to muddy the waters in British Columbia's electoral reform referendum by pointing out how simple and fair a proportional system can be.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jonathan Amos and Victoria Gill report on Antarctica's alarming rate of melting - with three trillion tons of ice lost in the past 25 years. Peter Erickson reminds us that the avoidable greenhouse gas emissions from subsidized oil sands development will only make matters worse for the world as a whole. And Crawford Kilian previews what we can expect when the carbon bubble bursts:
Some models assume we will work hard to keep global warming to a two-degree rise or less by moving to renewable energy and cutting back on fossil fuels; others assume we won’t, and will keep burning oil and gas despite rising temperatures.
All the models end up with a “sellout” by 2035 or earlier, in which oil-producing nations put on history’s greatest bargain sale, dropping oil prices as low as possible just to get it out of the ground before demand falls to zero. After all, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau observed not long ago, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.” Least of all when all those barrels would soon be “stranded” in the ground and $1 trillion to $4 trillion vanishes from the global economy.

Once the sellout was truly under way, what would happen?
(O)ur domestic woes will be like those of many other rich countries, only worse. Migrants and refugees will still find Canada a better option than staying home. Wars, revolutions and climate-driven disasters will make demands on us we won’t feel able to respond to. Poverty at home will trigger new problems in public health, just as it has in Venezuela.

Mercure’s forecast is unlikely to be the first; governments and fossil fuel corporations alike have probably commissioned reports with similar conclusions. With such politically ugly implications, it’s understandable that such reports have not been publicized, let alone acted upon.

But a wise government would break the news to its people, commission still more studies, and commit to acting on them: cutting losses in fossil fuels, subsidizing renewable energy companies, and promoting research in the field that might give Canada a chance to catch up with other transitioning countries.

And if we ignore Mercure’s warning, we will learn our lesson anyway, with a tuition fee of up to $4 trillion.
- Keith Reynolds studies the billions of dollars British Columbia is paying to the corporate sector due to its use of P3s rather than public ownership.

- The Guardian rightly argues that rather than limiting itself to empty words, the UK should be responding to the Grenfell Tower disaster by ensuring safe housing for everybody. And Laura Paddison examines the glaring lack of affordable housing for U.S. renters.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg writes about Doug Ford's first-past-the-post-dependent election win. And Martin Lukacs discusses the urgent need for a strong grassroots movement to counter Ford's top-down destruction.

New column day

Here, on how NAFTA has proven wholly ineffective in deterring a destructive U.S. president from starting a gratuitous trade war - and how Canada should respond in charting a new economic course.

For further reading...
- Andrew Jackson has previously discussed the effects of NAFTA to date, as well as Canada's prospects in its absence. And the Council of Canadians' factsheet on how NAFTA has affected workers is worth a look.
- The Office of the United States Trade Representative offers up some numbers as to how much more tightly we're tied to the U.S. under NAFTA.
- Among the latest developments in the burgeoning Trump trade war, Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford reported on the fallout from last weekend's G7 meeting, while Katie Simpson reported on Canada's anticipated response to another round of U.S. tariffs.
- Duncan Cameron points out the importance of building multilateral economic structures rather than relying unduly on the U.S.
- Finally, George Monbiot argues that Donald Trump is right about one aspect of trade agreements: rather than seeking to bind future governments, we should recognize the value of sunset clauses which allow for the public to once again have a say in our economic development.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Shaun Richman reviews David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs - including the inevitable inference that there needs to be some means for people to be supported without having to seek out useless work:
Much of the “bullshitization” of white-collar work is purely accidental, but Graeber argues that capitalists couldn’t have designed a more effective pecking order of oppression if they’d tried. At the bottom, you have millions of workers striving to work longer hours and fighting for a couple more dollars an hour that might lift them out of literal poverty. In between the desperate lumpen and the de facto rulers of the world is a massive segment of the workforce who secretly suspect that maintaining a decent standard of living doesn’t correlate with useful or productive work (or, indeed, any work at all!). But challenging the system could imperil their relative comfort.

They are more likely to resent people whose jobs are easily explainable to their family and neighbors—but who nevertheless demand better wages and working conditions—than to make common cause with them.

Graeber points to autoworkers and teachers as workers who achieve a tangible degree of satisfaction from their work and who are frequent targets of the public’s ire for expecting that and decent wages. I think more of all those amateur chefs on Chopped, hoping to win a $10,000 purse in order to buy a food truck. How many thousands of people are living an essentially monastic lifestyle because they want to make a living feeding people? In a world filled with well-paying but meaningless work, or poorly-paid drudgery that a robot could (and may soon) do, is it any wonder that so many people yearn for a meaningful life spent cooking for people and watching them enjoy the literal fruits of their labor?

What I particularly love about Graeber’s book is how it cutes to the revival of the kind of labor lit that flourished in the 1970s. The last 40 years of globalization, automation, and the gutting of our labor laws has narrowed the focus of too many labor writers to questions of how workers can get enough hours at a high-enough minimum wage and with decent enough benefits to reverse an inexorable slide into poverty.
Being an anarchist, Graeber is loath to suggest specific policy solutions. Still, he can’t help but talk about the policy that is most frequently advocated by the nerds who talk about the post-scarcity society: the universal basic income. Obviously, he sees value in decoupling the deservedness of food, shelter, and clothing from how one spends the majority of her waking hours. There simply isn’t enough useful work to go around for each of us to trade an hour for a loaf of bread.
The alternative progressive policy proposal—a federal commitment to full employment—is touted as more pragmatic and winnable. It’s a reasonable appeal to the god, mom, and apple-pie Calvinist work ethic. And, after all, there are a lot of roads and bridges that need to be rebuilt, a lot of child and elder care that should be compensated as the very real work it is, and well, who wouldn’t love to see a lot of WPA-style public artwork going up around the world? But, Bullshit Jobs should serve as a warning that a continued fidelity to the notion that one must work for one’s supper would likely condemn many of us to box-checking and duct-taping, as the machines take over and make most of us redundant.  
- Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin make the case for a combination of a basic income to ensure people's security, and a focus on environmental repair rather than consumerism to ensure a sustainable society. And Nathaniel Lewis points out that social welfare benefits do far more to reduce poverty than raw job numbers.

- Ed Broadbent argues that if Justin Trudeau wants to claim to be a progressive leader, he needs to start working on helping out the poor. And the BBC reports on a new survey showing growing public recognition that poor health is the result of an unjust society.

- Branko Marcetic comments on the massive amounts of wage theft by U.S. employers. And Dave Jamieson discusses the success of the Culinary Workers Union in achieving improved wages and working conditions in the face of state laws intended to undermine organized labour.

- Finally, Bob Hennelly suggests that student debt forgiveness would actually offer the economic boost which was supposed to represent the rationale for corporate tax cuts. And Albert Van Santvoort points out that contrary to the bloviations of business mouthpieces looking for any excuse to hand more money to corporations, the U.S.' tax slashing hasn't produced any discernible effect on corporate investment in Canada.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Boxed-in cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Andrew O'Hehir talks to Yanis Varoufakis about the impossibility of building shared prosperity on a foundation of consumer debt and financialization. And the Institute for Public Policy Research offers a discussion paper on the important equalizing role of organized labour - and the need for government to ensure that unions can serve the public interest.

- Meanwhile, Patrick Butler reports on the woeful state of adult social care in the wake of brutal cuts and an ideological insistence on the survival of only the fittest and luckiest.

- Elisabetta Bianchini reports on some of the Ontario voters lamenting the first-past-the-post system which has allowed Doug Ford to take an effectively unaccountable majority government over the objection of most of the province. And Mitch Potter muses that the result might open the door to electoral reform elsewhere.

- The Star discusses the need for Canada to start learning from - and reversing - its failures in respecting Indigenous people. And Emma Paling reports that some of the chiefs regularly used as props in support of the Trans Mountain expansion were coerced into signing on, rather than having any meaningful choice in the matter.

- Finally, Marc Lee points out that British Columbians paying more than ever for gas should trace the problem to oil-sector profit-taking, not modest steps to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Julian Baggini discusses the importance of talking about taxes as a force for the common good - particularly as a response to (and inoculation against) inane "tax freedom" rhetoric:
(W)e need to counter the subtle ways in which we are complicit in the taxophobics’ game. Think about how every newspaper and news outlet reports the budget. The bottom line is always presented in terms of whether tax changes leave specific types of people better or worse off, usually by mere pennies per week. The most important test of a budget should not be how taxes hit individuals’ pockets, but whether overall government is sustainably improving the state of the nation. Taxing less than we need to is as bad as taxing more than is necessary.

These changes in how we think and talk might strike you as modest and uncontroversial. Proof that they are anything but is that a campaign to start celebrating social solidarity day would today be laughed off as some kind of politically correct joke. Unless and until we make it normal to see taxation primarily as a valuable contribution to our own and the common good, the narrative that government is the enemy and tax is theft will continue to prevail.
- And Thomas Torslov, Ludvig Weir and Gabriel Zucman study the massive amounts of tax revenue being siphoned into tax havens to enrich shareholders at the expense of any contribution to the public interest.

- Toby Helm writes about the latest research demonstrating a connection between rising inequality and decreasing union membership. And Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett comment on how inequality leads to stress and anxiety. 

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes about Ontario's rejection of one form of cynical politics - though it's worth noting that both the Wynne Libs and Ford PCs managed to achieve their end-of-campaign goals which put political interests ahead of the public.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- J.W. Mason reviews Quinn Slobodian's Globalists with a reminder that the decades-long push to subjugate popular democracy to corporate interests is nothing new - and that we know well the consequences:
In the early twentieth century, there were many people who saw popular sovereignty as a problem to be solved. In a world where dynastic rule had been swept offstage, formal democracy might be unavoidable; and elections served an important role in channeling the demands that might otherwise be expressed through “the right to the street.” But the idea that the people, acting through their political representatives, were the highest authority and entitled to rewrite law, property rights, and contracts in the public interest—this was unacceptable. One way or another, government by the people had to be reined in.

Mises’ writings from a century ago often sound as if they belong in speeches by modern European conservatives such as German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble. The welfare state is unaffordable, Mises says; workers’ excessive wage demands have rendered them unemployable, governments’ uncontrolled spending will be punished by financial markets, and “English and German workers may have to descend to the lowly standard of life of the Hindus and the coolies to compete with them.”

Quinn Slobodian argues that the similarities between Mises then and Schäuble today are not a coincidence. They are products of a coherent body of thought: neoliberalism, or the Geneva school. His book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, is a history of the “genealogy of thought that linked the neoliberal world economic imaginary from the 1920s to the 1990s.”

The book puts to rest the idea that “neoliberal” lacks a clear referent. As Slobodian meticulously documents, the term has been used since the 1920s by a distinct group of thinkers and policymakers who are unified both by a shared political vision and a web of personal and professional links.
Property and its privileges are only safe in a world where the rule of money is accepted as objective, inevitable, and outside the scope of collective decision-making. The problem is that the concrete demands of statecraft often require governments to control economic outcomes, depriving them their aura of objective fact. When enemy forces are massed on the border or unemployed workers are rioting in the streets, no government that wants to remain in power can accept economic outcomes as facts beyond their control, like the weather.
But once the Pandora’s box of conscious management of the economy is opened, governments can use the power they now know they possess for all kinds of other ends. In a democratic state, a planning apparatus developed to mobilize in war or cope with economic crises may easily be redirected to serve a broader agenda.
- Doug Henwood writes that low wages and personal insecurity are a reality for U.S. workers even where more jobs than assumed are actually expected to last for a substantial period of time. And Brian Prowse-Gany and Joyzel Acevedo talk to Nick Hanauer about the false and manipulative claim that improved wages do anything to harm the availability of work.

- Charles Pierce highlights Scott Pruitt's selloff of public health in the U.S.

- Atif Shatique connects the recent critique of the "marshmallow test" with the destructive spread of conditional social benefits.

- Emma Teitel writes that our willingness to show concern about mental health in the weak of a celebrity suicide means little if we're not prepared to deal with both environmental causes and individual illnesses before tragedy strikes. And CBC reports on the latest report of the Provincial Auditor documenting the severe lack of mental health care in northern Saskatchewan.

- Finaly, Lana Payne discusses Doug Ford's election as the product of base emotion and an distorted electoral system.