Saturday, August 04, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michael Laxer writes that Doug Ford's attack on people who stood to be helped by a basic income demonstrates the cruelty of austerian politics. But we shouldn't take the callousness of right-wing parties as reflecting the preferences of most voters, as the Angus Reid Institute's poll on poverty in Canada examines attitudes toward the people facing it and the options available to address it - including the widespread recognition that poverty is primarily a matter of circumstances beyond an individual's control:
  • Two-thirds of Canadians (65%) say the federal government is doing too little to address poverty, and approximately the same number (64%) feel this way about their provincial government
  • More than seven-in-ten (72%) say poor people are poor because of circumstances beyond their control, rather than a lack of effort on their part
  • A similar number (65%) say wealthy people are wealthy because they had more advantages in life, rather than because they worked harder than other people
- And Eric Levitz points out new data confirming that in the U.S., policies such as increased public enterprise are far more popular than the Republicans' template of tax giveaways to the rich and austerity for everybody else - even though they're hardly ever discussed by the political class.

- The Economist discusses how the world is losing the war against climate change. And Christopher Pollin interviews Naomi Klein about the need for divestment from fossil fuels as part of the public response to negligence by political leaders.

- Lisa Johnson reports on the threat to sockeye salmon posed by a warming Fraser River. And Emma Lui notes that Nestle has pumped over a billion litres of water out of the Aberfoyle well since its permit expired - and that it's showing no willingness to stop in the absence of public action.

- Finally, Andre Picard discusses how the Netherlands have taken harm reduction several steps further than Canada by allowing for drug-checking to protect against contamination.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Musical interlude

Tame Impala - Why Won't They Talk To Me?

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- The Globe and Mail's editorial board rightly recognizes that attempts to challenge federal carbon pricing on constitutional grounds represent nothing but a politically-motivated waste of money. Ross Belot laments the Trudeau Libs' decision to respond by watering down already-insufficient plans while making it difficult for anybody to plan around a coherent federal policy. And Fatima Syed reports on allegations that Ontario's provincial election was tainted by prohibited donations from the oil sector.

- Meanwhile, Damian Carrington talks to Michael Mann about the role climate change has already played in the proliferation of extreme weather events.

- The Lindsay Advocate and the Toronto Star both offer first-hand accounts from the people who stand to lose out on desperately-needed economic security due to the callous cancellation of Ontario's basic income pilot program. Jane Gerster fact-checks the PCs' laughable claim that stable income disincentivizes work. And John Stapleton and Yvonne Yuan point out the erosion of existing social programs as highlighting the need for a more generous welfare system - rather than the cruelty of Ford's government.

- Finally, Matt Wade writes that Australia's economy - like so many others - is seeing workers take home an unprecedentedly small share of total output.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

New column day

Here, examining David Macdonald's latest report on wealth concentration in Canada - and the availability of more ambitious solutions than what's been on offer in most recent political debates.

For further reading...
- The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis studies (PDF) how unearned income and wealth are similarly becoming more concentrated in the U.S.
- Christo Aivalis has pointed out how a more progressive tax system which focuses on wealth in particular can be one of the NDP's key promises to Canadian voters.
- Finally, among the voices who have proposed more widespread wealth taxes, Paul Buchheit has advocated for a focus on financial wealth, while Thomas Piketty has made the case for taking wealth generally.

[Edit: added link.]

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Annie Lowrey points out the massive amounts of money being directed toward stock buybacks in the U.S., with the predictable effect of further enriching the people who already have the most. And Andrew Jackson's review of Mariana Mazzucato's The Value of Everything discusses the need for policy aimed toward development rather than extraction:
It is nonsense to argue that the wealth and income of hedge fund billionaires reflects their individual productive contribution, as opposed to their ability to extract profits from socially created value. Many progressive economists such as Nobel prize winner Joe Stiglitz argue that much of the modern economy consists of sectors in which rents or excess profits are extracted by dominant businesses due to limited competition and control of intellectual property rights among other factors. For example, big pharma and the tech giants like Google and Facebook earn profits well above normal rates of return due to their power to shape markets.

Mazzucato closely documents the value extraction role of the finance sector, whose share of total profits has grown rapidly since deregulation in the 1970s. While banks and other financial institutions do play a productive role in part by directing financial capital to productive uses, most real business investment is in fact financed by retained corporate earnings. Meanwhile, finance has directed resources to almost purely speculative and economically destabilizing activities such as hedge funds and creation of exotic financial instruments such as derivatives which merely transfer dollars between winners and losers, as in a casino where the dealer always wins.

As well, finance has had damaging impacts upon real economy highly productive businesses by inisting on maximizing shareholder value and demanding short term profits paid out through dividends and share re purchases as opposed to providing ‘patient’ capital for long term investment in equipment and innovation which boost real value added and productivity. Despite years of so-called financial innovation, it is hard for truly innovative new companies to attract capital since even venture capital funds are oriented to a quick turnover of capital and have very high “hurdle” rates of return In this context, very early start up capital often comes from governments which are prepared to take bigger risks for bigger long-term payoffs.
As in her previous book, Mazzucato is very much an advocate of an expanded entrepreneurial role for government in supporting, not just research and high levels of public investment, but also in setting ambitious goals and missions, such as decarbonizing the economy. She argues that governments should take an ownership stake in the productive economy to collect a social return on public investment for citizens which could be used to fund social programs and public services as well as to create greater social equity. In the Canadian context, she would likely favour taking large equity stakes in innovative enterprises to provide long term capital for growth, while also seeking greater control of the economy and a fairer distribution of income and wealth.

The Value of Everything is a stimulating and informative overview of value creation and destruction in today’s economy. It is very much part of a wider project to develop a new progressive and social democratic economics oriented towards the creation of real value and social equity, as opposed to maximizing GDP.
- CBC reports on the Libs' decision to water down the thresholds for their already-insufficient industrial carbon price. And it's particularly worth noting the thresholds involved: while Canada has agreed to cut its emissions by 30%, the Libs' scheme will allow emitters to pollute freely as long as they are 20% or 10% below industry standards depending on the industry involved.

- The Globe and Mail rightly slams Doug Ford's decision to abruptly end Ontario's basic income pilot program for the apparent purpose of avoiding any recognition as to how it helps recipients. John Stapleton writes that the sudden reversal will only further trap people in poverty after they had reasonably expected at least some reprieve. And Hugh Segal notes that people with low incomes are apparently excluded from Ford's perceived set of constituents.

- Tavia Grant examines how the right-wing attempt to stoke fears about "illegal" refugees is based on deliberate lies as to both the number of people seeking asylum in Canada, and the international law governing their claims.

- Finally, Sarah Buhler discusses the need to expand Legal Aid services at a time when the Saskatchewan Party has nothing on offer but cuts.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Peter Gowan discusses UK Labour's push for greater social control over economic development. And Rainer Kattel, Mariana Mazzucato, Josh Ryan-Collins and Simon Sharpe set out a useful framework to evaluate policies which are intended to shape markets rather than merely attempting to fix them.

- Anis Heydari reports on the choice far too many Albertans face between food and housing when neither is affordable. And Glen Pearson comments on how poverty can trap people in a cycle of deprivation and pessimism:
What do kids in low-income situations do, for instance, when school is out? For many, camps are beyond reach because of the expense, vacations to other regions virtually impossible, and for some, hunger pangs will increase with the loss of school breakfast and feeding programs. It’s a sad irony of our times that agricultural growing seasons flourish at the same time as kids go more hungry than usual.

For working parents pressed down with precarious or vulnerable work, inquiring as to what their plans are for the summer can prove to be a moment of insensitivity. They possess no cottage, boat, travel agenda or, for some, even a car. They can enjoy the sun like everyone else, but not in those more exotic locations most citizens can get to.

This is what modern-day poverty looks like — not just a lack of resources but also a loss of hope.
It is this psychological state that presents democracy and politicians with one of their greatest challenges because there seem to be no solutions if the economic status quo prevails. And those losing faith in their future are frequently working adults, trapped in vulnerable employment, unable to escape their situation.
The longer we put off pressing for change, the closer the tentacles of poverty come to us. We all know people in our neighbourhoods and among our friends and families who have become increasingly vulnerable to low-income pressures, despite their best efforts to retrain, finish their education and work unbearable hours. There is more of this to come.
- But on the bright side, Matt Robinson reports on Vancouver's action to expropriate slum hotels to ensure they can be properly maintained and made available for people who need the housing. And Cami Kepke reports on a push by several Regina city councillors to stop further commercial development in Wascana Park. 

- Finally, Michael Harris weighs in on Doug Ford's choice to impose chaos on Toronto's municipal governance.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Crashed cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David MacDonald studies the increasing concentration of wealth in Canada, while noting the need for wealth-based taxes (and particularly an inheritance tax) to start building a more fair society. And Alan Rappeport and Jim Tankersley report on the Trump administration's latest move in the wrong direction, as they plan to bypass normal legislative processes to lavish hundreds of billions of dollars on people who already own large amounts of capital.

- Allison Chandler points out research into the role the melting of the Arctic may be playing in causing heat waves around the globe. But Margaret McGregor, Stirling Bryan, Penny Brasher and Courtney Howard note that Canada is far behind the curve in assessing how climate change and other environmental factors affect public health.

- And not surprisingly, that conspicuous lack of curiosity tends to lead to avoidable environmental risks. On that front, Bob Weber reports on the potential acidification of a massive area around the oil sands, while Ainslie Cruickshank discusses the devastating effects a Trans Mountain dilbit spill could have on already-threatened salmon stocks in British Columbia.

- Jake Johnson highlights Bernie Sanders' observation that even Koch-funded antisocial propaganda accidentally confirms that publicly funded and provided health care is both better and more affordable. Alex Lawson and Stephanie Taylor make the case for at least a public option for prescription drug coverage. And CBC News reports on the risk that a manufacturer-based shortage of Epipens may threaten Canadian lives in the very near future.

- Finally, Andre Picard argues that instead of criminalizing drug users, we should be managing and reducing the harm resulting from all types of drugs.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Robert Reich examines how a concerted attack on organized labour has pushed the vast majority of American workers into living paycheque-to-paycheque (or worse) while income and wealth have become increasingly concentrated at the top end of the spectrum:
Almost 80% of Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck, many not knowing how big their next one will be.

Blanketing all of this are stagnant wages and vanishing job benefits. The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.
(T)he share of total income going to the richest 10 percent of Americans over the last century is almost exactly inversely related to the share of the nation’s workers who are unionized. (See chart below). When it comes to dividing up the pie, most American workers today have little or no say. The pie is growing but they’re getting only the crumbs.

Over the same period time, antitrust enforcement has gone into remission. The US government has essentially given a green light to companies seeking to gain monopoly power over digital platforms and networks (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook); wanting to merge into giant oligopolies (pharmaceuticals, health insurers, airlines, seed producers, food processors, military contractors, Wall Street banks, internet service providers); or intent on creating local monopolies (food distributors, waste disposal companies, hospitals).

This means workers are spending more on such goods and services than they would were these markets more competitive. It’s exactly as if their paychecks were cut. Concentrated economic power has also given corporations more ability to hold down wages, because workers have less choice of whom to work for. And it has let companies impose on workers provisions that further weaken their bargaining power, such as anti-poaching and mandatory arbitration agreements.
The combination of high corporate profits and growing corporate political power has created a vicious cycle: higher profits have generated more political influence, which has altered the rules of the game through legislative, congressional, and judicial action – enabling corporations to extract even more profit. The biggest losers, from whom most profits have been extracted, have been average workers. 
- William Davies points out how the trumped-up complaints about campus free speech peddled by the right serve primarily to distract from the takeover of most other spaces by the corporate sector. And Nora Loreto comments on the deliberate choice by right-wing pundits to stoke fear and hatred in the wake of the Toronto Danforth shooting.

- Robert Booth exposes how a UK right-wing "think tank" has been actively selling both research outcomes, and access to the Con government. 

- Alan Freeman points out the fiscal price of mindless populism. And Tom Parkin highlights the need for a plan for citizens to organize against the authoritarian tendencies of the likes of Doug Ford.

- Finally, Edward Keenan calls out Ford's choice to gratuitously undermine municipal democracy for the sole purpose of wreaking vengeance against perceived political opponents.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Vanmala Subramaniam reports on the move by real estate developers to push tenants out of desperately-needed housing in Canada's largest cities to chase after short-term profits.

- David Wallace Wells asks how the rapidly-materializing worst-case climate change scenarios are being met with shrugs rather than recognition of the urgent need for action. And Denise Balkissoon comments on the connection between a heating planet and the increased threat of wildfires, while Yanis Varoufakis points out that both climate change and austerity have severely exacerbated Greece's outbreak of fires in particular.

- Meanwhile, Emma Davie reports on the risks to a Nova Scotia tidal power project after its private-sector participant pulled out - with no government apparently willing to invest in the development of stable renewable energy even as the federal government pumps billions into subsidizing oil infrastructure.

- Tom Parkin argues that Canada can be far safer if it minimizes the presence of handguns which are available to be put to malicious purposes.

- Finally, Jerry Dias makes the case for long-overdue anti-scab legislation to ensure that workers and unions are able to effectively exercise their right to strike for improved workplace fairness.