Saturday, September 08, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Oliver Bullough writes that the combination of increased wealth concentration and the free flow of money across borders to attacks currencies and governments represents an urgent threat to democratic governance. And Owen Jones argues that now is the ideal time to push for a transformation of the UK's economy:
What is striking about [the IPPR's] demands isn’t just how much more radical they are than only four years ago: it’s who has endorsed them – from the archbishop of Canterbury to business leaders. The IPPR’s polling shows that, from a radical clampdown on tax avoidance to publicly owned investment banks, to borrowing to invest, there is overwhelming support for the junking of the old neoliberal order.

Against this backdrop, the left needs to demand more radicalism from Labour. The very few sympathetic commentators have felt reluctant to do so because of the unrelenting attacks on a besieged Labour leadership. Some fear that any criticisms of the party from its left flank will offer succour to its increasingly hysterical opponents. But public appetite for radical reform – with even business figures endorsing it – means there is space to go further. Labour’s commitments on income and wealth taxes are insufficient to fully reverse Tory austerity and benefit cuts. The case for free movement of people in Europe has, sadly, largely been abandoned. By demanding more boldness from Labour, the political debate can be shifted further left still.

The report calls for a paradigm shift as radical as those achieved by Attlee and Thatcher. Both built a new consensus, forcing their opponents to surrender to their underlying philosophies. To avoid its flagship policies being unpicked by another Tory administration, a future Labour government must seek to do the same.

- Andrew MacLeod writes that we can't expect to deal with the opioid addictions without recognizing and addressing the underlying social causes. And David Crow reports that one of the major manufacturers of the opioid crisis has now claimed patent rights over a new treatment.

- Kelly Crowe comments on the hundreds of shortages of medications faced in Canada just this year, with most resulting from weaknesses in the corporate pharmaceutical supply chain. And MacLeod discusses the difficult choices around "orphan disease" drugs which are available only for exorbitant prices through private sources.

- Laura Paddison takes note of a new report which highlights the implausibility of addressing the problem of climate change with the same capitalist principles which created it. And James McClintock discusses how greenhouse gases are acidifying our oceans in addition to heating up the planet.

- Finally, Jennifer Zwicker and Stephanie Dunn question why decisions about disability supports are being made by the CRA rather than departments better positioned to address them.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Musical interlude

Alpha 9 - The Night Is Ours

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Paul Krugman writes that progressive voices need to reclaim the theme of freedom as it becomes increasingly obvious how deprivation and precarity deprive people of meaningful choices:
(L)arge economic players are dominating more and more of the economy. It’s increasingly clear, for example, that monopsony power is depressing wages; but that’s not all it does. Concentration of hiring among a few firms, plus things like noncompete clauses and tacit collusion that reinforce their market power, don’t just reduce your wage if you’re hired. They also reduce or eliminate your options if you’re mistreated: quit because you have an abusive boss or have problems with company policy, and you may have real trouble getting a new job.

But what can be done about it? Corey Robin says “socialism” – but as far as I can tell he really means social democracy: Denmark, not Venezuela. Government-mandated employee protections may restrict the ability of corporations to hire and fire, but they also shield workers from some very real forms of abuse. Unions do somewhat limit workers’ options, but they also offer an important counterweight against corporate monopsony power. 

Oh, and social safety net programs can do more than limit misery: they can be liberating. I’ve known many people who stuck with jobs they disliked for fear of losing health coverage; Obamacare, flawed as it is, has noticeably reduced that kind of “lock in”, and a full guarantee of health coverage would make our society visibly freer.
(T)here are no perfect answers to the inevitable sacrifice of some freedom that comes with living in a complex society; utopia is not on the menu. But the advocates of unrestricted corporate power and minimal worker protection have been getting away for far too long with pretending that they’re the defenders of freedom – which is not, in fact, just another word for nothing left to lose.
- Alister Doyle and Nina Chestney report on the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate's research showing that the global economy stands to benefit by trillions of dollars per year from low-carbon development. And Dale Marshall questions why we do anything but laugh about the "jobs" spin from a fossil fuel industry which already offers relatively few compared to other economic sectors, and is looking to "zero man" what's left.

- Jeremy Caradonna offers six reasons why proportional representation in British Columbia (and elsewhere) would produce better climate policy. And Mitchell Beer's worthwhile list of climate suggestions for Justin Trudeau is all too likely to be ignored by a government exercising false majority power for the benefit of the oil sector.

- Andre Picard discusses the latest data continuing to show widespread poverty, hunger and mental health concerns among Canadian children. And Clare Hennig comments on the struggle poor families face trying to meet the financial demands of an education system which lacks the resources needed to provide for children's needs.

- Finally, Peter Lozinski notes that in the midst of already-grim figures about family savings and debt in Canada as a whole, Saskatchewan stands out for a combination of low savings, high debt, and a lack of optimism that anything will improve.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Finn discusses how employment and unemployment rates are among the economic indicators which are all too often misleadingly substituted for shared prosperity. And Russell Robinson points out how the Libs' poverty strategy is at best a first step toward eliminating needless deprivation in our midst.

- Meanwhile, Robert Frank notes that one of the insidious effects of income inequality is an increasing gap in access to justice.

- Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker offer a reminder of the role organized labour needs to play in reducing inequality, while IBEW points to new research showing how all workers benefit from union strength. And Nick Reeve writes that pensions and benefit structures haven't kept up with the spread of precarious employment. 

- Andrew Nikiforuk concludes that the Libs' Kinder Morgan bailout represents nothing but an example of petro politics at work. And Chris Turner traces how Trans Mountain became a political dumpster fire which the Libs and Cons are both determined to keep burning, while Cara Daggett explores the connection between fossil fuels and the right-wing shift toward exclusionary authoritarian politics.

- Finally, Yves Engler highlights Canada's reliance on financial-sector profits, including ones extracted from poorer countries around the globe.

New column day

Here, looking to the work of Elizabeth Warren and the Institute for Public Policy Research for options in making our economy more responsive to the needs of the public.

For further reading...
- Warren's Accountable Capitalism Act is here (PDF), and again was discussed by Matthew Yglesias here.
- The IPPR's report on Prosperity and Justice is here, or available in summary form here. [Update: And Chris Dillow offers a worthwhile review of it here.]
- Emma Sara Hughes and Tony Dundon make the case for a return of wage councils as another way to reduce inequality.
- Finally, Matt Bruenig points out how Sweden's widespread prosperity can be traced back to a substantial reduction in the 1%'s share of wealth ownership. And David Weil highlights the effects of employer monopsony on labour markets.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andrew MacLeod offers a reminder that income is often the most important factor in ensuring a person's health - even if it's seldom treated that way as a matter of policy. Marilisa Racco reports on Canada's unconscionably high rates of child poverty, mortality and mental illness. And Patrick Butler writes about the millions of UK children too poor to have a healthy diet.

- William Eichler examines new research showing how increased real estate wealth in the UK is only leaving poorer residents behind. And the Angus Reid Institute finds strong public support for policies to tax extreme housing wealth to provide needed homes in Toronto and Vancouver.

- John Harris warns about the effect of losing shared public spaces to gratuitous austerity.

- Bhaskar Sunkara discusses the role unions play in fighting racism and sexism. And Ben Smee's report on the demand of Australian temp agencies for a new category of workers without rights only confirms the importance of collective action to avoid exploitation.

- Finally, Phillip Inman reports on the Institute for Public Policy Research's call for an overhaul of the UK's economy to ensure that both decision-making authority and economic benefits are more widely shared. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Alert cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Thomas Walkom reminds us that the Libs's supposed tradeoff of climate policy for pipelines is failing as much in producing the former as the latter:
For almost two years, the Trudeau government has tried to finesse the contradictions of its climate-change policies.

On the one hand, the government has talked tough, promising to impose carbon taxes on those provinces that don’t have their own.
On the other, the proposed carbon tax itself — $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions this year, rising to $50 by 2022 — is woefully inadequate to the task of weaning Canadians from their reliance on fossil fuels.

Experts I’ve talked to estimate that a carbon tax would have to start at $30 a tonne and reach at least $200 by 2030 to do any good.

The federal government has also insisted that Canada can merrily continue to mine the carbon-intensive tarsands and still meet its international greenhouse gas emission reduction obligations, which it cannot.  
- The Globe and Mail's editorial board discusses the need to keep fighting against climate change rather than succumbing to defeatism - though we also shouldn't be fooled by insufficient incremental steps in the face of a serious global problem. And Rebecca Harris, David Bowman and Linda Beaumont write about the Australian ecosystems that are collapsing as a result of climate change.

- Gabriel Elizondo offers a reminder of the massive amount of plastic being dumped in our oceans. And Bethany McLean writes that in addition to being an environmental disaster, the U.S.' increased push toward fracking is setting up an economic house of cards.

- David Climenhaga points out that the Trump administration's depiction of an utterly feckless Canadian NAFTA bargaining team rings all too true.

- The CP reports on Quebec Solidaire's promise of a public wireless network to ensure that telecom giants can't limit access to the Internet through price gouging and selective deployment. 

- Finally, Chase Rutting discusses the urgent need for Saskatchewan to confront the violent racism in its midst - rather than catering to it as the Saskatchewan Party has chosen to do.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Planning for failure

The Saskatchewan Party's latest excuse for a climate change announcement passed last week with little more than a passing mention in the media. And on the merits, it certainly earned that lack of notice.

But given the certainty that the Saskatchewan Party will end up pointing to the announcement later in response to the criticism it deserves for a wholly negligent climate change policy, let's take a few minutes to dig into what makes the plan so useless.

Even the headline numbers involved in the "industry standards" are pathetic on their face: a theoretical 1.1% reduction in the emissions of Canada's worst (and worsening) climate offender over a period of 12 years, compared to the national commitment to reduce emissions by 30% in the same time span. (Apparently the Moe government's new intention is to claim victory if emissions have been reduced at all by that time, signalling its determination to refuse to participate in any solution to a serious and immediate collective action problem.)

And indeed, even the closed list of industries involved will see target numbers of only 5-15% - meaning that absolutely none of Saskatchewan's largest emitters are being asked to do more than half their theoretical share to meet what's already an inadequate goal.

But matters look even worse behind that top-line number.

To start with, the targets themselves are mere "intensity" measures. I've previously noted how those are designed to fail: not only do they allow for emissions to increase as long as an industry manages to push its overall production up higher, they may even result in the government handing out credits to corporations which ramp up production by more than their emissions increase.

That's right: Scott Moe's climate plan includes free money for increased emissions.

And to make matters worse, the new standards are set based on 2018 numbers. That means that in most covered industries, the continued emission increases resulting from the Saskatchewan Party's previous decade of neglect are locked in. And conversely, any industry which bothered to act responsibly by reducing emissions in the interim will receive no credit for that effort.

Of course, it's telling that the Saskatchewan Party can't even introduce what's supposed to be an environmental regulation without emphasizing that its primary emphasis is serving big business. And this is exactly the type of industrial emission plan one would expect if the government ignored all climate science and consulted only with industrial emitters, asking them what they'd view as a fully agreeable fig leaf while emphasizing a willingness to continue letting them pollute.

But with our planet already overheating, we should be appalled by the selfishness of a government determined to keep doing as much damage as it and its corporate cronies can get away with.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Ed Finn laments the lack of labour coverage in today's media landscape. But David Climenhaga points out that a combination of the omission of unions from much of the media and their vilification by corporate propaganda mills hasn't stopped an increasing number of workers from wanting to participate in collective action:
Literally billions of dollars have been spent over the past 30 years by the globalizing internationale and the radical market-fundamentalist national political parties it supports to persuade working people they don’t need unions, and governments that it’s of paramount importance to make it difficult for working people to join unions.

On the legislative front, these efforts have enjoyed considerable success – particularly in the United States, where that country’s 18th Century Constitution effectively suppresses the fundamental right of working people to organize and the ability of democratically minded legislators to prevent big money from buying elections. Even when that effort falls short, as we have seen, the U.S. Constitution finds ways to ensure losers win.

Yet while barely 10 per cent of American workers belong to a union today, half as many as did 30 years ago, union membership remains an aspiration to huge numbers of American workers.

A recent survey in the United States showed that interest in joining a union is at a 40 year high. Nearly half of all non-unionized workers in the United States would join a union … if they could.

Think about this. It’s a remarkable trend, given the efforts that have been put into making unions unappealing to workers – from the casual defamation of labour leaders as “union bosses,” to the many bogus studies showing these democratic institutions restrict worker freedom, to the unending stream of journalistic vituperation directed at unions.

Yet it appears despite the herculean efforts of the American right, increasing numbers of workers are doing the math.
- Glenda Luymes discusses the reality that there's still ample room to push for a shorter work week. And Jordan Press reports on the potential to introduce a right to disconnect into employment legislation which doesn't yet account for the issue of availability away from paid work hours.

- The Mail & Guardian discusses how inequality and deprivation breed violence. And Phillip Inman reports on yet another study - this from the UK's Smith Institute - showing how a city benefits in multiple ways when workers are paid liveable wages.

- Finally, Hassan Yussuff argues that now is the time to make a push for a universal pharmacare program focused on public well-being rather than pharmaceutical rent-seeking. And the Star's editorial board chimes in on the need to make child care available in settings designed to encourage individual development, rather than through "big box" corporate providers who will treat children only as expenses.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lana Payne's column for the Labour Day weekend comment on the role unions play in pushing for advancements for everybody.

- Paul Krugman offers a reminder that a focus on GDP alone as a measure of economic development misses the issue of inequality. And Simon Kuper discusses how the wealthiest people have looted their own countries in order to further distance themselves from the rest of society, while Assaf Razin and Efraim Sadka study the consequences of elite-driven globalization in undermining fair revenue systems and the social programs they fund.

- Neil Schoenherr reviews Gerrit De Geest's new book on how marketing has contributed to rent-seeking by the few at the expense of the many. And James Wilt argues that instead of focusing on consumer behaviour, we should be working on developing models of production and consumption that are less destructive:
There is nothing inherently wrong with the consumption of energy and materials. The problem is that consumption is largely undemocratic, exploitative, and unsustainable: all realities that can be dramatically altered.

We know that many socially destructive sectors consume a vast chunk of resources. For example, the U.S. military is the institution which consumes the greatest amount of oil in the world. At last count, over half of the energy used in Canada was consumed by the industrial sector – the likes of mines, factories, and fossil fuel extraction. A 2011 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded that the top one per cent of income earners in B.C. emitted almost six times the amount of carbon pollution as residents in the bottom 10 per cent.

And corporations have created a status quo of obscene food waste, planned obsolescence, and entrenched fossil fuel interests that obstruct a rapid transition to low-carbon communities.
We must abandon the language and sentiment of overconsumption and organize our cities and towns through unions, co-ops, community centres, and activist organizations – with a primary focus on improving conditions and services in low-income communities of colour.
The so-called problem of consumption is a convenient distraction from the hard work that needs to be done to overhaul the exploitative and destructive systems that currently concentrate a vast majority of the wealth and power in the hands of the very few. Such greed won’t dissipate by individual moralizing or using fewer plastic bags.

It’ll take radical collective action – and an impassioned desire for all of us to be able to consume more of the things that are sustainable, just, and fulfilling.
- Finally, David Climenhaga notes that the obsession with the rule of law trumpeted by pipeline pushers against protesters has disappeared now that the Federal Court of Appeal has held that approvals handed out without meaningful consultation are themselves illegal.