Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Bandy Lee discusses the need to treat inequality as a social disease which calls for immediate treatment:
Residents of countries with higher income inequality have worse health, not just of the poor but of the rich (Subramanian and Kawachi, 2006). Greater income inequality is also associated higher levels of mental illness (Burns, Tomita, and Kapadia, 2014); murder and assault (Hsieh and Pugh, 1993); obesity and obesity-related death (Pickett, 2005); as well as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, racism, incarceration, and a number of other societal problems (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009). Such countries also have more sociopolitical instability in the form of assassinations, coups, and riots (Alesina and Perotti, 1996); worse institutions in terms of less efficient governments, higher regulatory burdens, and weaker rule of law (Easterly, 2007); and more corruption (Jong-Sung and Khagram, 2005). The wealthy have stronger motivations to minimize redistribution while at the same time having more power to influence institutions, given the relatively higher share of their resources (Buttrick and Oishi, 2017).

Economic inequality may further put the world at risk of both environmental and nuclear harm. Taming the planet’s climate or reducing nuclear weapons requires trust and cooperation, but these are difficult in the setting of economic inequality and exploitation. Income and wealth gaps accelerate the environmental crisis (Martinez-Alier, 2002), with increasing local and global conflicts over the sharing of the burdens of pollution and access to natural resources. Previous failures to reach consensus in climate summits have been attributed to, among other factors, conflicting policies of rich and poor countries, which disagree on the implementation of mitigation measures (Vasconcelos, Santos, Pacheco, and Levin, 2014). When there is greater income and wealth inequality between nations, there is an erosion of trust due to the ensuing social and cultural differences, and greater perceived need for military defense, including nuclear weapons for nations that can afford them.

Social and economic inequality is linked to disease, death, and other forms of harm. To better understand these societal ills, we must look at inequality as a disorder in itself.
- And Sanjutka Paul examines how a bias toward top-down, property-based decision-making has systematically stacked the deck against workers, particularly in service-based sectors.

- The Trade Justice Network rightly criticizes the Libs for abandoning the concept of progressive trade by implementing the TPP. And Nicholas Caivano and Richard Elliott argue that if Justin Trudeau is going to give in on anything to renegotiate NAFTA (however unnecessary that may be), we should expect him to defend fair drug prices rather than fighting to protect corporate-friendly arbitration structures.

- Karina Roman points out that the Libs' privatized Infrastructure Bank is sucking up millions of public dollars without apparently accomplishing anything.

- Finally, Stephanie Taylor reports that SaskPower is backing away from plans to relocate operations to the Global Transportation Hub - but that the public is already on the hook for the land purchased as part of the previous attempt to portray the GTH as something other than an utter failure. And Adriana Christenson reports on the Saskatchewan Party's hidden selloff of SaskEnergy gas plants.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Musical interlude

Cardigans - Erase / Rewind

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sam Pizzigati discusses the predictable social consequences of allowing inequality to grow:
What sort of unintended consequences [result from increased inequality]? The British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have some compelling answers in their powerful new book, The Inner Level.

The more unequal a society, the pair write, “the more people feel anxiety about status and how they are seen and judged.” And not just poor people, but people at every economic level.

Some respond by losing all self-confidence. Social gatherings “become an ordeal to be avoided.” The more they withdraw, the more they “suffer higher levels of anxiety and depression.”

Others react quite differently to the greater ego threat of invidious social comparisons,” observe Wilkinson and Pickett. “Instead of being modest about achievements and abilities, they flaunt them.”

Narcissism becomes endemic in highly unequal societies, and the issues of dominance and subordination that become so much more intense in unequal societies also exacerbate other mental illnesses and personality disorders.

Maybe worst of all, greater inequality undermines the “social relationships and involvement in community life” that researchers have “shown repeatedly” to determine health and happiness.
“By making class and status divisions more powerful,” sum up Wilkinson and Pickett, rising inequality “leads to a decline in community life, a reduction in social mobility, an increase in residential segregation, and fewer inter-class marriages.”

Unintended consequences.

So let’s by all means debate the unintended consequences of bold egalitarian reform proposals. But let’s not stop there. Let’s make sure the debate on these proposals also addresses the unintended consequences of letting our our lives continue to become ever more unequal.
- Stephen Kidd notes that narrowly-targeted social programs ultimately serve the interests of the wealthy who avoid funding more effective solutions, rather than the people who are forced to rely on a threadbare safety net.

- Jim Stanford points to the D-J Composites lockout - and the Newfoundland government's utter neglect of the workers affected - as a prime example of how political power is all too often used to favour wage-suppressing employers over workers. And Iglika Ivanova and Mark Thompson offer their suggestions to update labour and employment law to address new forms of exploitation.

- And on the bright side, Terry Pedwell reports on the pay equity arbitration decision won by rural and suburban postal carriers.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision allowing Doug Ford to drastically interfere in Toronto's municipal elections should serve as a signal of the importance of political organizing.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Robert Skidelsky warns that having failed to learn crucial lessons from a 2008 economic crash  caused by a reckless financial sector exploiting inequality and austerity for short-term profit, we may soon be doomed to more of the same. And Riley Griffin reports on the large number of U.S. homeowners borrowing against their limited equity to try to pay bills.

- Paul Buchheit weighs in on how U.S. public policy is constrained by a long-cultivated aversion to anything seen as "social". And Matthew Desmond argues that a focus on jobs has glossed over the reality that they'll never offer a meaningful solution to the blight of poverty.

- Laurie MacFarlane's New Thinking for the British Economy offers a worthwhile set of options for a more equal and sustainable economy. And Simon Tilford argues that common wealth represents the best and most politically palatable means of reining in inequality in the UK.

- A group of academics calls for the EU to start pursuing stability and well-being rather than focusing unduly on growth. But Noah Smith makes the case that economic growth isn't inconsistent with sustainable development.

- Finally, Kyle Bakx reports on the large number of faulty parts which are still in use in Canadian pipelines. And the aftermath of Hurricane Florence is offering far too many reminders of the consequences of failing to require businesses to properly account for their products, with toxic substances ranging from coal ash to hog manure breaching their containment.

New column day

Here, on how the Saskatchewan Party's self-induced aversion to responsible climate policy may producing serious political and economic consequences.

For further reading...
- D.C. Fraser reported on the NDP's Regina Northeast by-election win. And Jennifer Quesnel reported on Moe's response to a meeting with his federal counterparts which signals a refusal to adapt.
- Meanwhile, John Ivison's column on the Canadians for Clean Prosperity's study into the foreseeable effects of a carbon tax and rebate offers reason to think the public debate outside the Saskatchewan Party's base could be in for a substantial turn - even if it would make for less than ideal policy from an emission reduction standpoint.
- David Roberts reported here on the polling results of the Edison Electric Institute. And Eric Levitz discussed the U.S. electorate's appetite for action against climate change.
- Ari Phillips reported on the new climate change agreement between China and California. And for background, China has previously taken steps to reduce both the number and climate impact of planned coal plants, while taking a global lead in solar power.
- Carl Meyer reports on the counterproductive assumption that climate action and economic development are in opposition to each other rather than complementary pieces of any reasonable long-term plan. And Sean Holman recognizes that far too many important questions about climate change are largely ignored in most Canadian media.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Stephen McBride offers some important lessons on austerity from government responses to the 2008 economic crisis.

- Zoe Drewett reports on the rising level of poverty in the UK. Andrew Jackson points out how the Libs' measuring stick for poverty seems aimed at doing the bare minimum, and stands to leave many people behind. And Dawn Foster interviews Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson about the damaging effects of inequality on our health and well-being:
The Inner Level, their long-awaited follow up published earlier this year, looks at the more personal, individual effects of inequality: how the social effects of the gap between rich and poor impact on people. “We’re talking about how inequality affects our intimate lives, our inner lives; our mental wellbeing, our relationships with friends and family,” Pickett says.

The Inner Level examines a society that has dealt with 10 years of austerity, and seen almost every family impacted by stagnant wages, increased job insecurity, swingeing cuts and changes to the benefits system and public services nationally and locally, as well as a surge in problems with mental health across society. “It takes a whole argument and evidence about the effects of inequality to a deeper and more intimate level. In The Spirit Level we were dealing with things about society ‘out there’ – the size of the prison population, homicide rates, obesity rates and so on. But this takes it into the sphere of our social fears and anxieties,” Wilkinson says. “Worries about self worth: all the things that make social contact sometimes seem rather awkward and stressful. Your fears about self presentation and so on are all exacerbated by inequality.”

The problems scrutinised in the book – self doubt, social anxiety, stress, and fear of how we are seen by others – have an impact on day-to-day emotions for individuals, but also a wider impact on relationships, our ability to build functioning communities, and the health and wellbeing of entire populations. These issues are massively exacerbated by inequality, and a belief in meritocracy means that any failure is deemed a personal failure, the book argues. “The reality is that inequality causes real suffering, regardless of how we choose to label such distress. Greater inequality heightens social threat and status anxiety, evoking feelings of shame which feed into our instincts for withdrawal, submission and subordination: when the social pyramid gets higher and steeper and status insecurity increases, there are widespread psychological costs.”

The stress of poverty also influences the cognitive development of babies and children. Measuring the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in infants found that poverty, and the amount of time spent in poverty, can hamper the mental development of children. Pickett and Wilkinson find that “family income is a more powerful determinant of cognitive development than being brought up by single parents, or maternal depression”, and that if children are enrolled in support services like Sure Start and their equivalents in other countries, some of the effects of poverty are offset, and children’s educational and psychological performance improves.
Wilkinson and Pickett cite extensive statistical evidence that unequal societies are responsible for less fulfilling personal lives, and in turn harm public health, scupper educational progress, increase crime and lower life expectancy. “We debunk some of the myths that people use to explain why [society] is willing to tolerate greater levels of inequality, namely that inequality is a natural result of our human nature, that we are competitive, individualistic and out for ourselves – that’s the way we are, it’s just human nature and nothing can be done about it,” Pickett says. “That is not the case. We also provide evidence to counter the argument that actually we’re living in a meritocracy, and that inequality is simply a case of the capable and talented moving up, and those who are less capable, less clever, moving down.”
- Daniel Tencer reports on Canada's place among the riskiest housing markets in the world when comparing current prices to long-term averages. 

- Andrew Parkin and Erich Hartmann discuss the need for a national pharmacare program to be fair to provinces who have already made the effort to ensure residents have needed access to medications. And Thomas Walkom follows up on the work of the Institute for Research on Public Policy in showing how a pharmacare system could be put together.

- Finally, Bill Curry and Tom Cardoso report on the Libs' continued use of cash-for-access fund-raising events.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Emily Atkin offers a reminder that the people with the least stand to face the most severe costs of climate change. But lest we take that as a signal that there's an irreconcilable gap between countries, Eric Levitz writes that even in the U.S., the public is more than ready for a quick transition to clean energy. Which means that governments continuing to hand free money to fossil fuel barons may be damaging themselves politically even as they continue to harm our planet.

- David Lazarus discusses how most Americans are seeing no benefit from an economy designed to funnel money to the top while leaving wages stagnant. And Ian Hussey notes that the only substantial effect from Alberta's minimum wage increase has been a real improvement in the standard of living of lower-income workers.

- Andrew Coyne points out that Doug Ford is a symptom of severe underlying problems with the political system which installed him in power. Fair Vote Canada zeroes in on the role of a false majority under a first-past-the-post system in allowing Ford to impose his will on the majority of voters who opposed him - not to mention trampling their rights. And Mainstreet documents how strongly Toronto residents are opposed to Ford's choice to undermine their municipal election.

- Meanwhile, David Reevely notes that Ford's circus is distracting attention from policies designed to enrich the financial sector at the expense of consumers.

- Finally, Carly Weeks reports on the latest alarming numbers showing that Canada's opioid crisis is only getting worse.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Nosy cats.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tracy Smith-Carrier comments on the importance of addressing poverty as an issue of human rights rather than charity:
It is not a matter of being down on your luck or misfortunate, as if people are somehow fated to live a life of poverty. It is the building blocks of society that reproduce poverty. Work conditions, unequal social relationships and the economy are all part of the problem: Some groups have historically been subject to racism, discrimination and inferior treatment while others have been accorded wealth and privilege.

For example, dynamics in the economy and labour market cause poverty. How many jobs are available, the nature and quality of those jobs, the availability of child care, the accessibility of advanced education and training, the affordability of housing, the extension of appropriate accommodations in the workplace, the accessibility of transportation systems, the ability for certain groups to climb the social ladder, the extension of income-security programs to buffer people in times of crisis: These are all factors that influence people’s slide into poverty and their ability to move out of it.

The decisions people make are ultimately shaped by these larger systemic forces. People might reduce their hours of work as they cannot find quality child care, or they might be reluctant to pursue post-secondary education with the prospect of crushing debt. These decisions are ultimately shaped by a lack of opportunities, not by personal deficiency. And then there is the psychological toll poverty takes: Mental-health issues can develop in the face of lingering unemployment.
Charity – the primary solution in place to address poverty through breakfast programs, soup kitchens, food banks, community gardens, and the like – can only provide some measure of emergency relief. It cannot eradicate poverty. No one gets out of poverty by using charitable programs. The fundamental problem – a lack of financial resources – remains unchanged.

It is time to shift away from the charitable model to a rights-based approach, guaranteeing people the right to food. People must have access to an adequate income that allows them to obtain their own food, and do so “in normal and socially acceptable ways,” ensuring personal dignity and choice. The perpetuation of food banks ensures the charitable-food model is preserved, and people remain hungry.
- David Leonhard argues that our current mean of measuring the economy tend to focus on the concentration of wealth rather than economic security for most people.

- Jedediah Purdy points out how the U.S. has turned the principle of freedom of speech into a mechanism to ensure most people are drowned out by the privileged few who can afford to dominate the media. And Adam Federman reports on the private surveillance of environmental activists in Canada as a similar example of money infringing on basic freedoms.

- Michael Harris offers a reminder that Canada is far better off holding off on any NAFTA deal than signing onto Donald Trump's plan to further enrich the American corporate class. And Janyce McGregor reports that like so many corporate trade deals, the CETA has fallen far short of its supposed economic promise.

- Finally, Colleen Flood, Bryan Thomas, Asad Ali Moten and Patrick Fafard examine some of the options available to establish a national universal pharmacare system.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Matt Phillips and Karl Russell write that the next severe financial meltdown may not be far away, and that student and consumer debt (along with new derivatives from corporate debt) look to be at the centre of it. And Stephen Long points out that the suppression of information about deceptive lending practices is only ensuring that banks continue to face potential liability.

- Deborah de Lange notes that the building of housing in unsafe areas such as flood plains is one of the symptoms of an unequal society. And Kathleen Martens reports that the tearing down of tent cities in British Columbia isn't being paired with any plan to find housing for the residents who lack it. 

- Luisa D'Amato observes that if Ontario had taken up its opportunity for a proportional electoral system, it wouldn't have Doug Ford running roughshod over a province based on 40% of the popular vote.

- Doug Cuthand discusses the need based on the continued recognition of the Indigenous rights recognized both by nation-to-nation treaties and Canada's Constitution.

- Finally, Bernie Sanders makes the case for a progressive front across borders to counter the billionaire-funded nationalist international underlying the spread of right-wing populism:
We must understand that these authoritarians are part of a common front. They are in close contact with each other, share tactics and, as in the case of European and American rightwing movements, even share some of the same funders. The Mercer family, for example, supporters of the infamous Cambridge Analytica, have been key backers of Trump and of Breitbart News, which operates in Europe, the United States and Israel to advance the same anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson gives generously to rightwing causes in both the United States and Israel, promoting a shared agenda of intolerance and illiberalism in both countries.
Together governments of the world must come together to end the absurdity of the rich and multinational corporations stashing over $21tn in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and then demanding that their respective governments impose an austerity agenda on their working families.

It is not acceptable that the fossil fuel industry continues to make huge profits while their carbon emissions destroy the planet for our children and grandchildren.

It is not acceptable that a handful of multinational media giants, owned by a small number of billionaires, largely control the flow of information on the planet.

It is not acceptable that trade policies that benefit large multinational corporations and encourage a race to the bottom hurt working people throughout the world as they are written out of public view.

It is not acceptable that, with the cold war long behind us, countries around the world spend over $1tn a year on weapons of destruction, while millions of children die of easily treatable diseases.

In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.

Such a movement must be willing to think creatively and boldly about the world that we would like to see. While the authoritarian axis is committed to tearing down a post-second world war global order that they see as limiting their access to power and wealth, it is not enough for us to simply defend that order as it exists now.

We must look honestly at how that order has failed to deliver on many of its promises, and how authoritarians have adeptly exploited those failures in order to build support for their agenda. We must take the opportunity to reconceptualize a genuinely progressive global order based on human solidarity, an order that recognizes that every person on this planet shares a common humanity, that we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water, breathe clean air and live in peace.