Saturday, October 06, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Yutaka Dirks reviews Lars Osberg's The Age of Increasing Inequality, with a particular focus on how matters have been getting worse in recent decades.

- Ryan Nunn, Jana Parsons and Jay Shambaugh study (PDF) the connection between geography and inequality, including the role of decreasing migration in locking in and exacerbating existing disparities. And Danny Dorling examines the link between higher inequality and lower life expectancy around the globe.

- Mary Bousted points out how educational inequalities arise out of social and environmental factors long before students ever set foot in a classroom. And Alex Hemingway argues that at the very least, public money shouldn't be spent subsidizing those inequalities through elite private schools.

- Rachel Shabi discusses UK Labour's turn toward democratic socialism - and the resonance of the prospect of economic democracy within the general public.

- Dirk Meissner reports on the denial of cancer treatment to a homeless man as an unconscionable example of the gaps in our health care system. And Hasan Sheikh offers a response to the desire of Doug Ford and others to make the availability of necessary care even more contingent on one's wealth. 

- Finally, Andrew Coyne discusses the climate nihilism of a sadly growing number of anti-carbon-tax demagogues. PressProgress offers a reminder that we stand to lose tens of billions of dollars a year from extreme weather events caused by climate change alone. And Zoya Terstein argues that the primary problem with carbon pricing as it stands is that we're nowhere close to properly measuring the damage we're doing to our planet. 

Friday, October 05, 2018

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - Digging In

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Nicholas Shaxson writes that the UK's disproportionate dependence on the financial sector is akin to the resource curse facing Western Canada among so many other jurisdictions:
(T)he finance curse had more parallels with the resource curse than we had first imagined. For one thing, in both cases the dominant sector sucks the best-educated people out of other economic sectors, government, civil society and the media, and into high-salaried oil or finance jobs. “Finance literally bids rocket scientists away from the satellite industry,” in the words of a landmark academic study of how finance can damage growth. “People who might have become scientists, who in another age dreamt of curing cancer or flying people to Mars, today dream of becoming hedge-fund managers.”
To argue that the City hurts Britain’s economy might seem crazy. But research increasingly shows that all the money swirling around our oversized financial sector may actually be making us collectively poorer. As Britain’s economy has steadily become re-engineered towards serving finance, other parts of the economy have struggled to survive in its shadow, like seedlings starved of light and water under the canopy of a giant, deep-rooted and invasive tree. Generations of leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair to Theresa May have believed that the City is the goose that lays Britain’s golden eggs, to be prioritised, pampered and protected. But the finance curse analysis shows an oversized City to be a different bird: a cuckoo in the nest, crowding out other sectors.
- Matt O'Brien discusses how current estimates of inequality miss large amounts of wealth sheltered from taxes. And Paul Krugman reminds us that Donald Trump is the ultimate example of government by and for the selfish motives of tax cheats.

- John Clarke discusses how Doug Ford's government is inflicting extreme austerity on Ontario, while Willy Nolles contrasts the Ford PCs' stinginess with injured workers against their eagerness to hand billions to businesses. And David Climenhaga comments on Ford's Very Angry White Men tour - which of course stopped in Saskatoon yesterday before arriving in Calgary.

- Ottmar Edenhofer and Johan Rockström discuss the need for a carbon price merely to avoid more than doubling the temperature increase committed to by the world's governments. But Brent Patterson rightly argues that we ultimately need to pursue climate policies far more ambitious than the pricing schemes currently on offer. And Liam Britten reports on the potentially disastrous effects of British Columbia's liquid natural gas scheme.

- Finally, Joe Virgillito highlights how carbon pricing can contribute to a reduction in income inequality. And Rob Merrick reports on the UK's plan for a digital services tax to ensure that the corporations profiting from effective online monopolies pay something approaching their fair share.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Stanford discusses how abusing precarious workers has become the primary job of big business. But Owen Jones notes that strikes against McDonald's in the UK represent just the latest example of workers taking collective action to fight for a more fair economy.

- Meanwhile, Kevin Rawlinson reports on a new estimate of the amount of unpaid work performed in the UK every year.

- Alexandra Shimo reports on the contrast between Nestle's extraction of millions of litres of water from Six Nations of the Grand River treaty land, and residents' need to go without running water at all. And Brent Patterson writes that the oil industry is predictably one of the main winners in the new NAFTA.

- Anna Desmarais reports on the Environment Commissioner's conclusion that Canada isn't properly tracking the disposal of businesses' toxic waste. 

- Finally, Linda Leon points out the entrenched interests trying to undermine electoral reform due to the possibility that it might make governmental capture more difficult.

New column day

Here, on the corporate sellouts in the Libs' new version of NAFTA - including a little-discussed chapter designed to turn anti-regulatory bias into official policy for an entire continent.

For further reading...
- The text of the USCMA is here, with Chapter 28 (PDF) forming the subject of most of the column. And by way of comparison, I'll point to the "regulatory cooperation" chapter of the CETA, which provides for some level of coordination without the obligation to systematically question domestic regulations.
- I've already linked to some noteworthy USCMA commentary, including pieces from Neil MacDonald, Duncan Cameron and David Moscrop. Janyce McGregor summarizes some of the key changes under the USCMA. Alex Ballingall points out the increase in drug costs arising out of Trudeau's concessions. 
- Finally, for a reminder of the attitude toward regulation driving the U.S.' position, see reporting on the Trump administration's undermining of rules governing asbestos, radiation, and mercury, as well as the Environmental Integrity Project's full list of regulatory slippage under Trump.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Judy Paul discusses how everybody benefits from the fight against inequality:
Also of interest is the levels of trust and community life were stronger in more equal societies. There is more mixing of people from various socio-economic groups in more equal countries and this would lead to a greater sense of solidarity. When there are vast differences in income levels I think it would be hard for people to feel that “we’re all in this together.”
Where inequality is higher, people with lower social status tend to withdraw from society. When people compete for status, anxiety increases and struggling to keep up seems to make us less compassionate towards others. Inequality damages social cohesion, which includes trust, solidarity, civic and cultural participation and agreeableness (being helpful, considerate and trusting).
Greater solidarity is the only way we are going to be able to tackle the urgent challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability, says Wilkinson and Pickett. We cannot afford to have people anxiously struggling to make their way in an individualistic society that tells us we need to buy to belong.

How do we create a more equal society? An unconditional basic income would certainly help. Progressive taxation and a stronger social security system could also help.   Wilkinson and Pickett argue that the development of more democratic workplaces is key in this era of excessive CEO compensation and the weakening of trade unions.

It is important that we turn our attention to rising inequality in Canada. When we understand the significant cost of inequality and are open to learning from more equal countries, we will be better able to imagine and forge a better future for everyone.
- Hamdi Issawi and Brennan Doherty report on the benefits Alberta workers are seeing from needed increases to their province's minimum wage. And Ryan McNally notes in contrast how Saskatchewan's low-income workers continue to fall further behind.

- Alex Hemingway points out the unfairness and waste involved in using public money to prop up private school systems.

- Finally, Bill McKibben criticizes the Trump Republicans' blithe acceptance of catastrophic climate change in the name of squeezing out a few more years of oil profits. But Matt Hern and Am Johal write that in order to change toward a more sustainable path, climate activists need to speak to class concerns rather than merely pointing out the accuracy of climate science.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Surrounded cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Laurie MacFarlane writes that flows of income and wealth have everything to do with bargaining power and social decision-making, rather than productivity or merit:
(A)ggregate wealth is not simply a reflection of the process of accumulation, as theory tends to imply. It is also a reflection of the boundaries of what can and cannot be alienated, priced, bought and sold, and the power dynamics that underpin them. This is not just a historical matter.

Today some goods and services are provided by private firms on a commodified basis, whereas others are provided socially as a collective good. This can often vary significantly between countries. Where a service is provided by private firms (for example, healthcare in the USA), shareholder claims over profits are reflected in the firm’s value – and these claims can be bought and sold, for example on the stock market. These claims are also recorded as financial wealth in the national accounts.

However, where a service is provided socially as a collective good (such as the NHS in the UK), there are no claims over profits to be owned and traded among investors. Instead, the claims over these sectors are socialised. Profits are foregone in favour of free, universal access. Because these benefits are non-monetary and accrue to everyone, they are not reflected in any asset prices and are not recorded as “wealth” in the national accounts.

A similar effect is observed with pension provision: while private pensions (funded through capital markets) are included as a component of financial wealth in the OECD’s figures, public pensions (funded from general taxation) are excluded. As a result, a country that provides generous universal public pensions will look less wealthy than a country that rely solely on private pensions, all else being equal. The way that we measure national wealth is therefore skewed towards commodification and privatisation, and against socialisation and universal provision.
All statistics tell a story, but stories can be told from different perspectives. Embedded in the definitions of all economic statistics are value judgements about what is desirable and what is undesirable, which in turn shape the way we think about the economy. At the moment, the way we measure the wealth of nations mainly reflects the fortunes of capitalists and landowners rather than workers and tenants. Britain looks wealthier than Germany on paper, but this does not reflect the lived reality for most people. While it’s important not to overstate the extent to which statistics can influence the real world, this is important for at least three reasons.

Firstly, it illustrates how seemingly objective metrics often have ideological assumptions baked into them. While there is already a well-established literature on alternatives to GDP, many economic metrics are used in economic analysis and policy appraisal without any critical appraisal of their underlying ideological assumptions. This needs to change.

Second, it highlights how paper wealth has in many places become decoupled from productive capacity, and how conflating the two can be highly misleading. This is particularly the case where zero sum rentier activity is widespread, as in the case of Britain. Such discrepancies raise the question of whether the way that we currently measure wealth is really the most sensible.

But most importantly, it illustrates that the distribution of wealth has little to do with contribution or productivity, and everything to do with politics and power. As J.W. Mason states: “It’s bargaining power, it’s politics, all the way down.”
- Meanwhile, Anna Tims offers a reminder that a cashless and financialized society imposes disproportionate costs on the people who aren't catered to by big banks.

- Allison Alberto discusses a new study from the Alberta Federation of Labour showing how a $15 minimum wage will boost the economy as a whole as well as the standard of living of some of the people who need it most. Michael Speers implores the Ford PCs not to reverse planned minimum wage increases in Ontario. And Emily Klatt reports on the Saskatchewan NDP's push to finally follow suit with a living hourly wage for all workers.

- Finally, Michael Spence comments on the balkanization of international trade flows. Neil MacDonald writes that contrary to the Libs' spin, the new NAFTA represents almost total capitulation to the U.S.' bullying - including by limiting Canada's ability to seek out trade agreements with new potential allies. David Moscrop concurs that Canada has both made painful short-term concessions, and increased our future vulnerability to the U.S. And Duncan Cameron outlines the changes for the worse in the Trump NAFTA.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Stanford writes that the D-J Composites lockout should offer Canada a much-needed reminder as to the reality of labour conflict:
Through 640 emotional days, the picket line has remained peaceful: the only injury was a union member hit by a vehicle charging through the line during a snowstorm. But genuine economic violence is being done every day to 32 workers separated from their livelihoods by an aggressive employer. The employer's position is all the stronger when it can hire others to keep working for less -- but no replacement worker should ever think they can participate in that process without facing scrutiny or challenge.

Ironically, Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball has a promising solution to this mess sitting right on his desk, in the form of recommendations from an Industrial Inquiry Commission convened by the provincial government in 2010 following a long dispute at Vale's nickel operations in Voisey's Bay. Headed by labour lawyer John Roil, and advised by Prof. Gregor Murray, labour-relations specialist at the University of Montreal, the commission recognized the traditional balance of power between employers and workers has been disrupted by the power and flexibility exercised by global corporations. They recommended modernizing labour law to ensure foreign firms understand and respect Canadian practices. They also proposed a fallback mechanism to arbitrate settlements in intractable disputes, so long as certain conditions are met, including failure to bargain in good faith.

Those sensible recommendations were never implemented, but they were tailor-made to prevent long work stoppages such as this one. Prohibiting replacement workers -- especially during management-led lockouts -- would also promote faster settlements; British Columbia and Quebec already do this. In the end, provincial intervention of some kind is essential to end this conflict.

The D-J Composites lockout, while small, is a telling reminder that employers hold the upper hand in most modern industrial disputes -- and Canadian labour law has failed to address this imbalance. Economists and politicians alike bemoan persistently weak wage growth and stagnant household incomes. But this nasty little quarrel reveals exactly why this is happening. Governments across the country, starting with Mr. Ball's, should watch and learn.
- Claude Wittmann discusses the Ford government's blame-and-shame approach to poverty and the people who face it.

- David Moscrop comments on the folly of falling in line with the U.S.' destructive War on Drugs. And Tessie Castillo points out that the criminalization of drug use is precisely what makes it more dangerous than other potentially addictive activities.

- Brent Patterson offers a reminder (if perhaps one which came too late) as to why we're best served walking away from NAFTA.

- Finally, Max FineDay highlights the need to push back against weaponized misinformation such as residential school denialism.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lana Payne offers a reminder (with reference to Lars Osberg's new book) that extreme and growing inequality is a choice rather than an inevitability - but that it also represents a self-reinforcing trend:
“The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise Of Canada’s 1%” doesn’t merely detail years of data about how inequality has grown in Canada, but argues why ever-increasing equality is so harmful to our democracy.

Osberg has been saying that for some time. It is a predictable outcome. Those with money get more say and the more money they get, the more say they get. The rich also have no trouble exercising their unlimited access and influence over the political class and political decisions.

Osberg argues that Canada is at risk of instability because of rising wealth disparity. There is little doubt this is also at the root of the rise of populist politics across much of the world, including Canada.

The bottom half of Canada’s population is economically stuck. While the top half have improved somewhat over the past several decades, they find themselves further and further behind those at the very top, the 1 per cent.

That’s because the 1 per cent are taking an ever-growing share of income and wealth. This reinforces a sense of unfairness and insecurity as those at the top are so far ahead of everyone else.
- Meanwhile, Gauri Sreenivasan rightly argues that Canada should know better than to race the U.S. to the bottom when it comes to corporate tax rates and regulations.

- Doreen Nicoll reports on Doug Ford's closed-door meetings to sell off even more of Ontario's fresh water over the objections of affected municipalities. And Ed Finn discusses how corporatist politics are destroying natural forests.

- Finally, Aaron Saad comments on the tragi-comic state of carbon pricing politics in Canada. And Cameron Fenton is dubious that an already-compromised National Energy Board can carry out any meaningful review of a Trans Mountain pipeline expansion within the rushed timeline set by the Trudeau Libs.