Saturday, December 08, 2018

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Chris Dillow discusses the connection between the failure to understand the role of luck in producing unequal outcomes, and the perpetuation of policies which exacerbate inequalities:
As Ed Smith writes in his lovely book, Luck: “randomness is routinely misinterpreted as skill.”

Why do people do this? I suspect it’s not just because of a lack of statistical literacy: many of the subjects in the experiments I’ve cited had taken statistics classes. It’s also because of two reinforcing biases. One is the outcome bias. We judge a performance by its result so if a team wins the game, or if a fund manager beats the market, we infer that they did well rather than got lucky. The other is the narrative fallacy. We are story-telling animals. We seek links between things and detailed explanations even if the truth is only that a bit of good luck happened, then a bit of bad. I suspect that most football punditry is like this.

All this is about how we attribute skill rather than luck to other people. But of course, we also do so to ourselves, and asymmetrically: good results are down to skill and bad to luck. A study of day traders has confirmed what you probably suspected:
Retail day traders in the forex market attribute random success to their own skill and, as a consequence, increase risk taking.
The upshot of all this is that the successful are apt to become bumptious arrogant prats because they attribute their success to their own talents rather than luck. And observers are apt to take them at their inflated self-estimation.
This, of course, colours our whole social and political structure. Our tendency to see skill where there is just luck causes the successful to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and the rest of us to be overly deferential to them. Very few people are luck egalitarians. This is one way – of perhaps many – in which inequality sustains itself.
- Meanwhile, Harry Glasbeek argues that capitalism (as opposed to democracy or liberalism) lies at the core of Canada's political power structure, resulting in the government's willingness to hand out corporate welfare at the drop of a hat while attacking workers and lower-income residents. And Rebecca Jennings examines some of the problems with a culture of CEO worship.

- Kristin Rushoway and Laurie Monsebraaten discuss how Doug Ford's plan to shred the regulatory state in Ontario will endanger children in child care. John Michael McGrath points out that a campaign promise not to do any harm to Ontario's greenbelt has been scrapped in favour of a scheme which will allow for its destruction at the whim of any municipality. And Edward Keenan notes that Ford has relabeled virtually any type of public protection from corporate excess and abuse as "red tape" to be systematically destroyed.

- Finally, Michelle Zilio reports on the consistent message from experts in the field that Andrew Scheer's anti-immigration bleatings about a UN migration compact lack any basis in fact. And Andrew Coyne connects the Cons' message to that of nativist and racist parties internationally.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Musical interlude

Zuckerbaby - Overexposure

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Anna Bawden reports on new research from the Health Foundation showing the multiple ways in which young people face the burden of growing economic inequality. And Owen Jones points out that working-class children have borne the brunt of the UK's financial crisis and subsequent austerity:
(R)eal per-pupil spending in English schools has fallen by 8% since 2010. One all too little discussed scandal has been a reduction in funding for sixth formers of more than a fifth.

This is vandalism. It inflicts damage not just on the young people directly affected but on the nation’s future. Think of the unnecessary poverty created later in life by the failure to offer support to struggling pupils. It’s a false economy, too: the state will have to spend more, later, to support those let down at school. But it is more profound than that: think of the lost talents that would otherwise have enriched our society and culture.

The children of the most privileged will be fine, of course, not least the top 7% sent to private schools. Those in comfortable, rather than overcrowded houses; who have good diets; who don’t suffer the stress of poverty when young; who have the “cultural capital” of university-educated parents – they will generally continue to realise their potential. So the bankers who threw Britain into crisis, and then kept their shiny limousines, multiple homes and luxury holidays, will have forced other people’s children to pay for what they did, not their own.
Consider the full gamut of this government’s impact on young people. The scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance, a small amount of money to support aspirational young working-class people, and the trebling of university fees. The decimation of youth services: in London alone, 81 youth clubs and council youth projects have been cut since 2011, and a real-terms cut on children and youth services of nearly a billion pounds in just six years. A generation driven into an unregulated, rip-off private rental sector, lacking basic security, dependent on their landlords’ whims. The explosion of insecure jobs, at a time when living standards for young people have fallen most steeply. It is a list as incriminating as it is long.

It has become almost a cliche that Brexit sucks the oxygen out of the political conversation, depriving growing social crises of the attention they need. The irony is that many of the injustices that helped fuel the Brexit vote in the first place have been even more ignored since, despite the pathetically empty promise by Theresa May at the start of her term in office to cure the “burning injustices” in modern society.
- Similarly, Brad Hershbein writes that the 2008 economic meltdown presented a double whammy for much of the U.S.' middle class, including both initial losses and a lack of much recovery compared to other groups of workers.

- David MacDonald and Toby Sanger examine the savings to be achieved through a universal pharmacare program. And the Wall Street Journal reports on the predictable failure of the Trump tax giveaway (among other corporate giveaways) to do anything to make drugs more affordable in the U.S.

- Guy Verhofstadt argues that after far too many broken promises that corporate choices will protect consumer privacy, it's time for stronger public regulation of social media platforms.

- Finally, Hassan Yussuff discusses the importance of paid employment leave to enable people to break cycles of domestic violence.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

New column day

Here, on the fundamental need for governments to provide a secure source of income and benefits - and the choice of the Trudeau Libs and Moe Sask Party alike to instead make citizens bear the brunt of political choices.

For further reading...
- The National Post offered a backgrounder on the Phoenix pay system which has resulted in federal civil servants getting shortchanged on the money they've earned for public service. The Auditor General reported on its inexplicable failings. And CTV reported on the continuing rallies to draw attention to hundreds of thousands of still-outstanding issues.
- Terry Farrell reported on Canada Post's orders which resulted in the delay of benefit cheques which CUPW specifically agreed to keep delivering. CUPW called out Patty Hajdu's misleading attempt to then use management decisions to attack workers' right to strike. And Nora Loreto pointed out that no government can reasonably expect labour peace while going out of its way to undermine the bargaining processes which are supposed to keep conflict contained.
- D.C. Fraser reported on how a rental supplement cut by the Saskatchewan Party will result in a year's gap in coverage since a federal replacement has been delayed - and since Scott Moe and company don't care enough about renters to fix the mess they've made.
- Finally, I'll point again to Noah Smith's post on the many facets of poverty and insecurity in order to highlight the importance of a government willing to reduce all of the drivers of precarity.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Noah Smith writes that for all the recognition of poverty and precarity in the U.S., it may be home to even more material insecurity than normally presumed:
Imagine a 55-year-old single woman with diabetes working a part-time job making close to minimum wage. Thanks to government assistance, her total income is $15,000 a year. But if she loses her job or has a medical emergency — both of which, as Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” illustrates, are sadly common — she will probably become homeless. That in turn will make it very hard to get a new job, or to pay for her future health-care needs. In short, her situation is very precarious.

As Maslow would predict, this kind of insecurity causes extreme stress. And this precariousness exists along several dimensions — housing, health care, income, the risk of violence — which makes it hard to capture in a single measure. Still, there are some existing measures that could be used to help create a composite picture of security-based poverty.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks food insecurity, a survey-based measure of how worried people are that their food will run out. Economists track income volatility, which measures swings in earnings from year to year. This kind of risk has been on the rise in the U.S...

A reasonable, common-sense definition of poverty should include not just an absolute measure of material deprivation and a relative gauge of a person’s situation compared to the rest of society. It should also strive to measure how secure people feel — in their homes, their health, and their jobs.

This new measure might well show that poverty in the U.S. is worse than the current statistics say. But an accurate view of a problem is the first step toward addressing it. And eliminating poverty should be a priority of any wealthy society.
- Meanwhile, Molly Moss notes that austerity in the UK has disproportionately withdrawn public funding from the struggling northern region.

- In the wake of failed charges in British Columbia, Barrie McKenna points out how Canada continues to be used as a money-laundering haven.

- Bronwen Tucker makes the case for Alberta's oil production cuts to serve as a first step toward our needed transition to clean energy. And Dennis Gruending reviews Tony Clarke's new book offering a road map to get there.

- Finally, Matthew D'Ancona discusses how the UK's Brexit fiasco is the result of bigotry. And Keith Kahn-Harris writes that the essence of white supremacy is a belief in an entitlement to treat others without respect or moral constraints.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Dean Baker responds to attempts to paint inequality as an inevitable result of market forces by pointing out the choices being how our markets are structured. And Jonathan Tepper discusses how the concentration of wealth and power has created giant corporate monopolies which are antithetical to market competition and innovation.

- Richard Reeves points out the need for growing inequality to be addressed by sufficient worker bargaining power to boost wages. Julia Wong and Kaylen Small report on the acts of solidarity by workers across Canada in response to the Trudeau government's choice to force CUPW to give up an effective and effectively-managed strike. The Canadian Press reports on the similarities between the effort to respond to GM's abandonment of Oshawa and the wider issues facing Canada's labour movement. And L. Ian MacDonald points out that our reaction to the Oshawa closure speaks volumes about our view of the significance and meaning of the national interest in managing economic development.

- Robin McKie writes about another global climate summit being held in the face of warnings that we may have already reached a point of no return as we try to avoid outright climate breakdown. Bob Weber reports on new research showing that Canada's cities are woefully unprepared for the future projected to result from climate change. And Amy Harder comments on the wilful ignorance and disinformation at the core of the only position opposed to a massive effort to change course.

- Simon Little reports on the apparent connection between fracking and earthquake activity in Fort St. John, B.C.

- Finally, James Wilt analyzes how far too much of Canada's media is dedicated to serving the ruling class rather than the public interest.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Nick Saul calls out Doug Ford for undermining the dignity of lower-income Ontarians through barriers and cuts to needed benefits. And the Star's editorial board notes that both labour policy and social programs need to account for the needs of a workforce facing precarity as the norm, rather than being based on the expectation that any worker can find high-paying, long-term employment just by showing up.

- Martin Regg Cohn, Steven Zhou and the Globe and Mail's editorial board each discuss Ford's sad excuse for a climate change plan whose primary effect is to have the public fund polluters. Mike Moffatt focuses on its counterproductivity in achieving its stated purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And the Economist highlights how a combination of a wide-ranging problem, a lack of institutional capacity and the presence of firmly entrenched interests makes climate change a particularly intractable problem to address.

- Meanwhile, Common Dreams takes note of the newly-launched Progressive International as a forum for organizing for democracy, prosperity, sustainability and solidarity - and perhaps with time and effort, exactly the type of forum capable of bringing about global-scale change. And Chris Hatch reports on the Canadian youth occupying MPs' offices demanding that their federal government start taking some steps commensurate with the reality of a climate breakdown.

- Douglas Todd comments on the goodie-laden immigration system which applies to the ultra-rich as opposed to the rest of us.

- Finally, Doug Cowan examines how several countries shifted away from first-past-the-post electoral systems - and why they've been far better off since switching to more proportional systems.