Saturday, March 28, 2020

On universal relief

Aside from the usual mantra that "NDP = CPC!", one of the most regularly-repeated Lib talking points criticizing the NDP's work trying to get coronavirus relief to all Canadians has been to point out that there's no single source of information available which contains the list of everybody who might receive help.

So let's talk about the real choices involved - and why the Libs' position pointing to the lack of a single source of information as a basis for limiting substantive relief is ultimately indefensible.

One of the core questions involved in any relief effort is its scope: whether the goal should be to include everybody in emergency funding, or to means-test and otherwise target what's going out. And the "not everybody's in the database!" talking point serves primarily as an excuse for saying we have no choice but to pursue the latter option.

Which, to put it simply, is asinine. If the best-case scenario is to reach 100% of the population, we're far better off starting with the best source of information available and adding recipients from there to fill in the gap, rather than starting from zero.

And that goes doubly given the obvious risks of setting up an application process outside or beyond the scope of anything else under federal jurisdiction.

The federal government has already shifted responsibility for its individual benefit away from EI after recognizing the current system wasn't set up to handle the previous iteration. But that means access to the core funding intended to keep Canadians afloat through a public health emergency will be running through a completely new and untested system. (Needless to say, the experience of federal civil servants with Phoenix should serve as a giant red flag on that front.)

So what's the effect on people in line to receive the benefit? Let's compare the Libs' scheme to an automatic helicopter drop to all Canadians in (say) the CRA's database.

For people already in the system, the Libs' scheme imposes unnecessary costs in time and effort on both the individuals applying, and the new mechanism set up to receive the applications. (And as many have pointed out, anybody who doesn't need the help can simply be taxed back next year when the system isn't so overwhelmed.)

And even for people left out of current information sources, a system of paying by default would be helpful. If you're going to need to apply to a new federal bureaucracy for benefits either way, surely it would be better to be among a relatively small number of people required to do so, rather than potentially getting stuck at the back of a backlog as millions of applications converge on the same system.

In sum, the lack of a complete list of people needing benefits doesn't represent a valid excuse for imposing either means-testing or mandatory registration under circumstances where it's possible to help people faster and more efficiently. And the people who left waiting for their emergency help will have reason to remember who's chosen to put barriers in their way.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Derek Thompson reports on Denmark's wage subsidies which are finally being mimicked by other countries including Canada. And Duncan Cameron points out how the Libs' early response fell far short of the mark.

- Rachel Giese points out how the coronavirus response shows the ability of governments to deploy resources to meet basic needs when they're motivated enough to do so.

- Mindy Isser discusses how a pandemic is showing everybody who's actually needed as between the wealthy few and the service workers who keep our essential supports running. But Alexander Panetta observes that a crisis is only emphasizing and deepening the class divide.

- Anthony Morgan discusses how incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. And Samantha Michaels writes about the spread of COVID-19 through Rikers Island, while Kendall Latimer, Dan Zakreski and Creeden Martell report on the first apparent cases among Saskatchewan correctional workers.

- Aaron Saltzman notes that deferred mortgage payments under the privately-controlled model set up by the Libs may carry large costs, with the bank standing to benefit as a result.

- Finally, PressProgress highlights how Jason Kenney attempted to demonize renters as an excuse for refusing to provide protection against evictions.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Brendan Kennedy reports on the massive job losses being caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Jackson offers his suggestions to provide immediate help to workers facing that urgent crisis today, while also laying the groundwork for a transition to a clean economy once we're able to start rebuilding. And Angella MacEwen highlights the need for a rescue package to be based on both speed and responsiveness to gaps in coverage.

- Ricardo Tranjan examines the financial insecurity facing people who are being told their rent obligations and other expenses aren't going away even after their incomes have disappeared. And Heather Scoffield argues that the federal government needs to step up in ensuring that renters aren't left out in the cold. 

- Maureen Callahan discusses the class implications of COVID-19 in the Hamptons.  Polly Toynbee observes that an economic collapse is forcing the middle class to confront a decimated social safety net. And Nick Shaxson writes that tax justice needs to be taken into account in designing and funding our recovery. 

- Jerome Roos weighs in on the need to deal with the massive piles of debt accumulated even before the pandemic.

- Gillian Steward writes that Alberta's relative success in responding to the coronavirus can be traced to the public health care system which Jason Kenney is so determined to dismantle.

- Finally, Tammy Robert calls out Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party for delaying public information about the spread of COVID-19 in order to frame their partial budget announcement.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lounging cat.

Conventional Wisdom!

Deathly serious? Or downright hilarious? It would be rude to suggest the Saskatchewan Party government should be able to appropriately classify a pandemic.

Meanwhile, Scott Moe's entire economic plan for both the pandemic and recovery consists once again of having the federal government absorb the liabilities of the oil sector, with no mention of any other workers. But since we've heard so much about Moe's studiousness, that's presumably for entirely valid public health reasons, such as [INSERT CAPP TALKING POINT HERE].

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Kenan Malik discusses how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fragility of the UK's social and economic structures:
The economic burden imposed by the policy of social distancing has fallen most upon the poorest and the lowest paid, many of whom cannot work from home and have few savings on which to fall back. In response, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, unveiled on Friday a major package of measures, including grants to businesses covering up to 80% of employees’ wages, and increases to universal credit and working tax credits.

The measures are significant, necessary and welcome. There are holes in the package, especially for renters and the self-employed. Nevertheless, Sunak was right to call it “unprecedented”. But it also raises the question: why does it require a pandemic for the needs of low-paid and insecure workers to be taken seriously?
Coronavirus has exposed the fragility of social life. It has revealed, too, that a large measure of that fragility is the result not of the pandemic, or of the attempt to combat it, but rather has been built into the system through deliberate policy. The worry is that beyond the pandemic, and the temporary measures announced by the chancellor, the issues of poverty and inequality will once more be ignored.

The 2008 financial crisis was resolved with vast amounts of public cash. And then the public was made to pay for that generosity with a decade of austerity. We may need to do “whatever it takes” to bring the pandemic under control. But once it is under control, will we also then do whatever it takes to deal with low pay, insecure work and inadequate benefits?
- Sarah Jones weighs in on what the pandemic is telling us about which work is truly skilled and essential. And Robert Reich writes about the corporations exploiting COVID-19 to seek bailouts and preferential treatment while extracting even more concessions from workers and consumers. 

- Geoff Dembicki discusses some needed calls for the federal goverment to focus on helping workers, rather than subsidizing a dying oil sector. But Robert Fife, Emma Graney and Kelly Cryderman report on the Trudeau Libs' plan to funnel money toward fossil fuel operators while continuing the limited and delayed availability of help for workers. And Geoffrey Munson reports on Alberta's simultaneous decision to pay bills and assume liabilities only on behalf of the oil patch, even as public services and other industries face cuts on top of the pandemic.

- PressProgress exposes the grossly deficient response to COVID-19 in an oil field work camp. And Bryan Eneas reports on the City of Regina's belated recognition that the CCRL refinery's scab camp is creating glaring public health risks.

- Finally, Andre Picard is the latest to highlight the need for testing and tracing to accompany social distancing as part of our public health response to COVID-19.

Monday, March 23, 2020

On spin over substance

PressProgress is right to point out how many landlords are using the loud announcement of coronavirus relief - which, if you read the small print, won't be available for months - as an excuse to keep charging rent as of April 1. (Not to mention to attempt to pressure tenants out of their homes when they're unable to work due to a public health emergency.)

But it's worth noting that the same dynamic applies in the opposite direction as well. The financial sector and federal government have made a show of announcing "mortgage relief", which would suggest a widespread system of savings in the cost of housing ownership which could be passed on to renters. They haven't been so vocal about that claim hiding a cumbersome and confusing process which is ultimately designed to keep power and financial reward in the hands of the banks.

In both cases, the headline fails to reflect the limitations of the government's actual policy. And the result is to set up obvious potential for finger-pointing between parties who wrongly think the other has been bailed out - leading to both an erosion of trust, and readily-avoidable policy failures.

But there are a couple of necessary changes which can be made to avoid similar difficulties. First, we should expect our governments to take an all-of-the-above approach to getting help to Canadians immediately, rather than looking for excuses to minimize the effect of announcements. And second, we should demand they recognize that (even more than usual) lives are at stake when their talking points fall short of their actions.

Conventional Wisdom!

A public health emergency demands that we unite mindlessly behind the government which deliberately mocked it, utterly failed to prepare us, and is now prohibiting anybody from taking stronger action.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Eric Doherty, and Eric Galbraith and Ross Otto, respectively write that the response to the coronavirus shows how it's possible to imagine and implement needed changes along the lines of a Green New Deal. And Heather Mallick theorizes that it can also be a first step toward living more intelligently.

- The Star's editorial board points out how the pandemic has shown gaping holes in our existing social safety net, while Martin Regg Cohn writes that many people are just now learning how precarious much work has become. And Justin Ling rightly criticizes how marginalized people including prisoners and asylum seekers are being endangered by the Libs' choices.

- Jim Stanford writes that what's needed for the future goes far beyond mere stimulus:
There is enormous need for urgent rebuilding required in our economy and our communities. Repairing and strengthening health care infrastructure comes first, but other priorities, too, are urgent: like sustainable transit, green energy, non-market housing, aged care and early child education.

The case for mobilising resources under the leadership of governments and public institutions, and employing millions of Australians to do that work, is compelling. We can repair the damage of this crisis (and better prepare for the next one), deliver valuable services, and create millions of jobs. All we need is the willingness to imagine a different model of organizing and leading economic activity.
The failure of financialized, neoliberal capitalism will be laid bare more clearly than ever in coming months. The private sector will definitely be unable to get the economy back on its feet after this crisis. So we need to look elsewhere for economic leadership.

Just as World War II ‘solved’ the Great Depression by mobilizing enormous resources in an urgent attempt to meet a huge threat (global fascism), we now need another, peaceful war – a war on poverty, on epidemics, and on pollution.

And by organizing ourselves as society to fight that war, we will actually make ourselves better off right now: creating jobs and incomes, providing needed care and services, generating taxes. And we will benefit in the long-run by winning those ‘wars,’ and building a safer, sustainable world.
- Finally, Anna Stansbury and Lawrence Summers examine the connection between a decline in worker bargaining power and the erosion of the U.S.' economic performance. And Thomas Piketty highlights how Bernie Sanders' campaign is making a desperately-needed attempt to give the U.S.' democracy a boost.