Saturday, April 04, 2020

On stitches in time

It’s no secret that Canadians’ individual finances have been getting perpetually more precarious, with most people lacking the ability to fund even a single urgent expense.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed what happens when the fragile finances of large numbers of individuals shatter all at once. And while our short-term attention is rightly directed toward limiting the damage, our longer-term view should include working on both increased individual stability as a baseline expectation, and greater social capacity to respond in case of emergency.

At the individual level, the COVID-19 panic started with a combination of massive job losses, and large-scale panic buying as fears about the availability of essential goods became a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the latest stressor has arrived this week, as rent has come due for large numbers of workers who have lost jobs through no fault of their own.

For the moment, the best far too many people have been able to do is to keep the bare essentials in place, and try to plan toward the end of the crisis. But we’ll eventually need to reckon on a wider scale with lifestyles built on debt which is barely manageable at the best of times, and the assumption of ongoing income which has proven illusory.

And that need for action is only exacerbated by the deterioration of the government apparatus which should insure against what individuals can’t.

For far too long, buzzwords like “efficiency” and “lean” have been used as excuses to reduce public-sector capacity. And the lack of everything from income supports to hospital beds to personal protective equipment today can be traced to ill-fated calculations that they weren’t needed.

We’ve thus been reminded that the foundational principle of our government shouldn’t be to have the smallest possible footprint. Instead, it’s to be able to reach people who need help. And the extra effort and delay involved in trying to add capacity in the course of a public emergency does nothing but harm to the people who need help most - particularly when that means competing with other governments for the same resources.

On the federal side, the Liberals’ response has involved plenty of headline announcements by Justin Trudeau. But any actual followup has taken far too long to materialize, particularly for a government supposedly obsessed with “deliverology”.

Even the first wave of income support announced through the Employment Insurance system has yet to arrive. And while a brand-new program and application system have been developed to streamline the process, the result has been to put off even the acceptance of applications - let alone the distribution of benefits - until long after people have had to face severe losses of income.

Meanwhile, at the provincial level, we’ve seen a focus primarily on punishment rather than assistance. The Saskatchewan Party has eventually encouraged physical distancing backed by increasingly strong rules. But it’s punted any income support to the federal level, and taken only the tiniest of steps to even acknowledge how we’re all put at risk by failing access to housing and health services.

Eventually, voters will be able to draw our own conclusions as to who’s quickly and accurately identified what needs to be done, and who’s put off needed action at the price of human health and well-being.

And in the process, we should also expect our leaders to have the foresight to prepare for the worst before it’s too late. COVID-19 has radically disrupted the old normal - and we shouldn’t tolerate a return to the individual precarity and government decay that’s made it so difficult to respond.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Grace Blakeley points out the importance of putting our relief and recovery funding toward public investments, rather than the further enrichment of people with already-appalling concentrations of wealth:
We cannot rely on this crisis to undermine the ideology of shareholder value, which has become so entrenched within the UK’s – and indeed the world’s – largest corporations over the last several decades. If we want corporations to behave well – to treat their staff and suppliers well, to operate sustainably and to invest productively – then we must organise to demand more from both businesses and the state. 
(W)e must also organise to demand more from the state. At present, the government is simply dishing out free money to some of the country’s largest businesses with no strings attached – much as it did to the largest banks in the wake of the financial crisis. The government’s refusal to stipulate that the banks must lend to the rest of the economy in the wake of the crisis undoubtedly exacerbated the credit crunch. 

Government action is unlikely to stop at subsidies and loans – we will see a wave of corporate bailouts as this crisis progresses. We must demand that conditions be attached. Any companies in receipt of government support should be expected to retain as many of their workers as possible, cutting dividends payouts and senior salaries before undertaking layoffs. Longer term, they should be tasked with reducing pay differentials, promoting environmental sustainability and undertaking productive, rather than speculative, investment.

However this crisis plays out it is likely to transform both the UK’s corporate environment, and the governance of its major corporations. Either we will see the deepening of the logic of shareholder value, rendered much more powerful by the substantial support provided to large corporations by the state; or, we could lay the foundations for a new model of corporate governance – one that places the interests of stakeholders alongside, or even before, those of creditors and shareholders.
- Angela Carter and Keith Stewart extend the same logic to the fossil fuel sector, where we should be looking to support workers and communities rather than oil barons. But Kieran Levitt and Alex Boyd write about Jason Kenney's blinkered insistence on pouring money into shareholders' pockets, while Mitchell Anderson calls out the willingness of so many governments to facilitate the spread of the coronavirus through cramped work camps in the name of resource extraction.

- Kristen Pue writes that having failed to act to end homelessness before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we should be redoubling our efforts to make sure everybody has a secure place to stay (and distance themselves) now.

- On the bright side, Moira Wyton reports on British Columbia's move to boost the pay of long-term care workers.

- And finally, Jordan Himelfarb weighs in on the hopeful signs of improved social cohesion as we respond to a crisis.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Musical interlude

Texas King - Drifter

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Paul Wells highlights the futility in telling people to stay home when they lack a home to stay in. And Robyn Urback discusses the simple test of character involved in the choice of some leaders to abandon people at sea.

- Megan Linton discusses how neoliberal health care treats people as disposable. The Star's editorial board points out how we're currently sending our health care workers to war without adequate equipment, while Catharine Tunney reports on the federal government's recognition only after the fact that it didn't have sufficient personal protective equipment. And Jane Philpott comments on the need to protect the health workers working to care for people through the course of the pandemic.

- Michael Enright interviews Hugh Segal about the prospect of a basic income - and the extra value it would carry in a crisis (particularly as the federal government makes excuses about lacking information to distribute even the barest of benefits to people who need them). And Mark Blyth points out how the U.S.' debt-driven economy with few social supports or shock absorbers makes it particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, while Madison Hoff notes that a shutdown is calling needed attention to the U.S.' obsession with work over welfare.

- Owen Jones writes about the need to fight to ensure the new world which emerges from COVID-19 is actually an improvement on the one that's allowed it to cause so much damage. And Dorothee Benz takes note of the corporate media focused primarily on profits rather than lives.

- Finally, Ian Welsh offers a needed warning against the impulse to rally around bad leaders in a time of crisis.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jeet Heer writes about the class war already emerging in competing responses to the coronavirus epidemic. Ricardo Tranjan makes the case for rent forgiveness as part of COVID-19 relief based on the reality as to who owns the bulk of Canada's private rental housing stock. And Zoe Williams highlights why we need to focus on bailing out people rather than corporations, while Laurie Macfarlane discusses the dangers of replicating or even exacerbating existing inequalities.

- Nora Loreto and Alex Hemingway each point out their concerns with the Libs' wage subsidy plan. And David Macdonald finds that nearly a million unemployed Canadians have been excluded from any federal relief.

- PressProgress points out how refugees stuck in detention are especially vulnerable to the harm of a contagious disease. And Jane Philpott and Kim Pate argue that we're running out of time to avoid a disastrous outbreak among incarcerated people in Canada. 

- Eric Holthaus discusses how the choices we make in rebuilding from the shock of a pandemic will shape the world to come. And Damian Carrington, Jillian Ambrose and Matthew Taylor explore the possibility of a rapid transition to a clean economy.

- But then, Erica Cirino notes that dirty extractive industries are being treated as "essential" even as large segments of business as usual is shut down. And Sarah Cox reports on calls to shut down work camps which are thus far going unheeded.

- Finally, George Monbiot writes that contrary to the script presumed to apply in case of a crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge in caring and cooperation as part of people's daily routine.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Michael Valpy and Frank Graves take a look at public opinion in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and conclude that Canadians are rightly eager to see our leaders do whatever is necessary to ensure our survival and health. And Laila Yuile notes that the failure to act quickly and strongly enough is far from a new one - as many of the difficulties we're facing in responding to COVID-19 were studied then ignored in the wake of the SARS outbreak.

- Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski discuss how the pandemic shows the importance of central planning toward the public good.

- Sheila Block and Simran Dhunna argue that we need to be doing far more to protect the frontline workers providing us with the essentials of life in a public health emergency. And Steven Greenhouse reports on the workers taking matters into their own hands by walking off the job to ensure their health and safety are respected by employers.

- Meanwhile, Toby Sanger points out some of the risks involved in the federal government's wage subsidy program.

- Karen Howlett reports on the provinces which are setting up temporary hospitals to deal with the rise of COVID-19. Drew Anderson reports on Alberta's stunning refusal to allow people in need of housing to have even a modicum of privacy, deliberately choosing convention centres over hotels in the midst of a contagious disease crisis. And Zak Vescera reports on the insufficiency of the Saskatchewan Party's belated response to the need for secure housing and incomes.

- Finally, Annie Lowrey makes the case for governments to provide income using a helicopter drop model, rather than delaying and restricting needed support when people can't afford to wait.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Active act.


Finally, a provincial announcement about how Saskatchewan's most vulnerable can meet their basic needs in a public health emergency which is depriving thousands upon thousands of people of income...
Individuals who have, or are suspected of having, COVID-19 and lack money to meet their basic needs should apply for any Federal Benefits they would be eligible for. 
And if the federal government isn't even taking applications for its main benefit program until next week - nor making payments until mid-April...

Well, that gets a hearty ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Anton Jager and Steven Klein discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a particularly strong clash in rhetoric between people advocating for human lives and capital interests, while Siva Vaidhyanathan notes that the choice is a false one in any event due to the foreseeable social fallout from leaving large numbers of people to face avoidable deaths. And Paul Krugman points out some of the familiar zombie arguments being used to minimize social interests in the name of serving the corporate sector.

- Meanwhile, Patricia Callahan reports on a publicly-funded effort to develop affordable ventilators for the U.S. which was instead turned into a profit centre following a corporate buyout. And Paris Marx proposes that nationalizing Amazon may be the type of step needed to repurpose existing logistical infrastructure for the public good.

- The International Labour Organization sets out (PDF) some of the key labour obligations relevant to the pandemic, including income security, occupational health and safety and leave entitlements. And Zaid Noorsumar discusses how Canada's federal response thus far falls short of providing a full safety net for workers.

- The Globe and Mail's editorial board argues for an economic response which provides everybody with a bridge to the point where it's possible to resume a full-employment economy.

- Katharine Scott highlights how a pandemic has shown the weaknesses in a largely private and profit-driven system of long-term care. And Martha Friendly and Morna Ballantyne write that COVID-19 has demonstrated how child care is an essential service.

- Finally, PressProgress exposes the property management companies threatening renters with eviction even as the public good demands that people have secure homes. And CBC News reports on the desperate need for supports for homeless populations.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Noam Scheiber, Nelson Schwartz and Tiffany Hsu point out how the social isolation required in response to COVID-19 is only confirming and exacerbating the U.S.' class divide. And Shawn Micallef highlights the vast difference between social isolation in a large home as opposed to a confined living space.

- David Naylor and Tim Evans offer their suggestions for a path back to normalcy. CBC News reports on the wake-up call the pandemic represents for Canada's prescription drug supply. Danyaal Raza and Hasan Sheikh discuss the importance of strengthening our health care system as part of our rescue from the coronavirus pandemic. And Miles Corak argues that the delay in responding to COVID-19 should push us to maintain more government capacity at all times - rather than relying on a "just in time" relief apparatus to assemble only once a crisis is already underway.

- Sara Birrell takes note of the extremely limited help for workers on offer from Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party government. And David Macdonald examines the all-too-gradually-improving federal relief package.

- David Dayen exposes a few of the U.S. lobbyists looking to turn a public emergency into a windfall for their well-connected corporate clients. Reuven Avi-Yonah makes the case for a war effort to include excess profit taxes of the type applied during World War II. And George Turner is rightly concerned about tax avoiders who have callously refused to contribute to society now cutting to the front of the line in the midst of a crisis. 

- Finally, Jonathan Watts looks at the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic which apply equally to our climate crisis.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- David Bush reminds us that the hoarders worth being concerned about are the ones accumulating obscene amounts of wealth at the expense of our society's ability to provide everybody with the necessities of life.

- Matthew Green makes the case that Canada's response to the coronavirus needs to focus more on the people who already had the least. And Tom Cooper points out how payday lenders are exploiting the pandemic (along with a lack of regulation and alternative income sources) to push people further into debt.

- Jonathan Freedland writes that Donald Trump's narcissism has definitively reached the point of costing the lives of his citizens. And Richard Wolffe comments on Trump's eagerness to sacrifice those lives for his own political ends.

- Kathleen Martens reports on the risk that ongoing pipeline construction will spread COVID-19 to communities along the way. And Paul McKay discusses why a fossil fuel bailout is the wrong response to the crisis.

- Finally, Fiona Harvey reports on the effort of scientists to ensure that climate change is met with as forceful a government push as the coronavirus. And Jeff Goodell writes that while we can't avoid some ongoing damage to our climate, there's still time to flatten the greenhouse gas emissions curve to reduce the eventual harm.