Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Charlie Cooper reports on the UK's increasing wealth inequality, with the richest 10% now owning half of all wealth. And Facundo Alvaredo, Anthony Atkinson and Salvatore Morelli highlight (PDF) how even the best information we have now likely underestimates what's being hoarded by the richest few.

- Chris Dillow points out why even if inequality didn't itself interfere with social mobility, we couldn't count on such mobility alone to produce fair outcomes.

- Nils Pratley writes that one of the most prominent recent sources of growing inequality - being the gap between executives and other workers - could be narrowed by giving the latter a role in setting the former's pay.

- Kenneth Arrow and Apurva Sanghi discuss the increasing recognition that health is an essential building block for social and economic development. And Ariana Eunjung Cha reports on new research showing the vast majority of the risk of cancer comes from social and environmental factors.

- Finally, Terry Milewski points out that the Libs' election promises are changing far more quickly than the policies they promised to improve. And Gary Younge comments on the need for progressives to develop a movement which can hold regular influence over policy, not just win elections occasionally:
People complain that Corbyn is not electable. They might be right. Electability is not a science. But the more pertinent question is: imagine if he was?

He could soon find that not only is the parliamentary Labour party not up to the challenge of taking on global capital – nor is the nation state he would be leading. This is not a new problem. Indeed, it is precisely because it has gone on challenged, but virtually unchecked, for more than a generation, that political cynicism has intensified. Whoever you vote for, capital gets in.

This was the experience of Syriza. After standing on an anti-austerity platform, winning the election, putting its negotiating position to the test in a referendum, and winning, Syriza was forced to buckle when confronted by the might of the European Union leadership. The party was later re-elected to implement austerity in much the same way as the centre left party it eclipsed had done.

Each case, in its own way, has demonstrated both the potential of electoral engagement and the limits of democratic control. The left is finally developing the strategic skills to gain office; it has yet to work out how to exercise power in the interests of those who put it there.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Danny Dorling discusses the need for kindness among other attributes to bridge growing gaps in wealth and social status:
Gross inequality creates a lack of respect for the other group – people who are not like us. There is a lack of respect among the rich for the poor, and that will be the same among the poor for the rich. Lack of respect breeds cruelty and hate. Lack of respect is not new and has grown between groups many times before, over religion, race, nationality, social class, sex and sexuality. These older divisions all remain and can be easily reignited, resulting in cruelty and hate, fear, suffering and despair. However, nowadays it is financial inequality both globally and in the UK that is the greatest source of our separation from each other.
- Meanwhile, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa report on polling showing the U.S.' lack of trust in its democratic institutions - with an authoritarian streak developing particularly among the wealthy. Robert Reich traces the rise of Donald Trump's destructive politics to the insecurity of the hollowed-out middle class. And Jill Treanor points out how that gross income inequality is demotivating for workers.

- Joe Fantauzzi argues that Ontario should fund a desperately-needed infrastructure program with additional revenue from corporate taxes, rather than selling off public assets:
Given the potential counterproductive nature of privatizing public assets, as flagged by the Financial Accountability Officer of Ontario, the decision to go down that path by the current government is concerning. As well, the failure of past federal-provincial infrastructure funding schemes demands a change of the status quo. Put bluntly, those funding initiatives simply have not in the past and are not presently addressing Ontario’s infrastructure deficit in a meaningful way. That any increases to those federal-provincial programs are contingent on political will is also a drawback. New thinking is required to deal with Ontario’s infrastructure problem. I recommend that the federal government move to begin taxing Canadian overseas corporate assets currently held in tax shelters and share those confiscated revenues with the province of Ontario under the condition that the money be used exclusively for infrastructure spending. I also recommend that the joint provincial-federal rate of Ontario corporate taxation be increased to 2009 levels immediately. Further increases of the rate also need to be considered. Ultimately, a more aggressive tone is clearly needed by government with the Canadian corporate sector, which has demonstrably not fulfilled its end of the low tax bargain since the financial crisis began.
- Finally, Paul Schliesmann reports that Kingston's City Council has become the first elected body in Canada to formally endorse a basic income - and that it did so unanimously.

Musical interlude

Foals - Inhaler

Thursday, December 17, 2015

New column day

Here, expanding on these posts as to what might come next as Canada's political parties map out their strategies on electoral reform.

For further reading...
- Chantal Hebert wonders whether Justin Trudeau will face internal pressure to renege on his promise of electoral reform. But considering that the Libs' voter coalition consists of significantly more voters willing to consider other parties, I'd think Trudeau has every incentive to ensure he responds to the demand for electoral reform both inside and outside his party's base. (That said, those looking for reason for concern about the Libs' follow-through will find it in John Geddes' interview with Dominic Leblanc.)
- Tim Harper notes the different positions the federal parties have taken on electoral reform thus far. And Andrew Coyne examines how each figures to approach the issue as it develops.
- Finally, Aaron Wherry pointed to Stephen Harper's past take on proportional representation and coalition-building here

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Duncan Cameron offers his take on the Paris climate change conference. Martin Lukacs notes that while the agreement reached there may not accomplish anywhere near what we need, the building climate movement should provide more hope than we've had to this point. Similarly, Thomas Walkom sees the summit as a useful fraud which should lead to something better. And Jonathan Sas argues that it's long past time for Canada's federal government to start acting - rather than merely spinning - on climate change.

- Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders points out the dangers of environmental journalism in the face of potential violence and corruption.

- Bob Mackin reports on David Loukidelis' criticism the B.C. Libs' delete, delete, delete attitude toward information. And Michael Smyth is skeptical as to whether matters will improve, while Travis Lupick finds particularly little reason to think anything will change given Christy Clark's aversion to putting anything in writing which might allow anybody to assess her actions later.

- CBC reports on Mike Simon's call for a focus on the social determinants of health in Atlantic Canada. And Jennifer Grahan discusses how Saskatchewan doctors are fighting back against putting MRIs up for sale.

- Finally, Polly Toynbee writes about the connection between the gender pay gap and the proper valuation of care work (whether paid or not):
Caring, cooking, cleaning, childminding and all the jobs servicing a society that would fall apart without women’s work are despised because these things are what women do, and women are despised for doing it and for being women.

At its most extreme, the horrendous domestic violence statistics reflect that abiding social control and contempt. Images of a few powerful women do nothing much to up-end that essential truth. One woman prime minister was remarkable, as are all manner of “role models”. But their exceptionalism makes the point: only 34% of managers, directors and senior officials are women. And these top women suffer a bigger pay gap than women at the bottom: the finance sector has the widest gap.

More women reaching the tree-tops doesn’t reflect most working women’s fraught dilemmas: caring is the obstacle, so a disproportionate number of high fliers don’t have children.
It would be astonishing if there wasn’t a huge pay gap with a downward pay spiral where underpaid women care for children and old people, taking in each other’s caring, unable to pay each other enough, causing the crisis in social care, in healthcare and in childcare. All that is despite women’s better educational results, despite 45 years of equality law.

MP Maria Miller, the Tory head of the committee, may not call for an equality revolution. But we could start with total pay transparency, so everyone knows who earns what and why. Make employers let in a trade union rep once a year to recruit, restoring some power to the workforce. As hospitals overflow for lack of home care, nursing homes close and the promised 30-hour free childcare can’t be delivered, we could reset the valuation on caring until as many men as women do it, at home and at work.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Karl Nerenberg weighs in on the Libs' choice to direct billions of dollars toward higher-income individuals, rather than working to help Canadians who need it:
The Liberals are now in power, and have just brought in a tax change that will give the most generous benefit to an elite, wealthy group.

You can call six-figure earners middle class if you like, but that would be stretching the definition. They are certainly not middle income. They are near the top. And they are definitely not the most in need.

A few, such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the now third party NDP, have called the Liberals on this choice.

The CCPA has even proposed alternatives. One is to use a tax credit, which can be more precisely targeted, rather than a tax cut for the middle bracket.

So far, its odd and unfair fiscal choice has not had much political impact on the honeymooning Trudeau government.

There is still time, however.

Let's see what happens around tax time when Canadians start to pay closer attention to how much they, and others, actually do or do not get from this much-touted middle class tax cut.
- CBC reports on Statistics Canada's latest figures showing the continued rise of personal debt compared to Canadian incomes. And Erika Shaker highlights the juggling act facing parents trying to bear the cost of child care.

- Chris Hedges writes that our exploitative economic system is effectively built on a foundation of human sacrifice.

- Denise Leduc criticizes the exclusion and marginalization of people with intellectual disabilities from the workplace. And Robert Scott counters the spin that reasonable wages are a barrier to a successful manufacturing industry.

- Finally, Neil MacDonald rightly comments that the appropriate response to terrorism is not to grant its perpetrators the fear they seek - but that it will take a concerted effort to avoid succumbing to it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Collapsed cats.

On blockages

Yes, Bill Tieleman, you've left no doubt that people who are opposed to electoral reform generally are also in favour of a needless and convoluted referendum process to try to block it.

But for the many of us who don't see "no change" as the desired end result, there's every reason to hold the Libs to their explicit promise that this year's election would be the last under first past the post. And contrary to Tieleman's spin, the Libs were entirely clear (PDF) as to how and when the alternative would be developed:
We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.

This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.
In other words, unlike many of the Libs' promises, the commitment to electoral reform leaves no room for delay or backtracking. And so we should be working toward all-party consensus on how to build a better system to be passed in accordance with the Libs' specific timeline - not making excuses to refuse to try to build one at all.

[Edit: Fixed wording.]

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Matthew Yglesias rightly points out the absurdity of monetary policy designed to rein in at-target inflation at the expense of desperately-needed employment. And Joseph Stiglitz reminds us that we can instead make policy choices which will fix inequality rather than exacerbating it:
Beyond changing taxes and government benefits, we can reduce inequality by rewriting the rules once again. A comprehensive rewriting will help to level the playing field, grow the middle class, and give all Americans an opportunity to succeed. Moreover, we can do this secure in the knowledge that we can have both more economic equality and more growth.

This view of the economy undermines the notion that those at the top are merely receiving their “just deserts” for their contributions to the economy. Some wealthy Americans have, in fact, contributed greatly to the strength of our economy and the well-being of our society. But many have simply gamed the rules — their gains have been largely at the expense of others. Still others have made important innovations, but then amplified their returns through the exercise of monopoly power. Discouraging quarterly capitalism, diluting monopoly power, and preventing the exploitation of workers would strengthen the economy. But rewriting the rules would better align private rewards with social value, thus improving economic efficiency. In other words, the argument for rewriting the rules is not just about fairness: It’s about promoting stronger and shared economic growth.
- Oscar Reyes reviews just a few of the weaknesses of the Paris climate agreement which aren't receiving enough attention. Marc Lee argues that we won't know what it accomplishes until we see how regulators and markets respond, while Simon Dalby discusses how Canada will need to rethink a fossil-fuel-oriented economy in order for the deal to work. And PressProgress lists just a few of the things Brad Wall seems determined not to learn about climate change.

- Andre Picard writes about the dangers of political meddling in health care - and it's worth mentioning Saskatchewan's most prominent examples of corporate fads and anti-social ideology being put ahead of evidence-based policy.

- Graham Thomson comments on the Alberta NDP's work to keep governing in the best interests of the province despite the harassment of unhinged right-wingers. And Stephanie Kusie and Lana Cuthbertson write that the abuse is antithetical to good government and leadership no matter how much one disagrees with a governing party's policies.

- And finally, Susan Wright highlights the ultimate task for Rachel Notley's government - being to tilt Alberta's overall values from a money-based, me-first mindset toward much-needed recognition of the common good.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Roshini Nair reviews Jim Stanford's re-released Economics for Everyone, with a particular focus on the need not to give up on the prospect of change for the better:
Although economics might be the dismal science, this book is never dismal in its outlook. While acknowledging that capitalism is the system we have, Stanford insists there is hope for a more humane alternative.

This idea is in contrast to the litany of books that firmly adheres to the idea that we are doomed and that capitalism is our only option -- the sort of morose left-wing acceptance of Margaret Thatcher's declaration "there is no alternative."

There is plenty of (valid) criticism that capitalism has invaded and co-opted different movements and spaces often irreparably, but Stanford never relents from his position. He reminds us that "if the entire history of Homo sapiens to date was a 24-hour day, then capitalism has existed for three-and-a-half minutes." From this wider, long-term perspective, Stanford assures the reader that not all hope is lost.
And Stanford makes a good point that this moroseness is really a byproduct of neoliberalism.

"A central goal of neoliberal economic and social policy has been to alter the fundamental balance of power in the employment relationship, by recreating a broad degree of insecurity and discipline among workers," says Stanford.
- Meanwhile, Jonathan Freedland offers his take on why and how to offer a populist alternative on the left - both for the sake of actually representing the public interest, and to limit the appeal of a dangerous right-wing version.

- Jim Edwards examines what a basic income system might look like in the UK. And Tom Parkin comments on the desperate need for an economic strategy which doesn't leave out low-income citizens.

- Jason Fekete and Lee Berthiaume report on the $9.5 billion in budgeted money the Cons allowed to lapse in order to claim a single-year surplus for electioneering purposes. And Cameron MacIntosh points out the millions in First Nation funding being withheld.

- Finally, Canadian for Tax Fairness' study of the problems with the Canada Revenue Agency deserves plenty of attention. But so far, the main response to the revelation that our public tax authority is serving political ends rather than actually collecting revenue seems to have been an attempt to shoot the messengers. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz writes that inequality is killing the American middle class. And Crawford Kilian examines the direct connection between inequality and midlife mortality:
For some white Americans born between 1961 and 1970, however, something has gone wrong. They grew up in what should have been a wonderful time: the fall of the Soviet Union, the emergence of China as the world's economic powerhouse, the fading of the threat of a global nuclear war.

In 1998, however, some members of this age cohort began to sicken and die...
...(T)his cohort's mortality began to rise at half a per cent a year. Not much, but it has continued year after year. By 2013, that meant 488,500 white Americans were dead when they should have lived...
As discouraging as these studies are, they largely vindicate a century of public health research that shows your very life depends on the class you're born into. Every social class is healthier and less stressed than the class below it, and sicker and more stressed than the class above it. Mobility between classes is far easier downward than upward.

It's not that poor, uneducated people don't know how to eat properly or keep themselves clean. They usually do; they're just too stressed to take care of themselves. As researchers like Dr. Richard Wilkinson have shown in book after book, income inequality within nations creates stressors on the relatively poor (even if they're far better off than the proverbial Bangladeshi peasant).
Canada's mortality rates may be consolingly low, but for some Canadians they have always been high -- especially for aboriginal Canadians. Their incomes are a fraction of other Canadians', and their incarceration rates are much higher than others'.

In both countries, far more research needs to be done to understand -- and remedy -- the deadly consequences of inequality.
- Meanwhile, Harry Leslie Smith contrasts the welcoming humanitarian attitude toward refugees following World War II to the inclination toward denial and isolation across much of Europe today.

- David Macdonald studies the soaring cost of child care across Canada. And the Star follows up by arguing for a national program to make child care affordable for all parents - to replace the status quo in which child care can carry the same cost as an additional mortgage.

- Philip Preville takes a look at Canada's shadow lending industry - and how it drives up both housing prices and stressors on the people who rely on it to fund house purchases. 

- Finally, Stuart Basden discusses how Canada remained part of the problem in Paris - even if its obstruction was targeted toward specific issues rather than the general principle of agreeing on reining in climate change at all. George Monbiot highlights the flaws and retrenchment in the final Paris agreement. And Brad Plumer charts how the emission reduction commitments made so far would take us less than halfway to the supposed goal.