Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Eshe Nelson interviews Richard Baldwin about the future of globalization and the possibility that the worst disruptions to workers are just beginning:
What happens to the chart on global income distribution during this phase of globalization?

It keeps going down. It will be disruptive in the G7, but instead of just in the manufacturing sector, it spreads to services. Only about 10-15% of the population works directly in manufacturing in the G7—the rest work in services. It will create great opportunities in many of the countries that have been left behind by earlier globalization, for instance almost all of sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

You say governments need to do more for the losers of globalization. How?

We have to look for inspiration from northern European countries who have comprehensive retraining, help with housing, help with relocation. Typically they have the unions, governments, and companies working together to try and keep the social cohesion. It doesn’t always work, but at least they try and most people feel that the government is helping them.

What about education? 

We need to change the education system so you spend less time when you are young learning to be hyper-specialized and more lifelong learning. The jobs that will still be here will require face-to-face skills and making networks of human interactions work. Telepresence and telerobotics won’t replace those.
- Patricia Cohen points out that wages have already been stagnant for far too many over the past few decades. And Owen Jones highlights the need for a progressive answer to a neoliberal economic model designed to limit any benefits to the wealthy few.

- Heather Whiteside discusses how the public stands to lose out from the free investor profits baked into the Libs' infrastructure bank scheme. And James Wilt points out that the Libs' privatization plans for ports will only increase the risks from oil shipping.

- Vanessa Blanch writes that the success of "housing first" pilot projects as a means of addressing homelessness still hasn't led to any sustained action. And Chris Hall reports on a needed push by 16 health organizations for mental health resources from all levels of government.

- Finally, the Star reminds us that Stephen Harper's politically-ordered attacks on charities have continued by the Canada Revenue Agency since he lost power - and calls for the Libs to put a much-needed end to them.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with reindeer.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Gary Bloch writes about the costs of poverty (and the small-minded attitude toward public supports which allows it to remain):
We also see the effects of poverty at home: the discomfort of living next to people who are struggling to survive, with the resulting anger and irritation this causes on both sides. Our children coming home from school talking about their friends who have to ask for help to go on a field trip or who hide their inadequate lunches out of shame.

To continue to avoid dealing with this situation is not only immoral, it makes no sense. This report highlights the negative side of continued poverty: poor health and lost productivity. But to read the report from another angle, it tells me that a society with no poverty would be healthier, happier, and easier to live in. We would also likely save money in the long run.

How do we get there? We know what needs to be done. There has been an endless stream of reports and commissions looking at how to address poverty. We have Toronto and Ontario poverty reduction strategies and are waiting for a federal version. We know we must address a lack of affordable housing or child care, inadequate social assistance rates, and the rise of precarious work. We are pretty sure climate change is making the situation worse.

But the biggest barrier to ending poverty is the political orthodoxy we have lived by for the past 40 or more years, grounded in austerity: that good government is small government, that social programs must shrink, and that taxes are evil. It is over this period that we have seen the most dramatic rise in poverty rates and income inequality, with a concentration of wealth in the top 1 per cent. It’s time for a rethink.

I’d be more than happy to pay more taxes if I knew that money would help my community to be healthier and happier. I feel good and hopeful when provincial and federal leaders talk about initiatives that will make life easier for those who are most vulnerable, and I am more than happy to put my money where my mouth is.
- Simon Enoch reminds the Sask Party that contrary to its austerian instincts, gratuitous cuts in a downturn serve only to make matters worse.

- David Morley discusses the need to measure our well-being in terms of health and other standards of living, rather than focusing merely on GDP. And Wenonah Bradshaw looks to Tommy Douglas' farewell speech as NDP leader as to the importance of mobilizing our resources for the good of people.

- Sheryl Ubelacker reports on the recommendations from a citizens' panel favouring a national pharmacare program to lower health costs and improve outcomes.

- Daniel Tencer follows up on David MacDonald's research into the costs of boutique tax giveaways to the wealthy which could fund the most important repairs to Canada's social safety net several times over. And the Star's editorial board offers its own call to end tax breaks for the rich.

- Finally, the BBC reports that even Mark Carney is offering a warning about public disillusionment with corporate-friendly economics - even if his goal in the process is to relieve just enough pressure to keep things substantially as they are, rather than to seriously reexamine whether our primary goal should be to facilitate capital accumulation in the first place.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David MacDonald examines how Canada's tax expenditures systematically favour higher-income individuals over the people who actually have a reasonable claim to public support:
This study finds that Canada’s personal income tax expenditures disproportionately benefit the rich and cost the federal treasury nearly as much as it collects in personal income tax. The study examines the income distribution of benefit for the 64 personal income tax expenditures for which there is available data. Out of the 64 tax expenditures, 59 of them provide more benefit to the top 50% of income earners than the bottom half, with the largest share going to the richest 10%. The cost of those 59 expenditures totalled $100.5 billion in 2011 alone. 
And given the Libs' broken promise to act against the stock option loophole, there's reason for serious skepticism that their review of the tax system will address the most obvious favouritism for the rich.

- Daniel Tencer reports on the spread of inequality and low-wage work in Canada. And Tom Parkin discusses Peter Julian's work to build more inclusive growth as a priority both for the federal NDP and in the wider political system.

- Joe Fantauzzi studies the closely-related issue of precarious workers' reliance on predatory payday lenders, due largely to a lack of access to basic financial services which most people take for granted. And Bob Weber reports on research showing that the Nutrition North program - which tries to deal with access to food solely through subsidies rather than regulation - is doing little to promote either the availability or affordability of basic groceries.

- Finally, Moira Weigel documents the carefully-fabricated phantom enemy that is "political correctness" - and how a figment of right-wing demagogues' imaginations has become a powerful force in shaping electoral outcomes.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Simon Enoch and Christine Saulnier examine how P3s are used to privilege corporate profits over the public interest:
The CCPA has published numerous publications on the question of P3s because they have been so pervasive and so riddled with problems. There have been books written. Our organization has even published helpful guidelines outlining the 10 questions that should be asked AND fully answered before entering into these partnerships. Never are all of these questions asked and rarely are they fully answered.

In November of last year, one such report, Privatization Nation, chronicled some of the most egregious failures of privatization in Canada in recent years. We thought this to be conclusive evidence that despite 30 years of experience governments rarely seem to get privatization right, and more often get it wrong with astonishing regularity.

Despite this record, the potential bonanza awaiting private contractors through the federal government’s public infrastructure bank has brought many of the same, discredited arguments in favour of P3s back into public debate. The most pervasive of late appears to be the argument that P3 contracts provide the requisite discipline for all players to ensure on-time and on-budget completion, while constraining politicians from meddling in project design and management. However, a recent study in the UK by the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants  found no evidence that P3s were more successful at delivering projects on time because they were P3s; rather they succeeded because of the detailed way the contracts were written. There is no reason why the same sort of pre-negotiations and safeguards could not be applied to projects financed in the conventional public build model. Indeed, it begs the question of why such conditions were not previously made in traditional public procurement contracts.
The bottom-line is this: public services and infrastructure are best financed and delivered by the public sector. Private industry has a key part to play in the design and construction of public infrastructure under contract. The ‘partnerships’ become much more complex and fraught when those contracts are expanded to include private financing and operations.

P3 contracts are by their nature undemocratic — commercial confidentiality and the protection of a private corporation’s private interests are convenient political tools used to trump the public interest EVERY TIME.
- Rich Puchalsky questions how neoliberalism has become a dominant economic and social paradigm when only a few (however well-resourced) people have any attachment to it, while lamenting the lack of an obvious left alternative. And Andrew Jackson argues that any changes from private-sector digital technology will fall short of leading to economic benefits that are either fairly shared or particularly substantial.  

- Meanwhile, Barry Ritholtz follows up on Seattle's increased minimum wage and finds - as pointed out by Jackson - that improved wages at the bottom of the income spectrum led to economic growth.

- Brett Norman reports on a Baltimore pediatric clinic's noteworthy work in systematically checking and applying social determinants of health as a basis for patient care.

- Finally, Chris Welzel and Russell Dalton examine the effects of citizen allegiance and assertiveness - and find that while both contribute to improved governance, citizens can achieve more improvement in policy outcomes through critical thinking and questioning than through passive obedience.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Afternoon #ERRE Links

A bit of electoral reform material for your weekend reading.

- Nathan Cullen points out how the Special Committee on Electoral Reform's report (PDF) serves as an effective road map to make every vote count in Canada.

- PressProgress highlights how the Libs are attacking their own campaign promises in order to preserve an unfair electoral system, while Jonathan Sas compares the Libs' scorched-earth approach and incoherent response to the remarkable level of consensus and success achieved by members of all parties on the committee.

- Craig Scott generously calls the Libs' approach one of "noble failure" - and that may have been the intention initially. 

- But the "noble" part seems to have been sorely lacking, as Michael Stewart calls out the Libs' mockery of both the MPs who worked on a broad consultation process, and the tens of thousands of Canadians who participated in it. Althia Raj notes that the Trudeau government's insults are particularly egregious since they're directed at people trying to fulfil their own promises - while also reporting that Trudeau and his inner circle would likely have been happy to accept a committee recommendation for a ranked ballot which was rejected by all parties. And Ryan Maloney points out the Libs' aversion to inconvenient math when it would help to achieve improved representation.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Stephen Hawking discusses the urgent need to address inequality and environmental destruction as people are both more fearful for their futures, and more aware of what's being taken away from them:
(T)he lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.
- Adnan Al-Daini discusses how market dogmatism is affecting every facet of our society. And Noah Smith reminds us that some the economic theories used have been entirely falsified by real-world evidence.

- Roderick Benns highlights how a well-designed basic income could substantially improve the personal security of the people now at the most risk. But John Clarke warns against settling for an austerian model which treats an insufficient basic income as a substitute for fair wages and needed social supports.

- Bruce Cheadle reports on the International Institute for Sustainable Development's new research showing that Canada's economy is grossly overreliant on fossil fuels, as nearly all of our development has been oriented toward extracting dirty and limited resources rather than developing and applying human capital.

- Finally, Janyce McGregor reports on how the CETA and other trade agreements are designed to increase prescription drug costs - without any effort being made to assess what the price tag will be. But Kelly Crowe and Darryl Hol do note that without much fanfare, Parliament is studying a national pharmacare plan which could both reduce direct drug costs, and significantly improve health outcomes.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016

New column day

Here, on the Libs' pleasantly surprising hints toward enforcing the Canada Health Act - and the Saskatchewan Party's response that it would rather fight for profit-motivated medicine than work on building a sustainable universal system.

For further reading...
- By way of background on the enforcement of the Canada Health Act at the federal level, see here and here as to the Libs' refusal to act which helped to precipitate the fall of the Martin government, and here, here and here as to how matters further deteriorated under the Harper Cons.
- Stefani Langenegger reported on how pay-for-play MRIs in Saskatchewan (along with other similar schemes elsewhere) are at least attracting some scrutiny from Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott.
- And Scott Stelmaschuk points out how the Saskatchewan Party's corporate medicine is predictably endangering sorely-needed funding.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Owen Jones argues that UK Labour needs to make far more effort to connect with working-class citizens in order to hold off the populist right, while Jamelle Bouie examines Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns as a worthwhile model for uniting groups of disaffected voters. And Wolfgang Munchau comments on the failure of neoliberal politicians to acknowledge and reverse how financial elites have twisted the global economy for their own benefit.

- Meanwhile, Miles Corak points out that a cycle of poverty is particularly acute for boys born into lower-income families.

- Jason Beattie discusses how UK attacks on recipients of social benefits are costing more money than the clawed-back benefit amounts, while creating desperate needs for people wrongly targeted.

- Gloria Galloway reports on the Auditor-General's findings that Canada's federal government is routinely failing to set or meet appropriate standards in assessing program effectiveness.

- Finally, Ed Broadbent discusses how a proportional electoral system would prevent the likes of Donald Trump from taking absolute power with a minority of support:
Consider that under our current first-past-the-post system, successive Harper and Trudeau governments have rolled to majorities with the support of fewer than four in 10 voters.

Consider that a leading Conservative leadership candidate, Kellie Leitch, has hailed the Trump victory as an exciting message that must be delivered here, as she continues to peddle her “Canadian values” mantra to the party faithful.

And consider that Van Jones, a leading CNN analyst and former Barack Obama adviser, warned at a Broadbent Institute gala this past week that a Trump-like victory could happen here. Mr. Jones urged progressives to push back with an “army of love.”

That army should be carrying PR as its weapon of choice.
We’ll leave our American friends to sort out their electoral-college concerns, but the question for Canadians is whether a PR system could block a Trump here.

The answer is yes, because PR rewards voters with a fair outcome. A party that wins 40 per cent of the vote will win only about 40 per cent of the seats, not a majority. A party winning 30 per cent will be rewarded with 30 per cent of the seats, and so on.
If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is serious about having voters vote their values and have that reflected in the composition of the House of Commons – and delivering on a key and oft-repeated campaign promise – the most important thing he can do is support proportional representation.

Or we could wait until an unfair system allows a Trump-style government to gain a toehold in our backyard.