Saturday, January 07, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Owen Jones highlights the need for social democratic parties to present a real popular alternative to neoliberal government, and offers his suggestions as to how UK Labour can accomplish that:
Political leadership means saying, here’s what’s wrong with society, here’s what our vision of what society is instead, here’s how we get there. It means hammering at key messages ad infinitum, backed up with policies that are indicative of where the party is coming from. It means speaking in an everyday language that resonates beyond politicos, and having lots to say to the average Briton who is neither poor nor well-off. This has been lacking, and Labour often seems missing from political debate, although some relatively recent appointees (such as Corbyn’s press officer, Matt Zarb-Cousin, and his colleague James Schneider) are determined to change that. Research suggests that voters don’t think Labour is too leftwing, whatever the Labour right argue; they just don’t know what the party stands for. And if you don’t define yourself, you will be defined – mercilessly – by your opponents. Yes, we have a viciously rightwing media, but they are not going to vanish: there just needs to be a sophisticated strategy to deal with them.

In today’s fraught political climate, there are some who respond that this critique is only offered because I’m a careerist, secretly rightwing, motivated by money, or part of a Guardian conspiracy against the Labour leadership. In truth, it’s because I want a genuinely radical Labour leadership to succeed: one that invests, rather than cuts; that forces the rich to pay a fair share of tax; that gives workers rights, security, and dignity; that confronts climate change, and treats it as an opportunity to promote the industries and jobs of the future; that brings our services under the ownership of the people of this country; that stops forcing young people to suffer the brunt of a crisis they had nothing to do with; that makes high-quality, affordable housing a basic right for every citizen.
- Meanwhile, Alan Draper notes that one cause of the rise of the populist right is decreased union influence - not just in the workplace, but also in defining political values. And Christo Aivalis' predictions for Canada's left in 2017 include the hope and expectation that we'll see better-organized social movements.  

- Daniel Bernmar discusses Sweden's successful trial of a six-hour work day - as better working conditions led to improved outcomes for workers and the people they assist alike. 

- The Globe and Mail rightly questions why the Libs are planning to spend half a billion dollars on national self-congratulation - though the choice is especially glaring given that Trudeau and company are simultaneously complaining they don't have a dime to put toward fairness for First Nations children.

- Finally, Tom Graham reminds us that the source of Saskatchewan's budget deficit is the Wall government - not the workers the Saskatchewan Party wants to stick with the bill.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Colin Busby and Ramya Muthukumaran offer some suggestions as to how to ensure there's an adequate social safety net to support people stuck with precarious work:
Federal and provincial governments, acting in concert or independently, should reduce the uncertainties of a volatile labour market for newcomers and incumbents.

They could start by:

1) Ensuring appropriate access to Employment Insurance benefits for the most vulnerable workers, including part-time and temporary non-seasonal workers, many of whom don’t qualify because of hours-worked eligibility criteria. Instead, weeks-worked entrance requirements and claimant categories that recognize non-standard workers should be strongly considered;

2) Ensuring obstacles to EI access are not hindering access to other critical social programs under the EI umbrella, such as special benefit programs such as maternity/paternity leave and courses for skills upgrading;

3) Doing a better job filling the gaps in health coverage experienced by workers in precarious jobs for services such as prescription drugs, mental health, vision and dental care. Provinces, such as Ontario, should take direct responsibility for this and improve coverage rather than wait for unlikely federal interventions;

4) Protecting the value of expanded CPP benefits for low-income workers by exempting them from punitive, income-tested guaranteed income supplement clawbacks.
- Jack Peat comments on the UK's "Fat Cat Wednesday" as just one more indicator of unsustainable inequality, while Haley Ryan reports on Gary Burrill's rightful recognition that the gap between the rich and the rest of us is a significant moral problem. And Ashifa Kassam writes about Canada's own equivalent to Fat Cat Wednesday which was celebrated (or lamented) a day earlier.

- The Star's editorial board calls for CEOs to pay their fair share through an end in the stock option loophole. But PressProgress exposes why it didn't happen - as the Libs were happy to let Bay Street lobby them to break their promise of a fairer tax system. 

- Julien Gignac discusses the lack of comprehensive information to even document the state of homelessness in Canada.

- Finally, Wayne Young points out how the Libs have made a mess out of straightforward commitments to electoral reform both in Prince Edward Island and on the federal level.

Musical interlude

Rodg - High On Life

Thursday, January 05, 2017

New column day

Here, starting from the justified criticism of corporate-friendly "privatize the gains, socialize the losses" economic policy by noting that some genuinely socialized risks would represent a substantial improvement in equity.

For further reading...
- Again, Jared Bernstein discusses the shift in overall risks toward the people who can least handle them here.
- And Timothy Martin wrote here about the shift from generally-available pensions toward individual retirement accounts - which has been matched in Canada not only in the area of retirement planning, but also in education, disability supports, and anything else somebody with thousands of dollars to spare can think to fund.

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Anis Chowdhury refutes the theory that top-heavy tax cuts have anything to do with economic development:
Cross-country research has found no relationship between changes in top marginal tax rates and growth between 1960 and 2010. For example, during this period, the US cut its top rate by over 40 percentage points and grew just over 2 percent annually. Germany and Denmark, which barely changed their top rates at all, experienced about the same growth rate.

Thus, tax cuts will not magically improve economic growth. Instead, the government should focus on building economic capacity with new investments in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), education, and anti-poverty programs. As the IMF has recently observed, the impacts of public investment are greatest during periods of low growth. This view has also been endorsed by recently outgoing Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens.

Investments in education produce a more skilled workforce, raising earnings and spurring innovation. A worker with only a high school education is twice as likely be unemployed as one with at least a bachelor's degree. An extra year of school is correlated with a significant increase in per capita income.

There are also gains associated with investments in early childhood education. The earlier the intervention, the more cost-effective, which is why policymakers have focused on preschool. Children who attend early high-quality care and education programs are less likely to engage in criminal behaviour later in life and more likely to graduate from high school and university. Reducing the cost of preschool also effectively increases a mother's net wage, making it more likely she will return to the labour market.

Spending on effective social programs provides immediate benefits to low-income families and can enhance long-term economic growth. The increased income security contributes to better health and increased university enrolment, leading to higher productivity and earnings. Similarly, nutrition assistance programs improve beneficiaries' health and cognitive capacity. Research shows similar positive impacts of housing assistance programs.
- Meanwhile, Jessica Deahl comments on the impact of insufficient child care options on working families. And the Star calls for a long-overdue end to federal policy which leaves indigenous women to give birth without maternal health supports. 

- Mark Hume argues that British Columbia's economy has focused far too long on unsustainably exploiting the natural environment. And Jessica Shankleman and Christopher Martin highlight the futility of relying on fossil fuels when solar power stands to be the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly energy source around the globe within a decade.

- Nicola Davis reports on new research showing that it's possible to identify a disadvantaged cohort based on brain health (and intervene to produce far better long-term outcomes) in children as young as 3 years old.

- Finally, Charles Hamilton discusses Saskatchewan's undue focus on breach offences, along with the costs it imposes on the public and on offenders alike. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jared Bernstein highlights how a generation of public policy has systematically transferred risk from the wealthy who claim to bear it, to the general public which can't afford to do so:
Back in the late 2000s, two authors — the economics journalist Peter Gosselin and the political scientist Jacob Hacker — wrote books documenting what they both called “the risk shift.” The idea was that policy and social norms had changed in ways that shifted economic risk — invoked by retirement, illness, job stability and loss of income — from government and firms to individuals and families. The result was greater inequality and worse: greater insecurity among the many people on the wrong side of the risk shift.
The Affordable Care Act is an anti-risk-shifter, a policy designed to shift the locus of the insecurity of no or inadequate health coverage back onto the government sector, which, due to its power to pool and regulate, is the far better sector to place that risk (which is why I’d lower, not raise, the Medicare eligibility age).

Same with retirement risk. As I read the WSJ article, my inner wonk was screaming: We already have a great, efficient, much-loved, fully vested, progressive, guaranteed pension plan. It’s called Social Security. If we want to relegate retirement insecurity to the past, we don’t need new saving schemes and tax incentives. We need to strengthen and expand Social Security.

Trump and the Republicans are anxious to repeal Dodd-Frank financial reform and cut the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau off at the knees. They’re preparing to pass a huge, regressive tax cut that I believe is ultimately designed to generate lasting deficits that will then be cited to justify the cutting of Medicaid, food stamps, Medicare, and Social Security.

With that, the risk shift will be complete.

What’s remarkable is that this is all happening at a time when even conventional wisdom recognizes that structural economic changes — globalization, technology, inequality, immobility, persistent underemployment, “secular stagnation” (persistently weak demand) — have made economic life tougher for many in the workforce. Such changes would seem to demand a politics that would drive the risk shift in the opposite direction, off the shoulders of households that are increasingly exposed to growing structural risks of displacement and loss, and back onto firms and governments.
- [Edited to add: Timothy Martin writes about the development of personal retirement accounts - which were supposed to supplement more stable defined-benefit pensions, but instead came to be used as an excuse to dispense with them.] And Peter Orzagh connects the stress of a more precarious life to the declining health (including shortened life spans) for lower-income Americans.

- Matt Bruenig notes that exactly the same incentives used as arguments against a basic income apply to the accumulation of passive income through capital ownership. And that reality (combined with the privileged treatment given to capital) makes it obvious how it's possible to pay for a system which provides meaningful supports to everybody.

- Dean Baker points out the futility of trying to pretend that the unpopularity of corporate-driven trade deals is merely an issue of messaging rather than substance.

- Finally, Richard Trumka discusses the dangers of allowing the likes of Donald Trump to pretend to speak for workers even as he uses his power to undermine them. And Ted Hesson reports on the real effects of Republican government - as raises and benefits promised under the Obama administration are being retracted by employers who have concluded they can get away with continuing to exploit their workers. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Hibernating cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Joachim Hubmer, Per Krusell and Anthony A. Smith, Jr. study the causes of wealth inequality in the U.S. and find one clear explanation for the stratification between the rich and the rest:
There is one main finding: by far the most important driver is the significant drop in tax progressivity that started in the late 1970s, intensified during the Reagan years, and then subsequently flattened out, with only a minor bounce back. The sharp observed increases in earnings inequality, the falling labor share over the recent decades, and potential mechanisms underlying changes in the gap between the interest rate and the growth rate (Piketty's r-g story) all fall far short of accounting for the data.
- Meanwhile, Jared Bernstein charts the lack of any correlation between tax giveaways to the rich and economic development (as measured by GDP and employment).

- Alan Pyke reports on Bloomberg's estimate that the world's richest 500 people increased their personal wealth by a combined $237 billion this past year alone. And Hugh MacKenzie reminds us that Canada's CEOs rake in more money in a single morning than most workers will earn all year.

- Ben Judah highlights how London's real estate market (like that of other cities) has been inflated by kleptocrats from around the globe.

- Thomas Homer-Dixon discusses the need for Canada to step up the fight against climate change. And Chris Mooney offers another reminder that actual data shows that we're doing even more damage to our planet than has long been feared - which may explain why the Wall government is going out of its way to undermine even basic scientific knowledge and education in Saskatchewan.

- And finally, the Council of Canadians shares Maude Barlow's laudable national vision for 2017.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Paul Krugman offers a warning about Donald Trump's immediate moves to normalize corruption and cronyism as the foundation of his administration. And the New York Times' editorial board points out that corporations are enabling Trump's false claims with the expectation that they'll be rewarded with public giveaways, while Jeff Spross highlights how Trump stands to bolster a cult of personality by making workers dependent on his favour. 

- Philip Inman examines the Resolution Foundation's research showing that workers without guaranteed hours suffer a "precarious pay penalty" that leaves them far worse off than people doing the same jobs on permanent contracts. And John Have and Robert Brown note that older employees represent another group which may face adverse treatment, particularly when benefit plans terminate at age 65 even when an employee keeps working.

- Libby Brooks notes that Scotland is joining the list of jurisdictions examining the social benefits of a universal basic income. And Noah Smith comments on the relative merits of basic income and job guarantee policies - while rightly recognizing that the job market may be headed in a direction which makes the latter impossible.
- Peter Goffin highlights how the cost of medication affects the effectiveness of mental health treatment - particularly when it forces patients to choose between prescription drugs and basic needs such as food. And Eva Ferguson discusses the rise of food insecurity in Alberta.

- Finally, Tara Kiran reports on the millions of Ontarians - disproportionately including vulnerable populations - who have been left behind as a new primary care model has been implemented through most of the health care system.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that to start your 2017.

- Ideas examines how the assumptions underlying far too much economic theory have produced disastrous real-world results. And Harold Meyerson writes that research is proving that skeptics of corporate-driven free trade have been right all along.

- Gary Younge writes that the rise of populist right-wing politicians can be traced largely to the failure of opponents to put forward a strong and substantive alternative. And John Harris traces the Brexit vote and U.S. election results in part to the sense that society has grown too complex to either benefit or be understood by wide swaths of people.

- Owen Jones looks to Austria as an example of how a focus on values over people helped to stop an authoritarian leader. And Michael Sandel discusses the need to provide progressive responses to citizens' real anger:
The populism ascendant today is a rebellion against establishment parties generally, but centre-left parties have suffered the greatest casualties. This is mainly their own fault. In the US, the Democratic party has embraced a technocratic liberalism more congenial to the professional classes than to the blue-collar and middle-class voters who once constituted its base. A similar predicament faces the Labour party.

Before they can hope to win back public support, progressive parties must rethink their mission and purpose. To do so, they should learn from the populist protest that has displaced them, not by emulating its xenophobia and strident nationalism, but by taking seriously the legitimate grievances with which these sentiments are entangled. And that means recognising that the grievances are about social esteem, not just wages and jobs.
Progressives should reconsider the assumption that social mobility is the answer to inequality. They should reckon directly with inequalities of wealth and power, rather than rest content with efforts to help people ascend a ladder whose rungs are growing further and further apart.
The problem runs deeper. The relentless emphasis on seeking a fair meritocracy, in which social positions reflect effort and talent, has a morally corrosive effect on the way we interpret our success (or lack thereof). The belief that the system rewards talent and hard work encourages the winners to regard their success as their own doing, a measure of their virtue – and to look down upon the less fortunate.

Those who lose out may complain that the system is rigged or be demoralised by the belief that they alone are responsible for their failure. When combined, these sentiments yield a volatile brew of anger and resentment, which Trump, though a billionaire, understands and exploits. Where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speak constantly of opportunity, Trump offers blunt talk of winners and losers. Democrats such as Obama and Clinton have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate and the harsh judgment it renders on those without a college degree. This is why one of the deepest divides in American politics today is between those with and without post-secondary education.
- Paul Krugman rightly notes that institutions and norms aren't of much value in fending off tyranny. And Alana Semuels offers some ideas to stop the trend of short-term corporate thinking.

- Finally, Adnan Al-Daini argues that empathy is the most important value to cultivate in the new year - and offers some suggestions as to how to do so at the individual level.