Saturday, March 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne questions whether Justin Trudeau's brief nod to precarious work and burgeoning inequality will be reflected in any action. But Sheila Malcolmson notes that Trudeau's say-anything approach includes turning himself into a human shield for Donald Trump, while PressProgress reports on the record-breaking petition to push Trudeau to keep his promise of electoral reform after he's tried to weasel his way out of it.

- Meanwhile, Mike Seccombe highlights how Australian labour policy is effectively designed to make it difficult for younger workers to find secure employment. And Marc Montgomery writes about the many existing jobs which are in danger of being automated out of existence in the near future. 

- Steve Roth points out how shared wealth is an essential part of economic development:
There’s a curious fact about the wealth and growth of nations that you rarely see mentioned: No country has ever joined the modern, high-productivity, rich-country club without massive doses of redistribution, and universal government programs for social support and financial security. Not one. Ever.
An explanation is perhaps not far to find. Market capitalism — especially modern “holding-company capitalism,” in which corporations own corporations which own corporations, ad infinitum — inevitably concentrates wealth and income into fewer and fewer hands. It’s just the nature of the beast. Along with its immense, world-changing, manifest benefits, market capitalism labors under that inescapable burden.

Then add an Econ 101 notion that is pretty much universally accepted, because it’s strongly supported by theory, empirics, and just plain sensible intuition: decreasing marginal propensity to spend. A poorer person is more likely to spend an extra dollar (in wealth or income) than a richer person. Because: the “utility” (or just benefit) purchased by that extra dollar is so much higher for the poorer person. The fourth ice cream cone, iPhone, or Lamborghini just isn’t as enjoyable as the first. So greater concentration into a few hands means less spending — in economic terms, lower “velocity,” or turnover, of wealth.
“Share the wealth” is a phrase that is very anathema to libertarians and free-market conservatives. But sharing — pretty much the defining act of of altruism and cooperation — lies at the very heart of humanity’s success as a species. Cooperation, altruism, and sharing are what got us to the top of the food chain. (We’re not talking here about the techno-utopians’ faux-“sharing economy,” in which you “share” your car and driving services — in return for money. We have another word for that: we call it trade.)
To put it simply: Yes. Prosperity requires a welfare state.

Or to put it another way: Widespread prosperity both causes and is greater prosperity.
- Finally, Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the Ontario NDP's effort to ensure that child care funding is about more than corporate profit centres - along with the Libs' refusal to consider the possibility.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Musical interlude

Yuri Kane feat. Sopheary - Obsession

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz write that we shouldn't let governments and businesses off the hook for regressive policy choices by blaming technology. And Ben Tarnoff points out that any effects on the distribution of income and wealth can be dealt with through a fair tax system.

- Simon Tilford likewise argues that the most important problems with our current economic system lie not in the concept of globalization, but in the decisions made by governments to put businesses ahead of people:
(S)uccessive American and British governments were not forced by ‘globalisation’ to allow executive pay to balloon. This reflects failures of corporate governance. While pretty much all developed countries have seen rapid pay growth at the top, nowhere has the explosion of boardroom pay been as big as in the Anglo-Saxon countries.

Similarly, the US choice to cut taxes for the wealthy over the last 35 years was a domestic one, aimed allegedly at releasing animal spirits and driving entrepreneurship. US governments were not compelled to do so in order to bolster the country’s attractiveness to international investors. After all, not all developed countries have followed this route and they have not suffered for it. On the contrary, many of the countries that have flourished from globalisation – the Nordics, for example – are those that levy high income taxes on the wealthy and relatively high taxes on wealth.
Governments need to do much more to ease the burden of adjustment in areas negatively affected by increased trade, much as they need to do more to support areas whose established industries have been wiped out by technological change. Some countries have been successful at doing this, investing in active training policies, and infrastructure in affected areas. Others, notably the US and the UK, have been less effective in doing so.

However, some things do require greater international governance. First, there is some evidence that globalisation does make it harder to raise the tax needed to address inequality and combat declining social mobility. Multinationals can pay tax where tax rates are low rather than where they generate their revenue, and some have chosen this route. As a result, many governments have competed to lower taxes on business, which has meant having to raise taxes elsewhere, usually on low to average earners, and on consumption. Globalisation has made it easier for high earners to avoid tax, because it is now more straightforward to hold wealth offshore and the wealthy derive much of their income from wealth.

Multinationals should be taxed where they generate their cash flow or add value, not where tax rates are lowest. The OECD has done a lot of work on how co-ordination between member-states' governments could bring this about, but implementation has been slow, not least because of opposition from governments of countries that act as tax havens. Closer coordination between national tax authorities is making it harder for the wealthy to hold wealth offshore, but here too there is a long way to go. In the meantime, national governments could also do more to ensure the tax burden is equitable, for example by increasing taxes on immobile factors, such as land, rather than loading more tax onto labour and consumption.
There is little mystery why popular frustration and resentment are rising in many developed countries. Economic growth has been weak for a decade. Living standards are under pressure. The benefits of what growth there has been has largely accrued to the wealthy, and social mobility is under pressure. The responsibility for these trends does not lie with remote, unaccountable global forces, but largely with national governments. Globalisation does not render them powerless. And where it does undercut their power, they could work together to bolster their influence.
- Myriam Alexander-Kearns and Alison Cassady write that the Trump administration and Republican Congress are going far out of their way to endanger public health and safety in the name of easy corporate profits. And CBC reports on the continued leakage of mercury near the Grassy Narrows First Nation, while PressProgress exposes how public funding promised for indigenous children is instead finding its way into the pockets of the mining sector.

- Barrie McKenna takes note of Timothy Lane's justified warnings that climate change stands to radically reshape our economy and society. And Calla Wahlquist discusses the dangers of extreme heat in particular.

- Finally, Jesse McLaren highlights how the fight for fair wages and work conditions ties into the overall goal of greater social health.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

New column day

Here, on the first few steps of the federal NDP's leadership race.

For further reading...
- CBC News reported on Peter Julian's campaign launch, while Alex Ballingall covered Charlie Angus' and Aaron Wherry wrote about Guy Caron's. And Mia Rabson reports that Niki Ashton will officially announce her candidacy next week.
- So far Peter Julian looks to be the only candidate with an active leadership website, which is worth a visit particularly for its forum for policy discussion.
- John Paul Tasker also took a general look at the campaign. Chantal Hebert discussed the importance of a focus on policy, while Ed Broadbent offered some advice for the candidates.
- And finally, Susan Delacourt expands on the role Caron's basic income proposal may play in the wider political scene.

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Olivia Loveridge-Greene comments on new research showing how many workers may be forced to keep working into their 70s or beyond in order to be able to stay afloat. And Don Pittis explains why tax-free savings accounts and other giveaways to the wealthy won't do anything to help the people who most need an opportunity to save for retirement:
(S)ince the late Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty adopted Kesselman's idea and introduced the tax-free savings account in 2009, research shows that neither it nor RRSPs are doing what economists had hoped and expected.

"Is the effect more saving or less saving?" Kesselman asks. Once all the studies are done, the results are "pretty mixed," he says.

Kesselman, who now holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Finance at Simon Fraser University, says the tax-free accounts aren't having their intended effect, with the danger they will once again be perceived, as the RRSP once was, as "tax relief for high earners."
Despite championing tax-free savings accounts more than a decade ago, Kesselman has changed his tune.

Since tax breaks have failed to motivate people to save for retirement, he has now reluctantly begun advocating a compulsory savings plan, under which savers are forced to contribute to a pension big enough to support themselves through their retirement.
- Meanwhile, Kate McGillivray reports on how exorbitant housing prices are driving an entire generation away from Toronto's core.

- Jubilee Debt Campaign highlights how the UK's disastrous experience with high-priced P3s should serve as a warning to the rest of the world. And Thomas Walkom notes that Ontario's NDP is rightly looking to reverse any push toward privatization - unlike the Libs who prefer to lock in more corporate payoffs.

- Martin Kenney discusses Canada's shameful role in facilitating global tax evasion. And Harvey Cashore, Kimberly Ivany, Frederic Zalac and Gillian Findlay report on KPMG's tax dodges in particular.

- Finally, Katie Hyslop points out that even in an election-year budget, Christy Clark's B.C. Libs couldn't be bothered to lift a finger to deal with child poverty. CBC offers a reminder as to how poverty affects a child's ability to learn in school. And Patrick Butler examines the close link between child poverty and family disruption as children are taken into state care.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- François Côté-Vaillancourt suggests a greater focus on redistributing wealth and income to ensure a secure standard of living, rather than seeking primarily to put people to work:
(I)nstead of fighting job losses, I would suggest that maybe the most important thing we could do would be to raise taxes on the rich. What does taxes have to do with unemployed workers? Well, in our example, the gain of producing slightly more tractors with less expenses is clearly not received by the 50 who have lost their jobs, nor the 150 workers left (the real income for most workers have stagnated over the last decades despite significant growth). Instead, it goes to the owners (whether a single person or multiple stock-holders). But here is the thing: the owners are not necessarily working longer than before, having better marketing strategies or more genius insights. They have simply been allowed to capture all the benefits from our society’s efficiency gains.

This is why taxes and redistribution are essential, and now more than ever. We must make sure that the owners still get a share of the efficiency gains, but the same goes for the workers who continue to work, and perhaps more importantly, we must make sure that those who are displaced from the workforce are not left with nothing for their sacrifice. For they are, in a very real way, sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the whole by no longer working.

Politicians on the right have long argued that redistribution toward the unemployed promotes laziness and weakens the country, but actually, more and more, our gains in efficiency in the industrial sector force people out of work in a way that has nothing to do with their will to work or their talents—and the same was true in past centuries in the farming sector. Full employment might not be a coherent goal after all. We probably should not have everybody producing goods and services on the market, since there is a point at which the consumers do not need 2 more tractors each, or a new phone every week. In other words, our efficiency is so great that it must now manifest as less work rather than evermore output. And thus, unemployment, if handled correctly, could be a good sign for all of us, rather than an indicator of economic, political and ethical failure.
It is time to take the pulse of our times, and to fight for massive wealth redistribution and against the idea that anyone who does not work is lazy and undeserving. Right now, too many of us blind ourselves into blaming China or trade for unemployment in the industrial sector, thus demonizing an external enemy while chasing the mirage of full employment, without realising all the good our efficiency gains could mean for all of us if, and only if, wealth redistribution was keeping up with our economy.
- But Liz Alderman notes that Denmark is generating more jobs than it can fill while collecting a fair share of public revenue. And Chris Dillow examines the relative effects of neoliberal and social democratic policies, and finds that the latter have led to superior economic development.

- Meanwhile, Matt O'Brien highlights how the effects of austerity have been even worse than anticipated across Europe - including by increasing exactly the debt levels which were supposed to be reduced.

- The Star and the Globe and Mail each offer their support for a national pharmacare program (starting with a list of commonly-prescribed drugs).

- Finally, Tory Gillis reports on the impact of Regina's Housing First program - concluding that it has improved outcomes for the people able to participate, but fallen far short of reaching as many people as it should due to a lack of resources. And Liz Barney discusses a proposal in Hawaii to allow doctors to prescribe a home where homelessness is connected to medical conditions.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- CBC reports on Nav Persaud's research showing how universal prescription drug coverage could produce improved health outcomes for a lower cost. But Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew note that the Libs are instead taking us in the opposite direction with a combination of trade deals which tie governments' hands, and approvals of dubious foreign takeovers which lock those rules in place.

- Peter Chapman, Robert Walker, Herve Guez and Clare Payn highlight how a smart climate policy - including a plan to transition toward cheaper and cleaner energy sources, rather than relying unduly on fossil fuels - is essential for any province's economic future.

- Robert Benzie reports that the Wynne Libs are bringing back privatizer Ed Clark to dismantle what's left of Ontario's public service in what appear to be the waning days of their government. And Martyn Brown makes the case for campaign finance reform in British Columbia from the perspective of a writer who's benefited from the cozy relationship between the B.C. Libs and the corporate sector.

- But then, that relationship likely answers Stephen Quinn's question as to why citizens on social assistance are being left out of government plans. 

- Finally, Sarah Berman details what happens to refugees who get trapped by the terms of Canada's indefensible "safe third country" agreement with the U.S.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

NDP Leadership 2017 Opening Comments

The consensus list of prospective candidates in this year's federal NDP leadership race seems to be set, with Peter Julian and Charlie Angus having already declared their intention to run, and Guy Caron, Niki Ashton and Jagmeet Singh looking likely to do so as well. And with the leadership campaign now starting in earnest, I'll be starting to comment regularly on how it develops.

For now, though, I'll offer a few thoughts on what's most noticeably absent from the slate of candidates so far. 

As part of my analysis of the 2012 campaign, I started off by discussing the issues and voter pools the NDP figured to need to target. And as I'll discuss in future posts, the five apparent candidates largely cover the field on both fronts (though there may be room for more duplication than we're seeing so far).

But there are a couple of areas where there may be room for additional candidates to fill in gaps in the campaign as it's shaping up.

Geographically, the most noteworthy omission in the existing pool (assuming all of the above candidates join the race) is the lack of a contestant with strong links to Atlantic Canada. While Caron has handled critic responsibilities for the region since the 2015 election, it's uncertain how much of a regional profile and base of support he'd be able to carry into the leadership campaign.

The absence of an obvious magnet for Atlantic support was somewhat of a factor in 2012 as well, particularly after Robert Chisholm withdrew from the race. But with governing Liberals letting their masks slide both at the provincial and federal levels across the Atlantic provinces, we'd ideally see somebody step forward to build regional strength both during the leadership campaign and beyond.

The other obvious omission from the current slate of candidates is a substantial amount of experience in government.

The NDP's two previous leaders had substantial governing experience. And they in turn offered examples as to how that background can be a mixed blessing: Jack Layton made effective use of his profile and experience from Toronto's City Council (particularly in negotiating with other parties within minority Parliaments), while Thomas Mulcair demonstrated his mastery of the legislative chamber but was hurt by parts of his governing record during the 2015 campaign.

Now, the above shouldn't be taken as the start of a Draft Sterling Belliveau campaign: there are plenty of opportunities for the NDP to build in advance of the next federal election, both through public outreach and candidate recruitment. But it does offer some indication as to where there's room for additional candidates to step forward.

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Dietrich Vollrath discusses both what's included in our societal capital, and how best to think of redistributive policies as means of fairly dealing with it:
(T)axes are a way of collecting the royalties on trust and scale that we inherited and/or create ourselves. Taxes are the rents to idea of playing “cooperate” or having scale. And the proper use of those rents, if I am reading him correctly, is in ensuring that those endowments are perpetuated and handed off to our own children.
How then, do you justify the collection of the rents that, arguably, rightfully belong to all of us, and ensure that we pass on the trust and scale necessary for prosperity to the next generation? And do so in a way that is palatable to all parties?

One idea is that you can use the idea of rents or royalties as a positive justifcation [sic] of taxation. We are collecting on the royalties due to us as a citizenry for our trust and scale, the same way that Apple collects royalties due to them as a designer of useful touchscreen emoji delivery machines. In this concept, taxation is not theft, or a necessary evil, but rather the enforcement of our intellectual property rights over trust and scale.

On the other end, the distribution of those rents is perhaps more palatable when seen not as a handout (which makes people feel like a deadbeat) but as something like a dividend on shared ownership of an asset. I feel like this would be one way to think of how a universal basic income could be framed - everyone is getting their share of the collective dividend payment due to the owners of the “ideas” of trust and scale. It is a sign of ownership, not dependence.
- But Josh Bornstein writes that nominally left-wing parties and governments have failed to identify (let alone implement) meaningful challenges to neoliberal policies oriented instead toward extracting social capital for corporate gain. And Patrick Iber notes that genuinely socialist politics are just now returning to the U.S. in particular - while pointing out the challenges of organizing for progressive systemic change under a Trump presidency.

- Imana Guwanan interviews Ichiro Kawachi about the relationship between inequality and poor health. And Phil Heidenriech reports on the success of an Edmonton project in reducing overall social costs by providing supportive housing.

- Meanwhile, Carly Weeks points out the extreme costs of prescriptions drugs faced by people with rare diseases.

- Finally, Charles Marohn discusses California's Oroville Dam as an example of the dangers of failing to invest in needed maintenance due to the political advantages of funding shiny new infrastructure instead.