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If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
Updated: 58 min 47 sec ago

Sunday Morning Links

5 hours 24 min ago
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Charles Demers points out the impact Svend Robinson has had on Canadian politics - and suggests that he should be the model for fellow progressives:
Not only did Svend embody something different from the usual electioneering pabulum [sic] — a genuine belief in the righteousness and effectiveness of indigenous, environmentalist, and social movement direct action, for starters — but, as Truelove’s wonderful and readable and extremely well-researched book shows, he also showed how gadflies could still exercise real power and affect people’s lives. The episode in which Svend leads the successful campaign to keep “the right to enjoy property” from being enshrined in the Charter (Robinson worried that if it were, things like minimum wage laws and environmental legislation could be imperiled) is indicative; a recurring theme throughout the book is how a third party MP, sometimes even a backbencher, could make real and lasting legislative change. In the end, that might be what was scariest to conventional NDPers about Svend: not only that his radical politics and irreverence endangered the party’s ability to win enough votes to become official opposition or even government, but the fact that his own example showed that if they were smart enough, worked hard enough, and were willing to participate in and draw on social movements, they didn’t necessarily have to, if all they wanted to do was effect change (as opposed to winning). In a world of horse-race politics, where everyone’s killing themselves trying to get to the inside lane, Svend was off in the stables unionizing the jockeys and pointing out that the track was built on stolen land.[Update: Though of course it's also worth pointing out that the dichotomy between presenting progressive positions and earning electoral success may be a false one to begin with.]

- Peter Frase discusses the need to move beyond complaints about the status quo and propose an alternate model as to how things can be improved. And Dean Baker points out that Thomas Piketty's description of near-inevitable capital concentration may miss some obvious opportunities to turn technological developments into widespread gains - even if we're far from applying them to the extent possible.

- But it is worth documenting how capital is managing to perpetuate itself at the expense of mere people. And David Harvey's commentary on the spread of luxury services and the new "prosumer" model is worth a read on that front.

- Meanwhile, any assertion of the public interest over private profit-seeking looks rather remote at the moment. On that front, Theresa Tedesco and Jen Gerson report on the massive private interests being served by Canadian Senators - even as the same patronage appointees try to excuse their split loyalties by complaining about the insufficiency of six-figure public salaries. And David Pugliese notes that the Cons are willing to let the private sector decide which Arctic search and rescue capabilities are sufficiently profitable to be maintained as public safety is privatized.

- Finally, Alan Bowker asks the Cons to follow the post-war Robert Borden model of voluntarily working on a better democratic system - rather than the wartime philosophy of rigging the system in their favour on the assumption that democracy is dangerous. And Susan Delacourt proposes that a voter identity card could go a long way toward meeting the Cons' excuses for cracking down on voting while minimizing the damage to voting rights.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 09:31
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman explains how one's political values figure to affect one's view of evidence as to the success or failure of a policy:
(T)he liberal and conservative movements are not at all symmetric in their goals. Conservatives want smaller government as an end in itself; liberals don’t seek bigger government per se — they want government to achieve certain things, which is quite different. You’ll never see liberals boasting about raising the share of government spending in GDP the way conservatives talk proudly about bringing that share down. Because liberals want government to accomplish something, they want to know whether government programs are actually working; because conservatives don’t want the government doing anything except defense and law enforcement, they aren’t really interested in evidence about success or failure. True, they may seize on alleged evidence of failure to reinforce their case, but it’s about political strategy, not genuine interest in the facts.

One side consequence of this great divide, by the way, is the way conservatives project their own style onto their opponents — insisting that climate researchers are just trying to rationalize government intervention, that liberals like trains because they destroy individualism....
(A)nother factor is the lack of a comprehensive liberal media environment comparable to the closed conservative universe. If you lean right, you can swaddle yourself 24/7 in Fox News and talk radio, never hearing anything that disturbs your preconceptions. (If you were getting your “news” from Fox, you were told that the hugely encouraging Rand survey was nothing but bad news for Obamacare.) If you lean left, you might watch MSNBC, but the allegedly liberal network at least tries to make a distinction between news and opinion — and if you watch in the morning, what you get is right-wing conspiracy theorizing more or less indistinguishable from Fox.

Yet another factor may be the different incentives of opinion leaders, which in turn go back to the huge difference in resources. Strange to say, there are more conservative than liberal billionaires, and it shows in think-tank funding. As a result, I like to say that there are three kinds of economists: Liberal professional economists, conservative professional economists, and professional conservative economists. The other box isn’t entirely empty, but there just isn’t enough money on the left to close the hack gap.- Linda McQuaig discusses the Cons' combination of elitist operations and populist messaging. Don Lenihan considers populism to be merely a particularly cynical form of elitism - which often serves to divert needed accountability by replacing the public's role in keeping an eye on its leaders with the promise of a savior to take on the job. And Jim Coyle questions how children of privilege like Rob Ford and Justin Trudeau can keep a straight face while claiming to stand up for the little guy - while comparing the respective plausibility of their pitches.

- Of course, elitism in the ranks of our political leaders is all the worse when it's accepted by other institutions which should protect the public interest. On that front, Michael Harris wonders whether the RCMP is doing the bidding of the PMO rather than pursuing justice in electing not to pursue charges against Nigel Wright, while suggesting that we're at least owed an explanation for the choice.

- Meanwhile, Erik Loomis asks why we treat employer wage theft as an administrative matter to be met with a slap on the wrist, rather than an abuse just as deserving of criminal intervention as an employee's stealing from the till. And the Star-Phoenix editorial board duly slams the Cons' "victims' rights" legislation which once again uses a misleading title to introduce regressive changes to the criminal justice system.

- Kim Nursall reports on TD's study examining the long-term costs of climate change - which include both tens of billions in losses to Canadian GDP, and human costs going far beyond what can be easily quantified. And Leilani Farha and Michele Biss look at the numbers we're missing in discussing homelessness in Canada, while pointing out that we already know plenty which should push us to act.

- Finally, Rob Nagai suggests that the NDP should change its attitude to take a more positive view of fund-raising. But I'd note some distinction between the view of the party apparatus (which has done plenty to work on the issue) and the grassroots (which probably does better fit Nagai's description of preferring issue advocacy to fund-raising) - and suggest that if the NDP is going to find a find-raising advantage, the longer-term goal should be to better build fund-raising into its member-driven activities.

Musical interlude

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 20:14
Mossy - Euphoria

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:37
Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Robert Kuttner discusses Karl Polanyi's increasingly important critique of unregulated markets and corporatist states. Sarah Kendzior writes about the latest cycle of workers stuck in poverty who are striking back against a system designed to suppress their standard of living. And Michael Rozworski examines the effect of the Cons' temporary foreign worker focus on Canadian workers:
(W)hile food attendants made up 9% of all TFW Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) issued in Canada in 2012, they comprised 17%, or almost double, of TFW LMOs in Alberta, the province that has the tightest labour market. Indeed, in Alberta the top five occupations filled by TFWs are all in services. For a program that is meant to help employers find workers for otherwise impossible-to-fill positions, it seems to be doing quite the opposite: helping employers staff low-wage service occupations that are relatively always in demand. Government documents show as much – Alberta employers were applying for low-level service LMOs in the same jurisdictions where unemployed workers with skills for those occupations were on EI.

Employers are using TFWs to enforce discipline especially at the lower end of the job market. Increasing bifurcation between low- and high-wage jobs means that the effect is potentially all the greater.
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Bringing in more TFWs is one more means of ensuring that a tighter labour market does not lead to increased agitation for better pay and better conditions. When unemployment (and the even greater underemployment) starts to fall, the increased use of temporary foreign workers is a means of securing continued economic power. The cruel irony is that temporary foreign workers hoping to counteract the effects of an unequal global distribution of goods and power on their families are being used to help safeguard and enlarge disparities in their new home.

The different rules for temporary foreign workers – their institutionalized precarity – help spread a lighter but still increasing precarity throughout the rest of the lower-wage workforce. This is enough to condemn the TFWP as a policy tool that stacks the hand of employers in broader labour relations.The particular genius of the TFWP, especially as applied to low-wage work, goes further. The TFWP is not only a labour policy tool but, at the same time, an immigration program and, as such, interacts with existing prejudices that limit solidarity along the axis of immigration and race. These work to counteract the potential for solidarity that arises from shared experiences of deteriorating labour conditions. The function of the TFWP on the labour market and on immigration should not be analyzed in isolation. The program lies at a problematic but potentially fruitful intersection of class and immigration – by and large meaning at the intersection of class and race. - Ben Casselman points out that the timing of a job loss has far more to do with one's future prospects than education, occupation or any other factor which could plausibly be tied to merit. And Lisa Wright reports on the trend toward highly unstable work - which can only increase the odds of a single job loss coming at just the wrong time.

- Claudia Calderon Machicado makes a strong business case for fair paid leave and sick leave programs.

- The CCPA offers a series of papers on the role unions can and should play in ensuring economic fairness - and the steps the Cons and similar governments are taking to prevent them from acting.

- Finally, Matt Taibbi highlights the fact that inequality by design isn't limited to income or wealth - as the same justice system which readily throws people in jail for extended periods of time for relatively minor offences has done nothing to address gross criminal behaviour in financial markets.

New column day

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 07:21
Here, on the Canadian public's widespread recognition - and worrisome acceptance - that life will be worse for younger generations than for older ones.

For further reading...
- Ipsos-MORI's poll referenced in the column is here.
- The CCPA's feature on post-secondary education costs is here, while Holly Moore reports on it here.
- And I'll again point out the one recent bright spot in post-secondary education policy, as Newfoundland and Labrador are working on eliminating student loans rather than figuring that increasing student debt loads represent a positive development.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 07:16
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Angella MacEwen takes a look at the large numbers of unemployed and underemployed Canadians chasing a tiny number of available jobs. And Carol Goar calls out the Cons and the CFIB alike for preferring disposable foreign workers to Canadians who aren't being offered a living wage:
If employers want to talk about the government’s abrupt about-face, that is legitimate. If they want an “adult conversation” about work and remuneration, they should be ready to answer some key questions:
  • Why should they be exempt from market discipline? The law of supply and demand provides a clear solution to domestic labour shortages. Raise wages or improve working conditions.
  • Why are they telling Canadians their kids and neighbours have a poor work ethic? Lots of Canadians do dirty, onerous jobs — pick up garbage, go down mines, wash highrise windows.
  • Why are they comparing foreign workers whose immigration status depends on their performance to Canadian workers who have the freedom to walk away from exploitative employers?
The business federation is right. It is time to talk honestly about work.

For its members, having a ready supply of low-wage workers may be paramount. For the rest of society, other priorities matter. Canadians want a fair shot at jobs in their own country. They want fair labour practices. They want one set of rules for everybody.- And Dave Johnson compares soaring CEO pay in the U.S. to the stagnation facing most workers.

- So it's no wonder that Ipsos MORI finds that respondents around the developed world see worse living conditions for younger generations than the ones enjoyed by older ones. And the CCPA highlights part of the problem, as university students are facing far higher tuition (particularly compared to the wages they can earn to invest in their own futures).

- In another prime example of the importance of public policy in shaping outcomes, Matt Bruenig charts the effect of social programs on child poverty - and shows that the difference between the U.S.'s much higher child poverty levels and the lower number in Scandinavian countries arises almost entirely out of differences in benefits.

- Jeffrey Simpson criticizes the Cons' Unfair Elections Act as a whole. And Tim Harper and the Globe and Mail editorial board zero in on the Senate's sad attempt to water down a bill which should be scrapped in its entirety to allow for all-party and public input into the direction of Canada's elections legislation.

- Finally, Colin Macleod looks to have found the perfect descriptor for the Harper Cons.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 19:42
Bumpy cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 07:31
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Timothy Shenk discusses Thomas Piketty's contribution to a critique of unfettered capitalism and gratuitous inequality:
Seen from Piketty’s vantage point, thousands of feet above the rubble, the fragility of this moment becomes clear. Economic growth was a recent invention, major reductions to income inequality more recent still. Yet the aftermath of World War II was filled with prophets forecasting this union into eternity. Kuznets offered the most sophisticated expression of this cheerful projection. Extrapolating from the history of the United States between 1913 and 1948, he concluded that economic growth automatically reduced income inequality. This was the moment when, as Piketty observes with both regret and nostalgia, “the illusion that capitalism had been overcome” secured widespread acceptance.

Time soon deflated this optimism. Although the growth of global GDP has accelerated—billions of people across Asia are now catching up to their rivals, a position analogous to Europe after World War II—the best available evidence suggests that these levels are impossible to sustain at the technological frontier. Europe’s per capita growth dropped to just below 2 percent from 1980 to 2012; the United States’ was even slower, coming in at 1.3 percent. Meanwhile, the link between rising GDP and falling inequality was severed, with the largest gains from diminished growth flowing to the richest of the rich—not even to the 1 percent, but to the one-tenth of 1 percent and higher.

Although the contours of Piketty’s history confirm what economic historians already know, his anatomizing of the 1 percent’s fortunes over centuries is a revelation. When joined to his magisterial command of the source material and his gift for synthesis, they disclose a history not of steady economic expansion but of stops and starts, with room for sudden departures from seemingly unbreakable patterns. In turn, he links this history to economic theory, demonstrating that there is no inherent drive in markets toward income equality. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, given the tendency for the returns on capital to outpace growth.
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Despite the lengthy historical surveys, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, as its title implies, is as much about the future as it is about the past. Per capita growth for developed economies, Piketty believes, has settled at approximately its maximum sustainable rate, around 1 percent annually. That was enough to make people in the nineteenth century feel they were caught in perpetual revolution, but judged by the best of the twentieth century, or China and India today, it seems positively anemic. With growth reduced, escalating income inequality is all but inevitable without aggressive policy intervention. Piketty’s demand for a global progressive tax on capital has garnered the most attention, usually from commentators eager to dismiss it as utopian. But the global tax is more of a rhetorical gambit than a substantive proposal. It is designed to make Piketty’s real aspiration—the same tax, but confined to the European Union—seem more attainable. When the alternative requires obtaining planetary consent, making one continent sign on to a policy becomes a reasonable reach. Countries as large as the United States, he believes, could go it alone with considerable success.

Progressive taxation of capital is one part of a larger project that Piketty calls building “a social state for the twenty-first century.” This economist is no revolutionary: the major arguments over the structure of government, he believes, have already been settled. The twentieth century bequeathed a vision of government responsible for the education, health and pensions of its citizens, and those obligations will be upheld in the twenty-first. For Piketty, the most urgent task is not raising the general welfare but clawing back the advances of the 1 percent. Much needs to be done, he writes, “to regain control over a financial capitalism that has run amok.”- The Globe and Mail slams the Cons for continuing to push the Unfair Elections Act, while Michael Bolen and Lawrence Martin both see it as a northern expansion of Republican-style vote suppression. Adam Shedletzky worries that it represents the end of reason in our electoral system, while Patti Tamara Lenard discusses its infringement on voting rights. And Bruce Cheadle reports that the federal government defended the Cons' previous ID requirements by pointing to exactly the vouching process which is to be eviscerated under the Unfair Elections Act.

- Meanwhile, Alice Funke notes that the Cons' current MPs are fleeing into seemingly safer new ridings - suggesting they don't think they can win where they did in 2011. And Chantal Hebert points out Stephen Harper's eroding support - offering another indication as to why fighting a fair election in 2015 simply isn't an option for the Cons. 

- Andrew Nikiforuk writes about the combination of minimal safety enforcement and high rates of worker injuries in the tar sands. And PressProgress wonders whether this will be the week that the oil industry's constant spin finally unravels.

- The Globe and Mail argues that we should be encouraging long-term immigration rather than driving down wages through temporary and disposable labour.

- And finally, Gerald Caplan analyzes Quebec's provincial election, and finds that the biggest winner was a party which didn't contest it:
(S)omething significant seems to have changed within Quebec’s political culture. It appears that many young Quebecois, traditionally separatists and social democrats, voted Liberal Monday night to express their weariness with separatism and their disillusionment with the PQ’s embrace of Pierre-Karl Peladeau and neoliberalism. That’s nothing but good news for the NDP. In the 2011 federal election, many young Québécois abandoned the Bloc and joined the Layton orange wave, electing a ginormous contingent of NDP candidates. Under Tom Mulcair, those MPs, many young and inexperienced, have acquitted themselves surprisingly well. If played right – a big “if” for any political party, as Monday’s election reminded us – their appeal to younger Quebecois should be another NDP slam dunk.

On vested interests

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 16:30
Shorter Linda Frum:
As one of Stephen Harper's hand-picked counterweights to the troublesome democratic rabble, I refuse to acknowledge any difference between "encouraging voter turnout" and "abetting electoral fraud". The less people with a voice in how this country is run, the better.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 07:32
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Michael Harris observes that the Cons' vote suppression tactics match the worst abuses we'd expect from the Tea Party:
Stephen Harper would make a good governor of Arizona.

In addition to the lies and sleaziness his government has been serving up during its majority, its sickening reliance on marketing over truth, its dishonest use of technology in political matters, and its shameful abuse of language, the prime minister is blighting democracy in the name of political advantage.

When Stephen Harper gave Canada fixed elections dates, no one expected a whole lot more “fixing” was still to come. There was; Bill C-23. By potentially removing hundreds of thousands of voters from the next election, Canada could now have elections with fixed dates and fixed results.- Joseph Heath writes about the need to shift from a political culture grounded entirely in talking points and instant responses to one which allows for substantial consideration of policy choices - while the recognizing the difficulty in trying to shift from one to the other. And Susan Delacourt points out that the assumption that voters won't or can't understand even moderate policy discussion lies at the root of the problem:
Everyone has heard about income inequality — the widening gap between haves and have-nots. It’s the big public-policy challenge of our time.

But there’s another form of inequality that should also be worrying us. Let’s call it information inequality: the widening gap between those in the know and those who know not. When did facts and evidence become the domain of an elite few?

I spent a lot of time the past few years researching a book about how marketing has taken over Canadian political culture and policy-making. Some of this all-marketing, all-the-time approach threatens to make wants more important than needs, the short term more important than the long term and advertising more powerful than journalism. It’s a culture that rewards people who can whip up emotions rather than those who can marshal facts and evidence to make their case; a culture where anecdotes trump statistics.
...
The mark of a healthy economy, we’re told, is one in which everyone has a chance to improve his or her lot in life. A healthy democracy should work the same way — a society in which everyone has a chance to know more, where we don’t write people off as permanently apathetic, any more than we’d write them off as permanently poor.

If we want to close that information gap, we need more “responsibility to inform” and less “people don’t care.” - Meanwhile, Tim Harper notes that voters in Calgary Signal Hill and Kitimat both sent strong messages over the weekend that they won't mindlessly defer to those with money or power in making important political decisions.

- Which isn't to say the Cons will stop trying to hand over as much power to the corporate sector as they can get away with. On that front, Randall Affleck comments on the increased power being handed to big agribusiness to prevent farmers from using seeds; Tara Carman catches the Cons once again enabling employers to hire cheaper foreign workers rather than Canadians looking for jobs; and Michael Geist notes that what's being billed as privacy legislation is also being used to allow businesses to share Canadians' personal information for commercial purposes.

- And in case we needed a reminder as to whether we can expect business to give anything back in exchange for being handed the world on a silver platter, Steve Benen reports on Caterpillar's brazen tax avoidance.

- Finally, Robyn Benson discusses how strong public services serve as a much-needed antidote to inequality.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 08:24
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Will Hutton writes about Thomas Piketty's rebuttal to the false claim that inequality has to be encouraged in the name of development - and the reality that we have a public policy choice whether to privilege returns on capital or broad-based growth:
It is a startling thesis and one extraordinarily unwelcome to those who think capitalism and inequality need each other. Capitalism requires inequality of wealth, runs this right-of-centre argument, to stimulate risk-taking and effort; governments trying to stem it with taxes on wealth, capital, inheritance and property kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Thus Messrs Cameron and Osborne faithfully champion lower inheritance taxes, refuse to reshape the council tax and boast about the business-friendly low capital gains and corporation tax regime.

Piketty deploys 200 years of data to prove them wrong. Capital, he argues, is blind. Once its returns – investing in anything from buy-to-let property to a new car factory – exceed the real growth of wages and output, as historically they always have done (excepting a few periods such as 1910 to 1950), then inevitably the stock of capital will rise disproportionately faster within the overall pattern of output. Wealth inequality rises exponentially.

The process is made worse by inheritance and, in the US and UK, by the rise of extravagantly paid "super managers". High executive pay has nothing to do with real merit, writes Piketty – it is much lower, for example, in mainland Europe and Japan. Rather, it has become an Anglo-Saxon social norm permitted by the ideology of "meritocratic extremism", in essence, self-serving greed to keep up with the other rich. This is an important element in Piketty's thinking: rising inequality of wealth is not immutable. Societies can indulge it or they can challenge it.
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The lesson of the past is that societies try to protect themselves: they close their borders or have revolutions – or end up going to war. Piketty fears a repeat. His critics argue that with higher living standards resentment of the ultra-rich may no longer be as great – and his data is under intense scrutiny for mistakes. So far it has all held up.

Nor does it seem likely that human beings' inherent sense of justice has been suspended. Of course the reaction plays out differently in different eras: I suspect some of the energy behind Scottish nationalism is the desire to build a country where toxic wealth inequalities are less indulged than in England.

The solutions – a top income tax rate of up to 80%, effective inheritance tax, proper property taxes and, because the issue is global, a global wealth tax – are currently inconceivable.

But as Piketty says, the task of economists is to make them more conceivable. Capital certainly does that.- And Paul Krugman takes a look at the gross amount of wealth - by Gabriel Zucman's estimate up to 8% of all the wealth on the planet - which has been funneled to tax havens in order to be isolated from any contribution to the social good.

- Of course, any public response to the continued distortion of political systems in favour of the wealth will require a massive amount of citizen activism. And Alexandra Bradbury and Jane Slaughter discuss how to build an enduring movement.

- Meanwhile, Kitimat's plebiscite rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline should serve as an important demonstration that even the best-funded corporate propaganda campaign won't necessarily win out against a strong community.

- But it's a much more difficult task to achieve a change in general policies. And there's plenty of reason to focus on the Cons' continued refusal to regulate the oil industry which now represents Canada's largest source of CO2 pollution - particularly as the rest of the world starts to notice that renewable alternatives are well within reach.

- Finally, Marianne Lenabat wonders how Canada has been turned into one of the most reactionary actors on the global scene in recent years even when public opinion is still generally favourable toward social democracy.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 08:52
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ezra Klein comments on the U.S.' doom loop of oligarchy - as accumulated wealth is spent to buy policy intended to benefit nobody other than those who have already accumulated wealth:
On Thursday, the House passed Paul Ryan's 2015 budget. In order to get near balance, the budget contains $5.1 trillion in spending cuts — roughly two-thirds of which come from programs for poor Americans. Those cuts need to be so deep because Ryan has pledged not to raise even a dollar in taxes.

As a very simple rule, rich people pay more in taxes and poor people benefit more from services. So if you pledge to balance the budget without raising taxes, you're going to end up making the rich richer and the poor poorer. But Ryan goes further than that: he actually cuts taxes on the rich.
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Wealthy people will be even better poised to influence the 2014 and 2016 elections than they were to influence the 2010 and 2012 elections. Now, wealthy people are not a single voting bloc, but most wealthy people would like to continue being wealthy. And so you see bipartisan movement towards policies that protect their wealth, most recently with the Democratic legislature in Maryland voting to eliminate the state's estate tax.

Over time, a political system that gives the wealthy more power is a political system that is going to do more to protect the interests of the wealthy. It's the Doom Loop of Oligarchy, and we're seeing it daily.- Meanwhile, Jim Stanford documents Canada's own descent into neoliberalism. And Carol Goar highlights how the Cons are doing their utmost to eliminate opportunities for young workers.

- The National Post's editorial board points out the absurdity of the Cons attacking their own appointed Chief Electoral Officer. Andrew Coyne calls out the Cons for turning what should be wholly unobjectionable principles - such as an accurate census and a fair electoral system - into their own political firing line. And Tabatha Southey duly mocks the assertion that Elections Canada is the new Illuminati.

- But then, a party merrily engaged in systemic illegality - such as, say, interference with access to information - figures to have little choice but to try to shout down any investigation which might reveal what it's actually up to.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom reminds us about some of Jim Flaherty's deliberate cuts to important public services including the CBC. And PressProgress charts how Lib and Con governments alike have slashed Canada's public broadcaster over the past three decades.

Musical interlude

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 19:14
Weekend Players - Pursuit of Happiness

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 07:01
Assorted content to end your week.

- Linda McQuaig responds to the CCCE's tax spin by pointing out what's likely motivating the false attempt to be seen to contribute to society at large:
Seemingly out of the blue this week, the head honchos of Canada's biggest companies, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, put out a media release insisting that their taxes are not too low.

This defensive posture -- who mentioned murder? -- reveals they fear others may be slowly catching on to the massive transfer of wealth to the richest Canadians that's been going on for the past 14 years due to the systematic cutting of corporate tax rates.

If Canada's corporate tax rate was the same today as it was in 2000, we'd be collecting roughly an extra $20 billion a year in taxes -- enough to fund national child care, free university tuition, children's dental care or other programs that have long existed in other advanced countries but that no one here, in these lean and mean times, dares to be caught dreaming about anymore, let alone advocating out loud.
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(T)he CBC's interview with Howlett sparked gasps of rage from the bowels of the business press, notably Terence Corcoran in the National Post -- even though a detailed description of the Cameco case and other tax avoidance schemes had just appeared in a special issue of Canadian Business under the cover headline: How to pay no taxes -- Many of Canada's largest companies pay almost no tax: What's their secret?

Of course, that report, directed towards a business audience, is seen as harmless. It's quite another matter when that information is used by the likes of Howlett to wake up the Canadian public to this wealth grab by some of our biggest corporations -- companies which pushed governments to slash taxes and then largely avoided even those lower rates by shifting their profits offshore.- David McKie reports on the PBO's latest study - which shows that the federal government has once again been underestimating the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites by billions of dollars (which will have to be funded out of the public purse).

- Dr. Dawg discusses the Fort Chipewyan cancer cluster - and the even more cancerous attitude on the part of the Alberta government which is looking to silence the victims rather than acknowledge any health problems which might be caused by the tar sands. And David Climenhaga wonders what comes next now that we know about both the cluster and the province's disdain for those affected.

- Jason Markusoff reports on Calgary's work in figuring out the costs and benefits of new construction - which lead to the conclusion that newly-developed suburban neighbourhoods tend to be a cost sink for at least 11 years, with the cost of repaying the resulting debt eating up any tax revenues for another ensuing decade.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne weighs in again on the Cons' combined refusal to try to justify anything within the Unfair Elections Act, along with their choice to instead declare war on Elections Canada as a diversion from the bill. Anita Vandenbeld describes the bill and its ramming through Parliament as global disgraces. Lawrence Martin notes that the Cons' attacks on Marc Mayrand are mostly a matter of fear that the truth about 2011 electoral fraud is about to be revealed. And Adam Bunch nicely summarizes what's at stake as the Unfair Elections Act is considered by Parliament.

On public priorities

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 06:34
I'm not sure whether last week's column played a role, but there have been an awful lot of attacks on Saskatchewan's Crowns since then at a time when the parties don't seem to be highlighting the issue. So let's sum up the arguments being made to undermine the public enterprises that are serving Saskatchewan so well.

Shorter Will Chabun:
Sure, actual people may be better off because of Crown competition in the wireless sector. But won't somebody think of the rent-seekers? And shorter Star-Phoenix editorial board:
The Wall Saskatchewan Party has no coherent or sensible policy when it comes to the Crowns. So let's eliminate the only legal barrier to a wholesale sell-off and see what happens.

New column day

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 07:35
Here, on the distance Canada has yet to travel in meeting even the basic needs of our fellow citizens - as well as the promise that Housing First and other new models may help to bridge that gap.

For further reading...
- Michael Green commented on the Social Progress Index here, while Canada's results can be found here.
- By way of comparison to the Social Progress Index, see my earlier post and linked column on other means of going beyond GDP in measuring development, with particular emphasis on the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.
- And CTV reported on the success of Housing First here, while the Mental Health Commission of Canada's summary and detailed report (PDF) are both available for review.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 07:26
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Paul Krugman's review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century includes his commentary on our new gilded age:
Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically.
...
(I)t turns out that Vautrin was right: being in the top one percent of nineteenth-century heirs and simply living off your inherited wealth gave you around two and a half times the standard of living you could achieve by clawing your way into the top one percent of paid workers.

You might be tempted to say that modern society is nothing like that. In fact, however, both capital income and inherited wealth, though less important than they were in the Belle Époque, are still powerful drivers of inequality—and their importance is growing. In France, Piketty shows, the inherited share of total wealth dropped sharply during the era of wars and postwar fast growth; circa 1970 it was less than 50 percent. But it’s now back up to 70 percent, and rising. Correspondingly, there has been a fall and then a rise in the importance of inheritance in conferring elite status: the living standard of the top one percent of heirs fell below that of the top one percent of earners between 1910 and 1950, but began rising again after 1970. It’s not all the way back to Rasti-gnac levels, but once again it’s generally more valuable to have the right parents (or to marry into having the right in-laws) than to have the right job.

And this may only be the beginning. Figure 1 on this page shows Piketty’s estimates of global r and g over the long haul, suggesting that the era of equalization now lies behind us, and that the conditions are now ripe for the reestablishment of patrimonial capitalism.- Meanwhile, Sam Ro interviews Gerald Minack about the long-term damage to business as wages get pushed downward in the name of temporary profits. And Don Cayo is the latest to expose the CCCE's dishonest tax contribution spin.

- Tim Harford discusses the corrosive effects of long-term unemployment, noting that people who have been unemployed for six months or more are effectively shut out of the job market afterwards. Kate McInturff points out the continued gender imbalance in hiring both between and within professions. And Armine Yalnizyan highlights what the federal government could do to help younger workers get a foot in the door if it was actually interested in reducing youth unemployment.

- But there's plenty of reason for concern that the needs and preferences of the public aren't generally finding their way into law - as Larry Bartels writes in comparing the relative influence of public opinion and different types of pressure groups:
forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Average citizens have “little or no independent influence” on the policy-making process? This must be an overstatement of Gilens’s and Page’s findings, no?

Alas, no. In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.- Finally, Paul Adams asks whether Stephen Harper is done for as a political force.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 07:24
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Dayen discusses how prepaid debit cards are turning into the latest means for the financial sector to extract artificial fees from consumers. And Matt Taibbi reports on the looting of public pension funds in the U.S.:
Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo's strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb's Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina's Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer's Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 "Urban Innovator" of the year.

The state's workers, in other words, were being forced to subsidize their own political disenfranchisement, coughing up at least $200 million to members of a group that had supported anti-labor laws. Later, when Edward Siedle, a former SEC lawyer, asked Raimondo in a column for Forbes.com how much the state was paying in fees to these hedge funds, she first claimed she didn't know. Raimondo later told the Providence Journal she was contractually obliged to defer to hedge funds on the release of "proprietary" information, which immediately prompted a letter in protest from a series of freaked-out interest groups. Under pressure, the state later released some fee information, but the information was originally kept hidden, even from the workers themselves.
...
Today, the same Wall Street crowd that caused the crash is not merely rolling in money again but aggressively counterattacking on the public-relations front. The battle increasingly centers around public funds like state and municipal pensions. This war isn't just about money. Crucially, in ways invisible to most Americans, it's also about blame. In state after state, politicians are following the Rhode Island playbook, using scare tactics and lavishly funded PR campaigns to cast teachers, firefighters and cops – not bankers – as the budget-devouring boogeymen responsible for the mounting fiscal problems of America's states and cities.

Not only did these middle-class workers already lose huge chunks of retirement money to huckster financiers in the crash, and not only are they now being asked to take the long-term hit for those years of greed and speculative excess, but in many cases they're also being forced to sit by and watch helplessly as Gordon Gekko wanna-be's like Loeb or scorched-earth takeover artists like Bain Capital are put in charge of their retirement savings. ... (T)he "unfunded liability" crisis had nothing to do with the systemic unsustainability of public pensions. Thanks to a deadly combination of unscrupulous states illegally borrowing from their pensioners, and unscrupulous banks whose mass sales of fraudulent toxic subprime products crashed the market, these funds were out some $930 billion. Yet the public was being told that the problem was state workers' benefits were simply too expensive. In a way, this was a repeat of a shell game with retirement finance that had been going on at the federal level since the Reagan years. The supposed impending collapse of Social Security, which actually should be running a surplus of trillions of dollars, is now repeated as a simple truth. But Social Security wouldn't be "collapsing" at all had not three decades of presidents continually burgled the cash in the Social Security trust fund to pay for tax cuts, wars and God knows what else. Same with the alleged insolvencies of state pension programs. The money may not be there, but that's not because the program is unsustainable: It's because bankers and politicians stole the money. [Update: And just in time for the C.D. Howe Institute to sell the same kind of snake oil in Canada.]

- And on the subject of the value of public services being gifted to corporate cronies, Simon Enoch highlights the Wall government's broken promise not to privatize Saskatchewan's Crowns - most obvious lately in their elimination of rural liquor stores in favour of corporate-owned replacements.

- Meanwhile, Karen Kamp points out the dangers of allowing for massive corporate funding of political messages to go undisclosed until it's too late.

- Jason Koblovsky catches Con insider Geoff Norquay admitting that the Unfair Elections Act is intended as "vengeance" against Elections Canada for doing its job in investigating the Cons' in-and-out scandal. And Frances Russell takes a look at some of the ways undue restrictions on voting rights may be unconstitutional.

- Finally, Duncan Cameron and Chantal Hebert weigh in on the results of this week's Quebec election. Paul Wells muses about the illusory attraction of the "star candidate". And John Conway focuses on how the PQ's shift in focus from progressive economic policies to reactionary social ones earned it a miserable defeat.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 19:51
Packaged cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 07:16
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Livio Di Matteo discusses the wasted opportunity to improve Canada's health care system through concerted national investments. And Ryan Meili asks who will provide future direction now that the Cons have scrapped the Health Council of Canada:
Now we see the federal government making a bad situation worse by walking away from the process of rebuilding a national health system entirely instead of negotiating a more robust agreement with targets and timelines for innovation and cost-savings.

The elimination of the Health Council only further underlines this movement away from national planning for better outcomes. Were this a one-off elimination of a governmental body created for a short-term purpose, this decision would be merely disappointing. That the Council’s disappearance is part and parcel of a larger strategy of the elimination of the dissenting and unbiased voice — something that is so needed in a democracy — is downright disturbing.

By removing or limiting evidence-gathering bodies, be they in health, the environment, or general information such as the long-form census, we decrease the evidence available to us to inform our debate and decisions. By strictly controlling how scientists can share information, cutting public broadcasting and eliminating watchdog organizations like the Health Council, we groom an ill-informed electorate.

These backward steps are the recipe for bad decisions to be called good, the recipe for a poor-performing health care system, a weakened economy, and worse health outcomes and quality-of-life for Canadians.- On the bright side, the CP reports on the Mental Health Commission of Canada's findings that a "housing first" strategy more than pays for itself in addressing both homelessness and associated social issues.

- Kathy Tomlinson breaks the story that McDonalds' franchises in B.C. have been going out of their way to hire temporary foreign workers rather than local applicants. And CFIB spokesflack Dan Kelly comes right out and admits to a preference for employees who lack any rights or leverage - leading to Gil McGowan's proper response:
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, strongly rejects claims that Canadian workers are less productive than temporary foreign workers. He said the difference is that many foreign workers are compliant, out of fear of losing their job.

"Is it a bad thing that Canadians stand up for themselves and don't allow themselves to be pushed around by their employers in low-wage service sector jobs?"

"What he's saying is that the government should provide low-wage employers with a compliant, pliable group of workers who are afraid to stand up for themselves," McGowan said. "And that when workers stand up for themselves and refuse to be disrespected in the workplace, that that is somehow a bad thing? I think most Canadians would find that offensive." - Meanwhile, Adrian Lee writes that the labour movement has a long way to go in attracting young workers - but that there's plenty of opportunity to serve as a voice for a generation which has been told it can't expect anything more than precarious employment.

- David McLaughlin discusses how electoral non-participation is all too likely to become a habit. And Althia Raj reports that the Cons are trying to reinforce exactly that habit by squelching a pilot program to encourage students to vote.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg examines the impact of last night's Quebec election on the federal political scene - particularly in eliminating demagoguery over sovereignty as a viable strategy for the foreseeable future.

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