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Updated: 9 min 12 sec ago

New column day

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:48
Here, on how Saskatchewan residents should be able to count on secure housing, rather than being shunted into stopgap social housing by the Wall government.

For further reading...
- The provincial government's announcement that affordable housing in Saskatchewan is no more can be found here. And the NDP's response is here.
- For information on the temporary nature of the social housing program that's left, see here (PDF):
For families, social housing is intended to be short-term until a family is able to afford to buy or rent a home in the private housing market.- The background to the Saskatchewan Party's sell-off of provincial housing unit is found here - which also refers in glowing terms to the Deveraux Homes development which was then handed over to the developer for use as for-profit housing.
- Finally, the study referenced in the column as to the relationship between financial security and reduced individual stress is discussed here

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:40
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Stanford reminds us that any drama as to whether Canada's budget will be balanced this year is entirely of the Cons' own making through pointless tax slashing:
Running spending cuts since 2011 now total more than $14-billion a year. Canadians experience real consequences from those cuts every day: shuttered veterans’ offices, deteriorating statistical data, questionable railway and food safety, ridiculous waits for statutory benefits and more. Federal government employment has plunged by 47,000 jobs since 2011 – explaining much of Canada’s lousy job-market performance. These sacrifices were not necessary. Worse yet, the government is throwing away the savings with its tax-cut agenda.

Indeed, if the government truly believed that balancing the books was the most important priority, we could be back in the black right now, never mind next year. Before opening the cookie jar in October for income-splitting and other giveaways, Ottawa was headed for a $3.3-billion surplus for the fiscal year ending March 31. Falling oil prices knocked $1.2 billion off that balance, according to the PBO, leaving a $2.1-billion surplus. But the government spent $3.2-billion on the immediate first-year cost of the tax cuts – pushing itself back, incredibly, into deficit. Without the tax cuts, the budget would already be balanced, even with low oil prices.

It’s not prudent to count your chickens before they hatch. The Conservatives were so anxious to lock in tax cuts and corner the opposition that they consciously pushed the budget back into the red. Now, with plunging oil, that deficit looks bigger. No wonder Finance Minister Joe Oliver is delaying his budget.- Tavia Grant reports on how the shredding of the long-form census has created serious data quality issues for. But the Cons may not have noticed in light of their propensity for ignoring any evidence which doesn't fit their political plans.

- Jennifer Ditchburn reports that Canada's independent offices of Parliament want nothing to do with the Cons' plans to disqualify anybody with an interest in government from seeking to improve it. And Doug Howat notes how the bill fits into the Cons' wider pattern of trying to attack messengers rather than defending policy choices.

- Charles Blow calls for the U.S. to take much-needed action to reduce child poverty. But Bryce Covert notes once again that any economic growth is being funnelled into the pockets of the 1% rather than benefiting the general public.

- Finally, Helena Smith reports on Syriza's first days in office and Greece, and notes that we now have confirmation that a government can deliver on transformative promises.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 09:41
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Kate McInturff and David Macdonald address the need for an adult discussion about how federal policies affect Canadian families. And Kevin Campbell writes about the importance of child care as a social investment. 

- Vincenzo Bove and Georgios Efthyvoulou study how public policy is shaped by political budget cycles - with more popular social spending getting emphasized around election time, only to face a threat as soon as the vote is held. And Scott Clark and Peter DeVries identify a distinct increase in the smoke and mirrors being used by the Cons to hide Canada's true budget picture in an election year:
Since the fall — when the prime minister promised tax cuts he hadn’t paid for — everything on the fiscal front has changed, except this: The budget remains the key document in the run-up to the election. Except now, the budget won’t be saying what Harper wanted it to. He wanted it to tell the story of his steady management of the economy since the 2008 recession. Instead, it’ll be about convincing Canadians the government had a plan B all along. Since the furor over Kenney’s comments strongly suggests a government at war with itself, that could turn out to be a tall order.

The PM has never liked budgets. He never saw them as a means to articulate a vision of the economy and the country. To Harper, a budget is a PR document — and a Trojan horse for pushing through legislative changes that have nothing at all to do with the budget.
It’s this kind of economic outlook that makes Canadians nervous — and they’re right to be. They need facts, not slogans. They need a budget that provides an honest, realistic assessment of our economic and fiscal prospects. They need to know that the government is taking a serious look at its fiscal policy and asking how it can be adjusted now to strengthen growth and job creation, while maintaining a sustainable fiscal structure over the medium term.

That’s what they need. Here’s what they’re likely to get: More slogans, more shallow optics and the spectacle of a Department of Finance tying itself in knots to at least show a balanced budget in 2015-16.- Desmond Cole examines the Cons' dismal treatment of immigrant detainees. And the CP reports on their disregard for court rulings finding refugee health funding cuts to be unconstitutional.

- At the same time, Barrie McKenna writes that the Cons are once again going out of their way to support corporate corruption - this time by relaxing rules for businesses which have committed crimes abroad. 

- Finally, Ralph Surette discusses why it's time to end the Cons' reign - while suggesting #ThrowTheRascalsOut as an appropriate campaign hashtag.

On blissful ignorance

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 07:16
Shorter Lawrence Herman:
Just because Newfoundland and Labrador learned the hard way that Stephen Harper can't be trusted doesn't mean it has any right to warn anybody else that Stephen Harper can't be trusted. (For a more reasonable take on how we should expect countries to react to the Cons' duplicitous negotiations and undue preference for corporate power, see the Telegram's editorial.)

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 18:05
Cradled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 07:20
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Will Hutton writes about the connection between inequality and the loss of any moral or social purpose in public life:
Britain is beset by a crisis of purpose. We don’t know who we are any longer, where we are going or even if there is a “we”. The country is so passionately attached to past glories because there are so few to celebrate in the present. The crisis is compounded since we have been told for 30 years that the route to universal wellbeing is to abandon the expense of justice and equity and so allow the judgments of the market to go unobstructed. Private decisions in markets supposedly are morally and economically better than any public or collective action. As a result the sense of the “we” that binds a society together and gives us reason to belong is being lost. We take refuge in looking after number one, because there is no sense in, nor reason for, doing anything else.

The inevitable consequence is a decline in public integrity and a new carelessness about others. This amoral deficit of integrity takes many guises. It is sky-high executive pay, out of proportion to effort or contribution. It is the phone-hacking scandal. It is the too frequent lack of duty of care to workforces and customers alike. It is the careless, indiscriminate sale of so many of our public and private assets. It is the unwillingness to find ways of investing in ourselves, while we look so regularly to foreigners to revive our industries or build our infrastructure. It is the crisis of trust in our politicians. It is the uncontested acceptance that our children confront a worse world than we faced ourselves – from the size of mortgage they will need to buy a house to lower pensions.

The principal obstacle to the recreation of a sense of we – and along with it the shared vision, ambition and purpose for the country which is the necessary precondition for the extensive reforms that are needed – is inequality. Inequality is like a slow-growing but untreated cancer; it can grow with little apparent effect for a long time while the sufferer lives in happy ignorance. Occasionally there may be unexplained physical weaknesses and complaints that suggest something is awry, but other, less alarming explanations than cancer seem both more likely and comforting. Then suddenly the cancer begins to metastasise with catastrophic effects, but it is too late to stop its now obvious spread, and the implications are often fatal.

Societies, unlike individuals, do not die. But the cancer of inequality produces results that are equally catastrophic. - From that starting point, it makes sense that the very people who have secured their positions by exploiting amorality might have trouble seeing how to address it. But Paul Mason sees Greece's election as an example of how citizens can peacefully and democratically revolt against the mindset that people must be sacrificed to economic gods.

- David Macdonald studies how Canada's economic picture would look if First Nations weren't deliberately cut out of it. And Jason Warick reports on Ken Coates' call to share resource revenue with First Nations.

- Edward Keenan highlights the CRA's selective crackdown against charities whose causes don't fit the Cons' politics.

- And finally, Michael Harris discusses how the Harper Cons' distaste for any accurate portrayal of their government is all too consistent with how truth-tellers are being treated around the globe:
The next prime minister of Canada has either got to let Canadians in on what is really happening in this country and this world, or see the profession of politics fall into permanent disgrace. It won’t be lousy voter turn-out we’ll be talking about then — it will voter turn-off and the extinction of democracy, Alberta-style.
What is happening in Stephen Harper’s Canada — the hoarding and choking-off of information, the outright lying — is going on in many of the aging, decrepit democracies in the West. The establishments of several countries have effectively decided that they are above the law — and often cite national security threats to justify anti-democratic and, in some cases, thoroughly illegal behaviours.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 05:10
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Larry Elliott writes that at least some business leaders are paying lip service to the idea that inequality needs to be reined in. But Alec Hogg points out that at least some of the privileged few are using their obscene wealth to remove themselves from the rest of humanity, rather than lifting a finger to help anybody else.

- Meanwhile, Joseph Stiglitz observes that sheer stubborn stupidity on the part of austerians is doing untold damage to the global economy. But Jon Henley notes that in advance of Syriza's election victory, a new social movement in Greece had already been showing how much good collective action can do - suggesting that citizens are rightly resisting the claim that there's nothing to be done to improve their plight.

- Scott Gilmore reminds us of Canada's shameful history of mistreating First Nations.

- Mitchell Anderson comments that contrary to its oft-repeated promise, Alberta has indeed blown another oil boom.

- Finally, Andrew Coyne laments the Libs' choice to join the Cons in refusing to do anything about climate change. And Joseph Heath points out that the environmental damage we're leaving for future generations to address far outweighs the financial deficits which are so often used as an excuse for inaction:
Oliver knows that deficits are neither here nor there from the standpoint of intergenerational equity. What he actually has is a standing preference for smaller government. So when government revenue falls, this gives him an opportunity to reduce the size of government, by cutting expenditures. The idea that “deficits are immoral” is just a convenient way of selling the public on this reduction in the size of government, without having to make the case for smaller government (which is a tough sell).

This is all pretty standard. I guess what makes it extra-cynical is that we are, as a matter of fact, confronting a serious problem of intergenerational justice right now, in the form of climate change. And not only are we failing to do what’s right for our children on this file, we are doing the exact opposite of what’s right. So it is obvious that a moral concern about the welfare of future generations carries absolutely no weight with the Harper government. If it did, we would be debating what to do with all the revenue being generated by new federal carbon taxes. This is what takes Oliver’s remark out of the realm of run-of-the-mill-cynical and into the realm of deeply-cynical.

Finally, just an exercise for fun. There are lots of arguments out there, suggesting that we should not be particularly worried about climate change — that things will somehow take care of themselves. Try to find one single argument for inaction on climate change that is not also an argument for ignoring government deficits.


Sun, 01/25/2015 - 14:26
A couple of earlier posts have started a bit of a discussion about the messages which will be most effective in convincing voters - and particularly swing voters - to shift their votes away from the Harper Cons. But I'll take the opportunity to turn the discussion over to a wider audience through Twitter.

In addition to ideas for overall themes, I'd also think it's worth showing how they can be to use. Here's an example as to how one suggested by Sub-Boreal might be applied in practice:

[Message based on the work done by End Immigration Detention.]

Obviously, Sub-Boreal's suggestion is one which can be applied to multiple issues with appropriate modifications. And while single-issue messages are worth discussing as well, it's worth focusing particularly on themes which can serve as an overarching message in nearly any area of political discussion

Again, though, I'll offer a reminder that the goal isn't only to present a message which a particular party could choose to echo. Instead, it's to develop themes which will resonate across party lines to nudge voters away from the Cons, with a particular emphasis on those who may have supported the Cons in the past but be open to voting differently.

The hope is to generate both new ideas, and suggestions as to improve and apply the ones put forward already. And the ultimate goal is to develop some memes which can at least be passed along through social media - and maybe progress to a pre-writ ad campaign - to define Stephen Harper for the Canadian public as the next election approaches.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 09:30
Miscellaneous material for your Sunday reading.

- Nicholas Kristof writes about the empathy gap which causes far too many wealthier citizens to devalue those who don't have as much. Jesse Singal observes that the primary effect of wealth on well-being is to reduce downside rather than improve happiness - signalling that we might be best served pursuing policies aimed at improving financial security across the income scale. And Lucy Mangan discusses what's missing from the people who refuse to understand the effect of poverty - particularly when they're best positioned to do something to alleviate it:
Politicians, for example, are apparently completely baffled by Poor People’s propensity to do harmful things, often expensively, to themselves. (That’s politicians of all stripes – it’s just that the left wing wrings its hands and feels helplessly sorry for Them, while Tories are pretty sure They are just animals in need of better training.) The underclass eats fast food, drinks and smokes, and some of its more unruly members even take drugs. Why? Why?

Listen, I always want to say, if you’re genuinely mystified, answer me this: have you never had a really bad day and really wanted – nay, needed – an extra glass of Montrachet on the roof terrace in the evening? Or such a chaotic, miserable week that you’ve ended up with a takeaway five nights out of seven instead of delving into Nigella’s latest?

You have? Why, splendid. Now imagine if your whole life were not just like that one bad day, but even worse. All the time. No let-up. No end in sight. No, you can’t go on holiday. No, you can’t cash anything in and retire. No. How would you react? No, you’ve not got a marketable skills set. You don’t know anyone who can give you a job. No. No.
I don’t understand how the people in charge of us all don’t understand. If you are genuinely unable to apply your imagination and extend your empathy far enough – and you don’t have to do it all at once; little by little will suffice, but you must get there – then you are a sociopath, and we should all be protected from your actions. If you are in fact able and choose not to, then you’re something quite a lot worse. - But if the privileged can't be convinced to care about fellow human beings in their own right, Larry Elliot notes that they're at least taking notice of the economic costs of inequality. And Tony Berman theorizes that we've reached the point where there's no avoiding some action to level the playing field when it comes to standards of living.

- Unfortunately, neither empathy nor common sense is forthcoming from the Fraser Institute, which is determined to undermine incomes and increase workplace discrimination by undermining the public-sector employers which have made some progress on both fronts.

- And the Saskatchewan Party too seems determined to spend its political capital making life worse for the people who have least - with a new attack on affordable housing serving as just the latest example. Which only matches the track record of other right-wing governments who promise to sell off social housing in order to increase the available stock - only to deliver only on the part which privatizes incomes without benefiting renters.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert discusses how historical two-party systems have eroded in both Canada and the UK, while highlighting the stark difference in reaction by most Canadian parties (though not all) to the possibility of minority government:
A poll published earlier this month reported that one-third of U.K. voters feel they were better served by the coalition than they would have been by a majority government.

The experience has undeniably provided supporters of smaller parties with an added incentive to stick to their original choice, in the hope that they could secure a position of influence in a hung Parliament.

Meanwhile in Canada, Harper and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are about to spend the next campaign on the same anti-coalition page.

Harper will again plead that the only way to ensure that the Conservatives are not robbed of an election victory by a scheming opposition is to give his party an unassailable majority.

The Liberals will continue to rule out — as Trudeau did in a year-end interview — the option of joining the NDP in a coalition government, the better to convince New Democrats seeking regime change to move over to them.

The losers will be the voters who will once again be held hostage to a winner-take-all approach to parliamentary democracy.

On changing reputations

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 15:12
Following up on this post as to the value of a common message in countering the Cons' campaign spin, let's test out Stephen Maher's theory as to what the opposition parties need to offer:
For years, Harper has missed no opportunity to portray himself as the only leader who can keep us from ruin, characterizing his rivals as unhinged crackpots with crazy schemes.

Harper has spent more than $100 million in tax dollars on advertisements promoting the Economic Action Plan, a transparently partisan expenditure aimed at inducing a pavlovian response from voters. Add all the cheque presentations, ribbon cuttings, speeches, interviews and party advertising and you have an almost decade-long communication effort that has succeeded in associating economic competence with Harper.
(T)o get rid of Harper, the opposition has to convince voters not that he is nasty or dishonest, but that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

That looks like a hard job, but if they don’t do that they won’t win. Now, there's certainly some appeal to the idea of running an election based on Harper's economic record, and indeed some polling data to suggest he doesn't have any particular advantage in the area.
But as Maher notes, any attempt to present mere facts on that front is running into a headwind generated by hundreds of millions of dollars of past advertising - not to mention the corporate media which has so determinedly ignored Harper's actual record in promoting him as an economic manager in the first place. Which is to say that a successful message focused on the economy today would have to go a long way to account for people who may have found Harper acceptable on the same issue in the past. Maybe "Harper: He's Had His Chance"? Or "Harper: Tried and Failed"?

At the same time, though, Harper is likely far more vulnerable on other issues such as ethics or social policy than he is on the economy in any event. So while it's worth having some economic counterpoints available to highlight how Harper hasn't lived up to his billing, I'd think a core message should probably focus elsewhere.

On common messaging

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 09:28
It shouldn't come as much surprise that the new election year is bringing out the usual, tiresome round of calls for strategic voting and candidate withdrawals.

In the past, I've responded by suggesting that if Canada's opposition parties have enough common ground to cooperate, they should consider working with joint messages rather than trying to carve up the electoral map. And I'd still be curious to see how that type of arrangement would work if there was any interest in pursuing it.

But I wonder now whether the best course of action may have nothing to do with party arrangements - particularly in light of how the Canadian political system has evolved since 2011.

Until the NDP's rise to Official Opposition status in 2011, it was tempting for far too many people to pretend that all parties other than the Cons could be safely ignored. And the Libs' "blue door, red door" rhetoric in that election took that narrow mindset to a new extreme - before it proved as inaccurate as it was laden with hubris.

Now, though, there shouldn't be any escaping the fact that we're now in a true three-party system. And due to that change, both major opposition parties are inherently focused not only on making the case for change, but on doing so with messages which are designed to differentiate themselves from each other.

But that doesn't mean the public is similarly limited. And I'll suggest that it's worth putting the full weight of public fatigue with the Harper Cons to good use.

With that in mind, I'll suggest a crowdsourced effort to answer these questions (with a hat tip to the #fivewordsharperfears hashtag which offered plenty of ideas).

What brief, easily-remembered message will best convince voters to turn against Stephen Harper and the Cons when they go to the polls in 2015? And how can be make sure that message is the one Canadians consider as they vote?

I'll suggest a few starting points for such a message:
- It should be friendly to swing voters, rather than insulting anybody who's voted Con in the past but might consider switching votes this time out. 60% of voters have ruled out the Cons, and the goal of this message isn't merely to speak to them; instead, it needs to target the next 10-15% who might swing an election.
- But it should also be consistent enough with progressive values to avoid driving away the people who are most motivated to spread it in order to end Harper's reign.
- In addition, it should fit with well-known political messaging structures: favouring "change" over "the same", progressive/nurturant themes over conservative/authoritarian ones, etc.
- It should be consistent enough with how people already see Harper to fit easily into existing perceptions, but be distinct enough from past campaign messages to avoid any concerns about having failed already.
- And finally, it should counter the "better off with Harper" theme the Cons have already set up as their primary message.

A simple version would be "Canada can do better" or "we can do better" - leaving open the question of who would serve as the best alternative, while focusing attention squarely on whether Harper deserves to maintain power and answering with a clear "no".

But that first thought serves only as a starting point for discussion. And hopefully, progressives of multiple partisan stripes can agree enough on a common theme to make it stick to Harper.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 07:37
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes that by finally recognizing the unfairness and ineffectiveness of Alberta's regressive tax system, Jim Prentice may be starting a needed national debate:
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice talks up taxes for individuals including a sales tax (Alberta is the only province not to have one) and adjusting income taxes. But what about those oil companies? This might also be an ideal time to consider how the province can receive a bigger piece of the oil revenue when prices do bounce back. The prep work should start now.

When oil prices boom, provincial economies dependent on those boom times have to be able to take advantage of skyrocketing prices. This is one way to build a rainy-day fund that can help through the tough times.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis has hinted that everything needs to be considered - both revenues and expenditures - in confronting this province's ballooning deficit. The key here is not to panic. Panic results in poor decisions.

Canadians should demand a tax conversation at the federal level, including a hard look at how tax cuts to the wealthiest in Canada are now being paid for through deficit-financing.
Taxes are all about values. They are how we build a better society. Let's have a conversation about that. - David Sirota comments on the disastrous effect of the U.S.' regressive tax system. And Szu Ping Chan reports on Mark Carney's observation that the tech companies who are rendering substantial classes of workers obsolete should be paying a larger share.

- Andrew Jackson compares the respective merits of meaningful industrial policy as opposed to indiscriminate corporate tax slashing:
The Harper government has proudly put corporate tax cuts at the very heart of its so-called growth and jobs agenda. Since taking power in 2006, they have cut the general federal corporate tax rate from 22.1% to 15%. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, each one point reduction costs $1.85 Billion in lost annual revenues, so the total annual cost is some $12 billion.

Corporate tax cuts certainly boost after tax corporate profits, but have had a negligible impact to date on actual business investment in machinery and equipment and in intellectual property which are the key building blocks of our future prosperity. The latest national accounts data show that real business spending in these vital areas has been flat for the past three years, and remains below the pre-recession level, both in dollar terms and as a share of the economy.
(G)overnment funds are (shock) being invested as equity in specific areas of the economy such as high tech, IT and health care where start-up capital is much more scarce than in the United States.

Progressive economists see these interventions as broadly justified and cost effective given market failures which limit the willingness of the private sector to undertake or finance risky but potentially highly productive investments. The federal government's own advisory panel on the funding of innovation led by Tom Jenkins recommended more targeted and strategic interventions.

This begs the question of how much money should be funnelled to the private sector through costly across the board tax cuts as opposed to more targeted programs. The fact that even the Harper government has retained and even expanded some strategic interventions strongly suggests that they are needed. - Meanwhile, David Parkinson, Richard Blackwell and Iain Marlow write that no matter how low interest rates are pushed, we can't expect the global economy to begin any sustained recovery until governments get out of austerity mode. And Nadia Alexan discusses some of the more productive options we could be pursuing to turn concentrated wealth into social and economic development.

- Finally, Bruce Anderson observes that the Cons' choice to fund self-promotion rather than anything which could actually benefit Canada's people serves as a compelling indicator of a government that's completely lost its way.

Musical interlude

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 19:40
I Mother Earth - Used to be Alright

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:47
Assorted content to end your week.

- Crawford Kilian writes that growing inequality has been largely the product of deliberate engineering rather than any natural process, while Paul Krugman focuses on the preferential treatment of capital income in particular. And Simon Barrow discusses the sources and beneficiaries of the increasing wealth gap:
(T)he anti-change interests arrayed against any attempt to substantially reform global finance, block the privileging of huge corporate interests (TTIP being a prime example), ensure labour rights, address income and wealth gaps, stop tax evasion and tax dodging by the wealthiest on an industrial scale, legally enshrine transparency for governments and companies, guarantee public services become and remain public, end carbon subsidies, invest in a green future, abolish wasteful and immoral spending on WMDs, adopt redistributive fiscal and monetary policies, bail out debt slaves rather than debt enforcers, achieve a universal financial transaction tax – and many other policies that genuinely reverse inequality – are enormous, deep, entrenched and persistent.

For example, UK governments say, "we're all in this together", but pursue policies that have allowed income and wealth gaps to widen and foodbanks to proliferate. When criticism is issued and well-documented evidence proffered, they are swift to denounce it as "out of touch" and "factually incorrect". Beneath accommodating rhetoric about "hard working families" and "fairness" lies a continuing denial of the harsh realities of poverty and inequality by many of those in power.
It is also fashionable right now to say that inequality harms the wealthy as well as the poor, degrades social bonds, "inhibits growth" (of what kind?) and so on. This is true to a significant extent. But it hurts its victims much more: let's not forget this in an "it's still all about us" rush to avoid the conflict underling [sic] the gulf in wealth. For the simple reality is that inequality would not persist if it did not benefit those at the top of the economic ladder extravagantly. Which it does, as Oxfam's research (albeit nuanced by a closer look at the statistics from Channel 4) shows. Sure, the real damage caused by the gap between the haves and the have nots or have-much-lesses comes back to visit us all. But at that point the elites devise and popularise scapegoating mechanisms to evade far-reaching responsibility themselves.- Meanwhile, Kaja Whitehouse takes a first look at how Uber - one of the leading examples of the "on-demand" economy - is exacerbating the pattern by driving down the income of its drivers.

- All of which leads to Guy Standing's proposal for a Precariat Charter to recognize the needs of a class which is otherwise excluded (in practice if not in theory) from political decision-making.

- Finally, Doug Cuthand reminds us of Canada's sad history of racism against First Nations. And Joe Friesen reports on just one example of continued systematic exclusion, as Canada's economic data is skewed by a deliberate choice to ignore people on First Nations reserves.

I see what you did there

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 18:26
Let's face it: a broken Red Book promise, an ignored Kyoto Protocol commitment and zero policy action later, nobody would have had reason to believe any Lib policy promises on greenhouse gas emissions anyway. So why wouldn't Justin Trudeau try to spin continued neglect at the federal level as a feature rather than a bug?

Of course, anybody who actually wants to rein in climate change might recognize that an opt-in approach to a collective action problem is set up to fail. But apparently, "anybody who actually wants to rein in climate change" isn't in the Libs' pool of target voters.

New column day

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 07:02
Here, on how the now-infamous story of Eric and Ilsa bears a disturbing resemblance to how Brad Wall has handled Saskatchewan's finances.

For further reading...
- Again, the original Eric and Ilsa story is here, with Rob Carrick following up here. And the story was picked up (with appropriate criticism) here, here and here among other places.
- I've also commented in this post, and I'll note that the point applies equally when it comes to Saskatchewan: in fact, Saskatchewan's GDP has more than tripled since 1990 without generating much more than the insistence that we keep prioritizing GDP growth over doing anything useful with it.
- Other GDP and income references within the article are here on a global basis, and here for Canadian provincial numbers. 
- Finally, CBC reported on then-Provincial Auditor Bonnie Lysyk's findings as to how the Wall government has managed to run deficits even in boom times here.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 06:37
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Amy Goodman discusses Barack Obama's call to reverse the spread of inequality in the U.S. And Seumas Milne writes that the effort will inevitably challenge the world oligarchs have built up to further their own wealth and power at everybody else's expense:
In most of the world, labour’s share of national income has fallen continuously and wages have stagnated under this regime of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich. At the same time finance has sucked wealth from the public realm into the hands of a small minority, even as it has laid waste the rest of the economy. Now the evidence has piled up that not only is such appropriation of wealth a moral and social outrage, but it is fuelling social and climate conflict, wars, mass migration and political corruption, stunting health and life chances, increasing poverty, and widening gender and ethnic divides.

Escalating inequality has also been a crucial factor in the economic crisis of the past seven years, squeezing demand and fuelling the credit boom. We don’t just know that from the research of the French economist Thomas Piketty or the British authors of the social study The Spirit Level. After years of promoting Washington orthodoxy, even the western-dominated OECD and IMF argue that the widening income and wealth gap has been key to the slow growth of the past two neoliberal decades. The British economy would have been almost 10% larger if inequality hadn’t mushroomed. Now the richest are using austerity to help themselves to an even larger share of the cake.
Perhaps a section of the worried elite might be prepared to pay a bit more tax. What they won’t accept is any change in the balance of social power – which is why, in one country after another, they resist any attempt to strengthen trade unions, even though weaker unions have been a crucial factor in the rise of inequality in the industrialised world.

It’s only through a challenge to the entrenched interests that have dined off a dysfunctional economic order that the tide of inequality will be reversed. The anti-austerity Syriza party, favourite to win the Greek elections this weekend, is attempting to do just that – as the Latin American left has succeeded in doing over the past decade and a half. Even to get to that point demands stronger social and political movements to break down or bypass the blockage in a colonised political mainstream. Crocodile tears about inequality are a symptom of a fearful elite. But change will only come from unrelenting social pressure and political challenge.- Meanwhile, Helena Smith sees the public revolt against ill-advised austerity in Greece as the first step in pushing back.

- Lisa McKenzie discusses the vilification of the working class in the UK. And Carol Goar notes that Canada's workers of all classes see little hope of improving their lives with time and effort:
It is true that the 52 per cent of Canadians who describe themselves as middle class are concerned about their jobs, their ability to pay their bills, their lack of retirement savings and their children’s prospects. The Liberal leader has put his finger on a real problem.

But it is bigger than he thinks. A substantial chunk of the adult population — 45 per cent — is trapped below the middle class. They think they’re stuck there for life, no matter how hard they work.

“The key finding (of the poll) is that Canadians have very low confidence in their social mobility,” Worden said. “They don’t think they can move up.”- Finally, Delavene Diaz examines some of the economic costs of climate change. And Alison shines a spotlight on the National Energy Board members recruited by the Harper Cons to impose as many of those costs as possible on Canada in the name of oil extraction, while Andy Blatchford reports on what our federal and provincial governments are losing in their bets on fossil fuels.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 05:47
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Frances Russell writes that NAFTA and subsequent trade agreements are designed to make it difficult for democratic governments to exercise any meaningful authority. And Rowena Mason discusses how the EU-US TTIP is particularly directed toward throwing the public to corporate wolves, while Glyn Moody notes that there are plenty more similar agreements in the works even if the TTIP fails.

- George Monbiot discusses Amanda Lang's interventions on behalf of her business connections as a prime example of how far too much of our media is trying to serve the wealthy rather than questioning power at all.

- Jonathan Sas reminds us why an entrepreneurial government is in everybody's best interest:
A growing body of evidence, and the analyses of scholars like Mazzucato, is starting to open our eyes to the true value of government participation in innovation strategies.

Mazzucato raises concerns that the roles of public and private sectors in countries like Canada are becoming increasingly out of balance, with the “parasitic” private sector capturing most of the benefits of public sector investments, but not adequately reinvesting to fund new waves of innovation. She characterizes a system where the risks are socialized and the rewards privatized.
How will governments rise to the challenges of a highly competitive global marketplace and growing income and wealth inequality? What can be done to continue changing perceptions about who should take and benefit from risks? How do we begin to articulate a clear, common agenda for smart, equitable, and innovation-led economic growth?
Only a different conversation about government’s role in innovation will create a new narrative — one in which Canada is reaching its full potential as a leading investor in the wealth and wellbeing of all its citizens. - And Hugh Grant, Manish Pandey and James Townsend study the consequences of privatizing public services like hospital laundry, and find that it results in the public incurring widespread costs and losses for no real benefit.

- Finally, Lawrence Martin writes that Thomas Mulcair is absolutely right to challenge Stephen Harper's attempt to sell fear and hate as his election platform

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 18:20
Woozy cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 06:45
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Economist argues that lower oil prices offer an ideal opportunity to rethink our energy policy (with a focus on cleaner sources). And Mitchell Anderson offers a eulogy for Alberta's most recent oil bender:
For now the latest Alberta bender is over, and it's time to take stock of certain destructive lifestyle choices. The budgetary cupboards are bare, yet Canada's allegedly "richest" province has an unfunded municipal infrastructure deficit of up to $24 billion. A badly needed new cancer treatment facility has just been delayed past 2020. The long-overdue plan to build or modernize over 230 schools by 2018 is threatened by an $11-billion "fiscal hole" in provincial finances.

According to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, "Alberta continues to have the lowest overall tax system in Canada, with the lowest fuel taxes, no sales tax, no health premiums, no capital or payroll taxes, and low personal and corporate income taxes. Albertans and Alberta businesses would pay at least $10.6 billion more in taxes each year if Alberta had the tax system of any other province."

While provincial finances are grim and real estate values are about to fall off a cliff, the real deficit is not economic but intellectual. Some observers have made the case that the free-market mindset that got us in this mess is actually a long-term project of powerful outside forces eager to acquire Canada's treasure trove of resources at rock bottom prices.

If so, this audacious endgame has been a stunning success. The anti-tax sentiment has intruded so far into the collective psyche of Alberta voters that they almost have Stockholm Syndrome, punishing any politician that threatens to raise resource rents. The last Alberta election almost saw a Fraser Institute alumna become premier. If there is an upside to the most recent downturn in Alberta, it is bringing into crystal clear focus the abject fiscal failure of decades of "free market" resource policies promoted by well-funded think tanks. - Meanwhile, Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima sees inequality and climate change as the two most important policy challenges of 2015.

- Keith Humphreys explores the gap between the rich and the poor in rates of smoking cessation. And Charles Blow offers a reminder as to how expensive it is to be poor.

- Joe Fiorito rightly argues that there's no secret as to how to end homelessness if we have the will to make resources available to provide housing. And Jordon Cooper notes that while we may be more attentive to homelessness in the dead of winter, we should want to eliminate it year-round.

- Finally, Carly Weeks questions the appalling secrecy surrounding Canada's drug approval process. And Stefan Christoff discusses the Cons' latest crackdown on civil liberties.