Trudeau’s Growth Council is back with more bad ideas

Justin Trudeau’s friends in finance, consulting and big business dominate the grandly named Advisory Council on Economic Growth. A few months after recommending a giant privatization scheme, the gang is back with more ideas, many very good for them but very bad for you and me.

The biggest news: a recommendation to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67. Trudeau has been breaking promises and sticking with Stephen Harper’s policies left, right and centre, so it’s no surprise to see his economic advisors raising another Conservative corpse from the dead—despite the fact that Trudeau actually rolled back Harper’s shift of the retirement age up to 67 in his first budget. Of course, when Harper proposed it, it was mean-spirited, when Bay St. wants it, it’s the bleeding edge of innovative growth strategy!

Beyond this one terrible idea, the Council’s report is full of warmed-over buzzwords and overblown market-speak. Recommendations will “re-imagine the role of government (specifically, as a convener/catalyst and as an investor)” and “catalyze the formation of business-led ‘innovation marketplaces.'” There’s a bit of Sheryl Sandberg feminism for the 1%: gender inequality ameliorated via “a corporate gender diversity challenge.” Yet elsewhere the ideological bent is more transparent: “much of our potential is untapped, held back due to policies (e.g., excessive regulations).” Chamber of Commerce talking points shouldn’t be a surprise in a document prepared in the C-suite, but they’re being sold as “inclusive growth.”

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Trudeau’s economic model is clear and it is not good

Last week gave us a good idea of the economic model that Trudeau’s Liberals are gradually putting forward and it is business-friendly to the core. The infrastructure bank privatization scheme was the big news item in the fall fiscal upate (see my post from last week), but there are far more goodies to make business happy tucked away in the update and in news from recent weeks. The Liberals plans for the economy are not just about being business-friendly today but about integrating government with business ever further, in ways harder for future governments to unwind. Theirs is a tweaked neoliberalism for an age of stagnation. The mantra remains the market and the state is there to support it.

Here’s the broad strokes of how the Liberals’ plans are shaping up on economics.

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Beware of basic income

Wouldn’t it be great to get a cheque every month just for being you? This is the sweet, fuzzy vision the Ontario and federal Liberals, are counting on to sell their latest idea, a basic income. Just this year, the Ontario government laid the groundwork for a pilot project to test the idea. Any actual large-scale program is far off into the future, however, and that’s a good thing. We need to take a hard look at the idea, especially in Liberal clothing.

Pie-in-the-sky or slap-in-the-face?

A basic income is exactly what it sounds like: a monthly cheque provided to every person by the government with no strings attached. A recent Ontario poll suggests the idea has broad support: 41% of Ontarians support it compared with 33% who oppose. Yet when people are asked whether they think a basic income is a good idea, they are never asked what they would be prepared to lose to get it. The point isn’t that basic income is pie-in-the-sky. It’s just that it could be implemented as a slap-in-the-face.

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“Can ‘people over profits’ become a reality in Greece?”

This is the full transcript of my podcast interview with John Milios; it appeared earlier this week in Jacobin. John is a prominent figure within Syriza; he was the party’s chief economic advisor until earlier this year and is also a member of the party’s central committee, one of the 109 who signed a letter last week opposing the new memorandum.

Here, he discusses Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to hold the July 5 referendum, the anti-austerity course not taken by Syriza, and how the slogan “people over profits” can become a concrete reality in Greece.

Michal Rozworski: What is the situation one week after the memorandum was agreed to and two weeks after the referendum?

John Milios: When the referendum was proclaimed, we saw an election campaign that had class and social characteristics. There were two “Greeces” fighting each other. On one side, you had roughly the poor, wage-earners, the unemployed, and the small entrepreneurs, while on the other you had the capitalists, the managerial class, the higher ranks of the state, and so on agitating for Yes.

Ultimately, a broad coalition of the social majority saw the referendum as a chance to express their commitment not to continue with austerity and neoliberalism. All this happened in a situation of fear and terror arising due to the European Central Bank’s choice to not extend Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to the Greek banks. A lot of people saw this as a scare tactic and started withdrawing money. Ultimately, it led to a bank holiday. (more…)

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Syriza’s John Milios on continuing the fight against austerity

Greece continues to be in flux. Two weeks ago, the Greek people voted over 60% No in a referendum on further austerity. One week ago, the Greek government agreed to a new Memorandum in principle after an all-night negotiation, described at times as “mental water-boarding”. Finally, last Wednesday, the first pieces of enabling legislation were passed by the Greek Parliament with a large rebellion of Syriza MPs voting against the laws.

Since then debate has raged in and outside Greece about the future of the Eurozone, the political strategy chosen by the Syriza leadership and the future of this first government of the left in post-crisis Europe. This interview with John Milios is an important intervention into this debate.

John Milios is a long-time activist and prominent figure within Syriza. Until early this year, he was the party’s chief economic advisor. He is also a member of Syriza’s central committee and was one of the 109 out of 201 members of the central committee who signed a letter published last week opposing the new Memorandum. He is a professor of political economy and the history of economic thought at the National Technical University of Athens.

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Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek elections plus the state of the left in Poland

 

I’ve been visiting family in Poland for the past few weeks so, fittingly, this week’s podcast deals with the situation of the left at two opposite ends of the European periphery: Greece and Poland. My first guest is Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens and candidate for SYRIZA in this Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Syriza is the main Greek left party and is poised to take the most votes, potentially even form a parliamentary majority, on Sunday. Yanis spoke with me about Greece’s economy on the eve of the elections and Syriza’s economic program.

My second guest is Jakub Dymek, Polish academic, journalist and editor. Jakub is, among other things, the Polish correspondent for Dissent Magazine and a member of the editorial collective of Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique), the major journal of Poland’s “New Left”. Unlike its Greek counterpart, Poland’s electoral left is currently at its lowest point since the post-Communist transition. I spoke with Jakub to get a sense of this electoral decline, the situation of left social movements and the future prospects of Poland’s left.

Very briefly, I say that Greece and Poland are at the opposite ends of the European periphery for two reasons. First, Greece has undergone years of recession and brutal austerity in response to the global crisis of 2007/8; Poland, on the other hand, has managed to grow through the crisis, at least according to the major economic measures. Greece and Poland are also opposed when it comes to the fortunes of the electoral left. It is in Greece that the left has may well take government this Sunday or at least become the largest force in parliament, whereas in Poland the electoral left is currently virtually non-existent. Looking at these two lefts and the political economic conditions that led to their different fortunes makes for a fruitful juxtaposition.

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Doug Henwood on US economics and politics

 

This week, it’s my great pleasure to present a feature interview with Doug Henwood — economic analyst, author of books including Wall Street and host of the wonderful Behind the News radio show and podcast that inspired this show. Doug always introduces his show by saying his guests will be “taking a look at worlds of economics and politics.” Today, I’ve turned the tables and asked him to take up this very task for the present-day US. The result is a wide-ranging interview on everything from the sluggish economic recovery to Obamacare, the changing character of elites, why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president all the way to prospects for a renewed American left.

Remember that you can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, just follow this link.

And finally, I’ve started to standardize my segments into roughly 30-minute lengths, so if you’re interested in syndicating the show on local, community or campus radio, get in touch.

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Focus on China’s political economy

 

The focus of today’s podcast is China: its development over the past several years, the situation of workers and unions as well as future directions. To get some perspective second largest economy in the world and one still expanding at breakneck, albeit slower, pace, I spoke with two guests: Minqi Li and Cathy Walker.

My first guest is Minqi Li. Minqi is professor of economics at the University of Utah and specializes in China’s economy and offers. He previously taught at York University in Toronto and received his PhD from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

My second conversation is with Cathy Walker. Cathy was for many years a health and safety officer with the Canadian Autoworkers Union and is now retired. Both while still at CAW, and now during her retirement, she has participated in a number of exchanges with Chinese unions and is able to offer a unique perspective on trade unionism in both countries.

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The pension fight: on the picket line or in regulations?

It’s relatively common knowledge that employer-run pensions have been scaled back over the past few decades. I’ve decided to dig some data on pensions for this post to see just how this has taken place in Canada, motivated by a just-released analysis of US pension reform that finds contradictions in how US workers have come to take on more and more of the risk for their retirement income.

First, a bit of background. There are two main kinds of employer-administered pension funds: defined benefit (DB) plans – where retirees receive a set monthly income, or defined benefit – and defined contribution (DC) plans – where retirees receive a variable monthly income dependent on how much they proportionately contributed to the pension plan and how this money was invested. There are also completely individualized retirement savings plans such as the RRSP, but these are essentially individuals investment accounts given preferential tax treatment. However, the link between RRSPs and DC plans is that they generally place investment risk on workers themselves; if whatever financial instrument the money is invested in suffers, retirement income also suffers.

While some employers have eliminated pensions altogether, many have restructured their pension plans. Here’s the Canadian data on registered pension plan membership, plotted as a percentage of employment:

Figure 1. Registered pension plan coverage as a percentage of employment by type of plan (Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 280-0008 and 282-0008).
Figure 1. Registered pension plan coverage as a percentage of employment by type of plan (Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 280-0008 and 282-0008).

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The outsize (un)importance of the tarsands

It’s easy to overestimate the importance of the tar sands to the Canadian economy. Tar sands and their pipelines are after all hailed by the ruling Conservatives, sections of the business press and the ever-present oil lobby as this young century’s “nation-building” project. Yet, a survey recently making the rounds highlights the relative unimportance of the tar sands to Canada’s overall economy: while most Canadians overestimate the importance of the tar sands and 41% are guess that the tar sands account for 12 %to 48% of Canada’s GDP, the reality is that they directly contribute a mere 2% to our domestic output.
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