Industrious immigrant vs idle Indigenous meets reality

Here’s a familiar trope: immigrants are industrious and hard-working. Here’s another, opposite trope: First Nations are idle and lazy. And here’s a graph that beautifully calls into question this neat pair of stereotypes.

Source: Angella McEwen, Progressive Economics Forum.
Source: Angella McEwen, Progressive Economics Forum.

It turns out that off-reserve First Nations workers and recent immigrants face the same unemployment rate – one that is much higher than that faced by workers born in Canada. As Angella MacEwen, who posted this graph, points out it highlights that “there are systemic barriers that need to be addressed” in the labour market.

On the one hand, there is a gaping disconnect between right-wing rhetoric that extolls immigrants and the actual struggles faced by new immigrants. Indeed, the irony is that the right’s discourse when confronted with reality brings out the systemic barriers rooted in racism better than the facts by themselves. (more…)

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May (we struggle to work less during the) Day

The struggle for fewer working hours during the day, and by extension the week and the year, was long a cornerstone of organized workers. Both the struggle and the actual number of hours worked has stalled of late. Annual hours worked in Canada, the US and UK have all followed a similar pattern, flat-lining since the 1980s.

Figure 1. Average annual hours worked in the Anglo-Saxon economies (Source: OECD).
Figure 1. Average annual hours worked in the Anglo-Saxon economies (Source: OECD).

Looking at weekly hours in a longer perspective, the last several decades look even more anomalous. Keynes, who famously predicted that we would be working 15 hour weeks by the 2030s, is surely turning in his grave… Nevermind Marx, who spent hundreds of pages painstakingly documenting changes in working time and put active worker struggles at the centre of his analysis.

Figure 2. Average weekly hours worked in the USA over almost two centuries (Source: Vandenrbouke 2009)
Figure 2. Average weekly hours worked in the USA over almost two centuries (Source: Vandenrbouke 2009)

(more…)

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Myths of central banking

The Bank of Canada has been in the news lately – or, more precisely, the news has been full of other well-placed people telling our central bankers what to do. In an interview on CTV this past weekend, Jim Flaherty made comments (later retracted) that Canada’s central bank will be pressured to raise interest rates sooner rather than later. On Tuesday, the influential, pro-business Conference Board of Canada also came out with some advice. A Globe and Mail editorial written its chief economist suggested, somewhat surprisingly, that the Bank should target a higher level of inflation, up to 4% from the current 2%.

Predictably, these pronouncements, especially Flaherty’s, spawned a chorus of criticism from conservative commentators. They lambasted the Minister of Finance for potentially undermining the central bank’s independence. Such attacks from the right were to be expected; however, even the NDP chimed in, calling the Minister’s comments “inappropriate”.

One reason for such universal criticism of any perceived meddling in central bank matters is that central banks are some of the most mythologized institutions of contemporary capitalism. They are often the subject of pious reverence on the part of media, politicians and economists. There is broad consensus that central banks should be independent and target low inflation (which, for many economies in the North has meant about 2%). This is why it was particularly odd to hear conservative voices question both of these assumptions: Flaherty, independence, and the Conference Board, low inflation.

In reality, however, both of these assumptions should be open to discussion and questioning. First, take the central bank’s independence. While we have many institutions that should be at arms-length from the government, these are largely bodies that hold government accountable and ensure that it is correctly carrying out its mandate – whether in terms of environmental protection, child welfare or accounting principles. The central bank is, however, not this kind of institution. (more…)

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