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2019 PEF Student Essay Contest is Open

Mon, 2019-01-14 06:37

The 2019 PEF Student Essay Contest is now open!

Calling all Canadian students anywhere in the world and all post-secondary students in Canada who are working on papers taking a critical approach to the functioning, efficiency, social, and environmental consequences of unconstrained markets. The winning essays will receive a cash prize of $1,000 for the graduate student category and $500 for the undergraduate student category.

You can download a poster in English or Français. Please help us spread the word and post one in your department.

Essay submissions should be made to PEFEssayContest2019@gmail.com and must be accompanied by a signed scanned file of the completed PEF Essay Contest Submission Form or fiche d’inscription pour le concours de textes du PEF. The deadline for submitting an essay for the contest is April 29, 2019.

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2019 PEF ESSAY CONTEST RULES

ELIGIBILE ENTRANTS

  • Open to all Canadian students, studying in Canada and abroad, as well as international students presently studying in Canada. All entrants receive a complimentary 1-year membership in the Progressive Economics Forum.
  • The definition of “student” encompasses full time as well as part time students.
  • Students eligible for the 2019 competition must have been/be enrolled in a post-secondary educational institution at some point during the period of May 2018 – May 2019.

LEVELS OF COMPETITION

There are two levels of competition:

  • One for undergraduate students;
  • One for graduate students*.

*Note: Those who have previously completed an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree, and are returning to do a second undergraduate degree will only be considered for the graduate student competition. The same holds for students who spend part of the academic year in a graduate program.

CONTENT OF THE ESSAY

Entries may be on any subject related to political economy, economic theory or an economic policy issue, which best reflects a critical approach to the functioning, efficiency, social and environmental consequences of unconstrained markets.

ELIGIBLE SUBMISSIONS

Eligible entries will be:

  • sent by email at the latest on April 29, 2019, to: PEFEssayContest2019@gmail.com
  • the only submission by the author(s) (i.e., one submission per person);
  • between 20-40 pages in length, and typed in 12-point font, double spaced;
  • referenced to academic standards (including any data);
  • written in either English or French;
  • original, single-authored essays that do not infringe upon the rights of any third parties;
  • accepted on re-submission once;
  • accompanied by a signed scanned file of the completed PEF Essay Contest Submission Form.

Entrants consent to having the Progressive Economics Forum publish essays from winners and those receiving honourable mention. Each applicant will submit a valid email and postal address for correspondence.

ADJUDICATION

  • A panel of judges selected and approved by the Progressive Economics Forum will judge entries.
  • Entries will be judged according to the following criteria: substance and originality, writing style, composition, and organization.
  • The Progressive Economics Forum reserves the right not to award a prize or any prizes where submissions do not meet contest standards or criteria.

WINNING SUBMISSIONS

  • The winning essays will be announced at the Annual General Meeting of the PEF at the Canadian Economics Association Conference in Banff, AB.
  • A cash prize of $1,000 will be awarded the winner of the graduate competition; and $500 will be awarded to the winner of the undergraduate competition.
  • The winning essays will be published on the PEF website.
  • Judges’ decisions are final.

*******

Concours de textes étudiants – édition 2019

Qui peut participer?

  • Ouvert à tous les étudiants canadiens, qui étudient au Canada ou à l’étranger, ainsi qu’aux étudiants étrangers étudiant au Canada. Tous les participants deviennent gratuitement membres du Progressive Economics Forum pour un an.
  • Le terme « étudiant » couvre les étudiants à temps plein et les étudiants à temps partiel.
  • Pour être éligible à l’édition 2019 du concours, un étudiant doit avoir été ou être inscrit dans une institution post-secondaire à un moment donné pendant la période allant de mai 2018 à mai 2019.

Niveaux de compétition

Il y a deux niveaux de compétition:

  • Un pour les étudiants prégradués;
  • Un pour les étudiants gradués*.

*NB: Ceux qui ont déjà complété un programme prégradué ou un programme gradué et qui retournent faire un deuxième programme prégradué ne peuvent participer au concours qu’au niveau gradué. C’est la même chose pour tout étudiant ayant passé une partie de l’année dans un programme gradué.

Contenu du texte

Les textes peuvent porter sur tout sujet relié à l’économie politique, la théorie économique ou une problématique en lien avec des politiques économiques, qui reflète une approche critique sur le fonctionnement, l’efficience, et les conséquences sociales et environnementales des marchés libéralisés.

Pour être accepté, un texte doit:

  • être envoyé par courriel, au plus tard le 29 avril 2019, à l’adresse suivante: PEFEssayContest2019@gmail.com;
  • être le seul texte envoyé par le(s) auteur(s) (un texte par personne);
  • avoir entre 20 et 40 pages, tapé dans une police de taille 12 points, à interligne double;
  • avoir des références écrites selon les standards académiques (incluant les données);
  • être écrit en anglais ou en français;
  • être un texte original, avec un seul auteur, qui n’enfreint pas les droits d’auteurs d’une tierce-partie;
  • n’avoir été soumis au maximum qu’une fois auparavant (donc un texte peut être soumis un maximum de deux fois);
  •  être accompagné par une fiche d’inscription pour le concours de textes du PEF complétée, signée et numérisée.

Les participants acceptent que le Progressive Economics Forum publie les textes des gagnants et de tout autre participant recevant une mention d’honneur. Tout participant devra soumettre une adresse courriel qui fonctionne, ainsi qu’une adresse postale pour fins de correspondance.

Jugement

  • Un panel de juges choisis et approuvés par le Progressive Economics Forum va juger les textes soumis.
  • Les textes seront évalués selon les critères suivants : substance, originalité, style, ainsi que l’organisation et la cohérence de l’ensemble.
  • Le Progressive Economics Forum se réserve le droit de ne pas décerner un prix, ou quelque prix que ce soit, si aucun texte ne remplit les critères ou n’atteint les standards.

Textes gagnants

  • Les gagnants seront annoncés à l’Assemblée générale annuelle du PEF.
  • Un prix de $1,000 sera attribué au gagnant du concours pour les étudiants gradués et $500 sera attribué au gagnant du concours pour les étudiants prégradués.
  • Les textes gagnants seront publiés sur le site internet du PEF.
  • Les décisions des juges sont sans appel.
Categories: News for progressives

An update on Canada’s National Housing Strategy

Sun, 2019-01-13 03:20
Steve Pomeroy, arguably Canada’s top affordable housing policy expert, has written a status update on Canada’s National Housing Strategy (NHS). His overview includes some great background material on Canadian housing policy generally. Points raised in his analysis include the following: -The Trudeau government’s much-anticipated NHS was unveiled in November 2017. -In most provinces and territories, federal funding accounts for less than 10% of homelessness funding. Provincial, territorial and municipal orders of government fund most of the rest. Yet, just 5% of new funding under the NHS has been earmarked towards the Trudeau government’s goal of reducing chronic homelessness by half. -Our federal government is good at funding/financing affordable housing; provincial/territorial governments, by contrast, are good at housing program design and implementation. Each should stick to what it’s good at (ergo: the federal government should let provincial and territorial governments lead when it comes to program design/implementation). Sadly, history suggests that federal officials will be reluctant to treat provincial/territorial governments as equal partners during the implementation of the NHS. -Canada’s federal government does a very poor job of enumerating new social (i.e., non-profit) housing builds. -Steve thinks it’s a mistake for the federal government to require provincial/territorial cost-matching for the Canada Housing Benefit (which is an important component of the NHS); though he’s not suggesting provincial and territorial governments get a ‘free ride’ on it either. -Non-profit housing providers across Canada have been having trouble accessing funding currently available under the NHS. Steve’s full analysis can be found here: http://www.focus-consult.com/wp-content/uploads/What-will-2019-hold-for-Canada%E2%80%99s-affordable-housing-sector-Revised-.pdf An overview of the NHS itself can be found here: http://calgaryhomeless.com/info/research-blog/ten-things-know-canadas-newly-unveiled-national-housing-strategy/
Categories: News for progressives

Socialism For Realists

Fri, 2019-01-11 20:09

I recommend reading Sam Gindin’s paper “Socialism for Realists” to be found in the current issue of the relatively new socialist journal, Catalyst. Sam spent most of his working life as a union economist and assistant to the President of the CAW, and writes often with Leo Panitch, most notably as co-authors of The Making of Global Capitalism.

 

I will not attempt a summary here, except to say that Sam tries to sketch a plausible framework for what a socialist economy might actually look like. By “socialist” he means that the economy would be mainly based on public ownership of the means of production (with a role for small enterprises and for different forms of public ownership), plus meaningful worker control at the workplace. His main focus is on how to strike the needed balance between state economic planning, and decentralization of decision-making to workers and their enterprises.

He stresses that any conceivable socialism will not exist in a post scarcity world and that serious collective decisions will have to be made on what to produce, how to divide output between public and private consumption, and how to divide productivity gains between rising consumption and shorter working time. A strong state will clearly be needed, albeit that the state can become much more democratic and some important decisions can be left to local authorities.

Markets will play a role within a feasible socialism, though as an element in overall planning. A labour market and wage differentials will continue to exist in a context of much greater income equality, some form of guaranteed income or employment, and a high social wage in the form of collective goods and services.

Perhaps the most original part of the paper is a reflection on how sector councils and linkages between them might build a bridge between worker controlled enterprises and central planning.

Hopefully, the paper will be widely read and debated. It challenges even democratic socialists to be much more ambitious, and will resonate with those who agree with Sam that being anti-capitalist is not enough, and that we need some kind of model of a possible future in mind to inspire a strong political movement for radical change.

One quibble — as acknowledged by the author, there is no discussion of how a planned economy would fit into global capitalism, or for that matter, of the feasibility of global socialism. I suspect the framework is only relevant if an economy has a high degree of internal coherence and self-sufficiency, as in the immediate post War period, which will in and of itself be very difficult to achieve.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Supportive housing for persons with serious mental health challenges

Mon, 2018-12-24 03:00

I’ve recently written a ‘top 10’ review of a new book on supportive housing—i.e., subsidized housing with social work support—for persons with serious mental health challenges. The book’s an anthology that was edited by three Ontario-based researchers.

A key questions that emerges in the book is: Should such housing be owned and operated by for-profit providers, or by non-profit providers? An advantage of non-profit ownership, in my opinion, is that a non-profit entity eventually owns the asset.

My full review can be found here.

Categories: News for progressives

Rent Control in Ontario

Tue, 2018-12-11 06:19

I’ve just published my new analysis of Ontario’s proposed rent controls and develop an evidence-based comprehensive alternative proposal at the CCPA’s “Behind the Numbers” blog.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Ten considerations for the next Alberta budget

Sat, 2018-12-08 20:30

Over at the Behind The Numbers website, I’ve written a blog post titled “Ten considerations for the next Alberta budget.” The blog post is a summary of a recent workshop organized by the Alberta Alternative Budget Working Group.

The link to the blog post is here.

Categories: News for progressives

The Anthropocene and the New World

Sun, 2018-12-02 07:12

In recent decades all but the wilfully ignorant have had to face two facts: that climate change is taking place and that it is the result of what we humans are doing. The term Anthropocene was coined in 2000 in recognition of that latter hugely important fact. When had this new era began – and with it the end of the Holocene epoch that had been around for some 11,000 years of climate stability, a transition out of the Ice Ages, that then facilitated the spread of farming and permanent settlements. Some said it was the Industrial Revolution beginning ca 1750 and the enormous increase in the burning of coal and of carbon emissions. Then at a global gathering in 2016, geologists who decide this matter by examination of the earth’s strata ruled by majority vote that this new epoch of the Anthropocene had not actually begun until 1945. Two things were said to be causal. The first was the testing of the first atomic bomb in 1945 and its immediate use and then further testing which left radioactive evidence in the planet’s atmosphere. The second was what has come to be called the Great Acceleration, the leap in global economic growth and in world population post the Second World War facilitated by new global arrangements, and the even more rapid growth of carbon emissions.

At the same time that a consensus was forming on this, it became evident that  human effect on the atmosphere had first happened some five centuries ago with the impact of the Old World of Europe on the New World of the Americas. European disease to which the new world had no immunity was utterly devastating. Fifty to sixty million people died, ninety percent of the population. In consequence, the way of life was pervasively disrupted and destroyed and with that withering of farming and settlement carbon emissions declined drastically. The result was not today’s global warming but global cooling. It was a one-shot event, sharp but short-run , but that it effected climate change in its time tells us how the ‘discovery’ of the New World was the destruction of its population.

Categories: News for progressives

Possessive Individualism

Sat, 2018-11-24 23:09

That’s what the political theorist C.B. Macpherson (1911-1987) saw emerging historically with the rise of capitalism. Frank Cunningham in his just published intellectual biography of Macpherson, The Political Thought of C.B. Macpherson: Contemporary Applications describes possessive individualism as “The individual is proprietor of his own person, for which he owes nothing to society”. That sounds like an apt description of what is true today in the time of neoliberalism. In Cunningham’s words: “possessive individualism now stares one in the face at every turn.” Pervasive marketization has turned amenities and social services into commodities: “university students become clients; homes become real estate investments; cities become global competitors; ideas become marketable possessions.”  This book ably demonstrates that and helps an economist of the progressive persuasion analyse our predicament.

Cunningham quite properly insists that possessive individualism is not an essential part of human nature – as is seriously argued by ascending cognitive science – but is historically constructed as political economy tells us.  Cunningham likewise tells us that, for Macpherson, the alternative to possessive individualism was “developmental democracy” which transcends market capitalism.  Economists can benefit from reading Cunningham’s analysis of what that means with respect to contemporary issues such as globalization, intellectual property, and inequality.

Categories: News for progressives

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World

Fri, 2018-11-02 23:39

Book Review

Adam Tooze. Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Viking. New York. 2018

The global economic crisis is now more than a decade old, and is far from definitively behind us. Indeed, many fear, with good reason, that the recent, uneven and lethargic global recovery may soon come to an end, and that the next crisis of global capitalism could be even worse than that of 2008.

The financial crisis and resulting crisis of the real global economy triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other major Wall Street banks has already prompted the release of a small library of books. ( The best, to my mind, is Martin Wolf’s, The Shifts and the Shocks.) But Adam Tooze provides us with the first truly comprehensive account. It is the work of a contemporary historian who draws on political and economic theory to frame a compelling and disturbing narrative, and is likely to become a standard and indispensable reference.

Over more than six hundred pages, Tooze looks at the origins and implications of the financial crisis around the world, proceeding both chronologically, geographically and thematically. In an extraordinary work of scholarship, he surveys the global political economy and financialized capitalism of the pre crisis period, the unfolding of the financial crisis in the United States and Europe, the spread of the crisis to developing countries and Eastern Europe, the extraordinary response of China, the euro zone crisis and the agonies of Greece and Southern Europe, and the political implications of the crisis.

He offers a coherent account of how the crisis set the stage for the rise of right-wing populism around the world, and speculates on how the global economy may evolve in a new age of explicit and escalating rivalry between the United States and China. What is at stake is the possible collapse of the “neo liberal” global economic and political order.

One relatively novel argument made in the book is that the global economy has to be seen, not so much as a set of discrete national economies trading with each other, as a vast “macro financial” web of corporate balance sheets and financial flows. In such a world, states can rapidly experience an exit of capital and economic collapse without necessarily running large trade or public finance deficits, while the hegemonic power, the United States, can readily finance such deficits by virtue of the unique status of the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

Tooze does not look in detail at the underlying contradictions of the pre crisis period, but he does note the key point that growth in an age of rising inequality and redistribution of income from labour to capital was dangerously reliant upon the growth of private debt, speculative bubbles, and the recycling of global trade surpluses to deficit countries, notably from China to the United States.

He broadly endorses the view that neo liberal capitalism has been associated with “secular stagnation” due to inadequate demand, offset only by the massive expansion of debt. As he notes, the fear was that crisis would result from a collapse of the US dollar, but instead it came from the collapse of global finance due to a massive accumulation of bad debts dispersed across the world. In response to the crisis there was, somewhat ironically, a flight to the US dollar as US government bonds were seen as the safest asset available.

Where Tooze departs a bit from the standard account is in his understanding and insistence that this was not just a crisis of the US banks, but a crisis of global and especially North Atlantic finance. Tight links between the Wall Street banks, the City of London, and the major European banks produced a global systemic financial crisis, not a crisis of so-called Anglo-Saxon capitalism as many European critics have argued. The euro crisis was also the consequence of low quality debt and speculative housing bubbles in some countries (the UK, Spain) rather than the excessive growth of public debt. Indeed the fiscal problem of countries hit by crisis in southern and eastern Europe were mainly the result of the crisis of the real economy which increased government deficits and debts, and the decision of many governments (most notably Ireland) to transfer bad bank assets to the public sector.

Building on the historical analysis of Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin in The Making of Global Capitalism, Tooze argues that the global economy has been economically and politically dominated by the United States, which remained in 2008, and remains even more so today, the only power capable of providing global economic leadership. “The crisis had the effect of recentering the world financial economy on the United States as the only state capable of meeting the challenge it posed.” He recounts how the US Treasury and the US Federal Reserve were absolutely key to resolution of the crisis of the banks in 2008, extending liquidity (very low interest US dollar credit lines) to global and not just US banks.

Similarly, massive US government purchases of distressed financial assets to bail out the financial system through the TARP and other programs were extended from the US banks to major European and even developing country banks. Key officials like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner won the day when they argued for “big bazooka, shock and awe” tactics to stabilize the financial system.

While there was a lot of bungling, experimentation and political resistance along the way, the US Treasury and the US Federal Reserve were indeed able to stabilize the US financial system fairly quickly by a combination of outright injections of new capital and arm twisting to force mergers. “Hair cuts” for those who had caused the crisis by investing in high risk, low quality assets and through reckless speculation and outright fraud were modest at best.

These bail-outs have been widely criticized, with good reason, for saving financial capital at the expense of working people who had to endure high unemployment and a huge wave of home foreclosures. But the US political system, even progressive Democrats included, would not even contemplate nationalizing the banks. In that context, a viable financial system and normal credit flows had to be restored by socializing bad debts.

The alternative to bail outs was to experience what happened in the eurozone, a failure to deal with insolvent banks through “extend and pretend” half measures which postponed an outright collapse of the banking system but without dealing with bad debt. “The eurozone, through willful policy choices, drove tens of millions of its citizens into the depths of a 1930s style recession. It was one of the worst self-inflicted disasters on record.” Tooze argues that the euro area also effectively sidelined itself from any pretensions to global economic leadership.

Fortuitously, US leadership also extended to fiscal policy in response to the collapse of the real economy. The stimulus program of the Obama administration could and should have been far bigger and lasted far longer, as was understood by those who had learned the lessons of the Great Depression in the 1930s, but again it was much more significant than similar programs in the UK and Europe endorsed by a new global forum, the G20 as an immediate fix.. Here there was a quick return to fiscal austerity and deep spending cuts long before growth and employment had recovered, with Germany and smaller Northern European countries demanding harsh and indeed sadistic fiscal measure as the precondition for any help to heavily indebted countries. In the most troubled countries, there was a death spiral as insolvent banks became every more shaky as the real economy collapsed and interest rates soared well above those of Germany.

The euro zone as a whole failed to act until very late in the game, when the European Central Bank finally announced in July, 2012 that it was prepared to “do what it takes” to bring down interest rates on debt denominated in euros. This failure was partly due to institutional architecture (the narrow mandate of the ECB, tight rules on fiscal policy) and partly due to German insistence that recovery had to be based on austerity and wage discipline to restore global competitiveness, without heed to the immediate consequences. Greece was crucified as a salutary lesson to others. Today, the banking crisis is far from fully resolved, most notably in Italy, public debt has reached very high levels in some countries where the crisis has hit hardest, and output has grown little above pre crisis levels while unemployment remains very high.

Toooze further notes and details that China was an absolutely key player in resolving the crisis through massive fiscal stimulus, and continued willingness to retain and expand its enormous holdings of US dollars. “China’s response to the financial crisis it imported from the West was of world historic importance, dramatically accelerating the shift in the global balance of economic activity towards East Asia.” To give an idea of the scale, between 2008 and 2014, China built 10,000 kilometres of rail capable of running trains at 360 km per hour, in the process gaining a massive technological advantage. And health care coverage was extended from 30% to 90% of the population through expansion of subsidies and a massive construction program for health care facilities.

Tooze endorses and details the argument that the bail outs of finance, massive unemployment and fiscal austerity set the stage for a major discrediting of centre left neo liberal parties and the rise of right-wing populism in the US, the UK in the form of Brexit, and much of Europe. In the United States “in the name of economic nationalism and the American dream, the right wing claimed the cause of systemic change, while the Democratic Party establishment filled the middle ground the Republicans vacated. “ Trump explicitly challenges the global capitalist order in the form of America first economic nationalism and rejection of global institutions like the WTO.

More widely, “(s)ince 2007 the scale of the financial crisis has placed the relationship between democratic politics and the demands of capitalist governance under immense strain. Above all, this strain has manifested itself … in a crisis of the political parties that have mediated the two.” Moderate parties of the centre left which championed global capitalism and did little to alleviate the impacts of the global crisis on working people have paid a high political price, threatening the future of the global system as is it still exists. Social democracy in the eurozone has massively retreated as the populist right has rejected globalism and even the European Union itself in favour of economic nationalism and racial xenophobia.

Looking to the future, Tooze notes with many others that the recent global recovery has been built on the fragile base of continued growth in debt with very limited reform of global finance. Future crises are hard to predict, but are inevitable. He could, perhaps, have said more about what a stable and equitable growth model might look like. What he instead stresses, rightly, is the crisis of global political capacity to regulate the system. “With Trump as president and the Republicans dominating Congress, it is an open question whether the American political system will support even basic institutions of globalization let alone any adventurous crisis fighting at a national or global level”

The eurozone is seemingly incapable of resolving its own problems, as not just the UK but also Italy and the right in France look to the exits. Meanwhile, “China’s economic triumph is a triumph for the Communist Party. This is still the fundamental reason for doubting the possibility of truly deep co-operation with China in global economic governance. Unlike South Korea, Japan or Europe, China is not a subordinate part of of the American global network.”

We indeed live in profoundly dangerous times. Fortunately Adam Tooze has given us a narrative and analysis that illuminates where we have been, though he has no clear view of how progressive forces should and could re-shape the crisis prone and deeply inequitable global capitalist system created in the run-up to 2008.

Categories: News for progressives

Abraham Rotstein and the Radical Decade from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies

Sat, 2018-10-20 04:43

Remarks at a posthumous book launch of his Myth, Mind and Religion at Massey College, University of Toronto, October 2018

For more than 50 years, going back to the days of the old Department of Political Economy, Abe was my colleague in teaching and researching economic history and political economy, my intellectual soulmate, and my closest friend. I have many fond memories.

Let me go back to that wondrous decade of the sixties. This incredible book which Abe has left us begins with what he calls the Radical Decade from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, and takes us back to that at the end.

The drabness of he boring 50s, when the conventional wisdom took up all the available intellectual space, morphed into the exciting 60s when suddenly anything seemed possible, from the powerful preaching of George Grant in his Lament for a Nation to, on this campus, that wildest of scholars, Marshall McLuhan – with both Abe and myself participating in his famous weekly seminar.

Even the venerable Department of Political Economy woke up. Under the leadership of Abe younger members of a rapidly growing faculty created the University League for Social Reform, the ULSR, and it began to publish a series of books in Canadian political economy.

Abe became editor of the fusty prestigious Canadian Forum, restructured it editorial board, and restored it reputation as the progressive magazine of Canada’s democratic left.

Abe was a member of a group of faculty and students, including Michael Ignatieff – and myself – which organized a most successful teach-in on this campus on the War in Vietnam.

A major issue on which the orthodox economists had closed their minds was that of foreign, specifically American, ownership of the Canadian economy as the central dimension of the Canadian-American relationship. Abe, though a junior member of the economics profession, had the courage to take a critical stance. He provided intellectual support for the Hon. Walter Gordon, who compelled the Pearson government to appoint a task force to advise on foreign ownership of eight economists including Abe and myself. Our report was a Canadian contribution to that celebrated year which is being widely celebrated at the moment. We briefly brought balance to the discussion of foreign ownership.

What I am saying may sound like a retreat into medieval, even ancient history for, as we know, the neo-liberal message of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney was shortly to return us to the status quo of closer integration of the Canadian economy into the larger imperial American economy.

Still, the nationalist surge of the 60s, of which Abe was the resident theorist, while it abated, arguably left as its legacy a clearer sense of what constituted Canadian identity.

Now there is Trump and we could once again use a voice like Abe’s, with its radical message delivered in a moderate tone with wisdom and wit.

Consider arguably the best pun of this renowned punster: “Every dogma has its day.” Can you not hear him saying: “Hard to Trump that.”

Categories: News for progressives

Is there life after NAFTA?

Mon, 2018-10-08 00:17

 

Like all sensible folk I was myself opposed to the NAFTA at the outset, convinced that it did more for the corporations than for the rest of us. I’m still of that view.

Is it possible that the biggest change that is now taking place is in the name itself, from NAFTA to USMCA- perhaps done so that Trump can boast that he delivered on his promise to get rid of NAFTA? A number of commentators on both sides of the CanAm border have written, in the words of John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail, that the USMCA is “essentially the old NAFTA tilted more in America’s favour.” Is that all there is?

Firstly it’s quite a tilt – like the US keeping a special tariff on aluminum and steel from Canada, on the grounds, believe it or not, of national security. Talk about absurdly fake facts.

Let’s go back to the beginning in the late 1980s. US and Canada had just signed the Free Trade Agreement when, with the ink hardly dry, the US insisted on adding Mexico. We thought we’d made a one-on-one deal, a special arrangement that got us inside what our government thought, wrongly as it turned out, was a rising tide of American protectionism, which has now happened a quarter of a century later, and we waited almost a year to join this new round of negotiations. This initial lack of enthusiasm has not stopped us, from that time forward, peddling the praises of NAFTA  and fighting hard to keep it.

If we didn’t know it before we now do: that trade agreements go way beyond trade in their breadth of corporate rights making it hard to judge which side of ordinary people gets the net advantage. And we’re also learning, at least in the case of Brexit,  that abrogation, untangling it all, is hard to say the least.

Should Canada at some point – and not simply as a negotiating position – have left the table never to return?  To come down to earth, recall that Trump said that without an agreement he would impose a 25% tariff on cars made in Canada entering the US. The consequences would have been simply devastating, beyond contemplation, for southern Ontario, for Canada’s industrial  base. Significantly, Jerry Dias, President of Unifor, thinks the deal is good enough. It will push up car prices, but that will lessen carbon emissions.

Ibbitson goes on to write that the message from all this is “the mother of all wake-up calls for Canada to diversify.”  We’ve got too many eggs in the American basket and have to diversity our trade beyond the American market. That may strike y0u as a no-brainer. But what is being said is that, one trade agreement having failed us, we should sign on to more. Which is what we are already doing.

Methinks that is the wrong lesson. The whole vast apparatus that passes under the name of globalization has gone too far. We need less reliance on trade, not more.  We need to strengthen our domestic economy so it plays a bigger role in generating jobs and incomes.

Lest that sounds like whistling in the dark, it isn’t. Most economists admit that globalization has increased inequality within economies. In this regard, less globalization is of itself a good thing. What is likewise in order is active policies, like real rather than fake American-style tax reform, to increase equality within Canada and thereby the demand for goods and services.

One more point. Too much trade means too many goods being transported too far which means too much carbon emitted which means too much climate change which threatens to get us all. I’m too old to do the arithmetic, but diversifying Canadian trade reliance away from the US next door could be a mistake.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

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