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    Sometimes, it seems, my fellow Albertans can be quite the confused lot.  Actually no, that is wrong; we are not confused, just bi-polar.  In Alberta have this curious duality the runs the course of our electoral politics.  We want to be rugged, independent, self-made individuals with no interference from any level of government – private industry and unchecked capitalism is how we roll.

In the boom times…

The other identity like we like to periodically break out (and inflict on the rest of Canada) is the simple, hardworking Albertan who just can’t make ends meet and if the Government only understood our hardship and not alienate us with its ivory tower elitist policies and just HELP us (‘help’ is usually bailing out Big Business at the bottom of the business cycle).   We also have to feel persecuted and neglected at this time as the response from the people we’ve just been telling to f*ck off and leave us alone (during the boom years) are not jumping up and saving us as quickly as we’d like.

“Here it’s a very partisan response to a specific government that western conservatives really, really don’t like.” Smith said.”

[…]

“Smith said the movement in Canada targets the federal Liberal party and its actions toward the oil industry.

“No matter what they do in that sector, the Liberals seem to be criticized for not doing enough,” he said.

“It’s a pretty big stretch to suggest that a government that just bought a pipeline and is now passing over a billion dollars in support for oil or the oil sector is somehow anti-oil, but that’s the rhetoric that comes out of the conservative protests in Canada.”

So, we have these rugged small government loving individualists protesting to get more government intervention into the economy, not on their own behalf, but on the behalf of the oil companies.  The very same oil comapanies that continue to make generous profits and pay substantial dividends to shareholders:

“Lead author Ian Hussey said Suncor, CNRL, Cenovus, Imperial and Husky have remained “incredibly profitable corporations,” banking and paying out to shareholders $13.5 billion last year.

“There’s no question that the price crash had a major impact on the industry in Alberta, most importantly on the almost 20,000 workers who lost their jobs in 2015, but the Big Five are doing just fine,” Hussey said.

“As highly integrated multinationals — all with significant assets in the U.S. — they’ve been able to shift their operations in response to market conditions to ensure they remain profitable despite the issues that have been dominating the headlines in recent months.”

So, as usual, false populism renews its roots in Western Canada.  As our ruggedly bold individualist trek eastward to demand more government intervention favourable to the business elite in our society.

Of course no false populist movement is complete without xenophobia and racism.

“People who attended the rally in Regina on Saturday said they were against Trudeau, the carbon tax and Canada’s plan to endorse the United Nations’ migration pact — which outlines objectives for treating global migrants humanely and efficiently.

Victor Teece, a self-identified nationalist against globalization, said the migration agreement is “destructive to Canada as a nation.” Teece said he believes Canada’s identity is centred around European, Judeo-Christian values.

Smith said there is a concerning, “very loud” and “very disturbing message around anti-immigration” emerging within the Canadian rallies.”

Yeah.  If you didn’t know it, Canada has a huge immigration problem.  According to these people, not enough of the ‘right’ types of people are moving to Canada.  Quite disgusted with the whole rhetorical judeo-christian bullshit narrative.  The cultural mosaic that is Canada thrives on the diversity that people bring with them from across the world.

We are a multicultural nation.  The embarrassment that is this ‘Convoy Movement’ is a gift that inspires the nativist-nationalist right to creep out from the woodwork.  Given the example of the untrammelled false populism down south, this is a direction Canada should definitely avoid.

 

 

If we have to live within a capitalist framework, the very least we can do is make sure everyone has a chance.

    The first rule of focus groups or research groups is quite simply this.  If you say yes to one, then you shall forever be on the call list of every research company that has ever existed.  And they do call quite often.  Extrapolating from the frequency that I receive offers, people who are willing to participate in studies and opinion groups are few and far between.

The call I received was from a company doing research on for the federal government of Canada.  I thought to myself, woo-whee, the Feds want to know my opinion?  How could I say no to that (well that and the included honourarium)?   We were not told the details of what the discussion was going to be about beforehand.  It turned out to be a rather mundane discussion on the tax system in Canada and what our opinions and thoughts were on it, along with other issues such as debt, sources of debt, and how well off we defined ourselves vis a vis other generations.

Fascinating (ish) stuff.  What tweaked my interest was my fellow attendee’s lack of knowledge about Canadian fiscal and tax policy.  Like the fact that Canada’s corporate tax rate is miserly 15%, among the lowest, if not the lowest in the G7.  People seemed genuinely surprised when I suggested that we should be raising that tax rate significantly and that in the past the tax rate had been significantly higher (around 40% in the 60’s) .

Similar experiences when mentioning terms like neo-liberal (a la Nafta and the TPP) economic policy and trickle-down economics.  None of the other people in my research cohort used terminology and concepts that named the economic features we were talking about.  There was a good deal of, “oh I agree with what he said,” but none articulated the theoretical features or aspects of the features we were talking about.

The notion of ‘progressive taxation’ seemed to throw a few of my peers for a slight loop, even thought the Canadian tax system is nominally progressive in nature.   I boggled inwardly at that, but we all got on the same page eventually when it came to nailing down the concept.

I’m worried though, I am by stretch of the imagination an economist or policy-wonk, but the amount of time spent getting people up to speed on basic economic features and concepts made me take pause.  I get the feeling that many people just don’t have the time or the inclination to get the basic facts necessary to have an informed opinion on key features of our tax system and economics in general.  Taxes affect everyone in society and not having a base level of knowledge about them and how government policy can change the way taxes work, seems like a glaring oversight in one’s life education.

Ignorance aside, 7 out of the 8 of us present agreed with the legalization of marijuana in Canada so the Feds will at least have positive affirmation that making pot legal makes most of us happy (representative samply-speaking).

businesscycle_1   Be it resolved – If the Private Sector is cutting jobs in a economic downturn then the Government of the day should also be cutting Public Sector.

This is my debate point.  You won’t find it anywhere in the Alberta@Noon podcast I’m about to link here.  I know most of you won’t be thrilled to hear about Alberta’s budget from the finance minister so instead, skip forward to 33:50 of the podcast when two guests, one from the Alberta Taxpayers Federation and one from the Parkland Institute are invited to respond to callers and engage in some debate.

The Alberta Taxpayers Federation (ATF) has shades of the Tea Party mixed in with neo-liberal dogmatic imperatives.  Much of their ‘research’ comes from the equally dubious Fraiser Institute, a rightwing corporate skunk-works whose only aim is the complete corporitization of civil society.  Listen as Paige from the ATF gets tripped up because her sloganeering has little to do with fact and much to do with stirring right-wing populist notions.

What I’d like to talk about is the caller ‘Mike’ and the following discussion (36:40 – 41:15).   Mike is a plummer who lost his job and had to take a lower rate of pay with his job because of the downturn.  Mike feels like a faceless drone supporting the ‘queen bee’ of that is the public sector because our recently elected provincial government stated in their platform that they would protect the frontline public workers and public services of Alberta.

Now here is the thing, Mike and other neophytes of the Free Market dogma, there is this thing called the business cycle.  When you *choose* to work in the private sector you are choosing the insecurity that comes along with ups and downs of said business cycle.  In terms of personal responsibility and making choosy-fucking-choices when the economy is good you will be doing good, and when the economy is bad, you’ll be doing bad too, generally speaking.

This is a choice.  Contrast this with the public sector though, whose wages are generally lower and tend not to increase as quickly or dramatically with the ebb and flow of the business cycle.  Public sector work therefore, is also a choice with related benefits and negative attributes.  Stability over profitability, one could say.

Mike, you don’t get to turn around and demand that the people who have chosen to make less than you in good market conditions all of a sudden should share your pain when the economy isn’t so robust.

I’m not totally against Mike and what he has to say but I don’t think he’s looking at the big picture.   Our government, for the last 41 years, has been taking a shit on basic Keynesian market prescriptions.  When times are great, we lower taxes because we want to attract more business.  When times are crap, we lower taxes to keep our businesses afloat.

Do you see the problem here?  Lowering taxes during the Boom times royally screws the government and people of Alberta.  How do we save for the economic downturns when we have lower revenue during boom times coming in; also lowering taxes during boom times increase the rate of inflation and makes the bubble expand that much quicker – recklessly endangering public health, infrastructure, and public services.   The Anti-Keynesian aphrodisiac the old Alberta PC Party snorted by the bucketful, systematically razed the economic flexibility and resiliency of the province by tying the running of the government closely to the business cycle.

Albertaatnoon    The false-populist beliefs that the ATF, represented by Paige on the podcast, are an extension of this seppuku inducing cycle that our old government perfected.  What is fascinating to behold is the scepticism over what beneficial counter-cyclical government economic policy is actually supposed to look like.  The government is supposed to spend more and take on debt to moderate the business cycle during economic slowdowns, conversely, the government must raise taxes during the high times to pay of accumulated debt and to moderate reckless growth and expansion during the boom times.

This is what moderating the business cycle is all about and why it is so important is because when you shave off the peaks and troughs, the people who make up the economy have a better chance of keeping things together and surviving in whichever phase the economy happens to be in.

This basic understanding of Keynesian market management is in the curriculum. I’ve been taught, and have taught it to students in this province.  Why we elect governments (up till recently) that don’t apply this basic economic fact boggles my mind.

 

It is always nice to see the various economic classes looking out for one another.  When the assets of the top are threatened, the bottom must suffer.  Easy math, really.

This excerpt from an interview with Michael Hudson on Counterpunch.

 

Peries: Look forward to it, Michael. So Michael, some mainstream news outlets are saying that this is the China contagion. They need someone to blame. What’s causing all of this?

Hudson: Not China. China’s simply back to the level that it was earlier in the year. One of the problems with the Chinese market that is quite different from the American and European market is that a lot of the big Chinese banks have lent to small lenders, sort of small wholesale lenders, that in turn have lent to retail people. And a lot of Chinese are trying to get ahead by borrowing money to buy real estate or to buy stocks. So there are these intermediaries, these non-bank intermediaries, sort of like real estate brokers, who borrowed big money from banks and lent it out to a lot of little people. And once the small people got in it’s like odd lot traders in the United States, small traders, you know that the boom is over.

What you’re having now is a lot of small speculators have lost their money. And that’s put the squeeze on the non-bank speculators. But that’s something almost unique in China. Most Americans and most European families don’t borrow to go into the market. Most of the market is indeed funded by debt, but it’s funded by bank lending and huge, huge leverage borrowings for all of this.

This is what most of the commentators don’t get. All this market run-up we’ve seen in the last year or two has been by the Federal Reserve making credit available to banks at about one-tenth of 1 percent. The banks have lent to big institutional traders and speculators thinking, well gee, if we can borrow at 1 percent and buy stocks that yield maybe 5 or 6 percent, then we can make the arbitrage. So they’ve made a 5 percent arbitrage by buying, but they’ve also now lost 10 percent, maybe 20 percent on the capital.

What we’re seeing is that short-term thinking really hasn’t taken into account the long run. And that’s why this is very much like the Long-Term Capital Management crash in 1997, when the two Nobel prize winners who calculated how the economy works and lives in the short term found out that all of a sudden the short term has to come back to the long term.

Now, it’s amazing how today’s press doesn’t get it. For instance, in the New York Times Paul Krugman, who you can almost always depend to be wrong where money and credit are involved, said that the problem is a savings glut. People have too many savings. Well, we know that they don’t in America have too many savings. We’re in a debt deflation now. The 99 percent of the people are so busy paying off their debt that what is counted as savings here is just paying down the debt. That’s why they don’t have enough money to buy goods and services, and so sales are falling. That means that profits are falling. And people finally realized that wait a minute, with companies not making more profits they’re not going to be able to pay the dividends.

Well, companies themselves have been causing this crisis as much as speculators, because companies like Amazon, like Google, or Apple especially, have been borrowing money to buy their own stock. Corporate activists, stockholder activists, have told these companies, we want you to put us on the board because we want you to borrow at 1 percent to buy your stock yielding 5 percent. You’ll get rich in no time. So these stock buybacks by Apple and by other companies at high prices can push up their stock price in the short term. But when prices crash, their net worth is all of a sudden plunging. And so we’re in a classic debt deflation.

Mr.Chang is the author of the 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.  It is a accessible book on Economics and economic theory that really, everyone should read.  This brief twenty minute talk on understanding Economics is both necessary and enlightening.

 

 

Why is it that we bow down before the market?  It is not a fundamental force of nature, yet we in society are instructed to think of it as such.

 

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