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The OECD Centre for Opportunity & Equality will address some important questions

OECD Centre for Opportunity & Equality Launch Agenda

The OECD is continuing to expand its highly regarded work on inequality by launching a new research centre. The announcement will be formally made in Paris on Monday with a series of panel discussions, featuring economists, policy makers and government officials from a number of countries. I’m pleased to be a participant, but I’m looking for advice on how to answer to some questions that may be asked. I’d love to hear your ideas, so send them along.

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Are Canadian progressives showing Americans the way?

Reflecting on the recent outcome of the Canadian election, in which the Liberal Party of Canada cast itself as a progressive left of center party and reversed its fortunes in a major way to win a strong majority government, Larry Summers wrote in the Washington Post that “More infrastructure investment is not just good economics. It is good politics. Let us hope that American presidential candidates get the word!”

Anyone who has heard Mr. Summers speak over the course of at least the last five years will be familiar with his message, that he can’t imagine a better time—with historically low interest rates, lower wages, and higher unemployment—to be investing in the country’s infrastructure. Just when would be a better time to revamp Kennedy airport, and the nation’s roads, bridges, and dams, than now?

Paul Krugman echoes the same sentiment in a New York Times column entitled, somewhat inappropriately, “Keynes Comes to Canada.”

Good economics it is, and not simply for pump-priming reasons in the old Keynesian way. If there is a rock solid case to be made for productivity improving public investments, it should be made regardless of the state of the macro-economy.

But as the obvious frustration in the tone of Mr. Summers’ voice suggests, the fact that his advice does not lead to policy, suggests good economics doesn’t always line up with good politics. And there are a number of peculiarities in both personalities of political leaders, and the structure of politics, suggesting the Canadian example does not automatically translate to the American setting.

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Baffled by the middle class debate? Here’s some background about Canadian Middle Class prosperity beating out the US

If you are interested in more details about the commentary I wrote for today’s Toronto Star, “The Inequality Debate: Canada’s middle class is losing ground,” you can find the original version in this post. You might also have an interest in this post, imaginatively entitled: “Who are the middle class?

A number of journalists have recently addressed the topic, nicely offering a broader perspective. Whether you like to listen, watch, or read, you have some good choices.

Listen to this Ira Basen documentary called “What We Talk About When We Talk About The Middle Class,” which was broadcast on CBC Radio’s program “The Sunday Edition”; watch this documentary by Holly Doan for CPAC, which also features the much-cited New York Times article (look down the right column of the page to find it as “Vote 2015 Special: The Middle Class”); or read this Globe and Mail article, “The Middle Class: Just Who are They, Anyways?” by Erin Anderssen.

I hope all this helps to inform you about the talking point that, by waving around a New York Times article, leads our policy makers to dismiss the very fundamental and long-standng changes in the nature of work and incomes that are generating more insecurity for many Canadians, particularly young Canadians.

The main messages of “Too Many Children Left Behind,” a book published by the Russell Sage Foundation

Here are the slides for the presentation “Too many children left behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective”, which I gave to the conference “Causes and Consequences of Inequality and Social Mobility: What Can Be Done?”

https://milescorak.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/corak_too_many_children_left_behind_sapienza_rome_2015.pdf

The conference was held at the Faculty of Economics, Sapienza University of Rome on September 25th and 26th, 2015, and you can see the full program here: http://www.eticaeconomia.it/ee/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Evento-n28_pdf.pdf

More social protection, affordable child care, and entrepreneurship will promote inclusive growth

“What are the areas of policy and institutional strength that have a particularly strong bearing on social participation in the process (productive employment) and outcomes (median household income) of economic growth?”

In other words, what promotes inclusive growth?

This is the question that animates a report released by the World Economic Forum, which suggests that three policies appear to be holding back the process in Canada: limited social protection, particularly an inappropriately designed and not terribly generous Unemployment Insurance program, the lack of affordable child care, and lackluster entrepreneurship.

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Who are the middle class?

slice of pieOne economist recently suggested that there are as many as 156 definitions of the middle class. If this statistical potluck isn’t complicated enough, pollsters also tell us that a very large fraction of the population describe themselves as “middle class.”

You can see why politicians have made the “middle class” an election issue, but also why they might hesitate to answer the question: “Who are the middle class?”

It isn’t a contradiction for many people to feel they are in the “middle” even if their incomes are well above average or well below. There’s a certain truth to this because most Canadians share a set of common concerns that go beyond just their incomes.

You are “middle class” if you aspire to a better tomorrow, and have a hope for growth and progress in your circumstances; you are “middle class” if you are struggling with uncertainty, and worried if you and your family will be able to weather the storms that tomorrow will surely bring; and you are “middle class” if you have an expectation that your children should be treated fairly once you have done all you can to help them.

But while many people share these three concerns, their circumstances and capacities to manage them differ, something that is the result of growing inequality in access to secure and well-paying jobs.

Ninety percent of the population may belong to the “middle class”, but that doesn’t mean there is a one-size-fits-all-policy.

One way to get our heads around this is to let the answer to “Who are the middle class?” fall out of an answer to another question: “How is the economic pie divided?”

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