Photo by: Matheus Camara on Unsplash
CANADA: FOREIGN BUYERS BAN DOESN’T GO FAR ENOUGH FOR HOUSING CRISIS
On Jan. 1 the two-year foreign buyers ban on housing took effect across Canada, which bans commercial and residential housing purchases by non-Canadians, excluding international students and permanent foreign residents. The Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act passed over the summer and is now enforceable in an attempt to curb the worsening housing crisis which is felt most acutely in the major metropolitan areas across Canada.
While the Canadian housing market saw record highs in early 2022, the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes as of late have bore out a gradual decrease in the price of housing across the country. Still, housing is virtually out of reach for the majority of Canadians as homeowners are renovating apartment basements left, right and centre, causing suburban parking lots to look like games of Tetris.
While foreign buyers are certainly an issue, the Prohibition Act doesn’t go far enough to help the crisis, it could potentially even make things worse.
For starters, the market share of housing by non-Canadians is incredibly low. In Ontario between 2019 – 2020, non-residents made up a little over three per cent of the housing market. While this is still a lot — British Columbia being roughly a percentage point higher than Ontario due in part to the wave of Hong Kong emigrants arriving in the 90s — it doesn’t suggest that a foreign ban is enough to make anything beyond a symbolic gesture of solidarity to those struggling for housing.
“Homes should not be commodities. Homes are meant to be lived in, a place where families can lay down roots, create memories and build a life together. Through this legislation, we’re taking action to ensure that housing is owned by Canadians, for the benefit of everyone who lives in this country. We will continue to do whatever we can to ensure that all residents of this country have a home that is affordable and that meets their needs,” said Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion.
If parliament wants to put their money where their mouth is, why not jump Canada’s current capital gains tax by 10 per cent, from 50 to 60 per cent, and allocate 5 per cent towards public housing initiatives? Additionally, with the massive profits of oil and grocery conglomerates, a provisional windfall tax on these industries that have been raking in profits during the pandemic period going towards a public housing fund could be seriously beneficial for getting affordable homes built. A peppy economist would chip in at this point exclaiming that you can’t subsidize supply to that extent because the burden falls on the taxpayers. The burden should fall on the highest earners which is why the capital gains tax funnel could be incredibly effective when coupled with a return to our progressive ten-bracket federal tax system before Brian Mulroney cut it to three in the 90s.
With young people able to get secure housing and no longer penny-pinching to be the lucky few who get a reasonable mortgage in their late 30s, it could stimulate the market through consumer demand as many folks basic needs and living aspirations will be taken care of, like what happened with the New Deal initiatives following the Great Depression in the United States.
U.S.A.: TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS AND CORRUPTION ON CAPITOL HILL
Trump infamously refused to release his tax returns at the beginning of his term as president in 2017. Just before the New Year, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee released six years of his returns.
“The great USA divide will now grow far worse,” Trump said hours after the democrat-controlled House released his returns. “The Radical Left Democrats have weaponized everything, but remember, that is a dangerous two-way street!”
While the returns weren’t that surprising, Trump has openly used his knowledge of tax loopholes to gain popularity with his fanbase. He had already paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2017 as compared to Obama who paid $100,000 in income taxes. The returns also show a shady bank account made in China which could have ramifications for the former president.
However, it’s too easy to get fixated on Trump as a heinous individual, exploiting the tax code and hiding it. Liberals especially take a perverse pleasure in flagellating Trump for his excess of rule-breaking and obscenity, often to obfuscate a huge issue at large on Capitol Hill—the many ways that class interests are allowed to exist within a so-called democracy.
For example, Senators and Members of Congress have very few restrictions when it comes to buying and selling stock. At the beginning of the pandemic there was a scandal surrounding a few republican members of the senate selling off stock on the eve of the February 20th stock market crash. While a Department of Justice inquiry was issued, it was subsequently closed after some probing with no findings that would implicate the senators involved with violating the 2012 STOCK Act. While the STOCK Act disallows members of congress and senators from using private information in their stock-dealings, it doesn’t outright ban them from dealing in the stock market.
In February of last year, New York state’s 14th District Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez issued a discharge petition for a bill that would ban congress members from trading stock, it was indefinitely tabled after unfruitful floor votes despite former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi loosening her opposition to the idea.
Simply stated, Congress members shouldn’t be allowed to buy and sell stock when their legislation can greatly affect market signals and by extension, prices.
Does a legitimate democracy allow the most powerful members of the government to deal in private interests? The annual average salary for Senators and House Representative members was $174,000 in 2022. The aforementioned Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi had an estimated net worth in 2018 of nearly $120,000,000 according to D.C.-based non-profit opensecrets.org.
There’s no doubt that the ruling economic class is over-represented in the highest levels of the U.S. government, the question is when will changes come to these blithely open conflict-of-interests.
INTERNATIONAL: LULA BEGINS, BOLSONARO EVADES
Lula da Silva was signed into Brazil’s presidential office as the New Year rolled in after winning in a second round runoff against the former president incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in late October, 2022.
Lula, a former political prisoner due to a corrupt judicial committee levying false claims around his campaign of corruption, has already announced large changes to come with the country that has the largest economy in Latin America. Alongside this, he sent out a message vaguely pointing toward Bolsonaro on the country’s past corruption:
“We do not carry any spirit of revenge against those who tried to subjugate the nation to their personal and ideological designs, but we will guarantee the rule of law,” said Lula. “Those who erred will answer for their errors.”
Lula also condemned the Bolsonaro government for their callous response to COVID-19, which resulted in nearly 700,000 deaths.
Already Lula has stated his many aspirations, most of which undo or abate policies of the Bolsonaro era including reversing deforestation in the Amazon, increasing rights for Indigenous groups, tightening gun laws, improving rights for women, and going green wherever possible in terms of Brazil’s food production methods as those are the main goods that Brazil is known for on the global market. Lula also preached a message of national unity, claiming the country was not divided into two.
Bolsonaro left for Florida two days before the official ceremony to swear in Lula took place. It’s the first time in Brazilian history that a former president won’t hand over the presidential sash to the incoming incumbent, stirring suspicions that Bolsonaro feels that he is the rightful president. Bolsonaro had conceded his loss officially after a prolonged period of silence in November of 2022, however, he stated recently that he “lost a battle but not the war.”
Since then, clips and images have been going viral of the former president meandering around US stores such as Publix.
On Sunday, Jan. 8 hundreds of Bolsonaristas stormed Brazil’s Congress building, breaking windows, climbing on the roof, entering the Senate’s wing of the building and the Supreme Court in an effort to protest election results. This only begs the question of whether democracy is under attack by the right in major democracies around the globe, with this storming of Congress mimicking the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection attempt in the United States.
Regardless, with Bolsonaro on the run and Lula at the helm, there is hope in the hearts and minds of many onlookers for the future of the country and climate.
HISTORICO-THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS: THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION AND EUROCENTRISM
From 1791 to 1804, the only successful slave revolution in history took place in San Domingue, current-day Haiti and once-upon-a-time the most lucrative slave colony in the world.
As Marxist scholar C.L.R. James outlined in his rigorous accounting and retelling of the
uprising in The Black Jacobins, the French Revolution which got started in 1789, had the French colony of San Domingue believing they also deserved equality, liberty and fraternity in the face of their white oppressors.
James hones in on the figure of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the highest general of the island and the de facto leader. An ex-slave himself, L’Ouverture worked in the hotel industry which meant a better life than those blacks working on plantations. He knew how to read and learned Latin and mathematics, skills which would prove essential in his leadership of the island after the revolution got underway.
The early days of the French Revolution showed a National Convention that was growingly favourable with the abolition of slavery which took effect in 1794 with the speech of the representative of Saint Domingue sent by Governor Sonthonax and who argued that abolishing slavery will be good for maintaining order in the colony. There was, of course, a great hypocrisy in the Parisians overthrowing the monarchy for the sake of the rights of man while denying basic human rights to those slaves under their dominion across the Atlantic.
However, the excesses of Robespierre’s policy of Terror in France caused a lurching back to elements of the Ancien Régime under Napoleon. Napoleon attempted to bring slavery back to Saint Domingue in 1802 and the Haitians revolted, leading to their successful independence in 1804, the only successful slave revolt and the largest since the failed slave revolt of Spartacus against the Roman Republic nearly 2000 years before. Indeed, L’Ouverture was referred to as the Black Spartacus.
What the Haitian revolution brings into question is the idea of eurocentrism—the tendency to see Europe as the main stage of human progression. No doubt, this is a flawed notion, however the superego revisions and pleasures in castagating Europe’s presence on the global historical stage misses the tradition of emancipation that exists in the European legacy. By viewing European history as a homogenous amalgam of ruthless profit-extraction, colonialism, etc. the kind of cultural revisionism that Edward Said describes in his famous Orientalism is repeated at a lower octave, failing to see how division is inscribed into the European legacy.
It was C.L.R. James said that the Haitian Revolution was a universal struggle and instead of being despite the French Revolution or an offshoot of it, his contention was that it was the highest expression of the French Revolution.