Are university administrators wrongly incentivised?

 

In contemporary philosophy and economics, a central paradigm is the idea that rather than put our trust in people’s virtue, or overburden them with laws and regulations, we should provide them the correct incentives for them to guide their own actions. In particular, we seek to align interests, so that decision-makers, workers and the public at large all aim toward the same set of goals, despite having different goals. For example, if your money guy receives a percentage of what you make, then the theory says that his interests aligns with yours, and that lessen the risk of bad management, since both of you nowhave a vested interestin you making more money.

Obviously, there are plenty of ethical, psychological and economicissues with this theory, however, in many cases, the problem is not so much due to the theory itself; it is simply a matter of having failed to correctly align the interest in a given situation, which then predictably leads to conflicts between actors.… Continue reading

How can we accept the transgendered but not the transracial?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent interview with Rachel Dolezal by Ijeoma Oluo, published in The Stranger. Here’s a sample of some of the response that it has generated. Most people seem to regard it as having buried Dolezal, once and for all. I found it rather mysterious. To see why, imagine that someone did an interview with Caitlyn Jenner, in the same tone, making the exact same arguments. It would instantly have been denounced as transphobic, everywhere but in the furthest reaches of the alt-right. What I don’t understand – I have no axe to grind here, what I really don’t understand – is how people can view the two cases, of people opting to change race, and people opting to change gender, as so very different, or how they could regard the former as more dubious than the latter.

For instance, before even getting to the interview, Oluo spends two entire paragraphs mocking Dolezal for having changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo.… Continue reading

Why you should read “Should we change how we vote?”

Last summer, a lot of us expected that roundabout now the Liberal government would be either introducing legislation to change the electoral system, or making preparations for a national referendum on a proposal to change the electoral system. That’s because Justin Trudeau promised, during the 2015 campaign, that the upcoming election would be that last one held under the “first past the post” electoral system, and by summer 2016, it was clear that time was running out on the government’s ability to make good on that pledge.

Hoping to both intervene in the government’s decision-making process and contribute to the public debate, Daniel Weinstock, Peter Loewen, and I organized a pair of conferences last fall, one in Ottawa and Montreal. We also arranged for MQUP to publish a “quickie” book out of the conference, one that would do a shortcut on the usual academic press publishing timelines and get something out in time to contribute to the anticipated debate we would be having this spring.… Continue reading

Why Facebook is the Devil: Platforms, publishing, and the public good

Prologue

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace — John Perry Barlow, 1996

I.

You all know the line about generals always preparing to fight the last war. News media execs, and many academics and media critics, on the other hand, have spent the better part of the last two decades fighting the current war while trying to figure out a way of getting everyone to agree to return to the terms of the old. That is, a good decade after it became clear that the math for digital publishing was never going to work, there are still a lot of publishers, aided by a sizeable scholarly industry, who are devoted to finding some way of rolling back the clock on the business model.… Continue reading

L’ Affaire Potter (again).

 

As I write these lines, McGill University is reeling from the scrutiny that has been brought to bear upon it in the handling by its upper administration of what has come to be known as the “Potter Affair”. I think we could have come out of this crisis much better that we have done. I offer the following reflections, not because I think there is any way that the present situation can be made good – the well has been poisoned to far too great a degree for that – but in the hope that it might guide our institution, as well as others, through similar challenges.

First, let’s get a couple of matters out of the way. To begin with, yes, Andrew is a friend. He was my postdoctoral student many years ago at the Université de Montréal. Our life trajectories have not led to our having had that much contact since then, but we have been in regular touch.… Continue reading

L’affaire Potter

(Those who have been following the news will no doubt know that Andrew Potter, our co-blogger here on In Due Course, as well as my friend and sometime co-author, has been at the centre of not one, but two, recent scandals, the first when he published an unpopular column in Macleans, which he quickly came to regret, and the second when he stepped down from his position as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Unsurprisingly, I have a few thoughts on the matter…)

 

The McGill administration appears to have sleepwalked into what is arguably the most egregious violation of academic freedom in this country in living memory. To see how outrageous it is, consider how it would look had it occurred to me. Suppose, for instance, that I wrote an opinion column called “10 things I hate about Toronto.” That actually wouldn’t be much of a stretch, because I hate Toronto, and it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a list of 10 things.… Continue reading

American Nakba

I’ve recently been writing a paper on the topic of stigmatization (available here), which includes some discussion of the rather acrimonious left-right debate over the “culture of poverty,” and the extent to which the lower classes should be held responsible for the various self-destructive behaviours that they tend to engage in. This had me reading some conservative cultural criticism, which led me to David Frum’s How We Got Here: The ‘70s. I was vaguely aware of this book when it came out, but never got around to reading it. After checking it out from the library I found myself quite looking forward to it, because Frum has been a consistently interesting voice on the American scene in the past 5 years or so (since he was expelled from his post as movement conservative). Thus I was quite surprised by just how bad the book is. Part of this I suppose is due to the fact that it was published in 2000 (i.e.… Continue reading

What the United States could learn from Canada on immigration policy

There are many countries around the world that have screwed up their immigration policy, in one way or another, creating the unfortunate combination of marginalized ethnic populations and nativist backlash. This can easily generate a vicious circle, in which the marginalization produces various social pathologies (e.g. unemployment, crime), which serve to rationalize many of the discriminatory attitudes driving the backlash, which in turn increases marginalization and exclusion, exacerbating the pathologies, and so on. There are lots of problems in Canada, but the one thing we have not done is screw up our immigration policy in this way. (Compare that to relations with First Nations, which we have screwed up, generating almost precisely the dynamic described above – with a few complicating factors).

Anyhow, whenever one of the countries out there who have screwed up their immigration policy look to Canada for some ideas about how to improve, the thing that they pick up on almost immediately is the points system that Canada uses to screen immigrants in certain classes.… Continue reading

What hides behind unemployment; what should we fight for in the 21st century

For the past few weeks, I have been playing with the following argument. Tell me what you think:

In the past year, fuelled by Trump’s fiery rhetoric as well as the left, a lot has been said against trade, especially framing it as the cause for the decrease of manufacturing jobs in the United States or Canada. But the truth is, trade played a much lesser role than decades of efficiency gains due to automation and information technologies. Although most of us do not realize that fact, the US has never produced as much industrial goods as they do now, with the big difference being that they produce all of it with less workers than before.

Let us consider the following abstract case:

  • 20 years ago, 200 workers built 200 tractors.
  • Now, because of efficiency gains, 150 workers are able to build 210 tractors, while the other 50 workers are fired.
Continue reading

Why it is a problem when journalists jump into politics

When columnist Michael Den Tandt announced this week that he was joining the PMO, just a a few weeks after he resigned as a political columnist for Postmedia, there was a fair amount of chatter in the usual places about the bad optics of the move, what we could conclude about his work and about the profession as a whole, and whether, in this economy, this is the sort of thing we should have any scruples about.

Some throat clearing:

a) I worked at Postmedia with Den Tandt, and though I never met him we did have a few exchanges. I thought he was a very strong columnist, and think his departure from Postmedia is a loss for the company and the profession.

b) This is a bigger issue than Den Tandt regardless. Lots of journalists have jumped to the Liberals, just as a lot jumped to the Tories when they were in power. Continue reading