Lifestyles of the 1% (vol. 2)

Hanging out in the dog park, chatting with a neighbour in my fancy Toronto neighbourhood the other day, asked a question about the local public school, where his kids attend. “Oh no,” he says, “they don’t go there anymore.” And now here comes the kicker:

We have them in boarding school, in the Cayman Islands.

How exactly do you respond to that? “Uh-huh,” is the best I could come up with.

It is clever. You have your offshore account, with presumably a lot of money in it that you presumably haven’t paid tax on. In order to spend it, you need to get it back to Canada, but that’s hard to do without attracting some attention from the CRA. Boarding school in the Cayman Islands is the perfect solution. That way you can take your money, convert it to human capital, then smuggle it back into the country in the form of your own child.… Continue reading

Capitalism remains controversial

I find it astonishing the extent to which people continue to resist the basic way that the price system allocates goods — even in America! The idea that prices should move up or down, in order to balance supply and demand, is something that remains unintuitive, and morally repellent, to most people. There is a lovely example of this in the recent fuss over Uber’s surge pricing scheme. Anyone interested in the “sociology of market behaviour” should find this and this fascinating reading. Basically, Uber’s prices go up or down in real time, depending on how many people want rides and how many drivers are on the road. It’s a nice example of a firm using technology to create something like the perfect market of Economics 101 fame. And one would think that consumers would prefer high prices to shortages (i.e. queueing, long wait times, etc.) yet people hate it.… Continue reading

Free Alex Sodiqov

You may have heard of the case of Alex Sodiqov, a University of Toronto political science graduate student detained in Tajikistan. Although he has been released on bail, he is not allowed to leave the country, and is still facing charges of spying. Many of his colleagues remain very concerned about his welfare, and have made the following to ensure that the case does not lose profile. Please share or like:

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Why you should not embrace risk

Don’t ask me why, but I was reading this goofy article by John Snobelin this morning. (Snobelin, for those who don’t remember, is the high-school dropout who became Minister of Education in the Ontario government of Mike Harris, signalling the triumph of “common sense” over the petty reign of us pointy-headed intellectuals.)

In it, Snobelin tells us about a meeting he recently attended, “a small gathering of business leaders from across North America. We huddled for a couple of days in New York to work on our futures.” There is a bit more blah-blah, until he gets to this part: “Extraordinary leaders, they share three characteristics: They have had great success, they embrace big risks and they are highly self-aware.”

The bit about “embracing big risks” is what caught my eye. This is a line that I must have heard a thousand times, in stuff on leadership and success. People are constantly being told to take bigger risks.… Continue reading

Himelfarb talking sense on taxes

I missed this when it first aired. Great conversation with Alex Himelfarb (former Clerk of the Privy Council to Chretien, Martin and briefly Harper) on taxes:

Several very interesting points made — the one about municipalities I thought was particularly good. The point about austerity being self-imposed I also thought was very important (particularly in the wake of the last Ontario election, where so many commentators were going on about how Ontario will be the new Argentina, forgetting that this is a province that, within recent memory, cut its income tax rate by 30%).

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Why gay marriage is such a problem for Christians

Unlike some of my co-bloggers here on In Due Course, I will admit to having some sympathy for the Christians who have been dragging their heels on our society’s recent embrace of gay marriage, and of gay pride more generally. This is not to say that I have any sympathy for their position — I don’t. But I have sympathy for them in the sense that I feel bad for them. The reason I feel bad for them is that I can see how, intellectually, they’re in a really tight spot. They are under intense social pressure to change a particular moral belief that they hold, but they can’t see any reason to change this belief, other than that they’re under intense social pressure to do so. Should they buckle under and change the belief, this would reveal a deep truth about morality that they are unwilling to acknowledge, and that in many ways undermines the point of having religious beliefs at all.… Continue reading

Introducing Morality, Competition, and the Firm

I’m not trying to be annoying here, but I just received a copy of my new book, Morality, Competition and the Firm, published by Oxford University Press. This one’s an academic book, a collection of papers on business ethics, as well as some more general stuff on the normative foundations of capitalism. Five of the pieces are new, nine are previously published (some in hard-to-find books).


This is the third time that I’ve had two books come out in the same year — the reason has to do with the fact that trade publishing and academic publishing work at a completely different pace. For those who are curious, I don’t actually write these things simultaneously, it’s that the trade books take about half as long as the academic ones to make their way into print (primarily because they are not refereed). So I write a bunch of academic stuff, then I write a popular book, and then they both come out at the same time.… Continue reading

The two worst talking points on carbon taxes/pricing

My little disquisition on carbon pricing earlier this week was actually just a warm-up for what I really wanted to write about, which is the two incredibly irritating talking points that have pretty much made up the entirety of the federal government’s communications strategy on this issue, for at least five years now. The first is the claim that a carbon tax would be a “tax on everything” or that it would increase the “price of everything.” The second is the claim that a carbon tax would be “job killing.”

What’s infuriating about these talking points is that they both sound vaguely correct, even though they are completely wrong. Thus they have all the hallmarks of our “post truth” political environment, where government no longer even tries to defend its actions or policies, it simply adopts a communications strategy that is calculated to be effective with a target segment of the electoral, then sticks to it through thick and thin.… Continue reading

When is a tax not a tax? Carbon taxes vs. carbon prices

There seems to be a certain amount of confusion across the land about the idea of a “carbon tax” and whether it deserves to be called a “tax” or not (e.g. here). Proponents of such a scheme – myself included – have taken to calling it a “carbon pricing” system, in order to emphasize the dissimilarity between a carbon tax and more conventional taxation schemes, such as the income tax or the GST (and also to avoid getting caught up in the “all taxes are bad” dragnet currently being thrown by the right). This has led opponents of the scheme, including the current federal government, not to mention their lackeys in the right-wing press, to insist that it is a “tax.” Indeed, the Minister of the Environment never misses an opportunity to repeat the government’s mantra, that a carbon pricing system would be, not just a tax, but a “tax on everything” (and the previous Minister claimed that “carbon pricing in any form is a carbon tax.Continue reading