La revanche des petites nations?

Lots of eyes turning toward Scotland, with a keen interest in the outcome of the Sept. 18 independence referendum. Meanwhile, an excellent Paul Krugman column, focused on the issue of Scotland keeping the pound. Key point:

In short, everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous. In economics jargon, fiscal and banking integration are essential elements of an optimum currency area…

I find it mind-boggling that Scotland would consider going down this path after all that has happened in the last few years. If Scottish voters really believe that it’s safe to become a country without a currency, they have been badly misled.

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Upcoming Heath AMA on Reddit

I’m going to be doing an “ask me anything” session this Tuesday, Sept. 9, from 1-3pm (EST) for the folks on the CanadaPolitics subreddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/CanadaPolitics).

For those of you who don’t follow it, CanadaPolitics offers an excellent “curated” overview of Canadian news from multiple sources, and is ruthlessly moderated in order to ensure the highest quality discussion. I check it at least once a day, and so I’m happy to be able to give something back to the community there.

Personally, I’m having difficulty believing that anyone is going to show up for this, so if you have a chance, save me some embarrassment and come ask a question!… Continue reading

Lessons for the left from Olivia Chow’s faltering campaign

Olivia Chow entered the Toronto mayoralty race as the acknowledged front-runner, the only left-wing candidate running against no fewer than four candidates from the right (John Tory, Rob Ford, John David Soknacki and, before she dropped out, Karen Stintz). Chow has star power (as the widow of the late Jack Layton), obvious outreach to visible minorities (who, collectively, are close to being the majority of voters in Toronto), recently had her biography published by Harpercollins, and is well-known to voters in Toronto thanks to her years of service as a city councillor.

According to a string of recent polls, she is now running in third place, behind Rob Ford, a man so demonstrably unfit for office that many of his own supporters would be mortified were they to discover that he had become, say, the principal of their child’s school.

To say that something had gone wrong with Chow’s campaign would be an understatement.… Continue reading

The Harper Government is not serious about fighting crime

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the damnest thing yesterday. Asked whether he would reconsider calling a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, in the wake of the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s body in Winnipeg, he again refused. The reason he gave, however, was so strange. He said that such cases should be viewed as “crimes,” rather than as a “sociological phenomenon.”

Now I happen to agree with Harper that a federal inquiry would be a bad idea. But my reason for thinking that is the exact opposite of Harper’s. It’s precisely because the problem of violence against aboriginal women is primarily “sociological,” and not primarily a law-enforcement matter, that I don’t think a federal inquiry would be very productive.

To see why, just stop for a moment and reflect upon the statistic that is constantly being repeated in the press, that there are “1,200 murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.”* This brings up images of Robert Pickton, preying on women in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, accompanied by police indifference to the case of “yet another missing aboriginal woman.” And yet if we stop for a moment and think about what we all know about violence against women, it is easy to see that this is not the typical case.… Continue reading

The problem with criminal justice fees

This post by Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution provides useful context for understanding events in Ferguson, Missouri: Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison.

Coincidentally, it also provides useful context for understanding the recent Ontario Court of Justice decision, striking down the Harper Government’s mandatory victim surcharges as unconstitutional. Justice David Paciocco’s judgment can be found here.… Continue reading

Police shootings are a gun control issue

With the civil unrest that has erupted in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, along with all of the news coverage and commentary that has accompanied it, I am surprised how few Americans see the connection between police shootings and the absence of gun control in the United States. By now it has become fairly clear to everyone that school shootings are an inevitable byproduct of the proliferation and easy availability of guns. But Americans have not been as quick to draw the connection between police shootings and the fact that so many American civilians are armed. There has been a lot of lamentation about the “militarization” of police forces, but surprisingly few commentators have pointed out the simple fact that American police are constantly afraid of getting shot. It may not be at the forefront of their minds, but it is something that informs every aspect of how they interact with the public.… Continue reading

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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