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

More me

I did an interview with Steve Paiken for The Agenda, sort-of on my book, sort-of a postmortem on the Ontario election. It unfortunately never made it to air, before everyone went off to the cottage for the summer, but they did make it available online. I thought it was a good conversation:

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Further reflections on corporate taxes

Kevin Milligan and I had a little back and forth a couple weeks ago about the use of privately owned corporations by the wealthy to reduce their tax liabilities (in the comments here). This provoked a few thoughts, which I was going to write up. I was inspired to move them back to the front burner today, while reading Andrew Coyne’s provocatively titled column, “If we really want to soak the rich, we should abolish the corporate income tax.” He wrote this, it would appear, after having read the recent Mowat Centre working paper, Corporate Tax Reform, by Robin Boadway and Jean-François Tremblay.

First a bit of housecleaning. Not only is the headline misleading, but Coyne mucks things up when stating their central thesis:

If you want to soak the rich, in other words, abolish the corporate income tax — and with it the tax break on dividends and capital gains.

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Thinking seriously about regulation

I just finished reading Daniel Carpenter’s book, Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA. I won’t say that it was fascinating all the way through, but for a 700 page book about the history of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, it was pretty good. I picked it up because, over the space of about 3 months last fall, two people recommended it to me. I thought to myself, what are the chances that two people would independently come up to me and say “you must to read this 700 page book about the FDA” unless it was a really amazing book?

The reason they were recommending it to me was that I’ve been interested in administrative discretion and the way that it is dealt with by public servants (see here). This is part of a more general interest that I’ve developed in the executive branch of government, along with the view that the executive is seriously undertheorized in normative political philosophy.… Continue reading

True north strong and (subjectively) free

A new gallup poll finds that Canada is in the top ten countries in the world, when it comes to how much “freedom” its citizens enjoy (details here).

The question was, “In this country, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to do with your life?” The number one country in the world was New Zealand, where 94% reported themselves satisfied. Canada was tied for 9th place with Finland, Denmark and Iceland, with 91% reporting themselves satisfied. Sweden, the other usual nordic suspect, was in second place with 93% satisfaction. Must have something to do with the fact that we enjoy more real freedom, as opposed to liberty.

Now I suppose most people saw this coming, but the United States did quite poorly, in 36th place, with only 79% of respondents declaring themselves satisfied. On the other hand, the trend shows a fairly steep decline since 2008, so I suspect a lot of this is just anti-Obama grousing.… Continue reading

Tough Sentencing: Women and Children First

Guest post by Lisa Kerr

We are now familiar with the major criticisms of federal Conservative crime policies, especially their introduction of mandatory minimum sentences. Adrienne Smith, a health and drug policy lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, aptly summarized the problem with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes as follows: “they are expensive and they don’t work.” Yet apart from the cost and the absence of deterrent effects, there is an additional problem that is worth drawing attention to. The removal of discretion from sentencing judges causes significant growth in female rates of incarceration.

Indeed, in the notorious American imprisonment binge of the last four decades, women have been the fastest growing inmate population. The number of imprisoned women rose from 15,118 to 112,797 between 1980 and 2010. If we include local jails in that figure, more than 205,000 American women are now incarcerated. The female rate of incarceration increased at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men (646% versus 419%).… Continue reading

Un nouveau paradigme pour le droit autochtone?

Par auteur invité Martin Papillon

Ça y est, c’est fait. La Cour suprême a reconnu pour la première fois à une nation autochtone un titre ancestral sur ses terres traditionnelles. La nation Tsilhqot’in est donc en quelque sorte propriétaire de plus de 2000 km2 dans le centre de la Colombie-Britannique. Elle pourra ainsi gérer ces terres à sa guise et, surtout, en bénéficier de manière exclusive.

Cette décision de la Cour suprême a fait couler beaucoup d’encre. Plusieurs commentateurs parlent de révolution, d’autres d’une décision aux conséquences dramatiques pour l’économie du pays. Plusieurs s’interrogent en particulier sur l’impact de cette décision sur les projets d’oléoducs, en pensant au controversé projet Northern Gateway, qui vient tout juste de recevoir l’approbation du gouvernement fédéral.  Qu’en est-il au juste? Cette décision change-t-elle radicalement le rapport de force entre les peuples autochtones, l’État canadien et les principaux acteurs de l’économie extractive?

Il faut d’abord préciser que cette décision est loin d’être une surprise.… Continue reading

The Conservative Exception

John Kenneth Galbraith famously wrote that “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” I must admit to having shared this suspicion myself on more than a few occasions. I do, however, try to resist this claim, partly because for liberals it seems too self-congratulatory by half, and partly because many conservatives seem quite earnest in their rejection of it.

There are, of course, some exceptions to this, Ayn Rand being the most notable. Indeed, part of the reason that liberals love Rand – or love to pick out Rand as a focus of opprobrium – is that she divides things up in a way that they find quite congenial. In her view, the left believes in altruism and morality, while the right rejects the idea that anyone is obliged to care about the well-being of anyone else.… Continue reading

Enlightenment discounted

I did an enjoyable interview about Enlightenment 2.0 with Michael Enright for CBC’s Sunday Edition, which aired this past weekend (here).

Contrary to most of the publicity I’ve been doing, this one seems to have actually moved some product. As a result, Amazon is now selling the book at a deep discount. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence for a while, now’s the time to make your move!

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