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

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