About those million jobs…

The other day in the Ottawa Citizen I was complaining about the made-up quality of certain numbers that the Ontario Progressive Conservative party has been throwing around, such as their “Million Jobs Plan”:

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pluck a number out of thin air and then make it the central organizing theme of one’s campaign.

For reasons of space I neglected to mention that the PCs did make some attempt to explain where they got the “one million” number from. They provided to journalists — not to the public, but just to journalists — a breakdown of where the jobs were supposed to come from. These numbers were suspiciously exact, as opposed to suspiciously round. But it turns out there may be even bigger problems with them.

Just to provide a sense, here is how the CBC reported what they got from the party:

Hudak’s plan acknowledges that more than 523,000 jobs would be created anyway if the government simply continued the policies of the last decade.

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Think like a jackass

So everyone’s been making fun of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner lately, thanks to a story they recount in their new book Think like a Freak (sequel to Superfreakonomics, sequel to Freakonomics). It concerns a meeting they had with David Cameron, sometime before he became the British Prime Minister. They offered him some advice on how to deal with the problem of expanding health care costs in the U.K.. The problem, they said, was that government was giving it away for free:

What’s wrong with that? When people don’t pay the true cost of something, they tend to consume it inefficiently. Think of the last time you sat down at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. How likely were you to eat a bit more than normal? The same thing happens if health care is distributed in a similar fashion: people consume more of it than if they were charged the sticker price…

We tried to make our point with a thought experiment.

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Ford, Hudak, Harper: the impending trifecta

Again apologies for the light blogging. It’s partly due to travel, but partly because I was writing an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen. The column was just published a few moments ago:

The Year of the Suspiciously Round Number.

Ontario politics stuff, which I felt compelled to comment on, just because the situation is so alarming. The campaign has been a bit baffling so far. The NDP, which brought on the election, seems to have been caught unprepared (which seems impossible, but how else can one account for the lack of a platform, lack of a bus, etc.?) The Liberal government is, like the old Charest government in Quebec, exhausted and tainted by scandal (although what counts as a scandal in Ontario is slightly less scandalous than what goes by that name in Quebec). Losing an election would do them some good. But the Conservatives, rather than presenting themselves as the safe, friendly alternative, have been tacking hard right, and have now made a number of ‘promises’ that would be disastrous if actually carried out.… Continue reading

In lieu of a post

Apologies for the light-to-nonexistent blogging. Catherine and I were in Osoyoos BC all week at a Trudeau Foundation conference that kept us busy. Jocelyn is heading off on vacation. The others I have no idea. I do have some things I need to write up in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a nice bootleg I found of Canada’s greatest band:

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Paikin drops tiny truth bomb

TVO’s Steve Paikin did an “ask me anything” session over at the excellent CanadaPolitics subreddit, mainly about the Ontario provincial election. There was some mildly interesting small talk about the leaders, nothing to write home about. This answer, however, gave me great satisfaction.

Question:

Hey Steve, welcome back to our humble subreddit, and thank you for doing another AMA. Transit expansion is now a household issue in the GTA, after perhaps decades of neglect. You have been around for a while, why do you think successive governments stopped investing in public transit after the 1970s or so?

Answer:

they didn’t. the government from 1990-95 under bob rae’s premiership invested a lot in building new subways. the next government (1995-2003) under mike harris’ and ernie eves’ leadership decided in their wisdom we couldn’t afford to build those lines, so they filled in the holes. in hindsight, it was clearly a mistake, as we’re trying to build those same lines today, only at significantly more cost.

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Perverse incentives in Canadian health care

I notice that Dr. Danielle Martin is going to be giving a talk on Monday (May 12) on campus here at the University of Toronto, so to celebrate the occasion I thought I’d discuss Canadian health care for a bit.

Incidentally, for those who don’t follow these things, Dr. Martin recently quickened the pulse of Canadian nationalists everywhere by smacking down a Republican Senator on television:

 

 

This video quickly came to occupy a place in the policy wonk’s heart, like an understated version of the “Joe Canadian” rant. (For those of you who missed that one, see here:

 

 

One cannot help but be impressed by her poise and self-confidence as she challenges his talking points. At the same time, people familiar with the state of affairs in Canada may have cringed a bit during the discussion of wait times. Because while the Canadian health care system performs very well in certain dimensions, in the area of wait times we are an international underperformer.… Continue reading

Misunderstanding public pensions

The battle lines have now been fairly clearly drawn between the position of the Ontario Liberal Party and the Federal Conservative Government on public pensions. The Liberals would like to expand the government pension program, and since the feds are not willing to expand CPP, they are proposing the creation of an Ontario Pension Plan. The Harper Government is opposed to this, as is the provincial Conservative party. Their view is that people should just save for their own retirements.

This is a line of argument that one hears fairly often, but which upsets my inner economist. (You hear it all the time in the United States – whenever people talk about privatizing Social Security, they propose individual savings accounts as the alternative.) The problem is that it involves comparing apples and oranges. Wynne is saying “we are going to provide oranges,” and Harper is saying “why should people get oranges from the government, when they can just go out and buy apples?” — to which the natural response, it seems to me, is to say “because they want oranges.”

Okay, that’s a bit obscure so let me try to explain.… Continue reading

Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 3)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s decision to take a time out from his campaign (and his job) to go into rehab obviously came as a great relief to many residents of the city. The thought that we might be able to have a debate about real issues is almost an exciting prospect. (I am also finding the experience of not feeling obliged to vote for Olivia Chow to be somewhat liberating.)

But before we get to that, a few parting thoughts about Ford, because, like everyone else, I can’t resist. (Also, not really parting, because I fully expect him to be back in 30 days. Perhaps “hopefully parting” would be more accurate.)

Many people in Toronto have been shaking their heads this past year and saying to themselves “What have we done to deserve this?” And looking at Ford’s stubbornly high popular approval ratings, many have also been wondering – as my wife put it – “What the fuck is wrong with people in this city?”

So by way of comfort, I want to point out that there is nothing special about Ford, or the Toronto electorate.… Continue reading

Divided we fall

So it looks as though we’re going to have a provincial election in Ontario, triggered by the NDP’s refusal to support the budget put forward by the minority Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. As the recent Quebec experience shows, what happens during an election campaign can matter a great deal. Still, it’s hard to figure out what is going through NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s mind, looking at the latest poll:

 

EKOS

(h/t Three Hundred Eight)

There’s a lot wrong with the current situation, and the current government, but it’s hard to see how any of the likely outcomes would constitute an improvement from the NDP’s perspective. (Personally I think a PC government is the most likely outcome at this point.) The only insight I can find is in the following CP wire story:

Several large labour groups, including the Unifor union and the Ontario Federation of Labour, urged the NDP to pass the budget and avoid an election, but public sector unions complained the fiscal plan puts jobs at risk.

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Can Public Funding of IVF be Justified?

Guest post by Carolyn McLeod and Andrew Botterell:

The provincial government of Ontario recently announced that beginning in 2015, it will fund one cycle of IVF for people suffering from infertility. At the same time, it will require single embryo transfer for each funded cycle and will not pay for the drugs required for IVF, nor for the cost of ancillary services, such as embryo freezing. Although this proposal is not as comprehensive as Quebec’s program, which pays for up to three cycles of IVF (with ovarian stimulation), this is undoubtedly good news for women who would otherwise be unable to afford IVF, and for those who see in this proposal the promise of stricter oversight of fertility clinics, which currently operate in a regulatory grey zone.

To state the obvious, this public policy decision raises many medical, economic, political, legal, and ethical questions. But the central question arguably is, “On what basis, if any, can this program be justified?” The cynical view is that the justification is political, pure and simple.Continue reading