On political lying

Like many commentators, I’ve been complaining a lot about the so-called “post truth” political environment. In response, some people have been trying to enlist my support for a “truth in politics” act. The idea is pretty simple. Why not make lying illegal? Why not punish politicians for saying one thing while campaigning, then doing another?

This is something that Democracy Watch has been pushing for a long time. Perhaps the highest-profile supporter of the idea is Andrew Coyne (e.g. here), which I find in some ways rather surprising.

I do not support this idea, because I think the issue is far too complicated to be dealt with legislatively. Just to pick an obvious point, there is an important difference between telling a lie and breaking a promise, which the concept of “honesty” unfortunately obscures. I would support narrower, more targeted legislation, dealing for instance with the problem of misrepresentation in political advertising.… Continue reading

Spotted in the wild today in Toronto

While walking along St. Clair, what should I see but the new TTC low-floor, high capacity streetcar/LRT:

newride1

That picture doesn’t exactly give you a sense of how much more train-like these bad boys are. Here’s a different angle:

newride2

Okay, maybe not super-interesting for everyone, especially if you don’t live at the Centre of the Universe. Nevertheless, I think many people across the country are very frustrated by the collective paralysis that seems to have descending upon the nation — our seeming incapacity to do anything about any of the major collective action problems that we are confronting, from environmental protection, to pharmacare, to transportation. So it’s nice to see, every once in a while, something actually improve in the public sector.

Incidentally, they were built by Bombardier, in Thunder Bay (something that Rob Ford complained a lot about, but I can’t get too upset by).… Continue reading

Corporate tax cuts: cui bono?

Whenever the NDP announces its intention to raise corporate taxes, critics always jump all over them, pointing out that the tax on corporations is not really a tax on corporations, since corporations can easily pass these taxes on to others (such as consumers in the form of higher prices, or workers in the form of lower wages). Yet these critics seldom stop to note that the argument cuts both ways. If corporations don’t really pay these taxes, then what is the point of cutting them either? Indeed, the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario is currently campaigning on a platform that calls for a dramatic reduction of corporate taxes – by 3.5%, from 11.5% to 8% (much more significant than the NDP platform, which calls for an increase of 1%). So why are the Conservatives so much more exercised about this issue than the NDP?

Before getting too far into it, I should mention that underlying the criticism of the NDP there is an important point, which relates to the concept of tax incidence.… Continue reading

On racism and race consciousness

I have Jonathan Kay to thank for the series of excerpts from my book, Enlightenment 2.0, that the National Post ran during the week of April 14-19. The paper did, however, do me a slight disservice by running the last excerpt under the heading “How to Beat Racism.” (It’s always important to remember, when reading a newspaper, that the headlines are written by different people than the articles.) This made it sound as though I thought there were some kind of easy formula that could be followed to overcome racism. (Ivor Tossell also took issue with this, in his Globe and Mail review, complaining about my attempt “to diagnose and prescribe a balm for America’s race problem in three pages, flat.”)

The fact that I go on to discuss “the eternal problem” of race in America might suggest that I am less optimistic about the problem being solved anytime soon.… Continue reading

Some Enlightenment 2.0 housekeeping

I spent the morning today down at CBC Radio, taping an interview with Michael Enright for Sunday Edition, which will be broadcast in 2 or 3 weeks. I also did Ontario Today on CBC last week, for those who are interested. Phone-in shows are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand they’re pretty relaxed, because people almost always ask really long questions, so you have lots of time to think about what to say (unlike with hosts, who almost always ask very short questions, then get fidgety once you’ve talked for more than 30 seconds). On the other hand, the discussion on these shows tends to be rather untidy, because it bounces from one topic to another. So you don’t leave it with the sense of having said anything in particular.

In any case, talking about the book some more has reminded me of a few items of unfinished business.… Continue reading

Trolling Sun News

Personally I always turn down interview requests from Sun TV. Partly it’s because they’re not a real news organization, but rather a branch of the Conservative Party posing as a news organization. But mainly it’s because of their attempt to smear my colleague Peter Loewen a few years back.

Nevertheless, if you have to do an interview with Sun TV, you can’t do much better than Scott Vrooman the other day. This is level 99 trolling:

 

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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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