Abject economic illiteracy at the Globe and Mail

I once suggested that the reason economists are such grumpy people is that they can’t read their morning paper without running into two or three economic fallacies. I was exaggerating, but only by a bit. Consider, for example, this doozie in today’s Globe and Mail – a column by Gary Mason, entitled “How does Canada compete paying wages this high?” He doesn’t exactly say what we are “competing” for, but suggests that somehow because Canadian wages are high, compared to those in China (!) and the United States, that our “long term economic growth” is at risk.

Anyone who has taken an introductory economics course will be able to see already that the column is going to be train wreck. Just from the headline, it’s obvious that Mason does not understand the concept of comparative advantage and the logic of international trade, confuses business competitiveness with national competitiveness, and plans to commit the pauper labour fallacy.

Continue reading

Second open letter concerning reform of Elections Act

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Members of the House of Commons, and Senators of Canada:
 
Last month, over 160 professors signed an open letter to express grave concerns about the damage to Canadian democracy that the  “Fair Elections Act” (Bill C-23) would cause. Today, we the undersigned, an even larger group of professors at Canadian universities who share a deep concern over this legislation, urge the government to withdraw this Bill and draft truly fair election reforms based on meaningful consultations with opposition parties, non-partisan experts, Elections Canada, and the public. There is no reason to depart from this laudable Canadian tradition for electoral reform. 
 
Committees in both the House of Commons and the Senate have now heard from many experts and citizens’ groups. Overwhelmingly, these witnesses have criticized the legislation. Despite the government’s claim that “ordinary Canadians” support the Bill, a recent poll reveals that a majority of citizens oppose it.Continue reading

What do libertarians and pedophiles have in common?

Answer: Before the internet, nobody realized how many of them there were.

Okay, that’s just a joke I made up to get your attention. But it serves to set the tone for today’s discussion, which involves a critique of libertarianism that is somewhat less than doctrinal. In fact, I want to make an ad hominem argument against it. Or more precisely, I want to criticize libertarianism indirectly, by making an observation about the kind of people who typically espouse libertarian doctrine.

In order to get at this, I’d like to introduce a new concept, or better yet, describe a group of people, whom I refer to as the “self-control aristocracy.”

The idea is very simple. Some people have more self-control than others. Let me give you an example. I love my wife dearly, but sometimes she freaks me out. Several months ago she got tired of paying for proprietary statistical analytics software and so decided to learn R, the open-source alternative.… Continue reading

Enlightenment week wrap-up

It’s been a great first week for my book Enlightenment 2.0, and obviously I owe an enormous debt to both the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post for running substantial excerpts (the Citizen last Saturday, and the Post every day this week). Looking over these different pieces, however, it occurs to me that a casual reader might be left wondering, “What the hell is this book about?”

So in the interest of making it seem less disjoint, I thought I might present a short summary of the argument – and how the various pieces hang together.

I take Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” as the point of departure, in order to make the point that many people have been concerned by the recent trend towards increased irrationalism in politics. Stewart is not alone in having called for a return to sanity. At the same time, there have been a huge number of recent books published by psychologists telling us that reason is useless, that we are hopelessly biased, etc.… Continue reading

Rex Murphy knows nothing about Canadian universities

Rex Murphy had the usual sort of paint-by-numbers column in the National Post this weekend, voicing his outrage over Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Nothing particularly remarkable there. The headline could have read “Tiny little American liberal arts college caves in to political correctness.” That would have been about right.

Instead, the column ran under the headline “Universities have become factories for reinforcing opinion.” Now I know headlines are not written by the same people as the columns, and so sometimes say wacky things, but Murphy goes on to make the same extraordinarily broad generalization, based on a single data point: “Universities are losing their halo. They are now factories for reinforcing received opinions, what the market holds as right and true — so-called ‘progressive’ ideas. They have a deep hostility to ideas and opinions that wander outside their small circle of acceptability.”

How does he know this?… Continue reading

Restoring sanity to politics

The Ottawa Citizen was kind enough to publish a long excerpt from the last chapter of Enlightenment 2.0 today. It’s the part where I try to say something positive about how to improve the current situation in democratic politics, which is rapidly descending into “all demagoguery all the time.” I must admit that it’s a bit half-hearted. Basically what I have is an awesome theory of why things are so bad, and how they got that way, and why it’s incredibly hard to do anything to improve the situation. So I wind up painting myself into a bit of a corner. But everybody likes a happy ending, so I try to say something helpful at the end.

 … Continue reading

Does it matter whether Quebecers care about Canada?

Many people outside Quebec were quite surprised (although not unpleasantly so) by the results of the recent provincial election. Part of the reason for the surprise, I suspect, is that we have been subjected to a steady stream of hand-wringing over the lack of emotional commitment that many Quebecers seem to feel toward Canada. Many English-Canadian observers have professed shock, dismay and anxiety over this apparent indifference. Because of this, the strong reaction in Quebec against the fist-pumping referendum talk was unexpected.

Those who have been doing the hand-wringing never quite get around to explaining why they consider a lack of emotional attachment to be such a problem. Personally, I don’t think it’s an issue at all. In fact, I take it to be an encouraging sign. It seems to me evidence that Quebec is becoming more of a normal province.

Presumably in the background of all this worry is the thought that emotional bonds are somehow needed to hold a country together.… Continue reading

Is Quebec more left-wing than the rest of Canada?

There is a widespread perception that Quebec is more left-wing, or more “social-democratic” than the rest of Canada. Indeed, one branch of the sovereignty movement suggests that a commitment to social justice requires separation from Canada, because English Canada encumbers Quebec, preventing it from realizing its vision of a more egalitarian society. (It is because of this belief that many people in Quebec think of separatism as a natural extension of left-wing political commitments.)

This is an illusion. The part of Canada that I grew up in – Saskatchewan – was far more left-wing than Quebec has ever been. And it never once occurred to anyone that you couldn’t have “socialism in one province” (or that being a member of the Canadian federation in any way impeded the realization of the essentially socialist vision that was at the time predominant).

What makes Quebec distinct is the fact that, over the past 30 years, the Quebec political system has been tilted to the left.… Continue reading

Enlightenment 2.0 drops next weekend

Came home from work today to find this bad boy sitting on my porch:

e2

First copy of new book! The official release date is April 15. Look for a sneak peek in the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, April 12th. And then look for me popping up everywhere to promote it. Actually, not so much, but I will be doing a talk at the Ottawa Writer’s Festival on April 27th.

And kudos to HarperCollins for their support of Canadian non-fiction publishing.… Continue reading