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

Enlightenment roundup

First off, I’ll be in Ottawa on Sunday April 27th, doing a Q&A with Andrew Potter about Enlightenment 2.0 for the Ottawa Writers Festival. It’s at 6:30pm in Knox Presbyterian church (event details here). Also, I’m looking forward to attending the talk by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan from Samara, just before mine, 4pm at Knox Presbyterian, discussing their new book Tragedy in the Commons. A great evening for all those who want to get together and wring their hands about the state of democracy!

In other news, here’s a half-hour podcast of me chit-chatting about the book, with The Commentary in B.C.

And there’s been a batch of reviews:

National Post, “Enlightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath: Review” by Benjamin Leszcz

Toronto Star, “Enlightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath: Review” by Alex Good.

There is also a very gratifying review by Ivor Tossell at the Globe and Mail (“Is it time for a renaissance of reason?Continue reading

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.

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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