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

The central challenge for the left in Canada

Anyone who read my last post will no doubt have sensed that I’m having a lot of difficulty summoning up much enthusiasm for the current politics of the NDP in Ontario, in particular, their willingness to assign redistribution of wealth priority over the need to solve certain pressing collective action problems. Thinking about the issue reminded me of the opening paragraph of a book I read recently, by Samuel Bowles (The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution):

Socialism, radical democracy, social democracy, and other egalitarian movements have flourished when they successfully crafted the demands of distributive justice into an economic strategy capable of addressing the problem of scarcity, and thereby promised to improve living standards on the average. Redistributing land to the tiller, social insurance, egalitarian wage policies, central planning, and providing adequate health care and schooling for all have been attractive when they promised to link a more just distribution of economic reward to enhanced performance of the economic system as a whole.

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The golden age of ideological politics in Ontario

One sometimes hears disaffected voters – particularly young people – complaining that they cannot be motivated to cast a ballot because there is “no difference” between the major political parties. I’ve never had much sympathy for this complaint, particularly in Canada, where there is a pretty significant ideological spread between the major parties. Of course no party is going to cater to any individual’s particular tastes – they are, after all, mass parties, trying to cater to the needs and desires of millions of people. At the same time, anyone who can’t see that the parties stand for very different things has probably not been paying much attention.

Nowhere is this more true than in Ontario right now. I was reminded of this when reading Daniel’s complaint about the fact that Quebec politics remains stubbornly polarized along constitutional lines (separatist-federalist), rather than the traditional left-right distributive justice axis. Indeed, every time that it looks as though the political system in Quebec is going to “normalize” (with the rise of the ADQ, or the CAQ, or QS), it seems to last no more than one election before getting pulled back into the old constitutional axis.… Continue reading

On two-tiered medicine in Canada

My boss, Mark Stabile, has an op-ed in the Globe and Mail today, arguing against two-tier health care in Canada. He’s the kind of economist who is interested in facts, and he cites a few. For example, with an added tier of private medicine:

there is little evidence that wait times in the public system go down. And there is little evidence that a private system reduces the costs of public systems. In fact, in some jurisdictions, overall costs in the public system actually went up in those cases where the tax system subsidizes people who purchase private insurance (as Canada does). Over all, those systems that have private insurance have had to continue to grapple with issues of costs and access, much as we do here in Canada.

Now I’m the kind of non-economist who is quite interested in incentives, so I find it interesting to speculate about why allowing people to opt out of the public system and purchase health care privately would not free up resources in the public system.… Continue reading

Before we stop talking about the Charter of Values entirely

A piece I wrote for Global Brief magazine just appeared (not a moment too soon, since it was written before the Quebec election call). It’s aimed primarily at a non-Canadian audience, with the goal of explaining the current dust-up over multiculturalism/secularism:

Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism

There’s not all that much new in it, mainly it brings together in one place arguments that have been made by Daniel, Jocelyn and others, within a broadly “Kymlickian” framework for thinking about Canadian multiculturalism.

There is however one observation that I consider moderately original (or that I have not seen enough discussion of). The fact that religious accommodation is so much more controversial in Quebec than it is in the rest of Canada is, in my view, related to the extremely rapid secularization process that Quebec underwent beginning in the ’60s, which was experienced by many as a cultural trauma:

No visitor to Canada can fail to be impressed by, on the one hand, the vibrancy and enthusiasm of religious communities in immigrant groups – particularly Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus – and on the other hand, the obvious signs of decline in the traditional Christian churches.

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If government were a business, regulation would be a profit centre

Over at my day job, I’m in the midst of writing up a rather lengthy paper on cost-benefit analysis. Rereading some of the literature, I was struck by the following claim made by Cass Sunstein, in one of the many interesting things he’s written since retiring from government work and returning to academia (“The Office of Regulatory Affairs: Myths and Realities”):

In the first three years of the Obama Administration, the net benefits of economically significant regulation exceeded $91 billion – more than twenty-five times the corresponding figure for the Bush Administration, and more than six times the corresponding figure for the Clinton Administration.

We are so used to hearing about the costs imposed by regulation that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, when properly crafted, regulation is a source of enormous benefit to society. And yet it’s not every day that you see government (or in this case, former government officials) standing up and taking credit, unapologetically, for those gains.… Continue reading

Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 2)

My comments a couple of weeks ago about Toronto mayor Rob Ford have attracted a few visits from members of Ford Nation (yes, these people are real). And while none were able to marshall a level of civility sufficient to get their comments past moderation, they were able to communicate to me their strong desire that I elaborate on the various promissory notes I made in my last Ford post, including the suggestion that I would have more to say more about Ford being “dumb.”

I am happy to oblige.

Let me just start by observing that I’m not the only person who has impugned Ford’s intellect. I think the best line came from our former mayor Mel Lastman, who said “this guy makes me look like a genius,” before adding, with the characteristic Lastman touch, “and I’m not a genius.”

This, by the way, was long before the whole crack scandal broke.… Continue reading

Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban?

I was struck by this article in the Globe and Mail: Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban too, Marois says

Quebec’s charter of values does not necessarily exclude the private sector from imposing the same restrictions on their employees as the ones demanded from public servants, says Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

Is it my imagination, or is that a really big deal? I haven’t looked carefully at how Bill-60 amends the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or what other provisions it contains, but if it insulates private employers from discrimination complaints in this way, that could have a huge impact. Two things come to mind: first, this dramatically expands the extent of the equality violation being contemplated — for example, an observant Sikh could be turned down for employment anywhere in the province, for any job whatsoever, and would have no legal recourse? And second, the rationale for the ban (“state secularism”) is completely missing in the case of the private sector.… Continue reading

The conservative bind

Excellent paragraph from Jack M. Balkin, “The Last Days of Disco: Why the American Political System is Dysfunctional” (SSRN), describing the dilemma that radical Republicans find themselves in:

They disdain the expertise- and elite-driven politics that the progressives championed. But they face the opposite problem. The acceptance of scientific policymaking as the proper mode of government action, and widespread popular expectations that the government is now responsible for social welfare, social insurance, full employment, environmental protection, and economic prosperity, means that libertarian radicals will find it almost impossible to dismantle the modern policy state wholesale. Instead, the best they can hope for is to undermine it and prevent its further expansion, leading to… a “permanent siege” against the policy state.

This strikes me as an excellent summary of the bind that Canadian Conservatives find themselves in right now. And while it does not manifest itself in the form of “dysfunction,” the way it does in the United States, it does explain the peculiar paralysis of the federal government (remarked upon by many disappointed conservative commentators), where they can’t seem to find anything better to do with their time than pick fights with the civil service.… Continue reading