Why no one should listen to Lorrie Goldstein

Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein has something of a fixation on carbon pricing. He never misses an opportunity to condemn the idea. Even when there is nothing really going on with the climate change file, he will pump out a column complaining about the “hysteria” or the “myths” surrounding global warming. Number one myth is the idea that carbon pricing can be an effective policy response. His reasoning is fairly simple: carbon taxes don’t work, and since they don’t work, they must be nothing other than a cash-grab by the government.

Now if you read his stuff regularly, you get the sense that there is something wonky in his understanding of how the economy works. Indeed, it’s always fun listening to people on the right try to explain why carbon pricing can’t possibly work, because they usually wind up inadvertently ‘proving’ that capitalism as a whole can’t work. In other words, the arguments they make inevitably boil down to the claim that consumers are insensitive to price signals for ordinary market goods, such as gasoline.… Continue reading

Final Ford

Rob Ford’s recent death has prompted some great thinking and writing (e.g. here, here and here). I don’t have much to add, except for one little observation, which I don’t think has been given enough play. It is about social class.

Rob Ford was often described as a champion of the little guy, of being the “people’s mayor.” He was also inordinately popular among what we academics refer to, euphemistically, as “low-SES individuals” (SES standing for “socio-economic status”). And yet it was often pointed out that Ford himself was rich, he was born to a rich family, and had never really had to work for a living – outside the family business – before he entered politics. He was, in other words, a comfortable member of the economic elite. (Furthermore, many of Ford’s policies did not really benefit his supporters. Property taxes, in particular, are about the closest thing we have to a pure wealth tax in our society, so his insistence of keeping them as low as possible generated significant benefits for the wealthy and little more than spare change for the downtrodden.)

And yet somehow the charge, that Ford was just a rich guy, pushing through an agenda that benefited the rich, never seemed to stick.… Continue reading

Punk’s not dead…

Thanks to the The Rebel Sell, I’m still asked to give my opinion every now and then about music and culture. I usually decline, but Jeremy Allen had a story idea recently that caught my interest, so I did an interview for this article: Punk was Rubbish and it Didn’t Change Anything: An Investigation.

Unfortunately, we did an email interview, and he wound up not using most of it, which is a shame, since email responses take a long time to write. So here is the full interview, for those who are interested in such things:

You suggest in your book The Rebel Sell that the counterculture is not a threat to the system. Does art change anything?

What Andrew Potter and I were arguing against, in The Rebel Sell, was a certain political idea, which originated in the 1960s, but remained enormously influential during the punk era as well.… Continue reading

Everything you need to know about the provincial politics of climate change, in one chart

I came across this a while ago in a Macleans article by Paul Boothe and Félix-Antoine Boudreault. Check out the right-most column:


I had been used to citing to my students a figure of 20 CO2/tonnes per person as the current emissions level in Canada. I had not realized how unevenly that was distributed across the country. Keep in mind that the general target we want to get to, globally, is around 2 CO2/tonnes per person. This makes “Canada” seem a long way off. But if you look more carefully, some provinces are a lot closer than others. Quebec is at 9.7 (because of hydro power), and even Ontario is at a not-so-bad 12.5 (and that’s before implementing cap-and-trade, just by abolishing coal). The numbers from Alberta and Saskatchewan though are insane — 64 and 68.8 CO2/tonne per person respectively. (It is worth noting that SK is not the worst offender in absolute terms, it just has a low population compared to Alberta.) This is of course tar sands production (and coal dependence).… Continue reading

Brad Wall does not love the market

…or at least not the way I do.

Listening to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall talk about climate change the other day, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote for Policy Options a long time ago, about the difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. I still find it very helpful, when listening to conservative politicians, to classify their views using this distinction. Wall’s position on carbon pricing, for instance, is a perfect example of a conservative politician being pro-business, rather than pro-market.

Here is how I drew the distinction, way back when:

Those who are pro-market are enthusiastic about capitalism because they understand the virtues of the price system. They know that a properly structured competitive market is the most effective institutional arrangement for ensuring that resources and labour flow to their most productive employment.

The key to their endorsement, however, lies not in the magic word “market,” but rather in the qualifications that precede it.

Continue reading

Fascist in the literal sense of the term

Several years ago, during a municipal election in Toronto, someone was running around plastering stickers on newspaper boxes and telephone posts throughout downtown that said “Let the police choose the mayor!” I recall having seen them at the time and thinking to myself, “wow, that’s actually fascist – not just as a figure of speech, or a term of abuse, but literally fascist.” (I suspect, but am not sure, that this was the election in which Rob Ford won the mayoralty.)

The problem, of course, is that “fascism” has been vastly overused as a term of political abuse – particularly during the ‘60s – so it has lost all force. We have become overly used to people calling others “fascist” whenever it looks as though they might have to do anything that they don’t want to do. The result is that we lose track of the actual meaning of the term.… Continue reading

In due cake 2

Tomorrow we celebrate the second anniversary of the In Due Course blog. It’s been a pretty exciting year, particularly with the federal election in October. We logged a total of 119,442 visitors and 279,759 pageviews, about double what we had the year previous.

Below are the top 10 stories of the year, in terms of pageviews (shown between parentheses):

1. Daniel Weinstock et. al. Open letter regarding Conservative Party campaign tactics (49,024)

2. Joseph Heath: Conservative Party moves beyond the pale (12,945)

3. Joseph Heath: On the problem of normative sociology (10,762)

4. Joseph Heath: Response to Tabarrok (9,216)

5. Joseph Heath: The problem of “me” studies (8,035)

6. Andrew Potter: The firewall from the other side (6,872)

7. Joseph Heath: The VW scandal and corporate crime (5,037)

8. Joseph Heath: Review of Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything (3,513)

9. Daniel Weinstock: Language in Quebec schools: time for a rethink (3,412)

10.… Continue reading

A bit more on democratic theory

Just a follow-up on my previous post… Reading the Economist over breakfast this morning (yep, that’s what I do), I was struck by this line (in an article that was actually about Ted Cruz):

Of the top two Republicans in Iowa, one is a universally recognisable type. Short on policy, long on ego and bombast, promising to redeem a nation he disparages through the force of his will, Donald Trump’s strongman shtick is familiar from Buenos Aires to Rome, inflected though it is by reality TV and the property business.

I like the observation that Trump is a “universally recognizable” type, a figure that would strike most non-Americans (e.g. particularly South Americans) as a normal feature of democratic politics. (Think also PKP in Quebec…) Indeed, in certain respects the Trump candidacy represents the normalization of American politics.

And yet, when I turn to (normative) democratic theory, I find absolutely nothing that is of any use in understanding the phenomenon, much less thinking about how a society might respond to it.… Continue reading

The meaning of O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary’s recent musing that he might enter the Conservative Party leadership race has given the chattering classes what we have so desperately been lacking the past few months – something entertaining to talk about.

The bid, of course, would be a non-starter, since O’Leary doesn’t speak French. He claims that would be no problem, since he “understands Quebec” on a visceral level, having been born in Montreal. Of course, people who actually understand Quebec know that there is nothing francophone Quebecers hate more than people who are from Quebec, and yet can’t speak French. People from Saskatchewan at least have an excuse. People from Montreal do not.

In any case, the episode reminded me of a very good question that Tyler Cowen asked a while back (actually, now that I look it up, he was repeating a question asked by Robin Hanson), which is why the upper tiers of the political system in democratic societies (i.e the areas where television is the most important medium) are not simply taken over actors.… Continue reading