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

A Remembrance Day story

One of the things that I dislike about Remembrance Day is the ambiguity that has developed, and has in some cases been encouraged, about what exactly it is we are supposed to be remembering. When I was younger it was much more clear. Most of my uncles fought in the Second World War. The fact that they never talked about it told us most of what we needed to know, about what it had been like. My father was the youngest in his family, and so he did not have to serve. He wrote a story, however, about his older brother returning from the war. It has become a useful reminder, in our family, of what we should be striving to remember:

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    The Soldier

    the door of the house opened.  a man in soldier’s uniform came out and stood on the back porch.  he put his boots down one after another on the four steps and then onto the dirt path.  

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Newspaper editors receiving offers they can’t refuse

An extraordinary spectacle is being played out across the land, as newspaper editorial boards are forced by their owners to endorse the Conservative Party. (As Paula Simmons put it, with regard to the Edmonton Journal’s endorsement of Harper: “And yes. Before you ask, this was a decision made by the owners of the paper. As is their traditional prerogative.”) The result has been the most tepid series of endorsements and backhanded compliments I can recall. Here is the Globe and Mail’s, which so far has attracted the most derision. Here is the Ottawa Citizen. The National Post has not released its own yet, but it looks as though they’re having to directly censor Andrew Coyne. So hard to get good help these days! You can make them say what you want, but it’s so hard to get them to sound enthusiastic when saying it.

Update: Andrew Coyne has resigned from his position as National Post opinion page editor… Continue reading

Telling women what they can wear is a sign of weakness

Just when the niqab issue was starting to fade, Stephen Harper brought it up again, with his rather surprising announcement that a Conservative government would consider banning them in the public service (a position that was, not that long ago, ruled out by Tony Clement). So apparently this represents a concerted strategy, of ensuring that the election debate remain focused on the pressing issue of women wearing niqabs.

Globally, I’m not very impressed with this strategy. I think that encouraging hatred and distrust towards minority groups is not an acceptable electoral strategy. Imagine if a principal decided to promote school spirit by picking out a few kids and encouraging everyone in the school to bully them. Harper is basically doing the same thing, at the level of the entire country. As far as I am concerned, it shows him to be unfit for public office. (But hey, so does smoking crack, yet 30% of Torontonians were willing to vote for Rob Ford…) Anyhow, I’ve explained my views on that elsewhere.… Continue reading

Why u so mad?

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the open letter that was written by my co-bloggers and posted here the other day (which I signed, by the way). There are lots of people out there who dislike Stephen Harper, but who dislike the kind of people who dislike Stephen Harper even more. And I’m sure even now Rex Murphy is penning a diatribe, about how the 587 signatures are a consequence of the tyranny of “political correctness” and “groupthink” in our universities. Others will dismiss it as mere partisanship, the ravings of the “Laurentian elites,” etc.

The “mere partisanship” argument fails to reflect the fact that not every issue attracts this sort of attention, or upsets people quite so much. I’m sure there are many items in the Conservative Party platform that are also broadly opposed by Canadian academics. Boutique tax credits, for instance, are opposed by pretty much every economist in the country.… Continue reading

Open letter regarding Conservative Party campaign tactics

The following letter has been signed by 587 Canadian academics, condemning the tactics being employed by the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election campaign. It will appear in newspapers tomorrow, but there is no room in print to reproduce all of the signatures. So we are making the full list available here:

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We are a diverse group of academics with different political views and different political allegiances. We are united by a common interest in the integrity of democratic processes and a concern about the ugly and dangerous turn we have recently witnessed in the election campaign. In democratic electoral politics there is an ethical line that distinguishes spirited partisan strategy from cynical tactics that betray the values of mutual respect and toleration that lie at the heart of civil democratic discourse. Honourable politicians do not cross that line even when they think doing so will be politically advantageous.… Continue reading

Conservative Party moves beyond the pale

One of the most important concepts in modern democratic politics is that of “reasonable disagreement.” There are a number of different principles or values that most of us subscribe to, at some level, but in cases where they conflict, it is not entirely obvious how they should be ordered. When should public welfare be assigned priority over personal freedom? How much loss of welfare should be accepted in order to promote greater equality? These are the sorts of questions that define the zone of reasonable disagreement in modern politics. The central distinguishing feature of the right-to-left spectrum of political parties is that they propose different answers to these questions, with the right putting more emphasis on personal freedom, the left more emphasis on equality, and the centre focusing on maximizing welfare. This naturally translates into different views about the role of government in society.

The disagreement is “reasonable” because the underlying principles are ones that are very broadly accepted – they are in fact foundational for a liberal democratic society – the disagreement is more one of emphasis.… Continue reading

The VW scandal and corporate crime

One of the things that makes it interesting to teach business ethics is the need to continually revise the curriculum. I usually spend a week discussing the latest “big scandal” in the corporate world – unfortunately, I almost never teach the same one twice, because something new always comes along. First time I taught the course it was junk bonds, and the Gordon Gekko stuff. Then along came Enron, against which all of that misbehaviour paled. Then the financial crisis. Then the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And now Volkswagen. At very least, “corporations behaving badly,” is an area where you never risk running out of material.

I’ve been following the Volkswagen fraud rather carefully in part because it affects me personally, since my wife has an Audi A3 with the TDI diesel engine. She also precisely fits the profile of a consumer who was defrauded by the “clean diesel” claim. Back when she bought her car, she had narrowed the choice down to two vehicles: the Lexus CT 200h (hybrid) and the Audi A3 diesel.… Continue reading