Temporary Foreign Workers – Why Now?

I admit to being a bit surprised about how just how the temporary foreign worker program hit the front pages over recent weeks. For migration policy wonks, the myriad problems with temporary foreign worker programs are well known, and usually do not centre on putting citizen workers out of jobs.

I’ve been mulling it over and have come to the conclusion that the current uproar might even have been deliberately provoked to provide a politically palatable way to end to the most progressive aspect of the temporary foreign worker program.

Temporary foreign worker programs are not new. Canada has relied on temporary foreign workers off and on for much of the last century. Many other Western democracies have done the same.

The basic idea behind a temporary non-citizen worker program is to create a category of workers who have fewer rights than citizens or permanent residents. This framework ensures that the workers can be directed to particular employers or sectors, and can be compelled to leave when their work is finished.… Continue reading

Impôt progressif vs tarification progressive: vers une démonstration plus étoffée?

Le gouvernement Couillard soupèse l’idée d’augmenter modérément le tarif des places en CPE pour les familles fortunées. Comme c’est toujours le cas lorsqu’il s’agit des questions touchant à la tarification des services publics, ce ballon d’essai suscite un débat passionné. Une des dimensions particulièrement intéressantes du débat sur la tarification progressive des places en garderies qui sont présentement à 7$ est qu’on peut s’y opposer pour des raisons qui sont elles-mêmes diamétralement opposées.

D’un côté, des personnes qui ne sont pas du tout à droite s’insurgent contre l’idée de devoir payer davantage que les ménages dont les revenus sont plus modestes en raison du fait qu’ils paient déjà, toutes proportions gardées, plus d’impôts que ceux qui sont moins fortunés. Comme notre système d’imposition progressive fait déjà en sorte que le taux marginal d’imposition des mieux nantis est plus élevé, il serait inéquitable de leur demander en plus de payer davantage pour des services publics.… 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

Le Rapport Godbout-Montmarquette : une place pour l’éthique économique et sociale?

Le débat d’éthique sociale et économique sur les finances publiques est très polarisé au Québec. Peu tentent de se frayer un chemin entre le discours du « Québec qui vit au dessus de ses moyens » et celui de la « dérive néolibérale ». C’était une des vertus de l’essai La juste part de mes collègues David Robichaud et Patrick Turmel de tenter de le faire. Le débat sur le Rapport Godbout-Montmarquette n’a pas jusqu’ici généré une réflexion collective à la hauteur des défis qui attendent le Québec. Tant la conception étriquée de la démocratie promue par M. Montmarquette que les attaques ad hominem contre les deux auteurs sont désolantes.

Cela étant dit, j’ai été déçu par les brèves recommandations proposées par les deux économistes. Admettons d’abord que leur rapport a été réalisé incroyablement rapidement et qu’il a la grande vertu de nous offrir le portrait le plus à jour de nos finances publiques.… 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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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

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

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