Dan Drezner on the Ideas Industry


I had the privilege last night of seeing Dan Drezner give the inaugural Barton Lecture at Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa. His lecture was a condensed version of the argument of his book The Ideas Industry, and while I’ve read the book, the talk was useful. It’s often interesting to see people give book talks, since you get a better sense of what they think their book is about.

Drezner begins with a paradox: Everyone laments the decline of the public intellectual in our civic discourse, and yet, via outlets such as TED and related Big Ideas type lecture series’, the demand for ideas has never been greater. Drezner squares this by distinguishing two types of ideas industry labourer: Public Intellectuals and Thought Leaders. They break down as follows:

thought ledrs

What Drezner argues, in a nutshell, is that public intellectuals have been largely eclipsed by thought leaders, so that people like Niall Ferguson and Fareed Zakaria now dominate.… Continue reading

Reality starts to bite at the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail has announced some fairly serious changes in the last week, and it’s hard not to see them as part of a much larger strategic shift at the paper. If so, it’s been a long time coming: compared to the big strategic bets at Postmedia and at the Star (and at La Presse as well, in Quebec), the Globe has had a quieter time of it. There have been layoffs and cuts, and obvious changes to the product but on the for-profit media side, the Globe and Mail seems to have been more insulated than anyone else to the wrenching transformation and revenue decline affecting the news biz.

The changes at the Globe include the cancellation of the print edition in the Atlantic region (so no paper Globe east of Quebec); the cutting of standalone arts, sports, and life sections during the week (so going to basically a two-section paper focused on news and business); and the end of two long-time (and quite popular) columnists, Leah McLaren and Tabatha Southey.… Continue reading

Freedom of Speech on Campus II

(This is part of a longer piece I’ve been writing about universities in the public sphere. I’m posting this because I think Joe is right that these issues are especially current at the moment, and the conversation is seriously compromised because people keep conflating academic freedom and freedom of speech. This is an attempt to help sort out the difference. It draws heavily on two pieces: A blog post by Alex Usher, and a transcript of a talk by Jacob Levy. Go read both first, then come back here if you care for my take on things.)


With both Ryerson and the University of Toronto this week cancelling scheduled on-campus events that were guaranteed gong shows, Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post had the smarts to call up Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and ask him about his campaign pledge to take away federal funding from any university that failed to “foster a culture of free speech and inquiry on campus.” It wasn’t just a tossed-off proposal: in his pledge he listed specific funding mechanisms that would be at risk, and carved out a special exemption for private and especially faith-based institutions.… Continue reading

Why you should read “Should we change how we vote?”

Last summer, a lot of us expected that roundabout now the Liberal government would be either introducing legislation to change the electoral system, or making preparations for a national referendum on a proposal to change the electoral system. That’s because Justin Trudeau promised, during the 2015 campaign, that the upcoming election would be that last one held under the “first past the post” electoral system, and by summer 2016, it was clear that time was running out on the government’s ability to make good on that pledge.

Hoping to both intervene in the government’s decision-making process and contribute to the public debate, Daniel Weinstock, Peter Loewen, and I organized a pair of conferences last fall, one in Ottawa and Montreal. We also arranged for MQUP to publish a “quickie” book out of the conference, one that would do a shortcut on the usual academic press publishing timelines and get something out in time to contribute to the anticipated debate we would be having this spring.… Continue reading

What hides behind unemployment; what should we fight for in the 21st century

For the past few weeks, I have been playing with the following argument. Tell me what you think:

In the past year, fuelled by Trump’s fiery rhetoric as well as the left, a lot has been said against trade, especially framing it as the cause for the decrease of manufacturing jobs in the United States or Canada. But the truth is, trade played a much lesser role than decades of efficiency gains due to automation and information technologies. Although most of us do not realize that fact, the US has never produced as much industrial goods as they do now, with the big difference being that they produce all of it with less workers than before.

Let us consider the following abstract case:

  • 20 years ago, 200 workers built 200 tractors.
  • Now, because of efficiency gains, 150 workers are able to build 210 tractors, while the other 50 workers are fired.
Continue reading

Canadian Exceptionalism: The very idea

Has liberty moved north? Is Canada the last immigrant nation left standing?  Are we a bright light on a dark political stage?

The notion of “Canadian Exceptionalism” predates Brexit, Trump, Marine Le Pen, and the pretensions of Kellie Leitch. It goes back at least to 2012, when the Berkeley professor Irene Bloemraad published an article entitled Understanding ‘Canadian Exceptionalism’ in Immigration and Pluralism Policy, which juxtatposed “the widespread and increasing support of immigration among Canadian citizens with growing anti-immigrant sentiment and opposition to multicultural policies across Europe and the United States.” And our own Joe Heath has been workshopping a talk for a while now building on Bloemraad’s work.

So it’s not a new idea. But the basic thesis — that Canada seems to be unique in having built a stable, immigrant-driven multicultural society — has become more prevalent in the Trump/Brexit era, finding proponents both domestic and foreign.Continue reading

Why are carbon taxes so low?

The recent announcement by Canada’s Minister of the Environment, Catherine McKenna, that there will be a national carbon price by the end of the year, is extremely welcome news. As someone who has spent a great deal of time trying to articulate to the public the basic rationale for carbon pricing (here, here, here and here), this is about as close to a “win” as anyone could reasonably expect. Let’s hope it happens.

Most of the time that I spent writing about it, I was trying to explain very basic features of the policy (what a collective action problem is, how the price system works, why it’s not a “tax on everything,” etc.) This was aimed primarily at a right-wing audience, of people who were inclined to do nothing about climate change. I have spent comparatively less time addressing a left-wing, or environmentalist audience, explaining why pricing is an appropriate policy measure in this case (although there was this and this).… Continue reading

“Foreseeable Natural Death” in Bill C-14: An Unclear and Undue Restriction?

Guest post by Michael Nafi, Department of Humanities, Philosophy and Religion, John Abbott College 

Bill C-14 on Medical Assistance in Dying has given rise to much debate in the Canadian House of Commons, in the mainstream media and various blogs, with both consensus and dissension stretching across the French/English language divide. The tide is unlikely to subside as the Bill moves to the Senate. Furthermore, as the parliamentary session nears its end, speculations abound on the fate of the Bill after the Liberal majority government today missed the June 6th deadline for its required legislative response to the Supreme Court (SCC) ruling in Carter v. Canada.

Critics have pointed out a number of shortcomings of the Bill and called for a number of amendments. However, regardless of the final form the law might take, there can be little doubt that the issue of medical assistance in dying will be revisited in the future on at least two fronts: i) the exclusion of persons under the age of 18 from such medical assistance and ii) the rejection of the possibility for persons who anticipate a deterioration of their health to provide advance directives to end their life in the future.… Continue reading

Price Point Public Policy

The Wal-Mart-ification of Public Services

Our childcare fantasies for this country are pocketbook politics at their most distorted.

Currently, monthly childcare fees at licensed non-profit centres can be as high as $1600/month. They vary widely depending on the geography and age of the child. The service is on par with rent and tend to bite new parents in the butt.

In response to steep fees (by the way, can we call it “tuition”?) it seems that many Canadians have decided that parents should pay about a quarter of the going rate while the rest of us generously pick up the tab. The thing is, no part of the $15/day childcare “movement” makes an effort to elaborate on the fine print of that bargain. Though market demand far exceeds the present supply of spaces, the current and would-be users of childcare services are pressing for a super discounted price. As presented, their appeal does not make sense.Continue reading

On equality and social insurance: Response to Landes and Néron

The most recent issue of Res Publica features a collection of articles on social insurance and the welfare state, a topic near to my own heart. It was recently featured by Bookforum under the heading The Greatness of Modern Welfare States. I thought I might say a few words on this paper (ungated here) by Xavier Landes and Pierre-Yves Néron (two of my former postdocs, I should mention). Much of the discussion is a response to this paper of mine (which is actually just a more academic presentation of an argument developed in my book, The Efficient Society), in which I basically present a philosophical defence of that standard “public economics” view that the major role of the modern welfare state is to correct various forms of market failure. Much of this activity gets misclassified, however, as “redistribution,” suggesting that it follows some sort of an egalitarian logic, when it fact it is just an insurance scheme being run in the public sector, and is therefore no more redistributive than any other sort of insurance.… Continue reading