Why you should not embrace risk

Don’t ask me why, but I was reading this goofy article by John Snobelin this morning. (Snobelin, for those who don’t remember, is the high-school dropout who became Minister of Education in the Ontario government of Mike Harris, signalling the triumph of “common sense” over the petty reign of us pointy-headed intellectuals.)

In it, Snobelin tells us about a meeting he recently attended, “a small gathering of business leaders from across North America. We huddled for a couple of days in New York to work on our futures.” There is a bit more blah-blah, until he gets to this part: “Extraordinary leaders, they share three characteristics: They have had great success, they embrace big risks and they are highly self-aware.”

The bit about “embracing big risks” is what caught my eye. This is a line that I must have heard a thousand times, in stuff on leadership and success. People are constantly being told to take bigger risks.… Continue reading

Himelfarb talking sense on taxes

I missed this when it first aired. Great conversation with Alex Himelfarb (former Clerk of the Privy Council to Chretien, Martin and briefly Harper) on taxes:

Several very interesting points made — the one about municipalities I thought was particularly good. The point about austerity being self-imposed I also thought was very important (particularly in the wake of the last Ontario election, where so many commentators were going on about how Ontario will be the new Argentina, forgetting that this is a province that, within recent memory, cut its income tax rate by 30%).

 … Continue reading

Why gay marriage is such a problem for Christians

Unlike some of my co-bloggers here on In Due Course, I will admit to having some sympathy for the Christians who have been dragging their heels on our society’s recent embrace of gay marriage, and of gay pride more generally. This is not to say that I have any sympathy for their position — I don’t. But I have sympathy for them in the sense that I feel bad for them. The reason I feel bad for them is that I can see how, intellectually, they’re in a really tight spot. They are under intense social pressure to change a particular moral belief that they hold, but they can’t see any reason to change this belief, other than that they’re under intense social pressure to do so. Should they buckle under and change the belief, this would reveal a deep truth about morality that they are unwilling to acknowledge, and that in many ways undermines the point of having religious beliefs at all.… Continue reading

Introducing Morality, Competition, and the Firm

I’m not trying to be annoying here, but I just received a copy of my new book, Morality, Competition and the Firm, published by Oxford University Press. This one’s an academic book, a collection of papers on business ethics, as well as some more general stuff on the normative foundations of capitalism. Five of the pieces are new, nine are previously published (some in hard-to-find books).


This is the third time that I’ve had two books come out in the same year — the reason has to do with the fact that trade publishing and academic publishing work at a completely different pace. For those who are curious, I don’t actually write these things simultaneously, it’s that the trade books take about half as long as the academic ones to make their way into print (primarily because they are not refereed). So I write a bunch of academic stuff, then I write a popular book, and then they both come out at the same time.… Continue reading

The two worst talking points on carbon taxes/pricing

My little disquisition on carbon pricing earlier this week was actually just a warm-up for what I really wanted to write about, which is the two incredibly irritating talking points that have pretty much made up the entirety of the federal government’s communications strategy on this issue, for at least five years now. The first is the claim that a carbon tax would be a “tax on everything” or that it would increase the “price of everything.” The second is the claim that a carbon tax would be “job killing.”

What’s infuriating about these talking points is that they both sound vaguely correct, even though they are completely wrong. Thus they have all the hallmarks of our “post truth” political environment, where government no longer even tries to defend its actions or policies, it simply adopts a communications strategy that is calculated to be effective with a target segment of the electoral, then sticks to it through thick and thin.… Continue reading

More me

I did an interview with Steve Paiken for The Agenda, sort-of on my book, sort-of a postmortem on the Ontario election. It unfortunately never made it to air, before everyone went off to the cottage for the summer, but they did make it available online. I thought it was a good conversation:

 … Continue reading

On Parenthood Part 2. Voluntary Childlessness and the Good Life

As I pointed out in Part 1, the debate about the impact of having children on well-being or life-satisfaction is ongoing in our cultural conversation. This is surely due to the fact that for many, especially among the educated upper class, becoming a parent is now an option rather than a taken for granted life-stage, and a highly deliberate and reflexive decision. Like many of my friends who benefited from the democratization of higher education, my partner and I came in relatively late in the game of making and raising children. She was 34 and I was 36 when we had our first one. My perspective on parenthood is different from my younger cousin who lives in the countryside and who had her kids more than 10 years before me. A significant number of adults decide for a variety of reasons to be childless, and some on both sides of the existential fence enjoy discussing the respective value of both lifestyles.… Continue reading

L’Affaire Bolduc

The honeymoon is over. Three months more or less to the day after having been voted into power in Quebec City with a shiny new majority, Philippe Couillard’s government finds itself embroiled in its first, honest-to-god political scandal. It seems that Yves Bolduc, a physician, who is now in Cabinet as the Minister of Education, but who was Minister of Health under Jean Charest, racked up $215 000 worth of bonuses as a practicing physician while he was in opposition. The opposition, and a good part of the chattering classes, are now clamoring for his head. No less a figure than Claude Castonguay, the father of Quebec’s system of public health insurance, wrote an open letter to Philippe Couillard calling upon the Premier to sack his Minister.

Some context: somewhere close to 30% of Quebeckers do not have a GP. In order to attempt to lower that number, the Charest government (with Bolduc as Minister of Health) instituted an incentive scheme to get general practitioners and family physicians to take on more patients.… Continue reading

Thinking seriously about regulation

I just finished reading Daniel Carpenter’s book, Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA. I won’t say that it was fascinating all the way through, but for a 700 page book about the history of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, it was pretty good. I picked it up because, over the space of about 3 months last fall, two people recommended it to me. I thought to myself, what are the chances that two people would independently come up to me and say “you must to read this 700 page book about the FDA” unless it was a really amazing book?

The reason they were recommending it to me was that I’ve been interested in administrative discretion and the way that it is dealt with by public servants (see here). This is part of a more general interest that I’ve developed in the executive branch of government, along with the view that the executive is seriously undertheorized in normative political philosophy.… Continue reading