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

True north strong and (subjectively) free

A new gallup poll finds that Canada is in the top ten countries in the world, when it comes to how much “freedom” its citizens enjoy (details here).

The question was, “In this country, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to do with your life?” The number one country in the world was New Zealand, where 94% reported themselves satisfied. Canada was tied for 9th place with Finland, Denmark and Iceland, with 91% reporting themselves satisfied. Sweden, the other usual nordic suspect, was in second place with 93% satisfaction. Must have something to do with the fact that we enjoy more real freedom, as opposed to liberty.

Now I suppose most people saw this coming, but the United States did quite poorly, in 36th place, with only 79% of respondents declaring themselves satisfied. On the other hand, the trend shows a fairly steep decline since 2008, so I suspect a lot of this is just anti-Obama grousing.… Continue reading

On Parenthood Part 1. The Trauma

The New York Times ran a piece in the Saturday edition by psychology prof Eli J. Finkel on the “trauma of parenthood.” He stresses that postpartum depression and the drop in well-being are not only a hormone-induced phenomenon. “The circumstances parents face,” he writes, “are often demonstrably miserable.” Perhaps insisting on purely biological changes helps us cope better with postpartum ordeals, but life-conditions and other environmental factors also play a large role in what is considered the poorer quality of life of parents. We all know how hard it can be for the new mothers, but he also points out “that men on average experienced significant increases in depressive symptomatology across the first five years of fatherhood (if and only if they lived with their child).”

The “trauma” of parenting? “Bleak” and “miserable” circumstances? As a dear friend—a working mother of two—replied when I emailed her the piece: “Dude, really? Read the paper.… Continue reading

Some Half-Baked Thoughts on the Economics of City-Life after Returning to Montreal after a Week in Paris

One of the great fringe benefits of my job is that I often get invited to some pretty great cities for work. I’ve just returned to Montreal from a week in Paris. I love Paris. What I love most about Paris are its neighborhoods. Walk a few kilometers outside the tourist center, and you will find fantastic inner city areas that each have their distinctive character and identity. For a long time, I used to hang out in the 14th arrondissement (intra muros Paris, the Paris that lies inside its internal ring road, le Périphérique is divided up into 20 boroughs). These days, I am more likely to try to find a place in the 20th, which is one of Paris’ most riotously multicultural neighborhoods. On this recent trip, I watched Chile win a World Cup match in a Chilean bar, watched Brazil triumph in a Brazilian restaurant, and don’t even get me started about what happened when Algeria beat South Korea!… Continue reading

Enlightenment discounted

I did an enjoyable interview about Enlightenment 2.0 with Michael Enright for CBC’s Sunday Edition, which aired this past weekend (here).

Contrary to most of the publicity I’ve been doing, this one seems to have actually moved some product. As a result, Amazon is now selling the book at a deep discount. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence for a while, now’s the time to make your move!

 … Continue reading

Tenured moderates

There’s been a bit of buzz around a recent study by Kyle Dodson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, showing that interaction with professors tends to have a moderating influence on the political views of students (contrary to the claim that professors have a “radicalizing” influence on students). This from Inside Higher Ed:

With regard to political views, academic engagement promoted moderation. “[T]he results indicate — in contrast to the concerns of many conservative commentators — that academic involvement generally moderates attitudes,” Dodson writes. “While conservative students do become more liberal as a result of academic involvement, liberals become more conservative as a result of their academic involvement. Indeed it appears that a critical engagement with a diverse set of ideas — a hallmark of the college experience — challenges students to re-evaluate the strength of their political convictions.”

The data on student activities demonstrate the opposite impact: The more involved that liberal students get, the more liberal they become, while the more involved conservative students get, the more conservative they become.” This finding suggests that students seek out and engage with familiar social environments — a choice that leads to the strengthening of their political beliefs.”

I’m happy that someone decided to study this, as the result certainly accords with my own experience.… Continue reading

Modestly Resisting Political Amnesia

Catherine recently posted a reminder that the Harper’s government’s scandalous and wholly unfounded attack on the Chief Justice of Supreme Court has faded from public view without any satisfactory resolution of the matter. On May 1 2014, Harper impugned the integrity of the Chief Justice by falsely suggesting that the Chief Justice had wrongly tried to contact him to discuss possible problems with his proposed appointment to the Supreme Court. Despite being pressed by hundreds legal academics and lawyers to set the record straight, Harper has steadfastly refused to even acknowledge that his remarks were inappropriate, let alone apologize for them. Regrettably, Harper’s decision to stubbornly carry on as though he has done nothing wrong is a reflection of some cynical but probably accurate calculations about the half-life of this kind of political scandal. My guess is that Harper and his political advisors have calculated that the controversy about disrespecting the Chief Justice will be forgotten before it has the chance to do any real political damage.… Continue reading

Restoring Sanity to the Debate over Sex Work

What would sensible policy regarding sex work look like? Let’s begin with what should be something of a truism in a liberal democracy. Policy in this domain should not be moralistic. By that I mean that it should not be grounded in the judgment made by some that there is something inherently wrong with selling and purchasing sexual services. The state acts in an unacceptably paternalistic manner when it claims that, whatever the conditions in which the sale of such services occurs, it is condemnable and should therefore be prohibited by law. If two consenting adults wish to contract in order to exchange sex for money, they should be allowed to do so.

If that is the case, then a decent society needs to ask itself two kinds of questions. First, how can it ensure, or make it as likely as possible, that when a sex worker and a consumer of sexual services engage in such an exchange, they do so consensually?… Continue reading

Québec’s Right-to-Die Legislation: A Dilemma for the Conservatives?

Quebec’s National Assembly passed legislation today that would enable competent adults in the throes of intolerable suffering caused by a terminal illness to request aid in dying from their physicians, and that would allow physicians to accede to that wish under a fairly strenuous set of conditions. It also requires of all health-care institutions that they provide themselves with a palliative care plan. Rather than viewing physician-assisted death as an isolated question, the law places it at the end of a continuum of end-of-life medical care.

In my view, this is a very good law. It is the result of a 4 ½ year non-partisan process of consultation and deliberation that heard from specialists, ordinary citizens, and organized groups. This process gave rise to countless modifications to the original draft bill, designed not only to allay the fears of those not ready to take the step of decriminalizing physician-assisted death, but also genuinely to incorporate some of their concerns into the body of the law.… Continue reading