The Shotgun Blog
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Judge gets a libertarian take on free speech in Canada
FoxNews judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano interviews Libertarian Party of Canada spokesman (and Shotgun commenter) John Collison on free speech:
The Public Sector is killing the economy
On of the PC Party of Ontario's 10 proposals is to "Bring Public Sector Agreements in Line with Reality." They include the unionized workers in a commitment to cutting back to bring Ontario out of deficits. The importance of taking on the Public Sector Unions should not be understated. It is these unions that will hurt recovery, not just in Canada but in the United States as well:
Terror as stimulus and the broken window fallacy
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
On the Coren Show
Just a heads up for Western Standard readers: I am appearing on the Michael Coren Show on CTS tonight along side Andrew Lawton (strictlyright.com), Michael J. Murphy (bigcitylib.blogspot.com), and Rob Silver (Globe and Mail).
Spoilers: Murphy's characterization of me as a lacking mobility, and being a "teenage libertarian" doesn't really pan out. Also, I don't let him live down some previous characterizations he's made of me.
It's basically fun for the whole family. Check your local listings and tune in.
(And no, the comment system is still not working here at the Western Standard. Although we are working on it.)
The Fraser Institute takes on Harpernomics
last Saturday a criticism of the Harper government’s attack on the
findings of the Fraser Institute. The Fraser Institute released a study
that showed that the government’s stimulus plan has had little effect on
the economy. The government responded by attacking the motives of the
Fraser Institute and accusing them of being ‘sloppy.’ Yesterday the
Fraser Institute responded:
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which Prime Minister Harper has cited as an authority, recently surveyed fiscal stimulus initiatives in advanced and emerging economies and concluded that the average effect of discretionary fiscal policy “does not provide strong evidence of countercyclical effects.” Simply put, the IMF concluded that fiscal stimulus is generally not an effective way to combat recessions.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s Office and Department of Finance are not aware, or worse still, chose to ignore these and dozens of other reputable studies that contradict their rhetoric.
Instead, the Conservative government continues to highlight its internally generated estimates of the impact of its Economic Action Plan. These “estimates” assume that an extra dollar of government spending increases economic output (GDP) by $1.50. In econ-speak, the government uses a “multiplier” of 1.5.
Put differently, the folks that called our study “ideologically” motivated assume that if the government takes a dollar out of your pocket or borrows it and then spends it on somebody else, it generates an extra $1.50 in economic activity (GDP).
How did Minister Flaherty and the Department of Finance derive its 1.5 spending multiplier estimate?
Well, it certainly does not come from “reputable” studies, as the Prime Minister has suggested. The estimate is actually from a political document co-authored by Christina Romer, chair of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. That political document dubiously assumes a government spending multiplier of 1.57.
Many internationally renowned economists have directly criticized Romer’s spending multiplier, including Stanford University professor John Cogan and his colleagues, who in a 2010 study, accused Romer of making “highly questionable” assumptions to arrive at a multiplier of 1.57.
Under more realistic assumptions, professor Cogan and his co-authors found that the spending multiplier is substantially smaller and that it likely lies between 0.5 and 0.6. In other words, if government spending increases by one dollar, GDP increases by only 50 to 60 cents.
Read the rest of it here.
Anti-legalization pot growers
David Boaz over at Cato@Liberty
comments on a group of marijuana
growers in California that fear legalization will mean a drop in
prices and a corresponding drop in their own income. This seems to
reinforce the argument that the one thing that criminal organizations
fear the most is legalization (though to be fair these old hippies are
pretty benign criminals). It just goes to show you that economic
interests aren’t always what you would assume them to be.
Mr. Boaz also posted this old Reason video
PC's 10 proposals for 2010
The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario has decided to release 10 proposals that they hope will give
their opposition to the Liberal government focus and form the foundation
of the platform in the 2011 election. I’m glad that the PCs are putting
out ideas rather than just rhetoric. Political parties should be more
than just about opposing each other; they should be vehicles of policy
debate. So, in that spirit, I’m going to take a moment and share my
opinion on each of these 10 proposals.
1. Suspend tax on new jobs: To encourage businesses to hire new employees, we are calling for a one-year payroll tax holiday – from the burdensome Health Tax and WSIB premiums — on all new hires.
I like the assumption here that lower taxes will mean more jobs; this would be especially true for the sort of taxes they would like to suspend. But I’m not a big fan of tax holidays. A good tax system should be predictable so that people can plan their actions around it. Making tax holidays takes away the predictability and your level of taxation will be in constant flux. Besides if you are willing to concede that these taxes kill jobs than why not get rid of them all together?
2. Eliminate Job Killing Red Tape and Regulations: The growing creep of red tape costs money and kills jobs. A Red Tape Commission should be created to lower the overall regulatory burden and free up entrepreneurs and business leaders to do what they do best: – create jobs.
It is a bit amusing to say that we should create a bureaucracy to get rid of bureaucracy, but that would be an unfair characterization. If the idea is to target the worst most fruitless regulations then this isn’t a bad way to go about it. It is great to see that regulation cutting is still on the political agenda.
3. Make Home Ownership More Affordable: A one year suspension of the land-transfer tax will save Ontario families $3,000, helping them achieve the dream of home ownership and create jobs.
I have the same problem with this as the 1st policy with a bit more added on. This amounts to a subsidy for a particular industry. Changing the tax code to give advantage to one group in society is wrong. Government should not be picking winners or directing the activity of the citizenry. Granted it is not the worst or most heavy handed interference but it still holds the assumption that government knows what is best. If they want to cut everybody’s taxes by $3000 then that would be fantastic, but no they are only cutting the taxes of people who are doing something that the government thinks is good. So this would be the first policy discussed so far that I would actively oppose.
4. Restore Balance to the WSIB System: Increasing costs and red tape from the Workplace Safety are killing jobs in construction and driving up costs to families. Bill 119 makes things even tougher and kills jobs by forcing independent operators and sole proprietors into the WSIB system at a cost of $11,000 per year, requiring coverage for office and secretarial staff that will never set foot on a construction site. Bill should be repealed and small businesses should have permanent representation on the WSIB.
I confess I don’t know enough about the WSIB to comment on if this is a good plan or not. I can say that in principle the idea of cutting regulation is good.
5. Expand Job Opportunities for Young Workers: We can make it more affordable for small businesses to hire new workers and help more talented young men and women enter the trades by modernizing Ontario’s antiquated apprenticeship system including turning Ontario’s outdated 3:1 journeyman-to-apprentice ratio into a 1:1 ratio.
This was one of Randy Hillier’s proposals during the leadership race, and basically I think it is a good idea.
6. Create Jobs in Northern Ontario: Ensure Northern residents have the freedom to pursue resource based job creation by opposing Bill 191, which bars development of half the territory north of the 51st parallel, and empower municipalities and First Nations by providing leaders with a real say on where revenues should be directed.
I don’t know much about Bill 191, the Far North Act, so I won’t comment on if it will bar development or not. I will say that decentralizing decision making is generally a good thing. It could have some odd hick ups if the town council is corrupt or incompetent, but generally speaking local people have the best knowledge of what is good for the local community. I also like the attitude inherent in this policy. It is not about subsidizing life in the north, but empowering them to do it themselves.
7. Cut Wasteful Government: Introduce a mandatory Sunset Review process that forces all ministries, agencies, boards, and commissions to justify their existence and continued value to the public.
This is a great idea. Part of the problem with new spending is that once it is in place it is hard to get rid of. It is what academics refer to as ‘path dependency.’ Once something is institutionalized it is generally self perpetuating, even past the point that it is useful (if it ever was useful). By forcing government organizations to justify their existence, every 5 years or so, you have a built in way that those agencies can be eliminated. Granted the likelihood is that many useless government organs will survive this process, but it gives an opportunity that would not otherwise exist to cut back on government spending.
8. Stop Corporate Welfare: Politicians and bureaucrats should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Billions of dollars in corporate handouts – including sweetheart deals for Korea based Samsung and a French videogame company – reward companies who hire the best lobbyists. Instead, government should lower the overall tax and regulatory burdens to allow all businesses to succeed on a level playing field.
All music to my ears, though I point out that this is contradicted by the 3rd proposal. But hey if they get rid of most subsidies but then introduce some of their own, there may at least by a net loss in subsidization.
9. Cap Spending: Spending should be capped at the 2010-11 estimate provided in the 2009 budget.
Reasonable enough, governments should at least pretend they are going to stick to their long term plans.
10. Bring Public Sector Agreements in Line with Reality: Public sector collective agreements must reflect the ability of the private sector to pay. A wage freeze should be imposed on senior government administrators, non-unionized employees and MPPs. The Premier should immediately enter into negotiations with the public sector union leadership with the goal of working towards a wage freeze or similar savings through more efficient service delivery until the economy and provincial finances recover.
This is good and reasonable. In a time of bursting deficits the public sector employees shouldn’t be expecting a pay raise. It is the same principle as unions in the private sector that work for a company that is losing money. If the government does not have any more money than how can the workers demand that they be given more money? The government can’t magically make money out of nowhere, which is what public sector unions seem to think.
There is nothing in here that makes me jump up in joy (like a flat tax), and there are a few things that I actively dislike. But the overall direction that these policies want to take Ontario in is a good one.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Guess who's coming to dinner?
I live in downtown Toronto. No, I don't mean somewhere generally East of Bathurst, West of Coxwell, or South of Eglinton. I mean, I live right in the downtown core -- a stone's throw from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where in late June, a bunch of world leaders will converge to have an international conference called the G20.
It's a somewhat significant affair, apparently. I mean, considering that my condominium corporation has taken to informing us on behalf of the police to have our papers in order. In fact, my family and I have been told that we will subjected to pat down searches by either police of military as my building falls within one of the security zones.
Why is the event being had in a place where more than 20,000 residents fall into the same category as myself? Well, because Stephen Harper wants Bay Street to be the showpiece of the event. That's about it.
This is despite the fact that the Mayor of Toronto and local City Councilors, when consulted, informed the federal government that having it here would be an absolute disaster for residents and businesses. They suggested the feds have the event on the Exhibition Grounds, where there would be minimal impact on residents and businesses. Nope.
I understand that I live in what is effectively the central business district of Toronto, and we're used to regular road closures and such during the summer time for large events that are put on in and around the city. But this is a whole other level. It's not a matter of walking out onto the street to the smell of street meat and revelers frolicking along a road closed to traffic. No, it's a complete militarization of the fastest growing neighborhood in Toronto. And without any care whatsoever to their opinion on the matter.
Now, being subjected to police searches is one thing. However, there's also the spectacle of the massive protests that anti-globalization, anti-capitalist and anarchist groups will be surely be bringing to the perimeter.
It may be one thing to have a security checkpoint to go through. But it will be a whole other level of danger and inconvenience to have to get past police-protester standoff lines. And I know this may be alarming for some folks, but many young families live downtown. I worry about my 18-month old daughter and my spouse, Sarah, safely being able to come ago.
Teargas, broken glass, high-strung riot police, water cannons, and such are not the kinds of things that you would want to have a young child anywhere near. And yet, thousands of families will need to make the decision to go out of town -- at great expense -- or face potential danger, police checks, and security barriers for no other reason that Party General Secretary Harper decided this would be a great place to have it.
The preparations have already begun. You can smell it in the air. Police surveillance cameras are being installed all throughout the area, the warnings have started going out, and left-wing university students are already planning out their "tactics". But for once, I almost hope the protesters mange to shut them down and push this G20 meeting out of town.
David Cameron pulls a Dion
In an interview with Gay Times, David Cameron messes up his own talking points:
This reminds me of the rather bedevilled interview that former Liberal leader Stephane Dion gave during the 2008 election.
I doubt that Mr. Cameron's interview will be as disastrous as Stephane Dion's was, but it indicates a potential problem for the Conservative Party. The Labour government is weak and ripe for the picking but the Conservatives don't have a leader that can deliver. Mr. Cameron is pissing off his own base and screwing up his lines.
Labour hung Parliament here we come.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Knox's CanCon Gems - The Greatest Canadian Albums of All-Time (That You've Probably Never Heard) - Volume 2
Here's one of those rare instances (at least in these circles) when your politics and music have the opportunity to fuse as one. Well, maybe not exactly, given that I'm not talking about Stephen Harper playing the piano, or any such similar ear-shattering rubbish. No folks, this is a more tenuous link to some of your politics that means that the subject music actually has a chance of sounding good. Who, and maybe what, the hell am I talking about? I'm talking about a little band that quickly burst onto the scene in the 90's and just as quickly disappeared - The Buicks.
Just who were The Buicks? Well, I'm not really that sure. I saw them open for a mainstay Canadian band or two during the mid-90's while at school in Edmonton - Blue Rodeo, the Waltons, the Watchmen.......somebody like that. I liked their set and so I picked up their CD - Passage. Almost every song on the album is solid - "Chipper", "Where's The Doctor", "You'd Better Walk Away" and particularly, the title-track "Passage". Upbeat, poppy numbers that remind a guy of old school U2, but without the obvious political overtones. Politics? Oh yeah, the political connection. Rumour had it that the lead singer.......I think he was the lead singer, who went by the name "Red Locker" on the album cover was none other than Preston Manning's son, whose name I'm unaware of and who really, I know very little about. What became of him and his band? Are they still playing conservative cocktail parties around the country? Sadly, I suspect not. I say "sadly" because this little gem of an album (or EP) has stood the test of time and works its way back into my rotation time and time again over the years.
Here's the catch - it's hard to find. Almost impossible it seems. Amazon has a couple of used copies for sale, but they're about $60.00. $60.00 for 7 songs is steep, but in this case, it may be worth it. Especially if you're a fan of the Mannings.
Freedom for all and privileges for noneThese are the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in a debate in the House of Commons regarding recipocity with the USA:
I do not admit that there should be any antagonism between class and class. I do not admit that there should be any antagonism between the manufacturer and the farmer. The manufacturer is the best friend of the farmer, and the farmer is the best friend of the manufacturer. Let them walk hand in hand, let each profit by the trade of the other; but so far as we are concerned, for 14 years we have administered the government of this country on these lines, trying to do away with collisions between class and class trying to keep all abreast of one another keeping always in mind the motto: Freedom for all and privileges for none.
Freedom for all and privileges for none. A powerful motto that I wish we had not forgotten. Today the concept of privilege has become more powerful than the concept of freedom. Political organizations cry out that they have a right to this and a right to that, but really they are demanding more privileges not more freedom. All that they want is a piece of the pie, to be provided by someone else.
The government gives out corporate welfare and subsidies life styles. And instead of walking hand in hand our society is divided by who can get what from the government. A tax credit here and a regulation there, and our country moves farther and farther from the principle of freedom. We will soon no longer be a land of freedom but a land of privileges.
If there was a way to bring Sir Laurier back and make him our leader, I would.
Concordia to leave the CFSThe Canadian Federation of Students would be called a farce except anyone who would call them that would be too afraid of being sued. Never have I ever heard of an organization that would threaten law suites as readily as the CFS.
If I was to call them a farce I would call them that because they are suppose to represent the views and interests of students, they don’t. What they do instead is represent their own views and interests. They are a radical socialist promoting organization. I know the word communist is thrown around a lot, but for some of the CFS it does apply. They don’t care so much about doing what is good for students; they care more about radicalizing the student body to help bring about the revolution.
Concordia University has wizened up and has overwhelmingly voted to leave CFS. In response CFS is already saying the referendum is illegal and they are prepping themselves for a legal battle to keep Concordia in the CFS.
Do you scan that?
They are trying to use the court to keep Concordia in the CFS against the wishes of 72% of the students (or at least the ones that cared enough about student government to vote). The enemies of the CFS are using democracy and the CFS is using force. This is a pretty standard operational procedure for them. Democracy is an inconvenience to these thuggish activists.
So congrats to Concordia and good luck in what I am sure will be a long standing legal battle.
Stephen Harper vs the Fraser Institute
Thursday Stephen Harper attacked a report released on Tuesday by the Fraser Institute that demonstrated that the ‘stimulus package’ has achieved nothing. All that the massive increase in government spending has achieved is that the country is now burdened with more debt. Mr. Harper’s and Mr. Flaherty’s attempt to defend their non-stimulus was pathetic.
"First of all, that’s completely wrong and quite frankly contradicted by very serious work that’s been done [elsewhere]" Harper told reporters. "Economic theory and history is clear, governments must … make sure [funds] are put to productive use in the economy to create jobs."
Actually economic history says nothing of the sort. Economic history shows that such government spending only leads to inflation and ultimately harms the economy. When Mr. Harper studied economics at the University of Calgary did they just skip over the 1970s?
And yes economic theory is clearly on the side of the government, unless we are talking about Monetary Theory or the Austrian School of Economics. I hate it when governments say “economists agree.” Economists, the good and the bad, agree on basically nothing. It is a very factious discipline. Anyone who simply says, “Economists say this so it is what we must do,” is committing the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.
As for contradicting “every serious work,” there isn’t any other serious work that is based on data and not models. The data is too new for there to be an established academic opinion on the success of the stimulus. With assumptions we can make models of how the stimulus might have worked, but hey what if those assumptions are wrong? This is why academics check their conclusions with empirical data as soon as it becomes available. Sort of like what the Fraser Institute did.
Flaherty said the report fails to take into account the effects of the home renovation tax credit, the automotive stimulus program and the work-sharing program, which he said have saved more than 200,000 jobs.
"We added two points of GDP last year through the economic action plan," Flaherty said. "Consumer confidence is back at historically normal levels —so is business confidence in the first quarter of this year.
It may be true that 200 000 jobs have been “saved” but I am curious where that number comes from. Is that number the result of a study of the empirical data or a projection based on assumptions? Anyway, even if it was true it doesn’t really matter. The government “saved” those jobs by taking money from other people and paying companies to not fire anyone, this is zero economic gain. It is purely redistribution of wealth.
Furthermore I would like to know how exactly the government added “two points of GDP” or where the government got that data. The Fraser Institute is citing their sources and the government is just throwing numbers out in the air. And hey, call me crazy, but when there is a political motivation involved I tend to be suspicious of government assertions.
Business and consumer confidence may be back up, but why is this an accomplishment of the government? The economy tends to go in cycles, which suggests that confidence would have gone up by itself anyway. In fact there isn’t any evidence that the confidence didn’t go up by itself. The government argument seems to be: we did something, something good happened, therefore we did something good. I think that we don’t need Plato to rip apart that logic.
In conclusion watch this video explaining the theories of Hayek and Keynes. It clears up some issues that Mr. Harper seems to have forgotten since his University days.
Friday, March 26, 2010
The Institute for Liberal Studies
The Institute for Liberal Studies is an organization that puts on seminars for students and non-students so that they can learn about classical liberal ideas. That's classical liberal, as in concepts such as individual liberty and personal responsibility. I owe a lot to this organization, if it wasn't for them I would have gone through my entire undergraduate education without knowing who Hayek was.
You can also donate $10 (or more) here.
Believe me there would be no better use of the money for the purpose of spreading the ideas of liberty.
How Do You Say PIGS in French?
Quebec offers $17 billion, or 26 per cent, more in services than Ontario, while its GDP is 14 per cent less, they observed.
That means even though Quebec is poorer, it spends far more.
Quebec's gross debt stood at $151 billion last fiscal year, or 49.9 per cent of its GDP. It will rise to 53.5 per cent this year. That compares to 30.1 per cent for Ontario and 4.2 per cent for Alberta.
According to the OECD measure, which includes Quebec's share of the federal debt, it's at $286 billion, even as the province offers services that others do not.
The article also informs us that by the OECD's measurements, Quebec is the fifth most indebted jurisdiction in the developed world. Up there with the usual suspects, including tottering Greece. Just to recap, for those of you who've been totally absorbed in your attempts to become bilingual/bicultural these last four decades, Quebec has created a lavish European style welfare state through a combination of high taxes, transfer payments and record borrowing. Back in the fall I reviewed Brian Lee Crowley's latest book, which examined the growth of the federal government as being driven, in part, by English-speaking politicians attempts to appease Quebec. Appeasement worked, but not in the way advertised at the time.
The reason there is no independent Quebec, and will never be in our lifetimes, is that by opting for the Deluxe Big Government package after the Quiet Revolution, the Quebecois have made their future Republique a financial impossibility. The Bloc and Pequistes are not mortal threats to the Dominion, just unusually obnoxious pressures groups that, due to the quirks of the Canadian electoral system, need to have the softer elements of their political base pandered to by Federal-level anglophones.
Four decades ago federal politicians reasoned that Canada could not survive without Quebec. Intentionally or not, they and successive governments have made it impossible for modern, big government dependent Quebec, to survive without Canada. At some point some one, from either solitude, needs to call the separatist bluff and end the asymmetrical looting euphemistically referred to as equalization. Two generations ago Pierre Trudeau came to power not, as popularly believed, with a mandate to reform Canadian society along his utopian preferences, but for a reason of stark realpolitik. Trudeau was seen as a federalist Francophone who could deal with Quebec. That's why Pearson called him from academic obscurity into politics, after some arm twisting by Jean Marchand. It's also why he beat Robert Winters at the 1968 convention, and why he stayed in power for almost all of the next sixteen years. English Canada - or at least Ontario - voted for a French federalist, not a louche socialist.
Moving forward two generations, a Francophone Quebecois today can replay the Trudeau card, except in the other political direction. To English Canada: Sick of Quebec mooching off the Federal dole? I'm the man (or woman) to put Quebec in its (fiscal) place. Said politico then resells the message to Quebec voters: Mild mannered though Les Anglais seem, they're pretty fed up this time. The independence routine isn't going to work anymore. If Quebec wants any shot at being taken seriously, inside Canada or not, we're going to have to get our act together. To give this hypothetical Quebecois, and no outsider will ever be able to make such an appeal to Quebec, the leverage he needs, English Canada needs to play its part. The part of Howard Beale saying "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
Russian Newspaper on Canada and the Arctic Circle
Canada and Russia are experiencing a great deal of tension over exactly who controls what parts of the Arctic Ocean. This is Pravda's take on the situation:
What does Prime Minister Stephen Harper have in common with the Canadian Minister of Defence? He shares a sinister, hypocritical and belligerent discourse bordering on the lunatic fringe of the international community. Yet Canada’s new-found megalomania is the least of Russia’s worries: How can climate change in the Arctic threaten her national security?
From Canada, Russia has become used to seeing and hearing positions of sheer arrogance, unadulterated insolence and provocative intrusion. Take for example Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s declaration that Canada is “an Arctic Superpower” (what all thirteen of them?) and the idiotic reference by the Canadian Minister of Defence, Peter McKay, about Russian “overflights” outside Canadian airspace. How can you “overfly” outside?
What these statements hide is Canada´s nervousness at the fact that international law backs up Russia’s claim to a hefty slice of the Arctic and that international law will favour Russia in delineating the new Arctic boundaries. Inside Russia’s continental shelf lie huge deposits of gold, diamonds, nickel, cobalt and copper.
And to finish up with a nice threatening bit:
In the event of a showdown between Russia and Canada, it is obvious that Russia would win. Yet Canada is becoming more and more arrogant, feeling its back covered perhaps by Big Brother to the south. Maybe it is time for Canada to stick its nose into its own affairs and forget adventures which might bring it dire consequences.
I’m not so much scared by the implied threat as I am amused. Canada and Russia are highly unlikely to go to war (which would ultimately risk nuclear war via NATO). So what is the point of this article? Demonize foreign leaders and get Russians to forget about their own oppression?
As Boney M. once said:
Thursday, March 25, 2010
The irresponsible tax
Yesterday Gordon Brown’s Labour government released the last budget before the May election. Instead of making tough choices and trying to get the budget under control, the Labour Party has opted for raising taxes.
Perhaps the most annoying tax increase is a 10% adjusted for inflation rise on the levy for Cider in the UK. What makes this tax annoying is that it is not just about raising revenue. The government of the once free Great Britain has decided that individuals in their society are not behaving responsibly. They are going after high alcohol ciders in an effort to sternly tell their citizens what is appropriate.
In the process they are hurting the same small businesses that politicians always rave about. But that isn’t really the crux of my annoyance. The true finger in the eye is this:
The same government that is acquiring billions of pounds of debt with no clear plan for balancing the budget, never mind paying down that debt, is telling people how to act responsible. When easy credit and living beyond our means got everyone in this mess to begin with, the government of Great Britain is refusing to acknowledge their role in it.
Instead of taking responsibility for the deficit and the ever looming debt crisis, Mr. Brown is interfering with the choices that other responsible adults make for themselves. I often wonder why politicians feel they can run our lives when they can’t even run the government.
But before you say “throw the scum out,” you should note that this isn’t originally a Labour policy. They stole this idea from the Conservative Party. So if you are a free thinking individual that wants government off your back, your best bet would be to not bother voting at all.
Instead, you should spend your time stocking up on Cider.
In his, one hopes, waning days in office, Gordon Brown is making a pitch to radically change British government:
He is now set to use a speech on Monday to unveil plans to give every voter a unique identifier allowing them to apply for school places, book GP appointments, claim benefits, get a new passport, pay council tax or register a car.
Within another three years, the Times reported, the secure site would include a Facebook-style interactive service allowing people to ask medical advice of their doctor or consult their children's teachers.
The nominal goal here is to make government cheaper and more user friendly. No more trudging down to the local government office, just to be personally strangled in red tape by one of HM's lower level drones. Now you can pay obeisance to Leviathan from the comfort of your own home! Assuming you're one of the lucky few in modern Britain who can afford their own home. Canada has been moving down this electronic road to serfdom for sometime, with programs like Service Canada and Service Ontario. The British Facebook-style proposal will be taking the approach to its next logical step.
It's unlikely that Davy's Boys will make the correct objections to the proposal. Instead they will me-too cheerfully about how their own proposals will be even more efficient and business friendly. After all, their tailors are on Savile Row, so they understand these things better than the overall clad Trots at Labour HQ. Gerald Warner, that redoubtable old reactionary, has started calling the modern Conservative Party "Vichy Tories." They have consistently lived down to that assessment. The danger of a government version of Facebook is that it's not only a one stop shop for you accessing government, it's also a handy way of the government keeping track of you. The more efficient an over-mighty state is, the less free you are. A bit of polycratic chaos is good for the soul. Private companies are being mooted as designers for this new Statebook. It's the functions of much of the modern state that need to be privatized, not its online tentacles.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
How left-wing thugs shut down Ann Coulter's speech
Meet anewsocialcontract, left-wing agitator and child-censor.
What was a semi-orderly lineup became a mob -- because of them.
The University of Ottawa owes not only Coulter, but all civilized people an apology for brooding this nest of vipers.
In case the Flikr page goes dark, which it might, I have screen shots. A sample:
You can also see a bit of my netbook's setup. XMonad rocks.
A Conservative! Faint!
Why is it that members of the NDP, hip transgressives they claim to be, shriek like Victorian dowagers at the sight or sound of principled opposition? Is it fear? Is it a failure to understand root causes? Or just plain cowardice?
American conservative firebrand Ann Coulter won't be in London until Monday but already the dust is flying.
Local activist and one-time NDP candidate Megan Walker says of Coulter, "She's venomous . . . She crosses the line and promotes hatred and violence."
I've heard that one before, let me try to remember... Then there was the fool academic (I repeat myself) who decided to lecture Coulter on free speech. My initial guess was that he was a publicity hound. Oops, wrong sort of publicity. The whole thing gives the world the impression that we are a nation of schoolmarms. An inappropriate remark and we turn to rioting in the streets. Not a fan of Coulter personally. It's a stylistic thing mostly. I prefer my American conservative to be nice chaps in Brooks Brothers suits, the sort who can quote Burke and Disraeli. Yet she does sometimes speak the truth:
The worst Americans end up going (to Canada). The Tories after the Revolutionary War, the Vietnam draft dodgers after Vietnam and now after this election  we even have blue states moving up there . . .
If I had a nickel for every draft dodging American anti-American I had to hear blather on in school. Do ten-year olds really need to be told about the Military-Industrial Complex? Should a survey class on American history really spend two-thirds of its time on the 1960s? Does Abbie Hoffman deserve more discussion time than Thomas Jefferson? Just sayin' She also knows to go for the gut, reminding Canadians that the defense of the Dominion is essentially at the courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Don't like her saying that? Fine. Advocate increasing the defense budget and acquiring our own nuclear deterrent. Until then we are free loading off the American taxpayer. The mature thing is not to whine like petulant children against the United States, while also being dependent on their gracious assistance. Coulter has every right to point out that obvious bit of pan-continental unfairness. Her success is as a controversialist - being pretty and blond also helps. Like Canada's own Kathy Shaidle, she says outrageous things to both make a point and be heard. It's also sometimes a necessity. Polite smothering of the truth is far worse than over the top schtick. Desperately trying not to hurt anyone's feelings is appropriate for dinner parties, not always so for political debates. The real fear that Coulter instills in the Left, especially the dowager variety we have in Canada, carefully nurtured in the hothouse networks of our schools and universities, is that she will call her opponents bluffs: "Yes, I really do believe that." After abortionist George Tiller was murdered, the vixen told Bill O'Reilly, of all people, that:
"I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester. ... I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others."
It's obscene because it's funny. A glib "he deserved it" would just have sounded appalling and pathetic. The extra twist in the gut is that, at some level, she has a point. That's Coulter's other crime. Even when she's horribly wrong, she is still far wittier than her critics. For those who pride themselves on being smarter than their opponents, by mere virtue of their opinion, it's an unsettling prospect, that narrow blond face. In an odd way Coulter reminds me of Mies van der Rohe, the presiding genius of the post-war international style of architecture. Mies was the master of minimalism. Stripping buildings of ornamentation to reveal their basic structure and function. When Mies did minimalism, you got the Seagram's Building and the TD Centre. When everyone else tried it they were just dull black boxes, replicas of which soon sprang up like Golden Arches across the financial districts of the world. A thing in the hands of a talented practitioner can be impressive and even beautiful. In the hands of mediocrity it becomes just mediocre. The message being no better than the messenger. What Coulter and Rush began has been followed by a never ending stream of cheap knock offs. Shrieking idiots who think the trick is just to shout louder than the other guy.
Pleading the Tenth
The States strike back:
In Utah, lawmakers embraced states’ rights with a vengeance in the final days of the legislative session last week. One measure said Congress and the federal government could not carry out health care reform, not in Utah anyway, without approval of the Legislature. Another bill declared state authority to take federal lands under the eminent domain process. A resolution asserted the “inviolable sovereignty of the State of Utah under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.”
Now here's the kicker. Guess who the NYT goes to get a quote from?
“Everything we’ve tried to keep the federal government confined to rational limits has been a failure, an utter, unrelenting failure — so why not try something else?” said Thomas E. Woods Jr., a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a nonprofit group in Auburn, Ala., that researches what it calls “the scholarship of liberty.”
The doctrine of States Rights can be taken too far. It has been interpreted - Jim Crow - as an excuse for states to violate the rights of their citizens. The real value of States Rights is as a further check on the powers of the government. Having the two senior levels of government waste their time squabbling over turf, leaves them less time and energy to focus on meddling in the dailies lives of private citizens.
How big was that anti-Coulter mob?
As someone who was there, on the ground, there is no way AT ALL that the mob was that big. I don't know where those numbers are coming from, but I would estimate about 50 hardcore types (the filthy hippie variety), along with maybe twice that number of more passive participants.
When they infiltrated the crowd, they may have amplified their presence a bit, but that was just an illusion.
Even if you included the entire crowd of people there to hear Coulter speak, it might barely -- barely! -- approach 2,000.
Even that I doubt. So where is the Toronto Star getting its information from?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Ann Coulter vs. the Mob
As some of you may know, I've returned to Canada. Tonight, I went to hear Ann Coulter speak. And was quickly reminded of why I left this country.
When the protesters showed up, chanting “Free speech, not hate speech!” and carrying, of all things, a police siren, I was reminded of why I left. Their insipid slogans and aggressive posturing, culminating in a mad rush to break into the lecture hall, were all too familiar. All too Canadian.
Then there was the time I tried to engage in conversation:
"She says it is wrong to be a Jew or a Muslim,” he tried to explain.
A sense of calm, riding a wave of contempt, had taken hold of me. I would be cold. I would be logical. “That is a matter of opinion. A false opinion, even. Is expressing falsehoods, in itself, a crime?”
“When they're hateful it is,” my interlocutor continued, his expression tense. I was aware that there were now protesters on every side of me...
Click here to read more.
Right of Center, eh?
The politics that dares not speak its name:
Respondents were given a series of “value statements” and asked whether they agreed or disagreed with them (strongly or weakly on a scale of 1 to 7). Those receiving majority levels of public support were:
Nothing is more important than family (89 per cent);
Marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman (67 per cent);
Abortion is morally wrong (60 per cent);
Learn from what worked in the past to solve problems (54 per cent);
Better to implement small changes than all at once (54 per cent).
And those who agreed with the following:
Tolerance and moderation are what it's all about to be Canadian (50 per cent);
People holding different values/beliefs make society richer (47 per cent);
We have a responsibility to look after those less fortunate (43 per cent);
Government action is the best way to solve economic problems (31 per cent).
In other words, the Conservative Party of Canada is to the political left of the Canadian mainstream. They're only to the right of the statist echo-chamber that is the Toronto based MSM. Try saying that government action isn't the best way to solve economic problems in polite Toronto society. You'll be sipping that martini by yourself, near the potted plants and the Exit sign. Conservative politicos understand the disparity. What they hear on the doorsteps while canvassing and what gets broadcast by the major networks. The ordinary Canadian isn't stupid or easily duped, he is inattentive. Politics is background noise to daily life. Only bits and pieces get through. Imagine reading only the headlines of a newspaper - which is what most people really do - you get a sense of how spin can easily destroy a politico's career. Imagine if Stephen Harper had had the backbone to call for the dismantling the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Front page headline in the Toronto Star the next day: Harper Attacks Minority Protections, Minority Groups Feel Threatened. What the story would actually say matters little. The implied message is clear: Middle aged white male from Alberta is going after the ethnics.
Canadian is a more conservative country than is commonly conceded. When asked about actual values and policies, Canadians espouse conservative ones. The conservative label, however, is toxic. It has been painted with a broad and black brush, associated with ignorance, religious fanaticism and bigotry. None of these traits have much real connection with the history of the Canadian Conservative Party. On the contrary, the first Canadian Prime Minister to take seriously the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities was John Diefenbaker. It was the Liberal PM Mackenzie King who restricted Jewish immigration to Canada before the war, a popular policy at the time. The smearing of Canadian conservatives - and by extension classical liberals and libertarians - is an import from the American Left. It's useful piece of mud to be slung when needed.
A Tax By Any Other Name
Libertas Post, run by occasional Shotgun blogger Gerry Nicholls, has been somewhat dormant over the last few months. This was something of a disappointment after such as strong start late last year. With spring, however, comes a revived Libertas and Old Publius suggests you take a second look. Among the fresh offerings is a post by Gerry calling for a flat tax. Let me welcome Gerry back by eviscerating his post. Well, not really. I'm not opposed to a flat income tax in principle. I'd just prefer that if we are going to be taxed, a value added sales tax has the comparative advantage of being: 1) less intrusive 2) cheaper to administer 3) impacts consumption rather than savings 4) painfully obvious to consumers when buying, unlike PAYE income tax collection.
Luckily we already have a value added sales tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), introduced by everybody's favourite Red Tory, Brian Mulroney. One of the nails in Mulroney's political coffin, the GST was actually a great improvement over the Manufacturers' Sales Tax, which it replaced in 1991. The MST was hidden to most Canadians and hurt the international competitiveness of our manufacturing industry. Its public nature reminded Canadians that big government has a price. Not a good thing for the Brian's political career, but the backlash against the GST was ever so useful fuel to the nascent Reform Party. In other words it was a sound public policy decision and lousy politics. People were outraged. They missed the essential act of the exercise; one tax, the cost of which was quietly passed onto the consumer, being replaced by another more obvious tax. Hiking the GST to the level where it can replace the income tax would probably meet the same sort of backlash as the old federal PCs encountered twenty years ago. Which makes it unlikely to get past the wonk stage of development, yet it has its positive points.
By way of comparison the flat tax has the downside of being inherently regressive. Gerry rightly points out that the current income tax system penalizes people for being successful, the more you earn, the more as a percentage of your income you pay. A flat tax would do the opposite, it would punish people for being poor. A flat tax of say 25% on a person who makes $20,000 would be $5000.00. A nasty bite for someone at that income level. As a percentage hit, 25% is far less damaging for someone making from the low six figures and up. Gerry suggests setting a basic personal exemption, as exists now, for a new flat tax. I'm assuming this means that if the threshold is, say $20,000, after that level you get taxed on every cent. This, unfortunately, recreates a current problem, having a distortion point around the exemption income point.
In effect you're punishing a low-income earner for trying to improve themselves, and providing an incentive for employers to provide increased benefits (rather than higher wages) at around that income level. This reduces revenue for the state from this income segment, and pushes the tax burden onto everyone else. It also reduces the choices available to low income earners. Without the distortion of the tax they may prefer cash to increased benefits. A sales tax would also be regressive, but this could be mitigated by excluding certain necessities like basic groceries. The choice between shifting to a flat tax regime or a higher sales tax may seem like picking between different flavoured poisons. My personal preference is to be fleeced at the cash register, rather than at the office. Chacun à son goût.
The 21st Century will belong to Canada
Authors Jason Clemens, Brian Lee Crowley, and Niels Veldhuis take inspiration from Wilfred Laurier and claim that the 21st century will be Canada’s century in their new book, The Canadian Century: Moving out of America's Shadow.
I’m looking forward to reading this book, if nothing else, because the authors seem to grasp something about Canadian history that most people miss:
Clemens said Laurier was a classical liberal who believed in small government and low taxes, and Canada followed his core beliefs for about 50 years.
"He was not only interested in policy, he was interested in an aspiration for this country," said Clemens.
"He was interested in lifting this country up into a leadership position, not only in North America but in the world. Laurier had great plans and great hopes for our country at the turn of the century. For a very long time, even right into the 1950s, we were essentially following Laurier's principles, in terms of government, in terms of policy, in terms of the role of government in our country. Then we go off course in the mid-1960s."
Did you know that the United States had a bigger government and larger welfare program than Canada before the 1960s? Did you know that every government expansion in Canada, excepting health care, has been inspired by American programs? All of you out there that are proud of Canada because we have a more ‘generous’ collectivist spirit should take note:
Nothing has made us more American than big government programs.
The core of the Canadian polity was once upon a time the ideals of liberty and individual responsibility. That core still exists deep down in our collective memory. We simply have to find it again.
UFC should be brought to Ontario
UFC President, Dana White is confident that Mixed Martial Arts will one day be legal in Ontario, and he has good reason to be confident. As noted in the article I just linked, Canada is one of the best markets for the UFC. Also Ontario is one of the few remaining jurisdictions in Canada or the USA that have a ban on MMA. Premier McGuinty has not said no to allowing MMA, but he has said that it isn’t a priority.
Frankly I don’t understand this whole ‘priority’ claim. Considering the Liberal’s majority and the opposition’s already stated support, I would think that a bill to end the ban on MMA would pass pretty quickly through the House. When you consider how this would be an easy way to get popularity from young voters, I can’t conceive of why Premier McGuinty wouldn’t give some debate time to this issue.
Besides it isn’t like the House doesn’t spend time on matters of no consequence:
Bill 2 : An Act to proclaim April 24 in each year as Meningitis Awareness Day.
Bill 4, Ombudsman Amendment Act: Increasing the term of an Ombudsman from 5 years to 10 years.
Bill 6: April 21 in each year is hereby named Climate Change Awareness Day.
There are other bills of debatable value, but these three are clearly not pressing issues. Making Awareness days and changing how long an Ombudsman serves will affect the people’s lives a lot less than allowing MMA.
I think Opposition Leader Tim Hudak has it right when he says:
Dalton McGuinty has shown a peculiar obsession with regulating the pesticides we can use on our lawn, what snacks your kids can take to school, what kind of breed of dog you can own in the province of Ontario.
He's increasingly turned into a bit of a premier-dad.
With this in mind the true reason for why Mr. McGuinty won’t let the UFC perform in Ontario.
Premier-Dad wants to make sure we’ve finished our homework first.
Monday, March 22, 2010
The Hicks Are Restless
Rumblings in the heartland:
So make no mistake: Murdoch's call for rural separatism is pure OLA [Ontario Landowners Association] politics.
A smart populist like Murdoch never has his finger an inch away from the pulse of the people who live on the county line roads. He knows that rural separatism is a convenient banner for holding together the collection of resentments OLA advocates exploit without needing to take a position on each one. Instead, calling for expelling Toronto from Ontario is a convenient way to get heads nodding without having to actually take the hard positions on ending protection of drinking water or other Landowner policy asks.
The author, Andrew Steele, is a former McGuinty advisor and so less than enamoured with conservatives, rural or otherwise. Yet he brings up some excellent points. Unbeknownst to the Toronto dominated media, there is a large amount of discontent building up in rural Ontario, with grievances focusing on environmentalist restrictions on landownership and use. The movement dates back to 2000 with the foundation of the Renfrew Landowners Association. The more ambitious, but similarly themed, Lanark Landowners Association, began as an ad hoc committee to advise Scott Reid on rural issues, and soon evolving into an effective pressure group. Using a series of carefully planned stunts, including culling dear who threatened crops, they quickly became a force across the province. Over the following decade a network of county level associations, eventually coming under the umbrella of the Ontario Landowners Association in 2006, was established. The new association's first President, and the previous head of the Lanark Association, was Randy Hillier, now Tory MPP for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. Hillier's election in 2007, and subsequent unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, have led some to dismiss the landowners movement as a flash of populist anger. Yet Hillier remains in the caucus, and played king-maker at the 2009 party convention. This gives the landowners' significant leverage in the party's internal politics, a leverage enhanced by the preponderance of rural members in the caucus. By 2011 most of the sitting MPPs in the Tory caucus will have to make peace with the landowners movement, or face the consequences.
Polite Queen's Park society greeted Hillier's election, and the growing success of the landowners movement, with strained credulity. The hicks are restless. Over what no one is quite sure. Hicks just seem to be that way. Indignant and quaint at the same time. With their boom sticks, tractors and sky god. In the lands north of Steeles the issues are clearer. One major source of contention is the provincial Clean Water Act of 2006. The Act's draconian enforcement provisions grant government officials the ability to trespass on private property - but not inside dwellings - without warrant for the purposes of inspection. These officials do not need probable cause to enter a property. In some ways this is only the extension, beyond city limits, of decades old controls on urban property
The Food Safety and Quality Act of 2001 also empowers government officials to conduct searches without warrant, however it does require probable cause. The Act stipulates that meat which is slaughtered without a license, can only be consumed by members of the owner's family. The meat cannot even be served for dinner at the owner's home to non-family members. Late in 2009 Major Mark Tijssen was raided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ottawa police, acting under the provisions of the law, after a tipster reported Tijssen was butchering his own meat and distributing it to other members of a church group. After an outbreak of listeria in 2008 Tijssen, and other members of the church, decided that the publicly inspected meat system was unsafe and opted to purchase their own cows and have them privately slaughtered. The deed being done by a licensed slaughterhouse owner. The meat is then further cut and distributed to members of the group.
The law, however, stipulates that uninspected meat cannot be transported off the site of slaughtering. The issue in question is whether Tijssen's alleged further butchering falls under this provision of the Act. It is not alleged that Tijssen mislead any members of the group. Those who took the meat were perfectly aware of its source, and most had grown-up around livestock. Major Tijssen holds a degree in biomedical toxicology from Guelph. These were well-informed consumers exercising a personal choice. A choice denied by nanny-statists. As a twist, Tijssen has found allies among the Muslim community, who ritually slaughter sheep to celebrate Eid. To urban dwellers, and non-Muslims, these particular infringements on basic liberty have little impact on daily life. They have neither the time or skill to slaughter their own meat and trust to others to provide safe and quality food. The Food Safety and Quality Act, like the Clean Water Act, looks to them to be a pretty uncontroversial bit of government supervised quality assurance. A freedom one rarely exercises is a freedom one is unlikely to defend. The cultural divide of modern Canada is less English and French, or even immigrant and native born, it is freedom loving rural dwellers versus increasingly nanny state absorbed urbanites.
A finely tuned wine is a wonderful thing, particular if you're Chairman of the Board of LCBO:
One "pre-board meeting dinner" in January 2009 racked up a $458-booze bill, part of the overall $1,436 tab, while another similar gathering at Chiado in August 2007 set taxpayers back $1,397, according to expenses filed by board chairman Philip Olsson.
Layton said the idea of the dinners was to nail down the agenda and "fine tune" things for the next day's board meeting. Most were held at the downtown Toronto Club, where Olsson has a membership and the board could meet in a private room.
What exactly is there to "fine tune?" The LCBO is a monopoly. A few half-decent sommeliers and some purchasing managers you're good to go. Business strategy? Don't need to have one. Improving efficiency? The unions won't have it and the government won't let you fight the unions. What's left? A quick review of the quarterly gouging - sorry, earnings - and maybe debating the interior decor of the Vintages stores? Less mahogany and more birch? Like NRO's John Derbyshire tells us every week in his podcasts, "Get a Government Job."
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Rocco Rossi is not 'right-wing,' he is right
I always hate this ‘left-wing’ ‘right-wing’ crap. It is the stuff of lazy journalists and stupid political scientists. It is completely subjective and constantly changing across time and space. For example, in Canada you would be considered far ‘right-wing’ if you want to introduce a private system of health care along with the public system. In the UK such a proposal would be considered...normal.
It seems that Rocco Rossi, a candidate for Mayor of Toronto, has my back on this. He rejects the label ‘right-wing’ for himself but does not call himself ‘centre’ or ‘left.’ He rejects the whole concept of the political spectrum.
"I think that there's a reflex to try and make things easier by categorizing each of us into buckets: Rocco Rossi is right, Joe Pantalone is left, George Smitherman is centre."
And when this happens, he continued, policies and ideas that don't fit that narrative get ignored.
This is absolutely true.
"I don't see myself as right or left. I see myself as pragmatic. Fiscally conservative and socially liberal," he said.
He could have taken the words right out of my mouth.
The amusing part of this article is that the writer insists on labelling all his policies as being ‘right’ or ‘left.’ Even as someone is telling her that labelling like that oversimplifies politics, she insists on using it. Why can’t journalists just put aside the labelling and simply report the policies?
Oh wait I already gave the answer to that question: laziness.
Mr. Rossi you may not be ‘right-wing’ but you are right.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Sex and the Federalist Papers
A warning label on one of the seminal texts, pardon the pun, of the American Revolution:
“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”
Which brings up an interesting thought. If Madison, Jay and Hamilton were alive today, adhering to roughly the same ideals they did then, what would they be doing? It's unlikely, given our comparatively statist culture, they'd be in politics, though Hamilton I can see as a Hank Paulson type figure. Jay, better know as an abolitionist, jurist and diplomat, would perhaps be working for an NGO. Madison strikes me as the policy wonk type. Fellowship at the Cato Institute perhaps? Fred Schwarz at NRO mulls on the real danger lurking in the Federalist Papers, a powerful series of article arguing for free constitutional government. Not the sort of stuff impressionable young teenagers should be exposed to.
The Natives are Restless
Literally according to this Queen's academic:
In a speech titled, "Where Are Aboriginal Affairs in Canada Headed?," Bland answers the question by noting that Canada is particularly "vulnerable to a national disturbance, given its economic dependence on the export of oil, gas, natural gas, hydro power and other commodities to the U.S.
"Aboriginal communi -ties are sitting on those supply chains. At any moment they can turn that system off, which would pose a danger to the economy and to Canadian sovereignty."
Canada has witnessed several instances of the sort of aboriginal unrest Bland is talking about.
Bland, a former Lt. Col in the Canadian forces, and a long-time defense policy analyst, cannot be easily dismissed, nor his warning.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Meanwhile in Wildrose Country...
Tax cuts for large corporations doesn't sound like a winning slogan for a new party. But they do things differently out in Alberta.
The top level of the royalty rates for conventional oil and gas must come back down, Ms. Smith added. On natural gas, the top-level rates should once again be around 30%, rather than the 50% they were increased to under the new royalty framework.
Here is the party's press release on the issue.
Revenge is a Dish Best Served Chilled?
So what's Ezra up to now? Glad you asked. He and a certain Richard Warman are, hmmm, involved in certain legal disputes:
In an affidavit supporting his request for disclosure, Mr. Levant said Mr. Warman's "focus on my political views, and [his] express concern for the political reputation of non-parties to this lawsuit, such as Mr. Warman's former employer, the [Canadian Human Rights Commission], demonstrates my contention that his lawsuit is indeed a 'SLAPP' suit -- Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation -- designed to 'chill' public discussion of these issues."
Mr. Levant's writing, including the 2009 book Shakedown, has focused on the controversies of human rights law, especially Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits online messages that are "likely to expose" identifiable groups to "hatred or contempt."
Ezra comments briefly here.
Throw the Bums Out
I'll try not to take this personally Bill:
Progressive Conservative member of the Legislature says he thinks Toronto should become its own province.
Bill Murdoch, member for Bruce-Grey-Owen-Sound, made the radical pitch at a meeting of the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture.
He said rural Ontario is fighting a losing battle against "a Toronto mentality," adding that Toronto decision-makers ignore rural voices.
Mel Lastman, bless his self-promoting soul, suggested this idea back in the 1980s. The idea then was to free Toronto from rule by the "hicks" i.e. the Rest of Ontario. Bill Murdoch, representing the "hicks," wants to free Ontario from rule by Toronto. The problem isn't that the Imperial Capital lords it over the rest of the province, nothing personal we do it over the rest of the country too, it's that the "Toronto mentality" is really a big government mentality. The city's electorate certainly leans to the left politically. A Toronto-less Ontario would lean to the right, certainly to Mr Murdoch's party's advantage. Yet the problem isn't Toronto, it's that so much of life in rural Ontario is run from Toronto. That your bank branch manager reports, ultimately, to some Bay Street ensconced suit is at best an irritant. That your livelihood depends on what some Queen's Park paper-pusher decides is something else entirely. A provincial government that defended property rights, maintained a well run OPP and left the ordinary rural Ontarians to their own devices, would be unlikely to fuel discontent in the heartland. Bill Murdoch is very good at attracting attention, he certainly got the eye of the Speaker during the Fall session, and the idea is of course a stunt. It's not that the idea wouldn't be popular, it's that no one thinks it would actually happen.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Poll question: Should Marc Emery be handed over to the U.S.?
Yesterday, we covered the story of three MPs (Conservative, Liberal and NDP) who presented petitions to the House on Monday in favour of keeping Marc Emery in Canada.
Emery, libertarian publisher and cannabis activist, is facing a five-year stint in a U.S. federal penitentiary for selling viable marijuana seeds to Americans. A Canadian court handed down a $200 fine to a marijuana seed seller convicted of selling millions of marijuana seeds.
The CBC asked their readers this "Question of the Day": "Should Marc Emery be handed over to the U.S.?" The results were fairly surprising. Fully 92 per cent of respondents (1680 votes) said "No," with 7 per cent (132) answering "Yes," and less than 1 per cent (16 votes) saying "Not sure."
Since CBC readers are likely to differ from Western Standard readers, we thought we'd ask the same question, to see what the difference would be. Here it is:
Just say Grit:
"If I had to tell you as a parent or as someone who has spent his whole life working with young people, the last darn thing I want you to be doing is smoking marijuana," the federal Liberal leader said.
"I want you to be out there digging a well, digging a ditch, getting a job, raising a family ... doing stuff, instead of parking your life on the end of a marijuana cigarette."
Digging a well? Digging a ditch? He then goes onto encourage students to strive for a post-secondary education. I know they don't have a course in ditch digging at U of T, and Harvard would consider a course on digging as way too heteronormative. Maybe York has something: My Shovel, Myself: New Feminist Approaches to Sewer line Maintenance? Talking extemporaneously isn't easy, and when you're Leader of the Opposition you do that a lot. They might be willing drag out the old teleprompter for the Prime Minister, or one of his higher ranking minions, but Iggy is just a job applicant. He can make do with whatever passes across his Ivy League educated brain at the moment. If you give anyone enough time they'll say something stupid. Being a politician, and therefore forbidden from saying anything intelligent or controversial, Iggy has got to confine himself to platitudes. It's only a matter of time before you run out of bland inoffensive things to bore the kiddies to sleep with.
You can hear poor Iggy thinking: Baking a pie? No, the feminists will have my head for that one, so will the anti-Americans. How many hockey references can I cram into this thing before it gets annoying? What's left? Digging! Academics dig to find the truth! We as a nation must dig our way out of the fiscal mess the Harper government has left! Digging wells brings water, everyone loves water. Wait, do they? Better check with Warren, just in case I'm speaking at the North Manitoban Anti-Water Association Convention next week.
"We can't afford to be provincial. We can't afford to be small. We've got to engage with the world. The world needs Canada to solve conflicts, to give advice, to dig wells, to build schools, to help people. We (also) need more people coming into Canada."
So we need to send people out of Canada, and bring more people into Canada? Maybe he'll get a revolving door installed at customs. The digging wells and building schools bit sounds great, everyone loves digging and schools. Heck, Iggy's fertile brain must have made the next logical step, creating a network of schools in the Third World to teach digging! Those poor foreigners being unable to figure out how to dig their own holes. Indeed before the Liberal Party invented the hole, sometime in the 1960s I believe, we all just spent our time staring at the ground wondering if there was someway of moving this stuff out of our way. The teaching foreigners to dig holes meme dovetails neatly with the don't do drugs schtick. They both sound kind and compassionate, yet manifest the same paternalistic mentality. Foreigners aren't smart enough to dig their own holes, and ordinary Canadians aren't bright enough to figure out what to put in their own bodies. Luckily Lord Iggy is here to help, Ditch Digging Professor to the world.
Conservative Government Acts Conservatively
Like a broken clock:
Ottawa is preparing new measures that may soon allow foreign companies to buy small Canadian wireless players, part of the Harper government's ongoing attempts to deregulate the country's telecommunications sector.
In its budget last week, the federal government said it would open the satellite sector to greater investment from non-Canadians. But Industry Minister Tony Clement said he still has broader ambitions for reducing barriers to foreign investment in telecom. This could include allowing outside investors to acquire small players in Canada's wireless sector.
“That is one of the possibilities, but not the only possibility,” he said.
The progress is admitedly slow but it is a positive step. Canadian industry has lived inside an economic hothouse since the days of Macdonald's National Policy. Forcing Corporate Canada into the bracing winds of international competition will be as painful as it is necessary. Having consoled themselves with gouging - and since there is little practical alternative gouging is the right word - Canadian consumers for decades, they won't leave the hothouse without a fight.
Read free or die:
For most Canadians, choosing to go to an Indigo in a mall versus going to an Indigo a few blocks away isn’t a choice at all. On the Internet, Indigo faces limited competition. Amazon offers amazon.com and amazon.ca as an alternative, but Amazon’s business expansion capacity is limited in Canada by federal protectionist rules that prohibit it from actually owning and operating its own distribution system. Now Amazon wants to expand its Canadian operation, much to the chagrin of Canada’s smaller bookstores.
Because if Canadians bought their Dan Brown from an American owned store, it would be the end of Canadian culture. Book companies, like other for-profit businesses, don't particular care what books they sell, so long as they sell. If Margaret Atwood's latest doorstop - her books are also useful as armour plating - is what the bibliophiles demand, it shall be sold. Canadian culture is in no danger of dying if Canadians want it to survive. They simply vote with their pocketbooks. The argument that Canadian culture needs to be defended by the government, lest we be swamped by the emanations of the American behemoth, rests on an impressive bit of condescension. The ordinary Canadian isn't wise or patriotic enough to buy Canadian culture, so he needs to be forced to support it.
To that end, the government appoints itself as guardian, and through its financial support, as definer of culture. If Publius wrote tomes about how lesbian basket-weavers have battled the patriarchy, while battling the Canadian elements, he'd have a fair shot of getting a government grant. Stupidly he churns out blog posts about reducing government. Sigh. You can't always pay the rent while denouncing rent seeking. CanCon is really just old fashioned paternalism with a maple leaf slapped on the side. We're from the government and we're here to tell how to be Canadian, whether you like it or not.
Harper on Marijuana
Lots of to do was made about there being a marijuana question on the list of questions Stephen Harper would answer in his “YouTube interview.” Personally I don’t find that shocking at all, and I am a little bit amused by the moderator’s apologetic tone. Really this is an issue that affects more Canadians than the seal hunt. So it is not surprising that Canadians care about it.
Here is the question:
A majority of Canadians, when polled, say they believe marijuana should be legal for adults, just like alcohol. Why don’t you end the war on drugs and focus on violent criminals?
Here is the 600 word answer with my comments placed in brackets (I also added paragraphs to improve readability):
Well, it’s a good question. I’m not sure I’ve seen this particular poll. There are different polls on this subject that show different things (but they consistently show high support of legalization), but you know, I have to say young children, I guess they’re now…Ben and Rachel are now getting pretty close to 14 and 11, but maybe they’re not that young, but they are at the age where, you know, they will increasingly come into contact with drug use (so wouldn’t it be nice if marijuana stores would refuse to sell it to them because they fear losing their license?), and I guess as a parent, you know, this is the last thing I want to see for my kids or anyone else’s children (how about adults, what gives you the right to make the choice for them?).
You know, I understand that people defend the use of drugs, but that said, I don’t think…I think I’ve been very fortunate to live a drug-free life (good for you but who really cares?), and I don’t meet many people who’ve led a drug-free life who regret it. Met a lot of people who haven’t, who’ve regretted it (I’ve met a lot of people who have and don’t. This is all really irrelevant). So this is something that we want to encourage obviously for our children, for everybody’s children (You can encourage children not to take drugs and still have it legal. Such as the way that many families encourage their children not to smoke cigarettes).
Now, I also want people to understand what we’re really talking about here when we’re talking about the drug trade. You know, when people say focus on violent crime instead of drugs, and yeah, you know, there’s lots of crimes a lot worse than, you know, casual use of marijuana. But when people are buying from the drug trade, they are not buying from their neighbour (depends on your neighbourhood really). They are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence and intimidation and social disaster and catastrophe all across the world (Kind of reminds me of alcohol prohibition, how did that turn out when it was ended?). All across the world. You know, and I just wish people would understand that, and not just on drugs. Even when people buy, you know, an illegal carton of cigarettes and they avoid tax, that they really understand the kind of criminal networks that they are supporting, and the damage they do (so by legalizing you take it out of the hands of violent criminals).
Now, you know, I know some people say if you just legalized it, you know, you’d get the money and all would be well (huh?). But I think that rests on the assumption that somehow drugs are bad because they’re illegal. The reason drugs…it’s not that. The reason drugs are illegal is because they are bad (so is cheating on your wife, should we make that illegal too?). And even if these things were legalized, I can predict with a lot of confidence that these would never be respectable businesses run by respectable people (Yes because once booze was made legal no respectable business would touch it. There are absolutely no bases to make this claim). Because the very nature of the dependency they create (like booze), the damage they create (like booze), the social upheaval and catastrophe they create (like booze), particularly in third world countries (huh?)…I mean, you look now, you look at Latin America, some of the countries to the south of us, and the damage the drug trade is doing (wait did we just change topics here? I thought that we were talking about marijuana. Since when does Canada import marijuana from Latin America?), not just to people’s lives as drug users. Look at the violence it’s creating in neighbourhoods (just like booze when it was illegal. Are you starting to see a pattern here?), the destruction of social systems (like booze), of families (like booze), of governmental institutions (Huh?), the corruption of police forces (does he mean criminals corrupt the police? Sort of like how the mafia corrupted the police during alcohol prohibition?).
I mean, these are terrible, terrible organizations (I agree, see above for solution), and while I know people, you know, have different views, I must admit myself sometimes I’m frustrated by how little impact governments have been able to have on the drug trade internationally (you mean government is powerless, wow I’m shocked). But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that if we somehow stopped trying to deal with it, it would suddenly turn into a nice, wholesome industry (the way that booze did). It will never be that (the way that booze isn’t?). And I think we all need to understand that, and we all need to make sure our kids understand, not just that our kids…hopefully not just understand the damage drugs can do to them (like booze), but they understand as well the wider social disaster they are contributing to if they, through use of their money, fund organizations that produce and deliver elicit narcotics (which would stop happening if it was made legal).
Harper on Mandatory Minimums
A few days ago a CP article reported that the government of Canada is ignoring taxpayer research that shows that mandatory minimums do not work. This issue was brought up in Prime Minister Harper’s recent “YouTube interview.”
This question is from Chris in Waterloo, and he writes, “Since research has shown that mandatory minimum sentencing does not deter future crime, what makes you as the Prime Minister believe this is still an effective way of persecuting criminals?”
Harper responds that a majority of Canadians support mandatory minimums, which really has little to do with the question. If a majority of Canadians think that gravity is a myth, we still won’t be able to fly. He then goes on to say that the current system is broken. This still does not answer the question. Even if the current system is broken, why replace a broken system with something that is likely to be also broken?
He then says this:
we do think it’s very important that the criminal justice system send a
strong message that such behaviour is not acceptable, and that it be
appropriately punished, and that those who engage in such behaviour
understand what the likelihood of punishment actually is.
This does not so much ignore the question as it ignores the premise of the question. The point is that evidence from across the world has shown that mandatory minimums do not work to deter criminals. To then say that it represents a ‘strong message’ is foolish; if it was a ‘strong message’ then criminals would be deterred.
The Prime Minister ends his answer with this statement:
I think…I’m not an expert in this area, but I think the evidence suggests it isn’t the length of the punishment that matters; it’s the certainty of the punishment. And if there’s no certainty you’ll be punished, then no possible penalty will matter. So that’s why we think it’s important to actually have a minimum penalty for serious crimes.
I agree that certainty of punishment is a good theoretical goal. The problem is that this goal is impossible. Criminals do not always get caught. If they are caught there is not always sufficient evidence to convict. This means that every criminal knows he has a chance to get away with it. Mandatory minimums do nothing to change the perception and the reality that often crime does in fact pay.
Mr. Harper did not really address the question of why policy is not being evidence driven. He had an opportunity to refute the evidence or even reject the premise of the question (as he did in an earlier question regarding the seal hunt). He did neither of these things. I leave you to speculate why.
Here's a video clip of this portion of the interview:
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Conservative, Liberal, and NDP MPs present petitions against the extradition of Marc Emery
Yesterday, MPs Scott Reid (Conservative), Libby Davies (NDP), and Ujjal Dosanjh (Liberal) presented 12,000 petition signatures to the House of Commons insisting that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson should not sign a U.S. extradition request of libertarian publisher and cannabis activist Marc Emery.
Emery, dubbed the "Prince of Pot" by U.S. media, is facing five years in the U.S. on charges related to his selling marijuana seeds to U.S. citizens.
Scott Reid emphasized the fact that, in Canada, judges have consistently ruled that a justified penalty for selling marijuana seeds is a $200 fine. The same crime could result in a sentence of up to life in prison. The extradition treaty with the U.S. includes a provision that refers to punishments that would "shock the conscience" of the average Canadian as a valid, legal reason to refuse an extradition request.
Reid said that it is within the prerogative of the justice minister to "refuse to surrender a person when that surrender could involve unjust or undue or oppressive actions by the country to which he is being extradited."
Reid also emphasized the fact that Health Canada, a government agency, urged Canadians with permission to use medical marijuana, to purchase seeds from Marc Emery if they found government marijuana to be of insufficient quality.
Libby Davies, meanwhile, added that extraditing Emery appears to be in tension with our sovereignty. "People don't understand why Marc Emery should be extradited," she said in the House. "He was never prosecuted in Canada for these crimes, and I think people see it as a question of Canadian sovereignty."
Ujjal Dosanjh echoed the sentiments of Reid and Davies, adding that, in his opinion, there was "inherent unfairness" in the process that might result in Emery being extradited to the U.S.
Here is a video of the three MPs putting forward the petitions:
CTF supports Liberal proposal to end 10 per centers
The sign of a truly nonpartisan organization is the willingness to support good ideas regardless of what party they come from. The Canadian Taxpayer Federation has demonstrated that they are nonpartisan by supporting the Liberal proposal to end the 10 per centers.
This should be a no brainer for anyone who supports smaller government, or even for those that don’t. It is difficult to argue that the Canadian people benefit from spending $30 million on party political propaganda. All parties have abused this system that was originally designed for constituency communication. All parties would look good if they come together and cleanse themselves of this program.
So I join with the CTF and call upon MPs of all political parties to support the end of the 10 per centers.
In a blog post a couple of days ago I said that small-c conservative activists should spend their energy in nonpartisan organizations. Thanks to the CTF for demonstrating why I wrote this. It is in organizations like the CTF that good ideas can be promoted regardless of whose idea it is.
Ready to Ignite
Imagine pouring a tanker truck worth of gasoline into a swimming pool. Now imagine throwing a lighted match into the pool. The difference between that analogy, and our current monetary situation, is that no one has thrown in the lighted match yet. Prof. Palmer of the UWO explains:
But with all the potential liquidity that is out there, the current situation is most likely an unstable equilibrium. As people regain even a smidgeon of confidence, and/or as people come to experience higher interest rates, and/or as people come to expect higher rates of inflation, we will not want to hold such humongous money balances.
And as we start converting our monetary assets into other assets, velocity will increase and so will aggregate demand. As Siklos and many others have warned, with all the liquidity already in the system, a rapidly increasing velocity will unleash gi-normous inflationary pressures in the next year or so.
National Post Condemns Random Breathalyzer Tests
As a follow up to this earlier Shotgun post. The NP's editorial board is not enthused by a trial ballon floated last week, calling for granting police the power to conduct random breathalyzer tests on drivers.
If the current approach to impaired driving wasn’t working, there would at least be a public safety argument to make for taking the government’s power to intrude on basic liberties further. But drunk driving rates have dropped significantly over the past decades. Traffic Injury Research Foundation statistics show there were 1,296 alcohol-related deaths in Canada in 1995; in 2006 there were 907 — a 30% drop in just a decade.
Very drunk drivers remain the biggest problem: Among fatally injured drivers with alcohol in their system, almost 60% tested at more than twice the legal limit. Happily, the very drunk are the easiest for police to spot on the roads, and that’s precisely where they should focus their efforts. If the law is to change in order to deal with a small number of incorrigible repeat offenders, it should be through ever-stiffer sentences, not by further eroding the rights of law-abiding citizens.
The Compassionate State - Part 2
We concluded the first part of this two part series by summarizing the claims of socialized health care's defenders. While this post is written with the Canadian system in mind, and the author is aware that defenders of socialized care are not homogenous in outlook and approach, the goal is to provide a basic philosophic summary of the system's defenders. Their argument being, briefly, that socialized health care is morally superior system to an essentially market based system. This second part seeks to analyze this claim of moral superiority.
I have omitted arguments as to the efficiency and efficacy of socialized health care. There are certainly those who put forward the claims that socialized care is more economically efficient that a market system, and that its outcomes are superior. I have not dealt with these claims for reasons of practicality. Aside from die hard socialists, and victims of Canadian public education, few now take seriously the claim that a government system is more efficient, or efficacious, that a market based system. The reams of historical data, from the Eastern Bloc command economies, to the nationalized industries of Britain, have borne out the material failings of non-market based systems of resource allocation. The degree of aversion to market principles is the degree of those systems failure to materially provide for their participants.
While their failure was predicted by market economists, notably Mises as early as the 1920s, the proof has been borne out in the history of the last ninety years. To those who object to my characterizations, I can only direct them to the economic and historical literature on the topic. My contention, therefore, is that socialized health care is ultimately a moral proposition. Solely as a matter of practical efficiency, providing quality care to the overwhelming majority of the population, the weight of evidence goes to supporting a market approach. Even the current American system, a hodgepodge of highly regulate private companies, and three large state services (Medicare, Medicaid and provisions for serving and veteran military personnel), still provides quality care to the overwhelming majority of Americans. Whatever the validity of the claim that forty-five million Americans do not have health care insurance - this figure includes the very rich, illegal aliens, those between jobs and those in their twenties who choose not to purchase health care - it must be evaluated within the context of a nation of over three-hundred million.
The repeated legislative failures of the current American administration, whose party controls both houses of the Congress, suggests there is no crying desire for a socialized system. Instead the proposed expansions of government interference in the health care market have provoked a fierce backlash, notably in the form of the Tea Party. The proponents of health care "reform" claim a desperate need for their type of reform, yet despite every political advantage they have failed to convince the critical mass of the American electorate of their plans. The alleged victims of the current system are not reaching for the lifesaver of socialized, or quasi-socialized, health care. It is something defenders of Canadian Medicare should have the honesty of conceding, rather than dismissing resistance as the product of mysterious "corporate lobbyists" and all powerful radio talk show hosts.-----------------
The moral proposition underpinning socialized health care is one of altruism. It is rarely described by this term, instead terms such as compassion and social justice are more frequently employed by its advocates. Compassion, however, is a voluntary expression of benevolence. It is motivated not by guilt but by goodwill, by the desire to alleviate human suffering. There is, strictly speaking here, no such thing as coercive compassion. Altruism, as I am defining it here, is a moral duty placed upon the individual to serve and aid others. In its purest form the duty is unlimited. The individual has no moral right to resist claims of assistance, even to the point of self immolation. Of course very few practice so extreme a course, it would be suicidal to do so. In common practice most people practice a mixture of the two, they both genuinely wish to relieve the suffering of others from good will, and they regard it as a moral duty to do so. The distinction may seem an artificial one to some. What's wrong with both duty and compassion? Surely there is enough suffering in the world that the more motivation to relive it the better. The danger is that you cannot say no to duty, not at least without feeling guilt and remorse (if you genuinely regard something as a duty).
That is the moral underpinning of socialized health care. It is the duty of doctors, nurses and taxpayers to provide their services and wealth to sustain the moral claims of others. They cannot morally say no. If a critical mass of the electorate regard it as their moral duty to help others, it is a small quibble whether they do so by private means or via the state. Moral collectivism leads to political collectivism. I know many Christian libertarians who object to my making this point, they argue altruism is a moral duty best fulfilled outside of government. I don't doubt that private charities, whatever their motivations, would in the main do better than the state. But it is a weak objection, just like defending free market health care on the basis of efficiency alone. Perhaps private charity would be more efficient, but it does not guarantee that all people will fulfill their altruistic duty, or fulfil it to the required level. The state can make that guarantee through the tax system.
Morality trumps politics. You cannot preach one way and vote another. I would submit as an example for this the descent of American conservatism from the comparative free marketing of Ronald Reagan, to the statist fiasco of "compassionate conservatism" under the George W Bush. The "compassion," in the latter instance, shown by massive budget deficits and near complete intellectual surrender to the advocates of socialized health care. Without Bush there would be no Obama, in more than the narrow sense of the unpopularity of the former having helped elect the latter. To defend a free market in health care requires rejecting altruism as a standard of evaluation. Socialized health care is sold as insurance to the public, as something you pay into, but it is not run along proper actuarial lines. Taxes are not charged based on risk, which would undermine the principle of "universality," i.e. that access to health care is a moral right. It is altruism with a fig-leaf of insurance. The fig-leaf is provided because most people would feel uncomfortable with openly receiving what is, in essence, a welfare benefit.
In the previous post I summarized the position of socialized health care's defenders. A state "insurance" system would be more compassionate - i.e. altruistic - because it was subject to the mechanism of democratic, rather than market accountability. Since I have rejected altruism as a standard of evaluation, it would seem redundant to attempt to refute the efficacy of democratic accountability to that end. It is, however, important to conclude by contrasting the methods of market and democratic accountability. I will seek to demonstrate, perhaps at the obvious risk of being tedious, the failures of the democratic mechanism versus its market based alternative. A neutral observer to North American health care would note that bureaucratic short-sightedness is an element of both systems. As noted previously, the American system is a far cry from a free market, even when compared to the typical level of government controls in the modern mixed-economy. Here is a very brief list of some of the more pernicious government interventions in the health care insurance market. Each is a crucial short-circuit in the market mechanism, it is with these factors in mind that the performance of the American health system must be judged.
- The cost of health care insurance is tax deductible for employers, but not employees (it is usually deductible for the self-employed). This provision in the IRC dates from the late 1940s. It was part of the Truman administration's program of gradually implementing socialized health care by first getting people into employer programs, and then having the government take over these plans. The second element was never completed.
- It is, in most cases, illegal to buy health insurance out of state. A resident of New York, where health insurance is quite expensive, cannot buy insurance issued in Florida, where it is cheaper for someone with the same demographic profile. A single insurance firm can be active in many states, but residents of each state can only buy insurance approved for that state. Insurance companies are mostly regulated at the state level.
- Each state imposes coverage requirements, called mandates. This means that most insurance policies issued in that state must cover certain ailments, regardless of whether people wish to be insured against that risk. This in turn drives up the price of insurance, in some cases beyond the reach of many middle class Americans. Since mandates are politically determined, and cost the government practically nothing to impose, it is quite popular for state-level politicians to appease certain interest groups by advocating for niche mandates. For example, in recent years a handful of states have mandated infertility coverage, this means that all purchasers of health insurance must pay for this coverage. Other mandates limit co-payments, which has the same effect on health insurance premiums as reducing your deductible does on car insurance premiums.
Despite these remarkable handicaps, about 58% of Americans have private insurance. The rest are covered by Medicaid - for the poor - and Medicare - for those over 65. The comparative success of the American system, whose innovative treatments and medications the rest of the world depends upon, is a product of the remaining elements of a market system. At the beginning of this two part series I cited the common characterization of the market as being driven by narrow self interest. This is true as far as it goes, yet the market system is no more driven by narrow self interest than the democratic system. In a market system, however, self interest also entails personal responsibility. You get what you pay for. You cannot shift the burden of responsibility onto others, without their consent. The market mechanism of accountability pivots on the principle of consent.
Individual participants in a market can withdraw their consent, something which is impossible under the democratic mechanism, except partially every few years if enough people agree on the same issue. The democratic system is where majority, sometimes only plurality, rules. The majority may bind the minority. For some state functions there can be little alternative to this rule. 49% of a country cannot refuse to go to war. It would be absurd, however, to argue this as a necessity in products or services that are personally consumed.
The limitations of the democratic mechanism can be summarized as follows. With one vote, cast at periodic intervals, the citizen is asked to express his or her satisfaction (or the opposite) on the government of the day. Yet it is an up and down vote. If the citizen is impressed with the efficiency of the state run transit system, but not the state run schools, how can he express these divergent opinions with one vote? The citizen can certainly complain and seek to embarrass the government for their failings in one area, yet the ultimate sanction is a crude one. The shrewd politician understands this. He does not have to do an excellent job in all issues, which would be impossible anyway given the scope of modern government, he has only to look like he has been successful enough in certain areas of voter concern. Certain elections are dominated by particular issues, free trade in 1988 for instances. Voters will ignore a candidate's many failings over one perceived strength, they will buy a political package deal.
Jack Layton might legalize marijuana, but he might also nationalize the Royal Bank. Stephen Harper will definitely not do the former, but is unlikely to do the latter. When, in 1885, John A Macdonald was pondering whether to grant Louis Riel a pardon, he is said to have estimated that the votes he would lose in Quebec - by letting Riel hang - would be more than offset by the votes he would gain in Ontario. As it turned out Quebec remained loyal to Macdonald, and he won two more majority governments before his death in office six years later. They hated him for allowing Riel to hang, but feared the Liberal opposition getting into power and attacking the privileges of the Catholic Church. Macdonald, in any case, could always hide behind the court ruling. Every dog in Quebec barked, and it didn't matter.
The politician can also evade genuine accomplishment. He has only to seem more palatable than the alternative. The weakness of the democratic mechanism is also shown in the value assigned by the voter to the vote. It costs him nothing but his time to vote. He requires no knowledge of the issues or the principles involved, the costs of choosing unwisely are diffused over millions of others like him. This compares sharply with the citizen in his capacity as consumer, as opposed to voter. His economic votes, his money, is typically earned. If he chooses unwisely he must bear the consequences of his actions. If he is unfortunate he must convince others to help him, to show that he will use the money wisely for desperate needs. Those who help him have every incentive to get the unfortunate back to self-sufficiency. A democratic mechanism of resource allocation does none of these things. With his vote, combined with others like him, he disdains gifts and demands money and services as rights. The politician who gains power advocating a redistribution of other people's money has an easy case to make. The politico has little incentive to tell his voters that they need return to self-sufficiency, or that they should take only what they genuinely need. The benefits accrue to certain individuals, but the responsibilities and costs are collectivized. Should anyone question the unfairness of the process, he is reminded that he is his brother's keeper, no matter what a louse the brother might be. No matter than the brother is a perfect stranger, even an enemy.
The failings of the selection of the executive, election of the political class, are manifest. The implementation of their decisions is perhaps worse. You can throw the bums out at election time, but the next set of bums must face the same cast of almost impossible to fire bureaucrats. There are not three branches of government, there are four. The fourth is the public sector bureaucracy. It's private sector counterparts might go bankrupt if they fail in their task, the Ottawa and Queen's Park Mandarins face no such worries. Their source of revenue is guaranteed through taxation. Their nominal political masters in cabinet hold their portfolios for an average of eighteen months. Their supervision is at best light. The politician is crudely accountable through the democratic mechanism, the public sector is essentially not accountable. Save for the wrath of the most iron willed of politicians, such as Thatcher and Harris, the public bureaucrat may conduct himself with an impunity that would have impressed the aristocrats of old. Even the most public spirited of Mandarins must navigate through a never ending stream of political directives. This week's issue of the month must be played up, says the minister. The Mandarin may know perfectly well that more pressing concerns are being ignored. What can he do? To resist would be career suicide. Being proven right can help ones career in the private sector, it can be the mark of cain in the cubicles of the state. A private employee who disagrees with his superiors' approach can go elsewhere, or strike out on his own. What are the alternatives for the bureaucrat?
The popular image of democratic government compassion, and cold hearted capitalism, belie a more complex reality. The compassionate state is a false bill of goods. Crude stereotypes of markets ignore the variety of approaches that are possible. The state is ultimately a mechanism of force, however necessary force is at times, it is a last resort with limited applicability. In Shakespeare's Henry V the hero is seen touring his camp the night before the Battle of Agincourt. While alone he ponders the nature of power and its limitations:
Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
A humility that is missing in modern government, and its defenders.
Monday, March 15, 2010
The Firewall Letter
Just because it is fun to reprint things that Mr. Harper has said in the past:
Dear Premier Klein:
During and since the recent federal election, we have been among a large number of Albertans discussing the future of our province. We are not dismayed by the outcome of the election so much as by the strategy employed by the current federal government to secure its re-election. In our view, the Chretien government undertook a series of attacks not merely designed to defeat its partisan opponents, but to marginalize Alberta and Albertans within Canada’s political system.
One well-documented incident was the attack against Alberta’s health care system. To your credit, you vehemently protested the unprecedented attack ads that the federal government launched against Alberta’s policies – policies the Prime Minister had previously found no fault with.
However, while your protest was necessary and appreciated by Albertans, we believe that it is not enough to respond only with protests. If the government in Ottawa concludes that Alberta is a soft target, we will be subjected to much worse than dishonest television ads. The Prime Minister has already signalled as much by announcing his so called “tough love” campaign for the West. We believe the time has come for Albertans to take greater charge of our own future. This means resuming control of the powers that we possess under the constitution of Canada but that we have allowed the federal government to exercise. Intelligent use of these powers will help Alberta build a prosperous future in spite of a misguided and increasingly hostile government in Ottawa.
Under the heading of the “Alberta Agenda,” we propose that our province move forward on the following fronts:
• Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan offering the same benefits at lower cost while giving Alberta control over the investment fund. Pensions are a provincial responsibility under section 94A of the Constitution Act. 1867; and the legislation setting up the Canada Pension Plan permits a province to run its own plan, as Quebec has done from the beginning. If Quebec can do it, why not Alberta?
• Collect our own revenue from personal income tax, as we already do for corporate income tax. Now that your government has made the historic innovation of the single-rate personal income tax, there is no reason to have Ottawa collect our revenue. Any incremental cost of collecting our own personal income tax would be far outweighed by the policy flexibility that Alberta would gain, as Quebec’s experience has shown.
• Start preparing now to let the contract with the RCMP run out in 2012 and create an Alberta Provincial Police Force. Alberta is a major province. Like the other major provinces of Ontario and Quebec, we should have our own provincial police force. We have no doubt that Alberta can run a more efficient and effective police force than Ottawa can – one that will not be misused as a laboratory for experiments in social engineering.
• Resume provincial responsibility for health-care policy. If Ottawa objects to provincial policy, fight in the courts. If we lose, we can afford the financial penalties that Ottawa may try to impose under the Canada Health Act. Albertans deserve better than the long waiting periods and technological backwardness that are rapidly coming to characterize Canadian medicine. Alberta should also argue that each province should raise its own revenue for health care – i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points as Quebec has argued for many years. Poorer provinces would continue to rely on Equalization to ensure they have adequate revenues.
• Use section 88 of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Quebec Secession Reference to force Senate reform back onto the national agenda. Our reading of that decision is that the federal government and other provinces must seriously consider a proposal for constitutional reform endorsed by “a clear majority on a clear question” in a provincial referendum. You acted decisively once before to hold a senatorial election. Now is the time to drive the issue further.
All of these steps can be taken using the constitutional powers that Alberta now possesses. In addition, we believe it is imperative for you to take all possible political and legal measures to reduce the financial drain on Alberta caused by Canada’s tax-and-transfer system. The most recent Alberta Treasury estimates are that Albertans transfer $2,600 per capita annually to other Canadians, for a total outflow from our province approaching $8 billion a year. The same federal politicians who accuse us of not sharing their “Canadian values” have no compunction about appropriating our Canadian dollars to buy votes elsewhere in the country.
Mr. Premier, we acknowledge the constructive reforms that your government made in the 1990s balancing the budget, paying down the provincial debt, privatizing government services, getting Albertans off welfare and into jobs, introducing a single-rate tax, pulling government out of the business of subsidizing business, and many other beneficial changes. But no government can rest on its laurels. An economic slowdown, and perhaps even recession, threatens North America, the government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta’s prosperity, to redistribute income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power. It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.
Once Alberta’s position is secured, only our imagination will limit the prospects for extending the reform agenda that your government undertook eight years ago. To cite only a few examples, lower taxes will unleash the energies of the private sector, easing conditions for Charter Schools will help individual freedom and improve public education, and greater use of the referendum and initiative will bring Albertans into closer touch with their own government.
The precondition for the success of this Alberta Agenda is the exercise of all our legitimate provincial jurisdictions under the constitution of Canada. Starting to act now will secure the future for all Albertans.
Stephen HARPER, President, National Citizens’ Coalition;
Tom FLANAGAN, professor of political science and former Director of Research, Reform
Party of Canada;
Ted MORTON, professor of political science and Alberta Senator-elect;
Rainer KNOPFF, professor of political science;
Andrew CROOKS, chairman, Canadian Taxpayers Federation;
Ken BOESSENKOOL, former policy adviser to Stockwell Day, Treasurer of Alberta.
An Englishman's Walking Stick
I recall Sherlock Holmes having to use his to defend himself against the odd villain. The next step in escalation was Watson's trusty revolver. Hand guns being banned in the Mother of the Free now, the elderly are having to resort to their NHS walking sticks:
Kevin Garwood, 61, has developed lessons in self defence using the NHS walking stick for people over 50 to help them to stand up to yobs and drunks.
The course is based on martial arts from around the world that use the sabre, bayonet and staff, which have been adapted specifically for stick users with limited mobility.
Typical moves include throws, takedowns and 'neck hooks' which use the crook of the stick for locks and strangleholds as well as gentle exercises using the 3ft long canes.
We congratulate Mr Garwood for his improvisational skills. Knowing modern England I suspect some obscure Whitehall department is already preparing charges against him. The right of self defense, weakened by handgun bans, has been steadily worn away by the police charging victims who defend themselves.
The Compassionate State - Part 1
We're from the government...
Suffering from brain cancer, Kent Pankow was literally forced to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for lifesaving surgery — at a cost to family and friends of $106,000 — after the health-care system in Alberta left him hanging in bureaucratic limbo for 16 crucial days, his tumour meanwhile migrating to an unreachable part of the brain, while it dithered over his case file, ultimately deciding he was not surgery worthy.
As most of you, I was solemnly taught in school that Canada's Medicare system meant that, unlike in the United States, no one would go broke because they were sick, and no one would go without treatment for lack of funds. For decades the Canadian media has broadcast stories about Americans going broke trying to pay exorbitant health care bills, or those denied care due to poverty. Those cases are exceptional, just as Kent Pankow's case. As the article goes onto explain, the medication Kent needed to survive is covered by AHIP (Alberta Health Insurance Plan) for most forms of cancer, just not his. He simply slipped through the cracks. As many Americans do when their private coverage is cancelled, or a condition falls within a policy's exemptions. Extremes, however, do not define a system. The existence of slums do not demonstrate the failure of capitalism any more than mansions its success. A health care system, simply put, allocates resources for the provision of health care. Any system requires a bureaucracy (or bureaucracies) in order to function, however large or small. Bureaucracies allocate resources through directive and the enforcement of procedures, so much spent here and for these purposes alone. Private sector ones, in this sense, are no different from public ones. The difference between the two is the mechanism of accountability between its end users and the actors within the system: Democratic accountability versus market accountability. In effect, who rules the rulers of the system.
Very few people can afford to pay large sums out of pocket for medical treatment. For routine examinations this is less of a concern, most can afford these charges and those who cannot are covered by wealth transfers schemes (private or state financed). For catastrophic conditions they must rely on a third party to meet their needs, for the overwhelming majority this will be insurance. In America the health insurance system is mostly private, albeit highly regulated. In Canada the health insurance system is mostly state controlled, albeit with a growing private element. Some will bristle at the description of Canadian Medicare, the state socialized system, as "insurance." Strictly speaking that is correct, the Medicare system would fail to meet any actuarial standard as an insurance policy, despite the fact that its provincial administration is described as insurance i.e. Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan (OHIP). The system, however, is understood by the general public as a sort of insurance.
Taxpayers pay higher taxes and in return they get "free" health care. This has been described as a sort of "social contract" between the electorate and the state. The tax system being progressive, some pay into the system more than others, but the basic principle is of a sort of quid pro quo. You pay what you can, and in turn get what you "need." Case in point, OHIP covers only those resident in Ontario for three months who are Canadian citizens, or qualified immigrants. It even encourages those moving into the province to get temporary private insurance (which is not illegal for those not covered by OHIP, or for uncovered services). In other words it is not a charity open to all, it has restrictions placed on access based on residency. Since it is virtually impossible to reside into Ontario without paying into the provincial coffers, there is quid pro quo, albeit with the notable qualification that one is forced to participate at both ends. It's not really insurance and it's not really a trade, but it is seen and accepted as such by most.
Why should the state be tasked with the insurance function, i.e. the financing of health care? The following is my summation of the intellectual position of socialized health care's defenders. Debates over health care focus mostly on technical minutiae or crude stereotypes. Empirical data is obviously vital, all data however is evaluated within an intellectual framework - from whence that framework emerges is beyond the purview of this post. The fate of Kent Pankow is a tragedy. Evaluated out of context it is meaningless beyond that of a personal tragedy. The defenders of the system will excuse it as a rare exception to an otherwise well functioning system. The broader phenomenon of long wait times for certain procedures as either a sign of underfunding, or a necessary trade-off for a system which strives for universal access. Critics will use the Pankow case as an example of government bungling, suggestive of a deeper crisis within the system.
The defender's argument goes that state provision of insurance will, at least roughly, be conducted along moral lines i.e. genuine medical need will largely trump mere financial incentives in its operations. As primary financier, and confronted with alternative demands on its funds, the government is also necessarily tasked with the role of rationing health resources. Any economic system, whatever its philosophical basis, confronts the same problem of scarcity of resources; human desires outstrip available resources. It is argued by the defenders of state run health care, including the advocates of Medicare, that confronted with this universal dilemma, the state will ration in a compassionate manner. Comparatively, according to the defenders, a market based system would ration based on profit seeking. It would follow the money, rather than following the heart. Furthermore, the state run systems would by necessity be compassionate because its mechanism of accountability is democratic.
The presumption, and it is a very large one, is that the state is more compassionate than the market. The market is ruled by its own version of the golden rule, he who has the gold makes the rules. The state, at least the Canadian state, is democratic. Each individual is as important in getting a politician elected as any other. The rich man's ballot is no more valuable to the politician than the poor man's ballot. Even if a politician is purely selfish, in the conventional sense, his interests lead him to serve the interests of his constituents, or at least a working majority. To gain and stay in power, and collect his generous salary, he must keep his electorate happy. The politician, in the specific case the Premier and Minister of Health, supervises the bureaucracy which rations care. Using their executive authority they can ensure that the bureaucracy rations health care in a manner pleasing to the electorate. The self same electorate, or at least a working majority thereof, which voted in a socialized system (or at the very least has not voted politicians into office to dismantle it), did so on the basis of it being more compassionate than the likely alternative (a more market based approach). In brief, the people have demanded a compassionate system, and will demand that it be governed along compassionate lines. The definition of compassion being drawn from a rough approximation of conventional opinion.
Conversely, according to this theory, the market mechanism of accountability cannot be compassionate by definition. The participants in the market are driven by narrow economic self interest. The profit motive does not reward compassion, if anything it punishes it. The whole system is tainted. It might be allowed an auxillary function, such as the provision of equipment or even delivery of services, but the purse strings must be ultimately kept in political hands. The politician is democratically accountable, and actors within a democratic framework are not necessarily motivated by narrow self-interest. They may so act, but the system is flexible enough to allow broader and higher sentiments to be exercised. Perhaps the electorate will vote for the porkbarrel politicos, but perhaps the electorate will also vote for the bold visionary of higher sentiments and values. The two might even be combined, as in the career of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
In short, government insurance is compassionate by definition (being a creature of a compassionate electorate), whereas by definition a market based system of insurance is not compassionate (being a creature of greed rather than need). The standard of value is compassion, roughly defined as ensuring that all have access to needed medical treatment regardless of financial ability to pay. Needed medical treatment in turn defined as being necessary to sustain a reasonable quality of life.
At this point I might be accused of having created a series of strawmen arguments. In my defense I believe that I have fairly represented the arguments and beliefs of the advocates of socialized health care, in that a government system of insurance is morally superior to a private system, whatever its attendant practical flaws.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Harper and the conservative movement
John Ibbitson writes an interesting column about the Conservative Party base. He points out that most Canadians are more ‘right wing’ than we would traditionally consider ourselves. This country has a long proud history of supporting personal responsibility and individual liberty. That tradition has not been wiped out and forms the back bone of the conservative movement.
But this is not really what caught my eye about the column. It was what was said at the very end the perked my interest:
Mr. Gafuik doubts the anthem flap is likely to estrange the Prime Minister from his base. After all, he says, Stephen Harper “came up on the movement side of conservative politics,” as an early adopter of the Reform Party and the onetime head of the National Citizens Coalition. Stephen Harper “is one of our own.”
But the Prime Minister needs to remember where he came from. The Stephen Harper of old would never have tried to change the wording of O Canada . And if someone else had tried, he'd have got on the phone.
This underlines two features of Stephen Harper’s leadership of the Conservative Party. The first is the bank of trust and credibility that he has built up over the years. There are many people who will, despite the ongoing evidence, give Mr. Harper the benefit of the doubt. I think the “one of our own” line truly demonstrates how many in the conservative movement (note small c) views Mr. Harper.
The second feature is the dedicated manner in which Mr. Harper has endeavoured to burn away that trust and credibility. Between the largest budgets in history and banning certain kinds of light bulbs, he has become the very thing that he once attacked. Mr. Ibbitson is right; ten years ago the most committed critic of Mr. Harper’s policies would have been Mr. Harper. The man has basically turned his back on everything that he stood for when he was President of the NCC.
The best hope for any conservative activist is to ignore the Conservative Party. They should put their energy and time into organizations like the Manning Centre or the Canadian Constitution Foundation. It is in those organizations that the ideas of the conservative movement are still alive; the same ideas that are now dead in the Harper government.