The Shotgun Blog
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Revolutionary Says Revolution Has Gone Too Far
Like rolling a stone down a hill and being surprised by what happened next. This Joni Mitchell interview is getting a lot of play for knocking Bob Dylan down a few pegs. Never been a fan of mumbles, and to her credit Mitchell was one of the less atonal musicians of the 1960s. After she had finished savaging the Minnesota Minstrel, the Canadian songstress took a shot at Madonna:
Railing against the "stupid, destructive" era we live in, Mitchell took aim at the Material Girl. "Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point."
Hmm. And I'm the embittered reactionary. Mitchell's vituperative rant suggests what I've suspected for sometime, that many of the cultural Jacobins of the 1960s are appalled by the culture they helped create. Free love morphing into cold promiscuity, liberation of old moral restraints becoming a license for anarchy in social relations. Ortega y Gasset, whom reactionaries like me are fond of quoting, observed:
When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveler knows that in the territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.
That was in 1930. Those who lack standards tend to become "stupid and shallow." What Gasset saw in the streets of Europe eight decades was only a prelude. The fascist worship of force and will was replaced, or reformed, a generation and a half later into another form of will worship. The fascist in jackboots, and barefoot hippie, would seem to be opposites, one advocating violence and the other peace. Yet both reject reason and surrender to emotion. The fascists whom Gasset abhorred were a bit more organized, and submitted their wills and desires to that of an absolute leader. Their goal was power over others. Organization and ambition gave them the ability to seize much of Europe for a time. Had they succeed western civilization would likely have died. For all the economic strength of North America, we are intellectual dependents on European thought and mores unto this day. A non-European West would have been something akin to the Byzantines. Back to Gasset:
Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of unreason."
The fascist's direct assault on liberal civilization, was also an epistemological attack on the preceding Age of Reason. The counter-culture of the 1960s, peacefully, picked up the emotionalism of the fascists. While highlighting some of the more contested cultural dogmas of the era, premarital sex being the most famous, the counter-culture preached freedom. It was not freedom from the state, those among them capable of articulating political positions leaning heavily to the Left, but freedom from the hum-drum necessities of earning a living and respecting private property. The Five Man Electrical band expressed this anarchism rather, er, eloquently:
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he'd tell you to your face, man you're some kinda sinner
Ms Mitchell was in a similar vein when writing:
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
and a swinging hot spot
Little be it for me, here, to defend the mediocrity of most of post-modern architecture, which lurches from banality to crude stunt-making. A pink hotel may not be an improvement over whatever was paved over, but some people clearly regarded it as so. Paradise to some is paved over. Land usage debates aren't really the point. It was a cri de coeur against industrial civilization, and its impositions on "free spirits." Previous generations had regarded such "spirits" as shiftless wanderers, they became in 1960s the new ideal. Doing what you feel like is certainly liberating. Living a life on the spur of the moment, however, becomes its own trap. The long-term is rejected as restrictive. I want it now. I want it my way. It's not selfishness, though it is often mistaken as such, as no self can possibly develop from so short-term a mentality. The hippie was "stupid and shallow" to begin with. Those who came after Joni Mitchell simply cashed in on the stupidity. They're continuing to do so.
Stephen Harper, stimulus spending, and political power
A poll reveals that business leaders generally agree with the Fraser Institute that stimulus spending has not helped the economy. The attitude appears to be that the Conservative government acted for political gain rather than what was best for Canada’s economy. I would agree with this conclusion, except to say that the government has not really gained any political advantage out of the stimulus package.
It is widely claimed that Canada would have gone into an election if the Conservatives had not increased spending to the degree that they did. I doubt that this would have happened considering the anger and outrage that was still around from the coalition attempt. Not to mention the chaos within the Liberal Party that had resulted from Michael Ignatieff’s coup. Even if there was an election it seems likely that the Conservatives would have gained.
The other argument was that the government needed the spending to increase their popularity. You notice any large sustained boosts in the polls? The Conservative’s level of support has remained the same as it has been for the past 4 years. Maybe the Conservatives would have gone down a little in the polls but this would have only been in the short term. Ultimately the Canadian people do not support deficit spending.
Really the political excuse for why Mr. Harper directed the government to massively increase spending is a bad one. Consider that the spending has done no good at all. Even the minority of the planned spending that has actually been spent has not significantly contributed to the recovery. At the same time it has done a lot of harm. Canada is going to have trouble paying off this debt and the population is not getting any younger.
So Stephen Harper did something that is bad for Canada for the sake of political gain. He reversed a life time commitment to free markets and opposition to Keynesian economics for the sake of political power. Isn’t this exactly what conservatives have complained about the Liberals for generations; a willingness to bend principle for power? Is this really what the Conservative Party expected of its leadership?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The crisis of socialism, part 1.
Socialists have been beside themselves with excitement since the beginning of this economic crisis, believing wrongly, that the economic turmoil brought about by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market was proof of an error in capitalism.
Many a socialist will be happy to point out that even the likes of Alan Greenspan agree with them. The problem, of course, is that Alan Greenspan was not a laissez-faire capitalist while he was Federal Reserve Chairman. He was an ardent interventionist in the economy -- despite his supposed love for the free market and former membership in the Ayn Rand Collective.
What is a laissez-faire capitalist, anyways? The term is often misapplied by socialists to neoliberals (most of whom are not laissez-fair capitalists) and by neoliberals themselves.
Most neoliberals overwhelmingly -- while supporting a reduction in the size and scope of government -- continue to believe in the government's role is deciding monetary policy. A policy, that this free marketer, and many other free marketers would style a form of hidden socialism. And not just any form of hidden socialism. But a socialism that does, alas, primarily benefit the elite.
In this sense, true laissez-faire proponents have a point of agreement with many socialists today. That, our economic system is primarily designed for the benefit of the rich. And it is a system that is designed, quite deliberately, to allow the government to manage the economy.
Most socialists and most people in general are unable to understand how government control of interest rates, and more generally, the money supply is a disqualifying trait from the definition of a free market. Money is seen by most people as not really of direct importance to the economy, other than as a medium of exchange. That's the end of the analysis.
Inflation is generally considered by most people to be caused by rich, greedy corporations slowly increasing their prices to exact more profits. Not as a deliberate government policy.
If you believe this, your entire economic analysis of our economy is basically invalid, because you're completely and utterly wrong.
Food prices have fallen substantially over the past one-hundred years. Yet many people will cry foul over that statement, thinking back to a time where they could buy a loaf of bread for a dime. But the error of analysis here, is assuming that the loaf got more expensive. Rather, it was the dime that became less valuable.
We can demonstrate this quite easily by using wage inflation versus food price inflation since 1901. At the beginning of the 20th century, on average, the price of food consumed 66.1% of a family's household income. That's two thirds!
Today, the cost of food consumes, on average, about 14% of a family's household income. That's a massive decline in a the cost of food.
But most people can't get their head around this. They view nominal price rises as a real price rise. They can't contemplate how their money "loses value".
Inflation is entirely caused by government. It is an intentional policy of central banks sometimes referred to as "price stability". Since prices tend to fall, not rise over time, as economies of scale drive prices down (think cell phones, computers, etc.) government's print money at a rate that brings "core inflation" up at a rate of about 2% a year. This is often referred to as the "inflation target" by central bankers.
The extra money they create to accomplish this, is lent out a discount rate. It becomes mortgages for your house, business loans, and one of the largest sources of hidden government spending.
In fact, government is the majority source of funding for home mortgages in both the US and Canada through this process. Not private capital. In fact, access to cheap credit in general is largely function of government throwing all this cheap capital into the market.
In effect, inflation is a way the government steals value right out of your pocket, right out of your savings account, and right out of your investments. Because when they print money (and I use the term "print" loosely, here) the increase supply of money means that money is more plentiful than the goods it buys, and as a result, the prices of goods rise against the value of a unit of currency. It's supply and demand 101.
Venezuela is perhaps a prominent example of the socialist lack-of-understanding for this principle. Hugo Chavez has enacted massive monetary expansionist policies by printing massive amounts more money, devaluing the bolivar and then reacting indignantly at the 26% consumer price inflation rate.
Socialists call these price moves: speculation. I call their logic: lacking.
Here's a simple lesson as to why anyone who thinks this is fooling themselves:
Let's say we have a tiny economy of 10 people. And the economy generates 10 apples per per month. And lets say that an apple costs $1. And everybody too, makes $1 a month. (This is an unlikely example showing a perfect price and demand equilibrium. But it makes the scenario easier to understand.)
Then, the government of Tenpeopleland, decides -- like Mr. Chavez -- to devalue the currency by 1/2. So $1 turns into $2. But the price of Apples stays at $1.
So the first five people, realizing that they can now afford to by not one, but two apples, buy up all 10 apples. The last 5 people are left with no apples.
So when the next month comes around, some of the people say: hey, I'll give you $2 for one apple instead of $1. And the apple farmer, suddenly only making $10 a month, when everyone else is now making $20, due to the devaluation of the currency, obliges eagerly. Suddenly the price of apples becomes $2. Now everyone can once again afford to buy just one apple a month.
Socialists then would turn around and call the farmer a "speculator". And would instead enforce a "one apple per person" policy in order to maintain the $1 price. However, this only works for a short time. Because since the Revolutionary People's Party of Tenpeopleland has devalued the currency by 1/2, the farmer suddenly finds himself unable to import the fertilizer to grow his apple trees since it's not available locally. His $10 a month is now worth half of what it used to internationally, and if he buys the fertilizer, he won't have any money left over to do anything else.
This demonstrates the basic flaw in the logic of socialists like Chavez, and those who support his policies. They have deluded themselves into believing that money is "arbitrary". Printing more of it does nothing. Prices only rise because of filthy, greedy, capitalists.
Their attempts to solve this capital allocation problem come in the form of central planning, and almost always ultimately fails.
Some contemporary socialists think this problem can be solved through "democratic socialism". Where democratic decisions are made to allocate resources, believing that this will be more efficient than just allowing the farmer to raise his prices to match demand. But the truth is, price signalling in a free market has proven itself the most resilient at controlling demand.
Socialists have no better solution to our economic woes. In fact, it has been policies that are arguably socialist that caused them in the first place; the government subsidization of home loans through the inflationary processes I described above, and in the US, tax credits on home ownership.
Gordon Brown calls supporter bigoted
This is the most entertaining gaffe of the whole campaign:
My favourite part is that the Telegraph is reporting that the woman, a lifetime supporter of the Labour Party, felt that the conversation went well.
Partying, Then and Now
The obverse of Slate's hagiographical approach to the Obama Presidency, has been its vilification of the President's critics. The Tea Party isn't a grassroots protest of an overmighty state, it's a bunch of arrogant blowhards, probably bigoted blowhards at that, undermining the social progress of the nation. So far, so common. Much of the Left has taken the same tack against the Tea Party. Slate being Slate, they use bigger words and make more philosophical and historical allusions. Case in point, this distorted comparison between the original Tea Party and the current one:
The British hawks, like Palin, saw self-restraint as wimpy and dangerous. If Britain retreated from the tax policies that had provoked the Tea Party, they warned, the colonists would take this as "Proofs of our Weakness, Disunion and Timidity." Miller writes, "Few Englishmen believed that the mother country could retain its sovereignty if it retreated in the face of such outrage: it was now said upon every side that the colonists must be chastised into submission."
So rather than apologize or reach out, Britain flaunted its dominance and power. It imposed military rule in Massachusetts and shut down the port of Boston, thinking that this would divide the colonies and starve the insurgents into submission. Instead, Miller writes, the crackdown made Bostonians, in the eyes of the other colonies, "martyrs to American liberty." The colonies united, and Britain was defeated.
Which is the same mistake, supposedly, Mrs Palin is making in demanding the President stop molly coddling an assortment of hostile regimes. The implication being that if America played nice with Venezuela and Iran, it would avoid the disaster that Britain faced in losing most of its American possessions. The context dropping is astonishing. It was not the tone of the British government, or even the closing of Boston harbour and dispatching of Redcoats, that caused the American Revolution. Had the residents of mid-Georgian Massachusetts simply been engaged in a bit of co-ordinated mass tax evasion, it's unlikely that Americans in the other twelve colonies would have pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in helping to repulse the occupation. Nor would the North ministry have dispatched troops, had it not grasped the gravity of what a successful resistance to the Tea Act would have entailed for the economic and political system Westminster was trying to preserve. A more tactful approach would not have reconciled the colonists, nor changed the essential aims sought by George III and Lord North. The colonists opposed being taxed without their consent. The Imperial government needed money and ignored constitutional scruples in trying to get it. These were not differences in style or attitude, but a fundamental contest over the nature of imperial governance.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The percentage of the average family's income that is taken by the state:
Still, the Fraser Institute routinely reminds Canadians of their fiscal pain. In 2009, the think-tank notes, the average family paid 42% of its income — or almost $29,000 — in taxes.
That’s up dramatically from the 33.5% of income the average family paid in 1961 in total taxes (everything from income taxes to levies on tobacco, booze and gas).
Canadians should ask themselves if they’re getting value for all the money they send to government, says Fraser Institute economist Niels Veldhuis.
“We’re not getting value for money,” concludes Veldhuis, citing waste in the public sector as a major factor. “It’s a matter of putting pressure on our politicians to make sure they do one of two things: They either lower our tax bill or they give us better services.”
And when you've finished wiping the tears of laugher from your eyes, read Planned Chaos for further details on how governments go about "serving" the public. There is, however, no waste in government. Waste is the inefficient use of resources to accomplish a goal. The federal government spending a billion plus dollars to create the long-gun registry, up from an initial estimate of about $3 million, seems like a waste. Indeed the idea of having a long-gun registry, when the overwhelming majority of gun crimes are committed using illegally owned hand-guns, also seems wasteful. But waste is the inefficient use of resources to accomplish a goal. The great majority of the electorate believes the government's goal is to keep the Canadian people safe, happy and healthy. This is not the goal of government, the odd idealist aside. The goal of the political class is to stay in power. Therefore, it is not important that they actually improve the lot of ordinary Canadians, merely that they seem to be doing so. Spending a cool billion on making people "safe" sounds like buying a lot of safety, despite scant evidence to support the success of the registry. That the best way to improve the welfare of Canadians is for government to leave well enough alone, is not an appealing election slogan. "Vote for Smith! He'll do nothing, unless absolutely necessary."
The last Canadian politician unlucky enough to articulate this common sense philosophy of inactivity was the much ignored Alexander Mackenzie. During his one term in office the young Dominion was beset by a severe depression; until the 1930s it was frequently called the Great Depression. The John A Macdonald led Tories demanded the Mackenzie Liberals take action. Poor old Mac was an honest chap, reared in the stoical virtues of the frontier Baptists, and stated that nothing could be done, that government action in the face of a world-wide economic collapse would have no more impact than "flies on a wheel." Very true. Very principled. In consequence Macdonald endlessly mocked the government Liberals as "flies on a wheel" from then onward.
The economy eventually recovered, Macdonald returned to office, and credited the prosperity with his protectionist policies. The Victorian electorate was duped by the illusion of government "doing something." Their descendants, even after over a century and a quarter of evidence to the contrary, still turn to government to solve their problems. The addiction to the state has actually gotten worse. The fool's bandaged finger keeps going back to the fire. Until the great delusion is ended, government will keep consuming more and more of the Canadian family's income. The electorate have no one but themselves to blame. They keep voting for these fools.
CBC reporter attacks CTF for owning a car
Chris Rand at the CBC wanted to take a shot at the Canadian Taxpayer Federation. He really did, you can sense a certain desperation to find something to take them to task with. The CTF was submitting a petition calling for an end to pensions for convicted criminals. Mr. Rand did not want to talk about the issue or take a stand on it. He wanted to talk about Derek Fildebrandt’s car.
Mr. Fildebrandt is the Research Director for the CTF and he owns a 1997 BMW. This car, according to the update in Mr. Rand’s post, was salvaged for $500 and has 250 000 km on it. For Mr Rand this represents “a certain cachet of new wealth and privilege in Canada.”
At first I thought that Mr. Rand should send an apology to Mr. Fildebrandt but then I realized that this was the highest compliment. If the best that the opponents of the CTF can do is complain about a 13 year old BMW, doesn’t that say something good about the CTF?
Monday, April 26, 2010
In support of an English Parliament
The constitutional foundation of the United Kingdom changed after Scottish and Welch devolution. For the first time the UK has become a multi-layered state, but with an extremely asymmetrical constitutional order. It is not just that the powers are different between the regional assemblies; the more important issue is that England is the only recognized nation within the UK that does not have its own legislature.
Westminster operates as the federal Parliament of the UK. It handles issues and policies that have been reserved in the Wales and Scotland Acts. At the same time they legislate for England on policy areas that have been devolved. This means that a Scottish MP can vote for legislation that only affects England but English politicians have no power over Scottish policies.
This has given new importance to the ‘West Lothian question’: “For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate... Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”
There have been several attempts to answer this question. The Labour Party supports creating regional assemblies that will have less power than the Scottish Parliament or the Welch Assembly, but still be able to provide regional leadership. This idea was solidly defeated in a referendum, largely because the proposed assemblies were so weak that they did not actually negate the West Lothian problem.
The Conservative Party has proposed that on issues that only affect England only English MPs should be allowed to vote. This seemingly common sense approach has several practical problems. For one thing it raises the question of what would happen if a government relies on Scottish MPs for its majority and the government is defeated on an English vote that is a confidence vote. Also it is not always simple to decide what issues qualify as ‘English’ and which are UK wide. Still, in the short term this may be the most realistic solution.
In the long term the UK would be better served by creating an English Parliament with the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. This is the main proposal of the English Democrat Party. They believe, correctly, that England is not being well served by the current asymmetrical structure. Let Westminster handle national issues and assign English issues to a solely English legislature.
The Game of Big Government Health Care
To our American readers, this is your health care system in a few years time:
McGuinty and his health minister, Deb Matthews, are doing to pharmacists exactly what Peterson, who is Matthews’ brother-in-law, and his health minister, Murray Elston, did to doctors when they banned extra-billing in 1986.
The Liberal strategy now, as then, is this:
First, declare what was perfectly acceptable up to the moment you changed your mind, to be utterly unacceptable.
Second, demonize your opponents as greedy and, when they react, demonize them even more.
Third, argue your opponents don’t have a right to strategize against you, while you have every right to strategize against them.
McGuinty will win as Peterson won, because this isn’t a real fight. The government controls the money, has inexhaustible resources and can make up the rules as it goes along.
McGuinty’s decided to trade cheaper generic drugs (maybe) for fewer pharmacies with fewer services. Why not just say so?
Because politicians are cowards, and the Canadian electorate never questions the essential madness of the Medicare Cult. I use the term precisely. Medicare long ago transcended the realm of mere public policy staple and national icon. Perfectly reasonable people will turn into howling fanatics whenever you criticize socialized health care. To question it is to invite upon the people of Canada the Dickensian horrors of the American system - there being no other in the world it seems - which is portrayed in crude caricature by the national media and school system.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
South Park can't say Mohamed
When I watched the latest South Park episode I got a good laugh whenever they beeped the name Mohamed. I thought it was a brilliant commentary. Imagine living in a world that the very name of this historically and religiously significant man could not be mentioned. The whole show revolved around how Mohamed had become immune to mockery and even South Park was unable to mock him.
Sadly it wasn’t a joke. Comedy Central not the creators of South Park beeped the name. This has turned comedy into a chilling moment of television. Now we do not have to imagine a world of such censorship, we already live in it. What seemed to me to be absurd is the truth.
Here is what Bill O’Reilly had to say:
I can’t say I blame him for declining to have a satirical attack of Mohamed on his show. But one thing should be made clear, at no point in the South Park episode was Mohamed actually made fun of. Other religious figures were mocked but not Mohamed. Instead they were mocking the fact that you can’t mock him, a joke that was deepened by the network’s censorship.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Greece to be bailed out
Greece has called for the help that the IMF and the Eurozone promised them a month ago. The Greek economy has not been stabilized and now they are going to be bailed out.
I have written before about how this would be a bad idea for the European Union. It is going to create a precedent that will encourage moral hazard. Countries such as Italy and Spain will be less interested in acting responsibly. And countries that have made sacrifices in the effort to restore their finances, such as Ireland, will feel screwed.
Among the unasked questions in the Guergis-Jaffer fiasco is the nature of Ms Guergis' former ministerial perch. John Snobelen, late of the Harris cabinet in Ontario, asks why modern Canada needs a minister for the status of women.
I ran Mathyssen’s “don’t care about women” comment past a number of women who own their own businesses, have held senior positions in government or who work at senior levels in corporations.
They are, to a person, not impressed.
I’ve got some news for Mathyssen; a lot of women resent being appeased. They know that what passes for women’s issues are really societal issues. Glass ceilings, pink ghettos, spousal abuse and Aboriginal women’s rights cost everyone in society.
They also know those issues are not going to be resolved, or even thoughtfully addressed, by political parties that still find it convenient to park them in the status of women ministry.
A non-minister in a non-ministry. Guergis' real value to the government was in ticking off two important checkboxes; being both photogenic and a woman. Placing her in an inconsequential junior post minimized the potential fallout. Yes, le affaire Guergis is messy, but imagine if her portfolio had been finance or industry. Stephen Harper might have been looking at the wrong end of a confidence motion. The now fallen minister was usually stationed just behind the Prime Minister during Question Period. Her blond mane contrasting with the salt-pepper hockey helmet hair of the PM. The end of the former beauty pageant's political career may have the advantage of reminding Canadians they have a minister on the status of women. As Snobelen notes, the ministry was created in response to a government report in Pierre Trudeau's first term as PM. Baby may have come a long way, but politics never changes. Government ministeries never die, they just keep expanding.
All government ministries have budgets, and budgets are spent. The bulk of most ministerial budgets are expended in handing out large novelty checks to favoured groups. These groups in turn agitate for more money. Should the sluice of taxpayer dollars dry up, they cry foul to the media. The public, inattentive to the machinations of the political class, read the headlines that minister X - whom they have never heard of - does not care about issue Y - of which they know little about, but nonetheless feel obliged to be concerned. We're all concerned about women - yes, even men - and their status is no doubt very important. Government, which in Canada is charged with solving all problems great and small, must care about what Canadians care about. Or at least feel they should care about. Does a minister on the status of women help women? Aside from those directly benefiting from the ministerial largesse? Naturally the answer is no. But government isn't about solving problems, unless those problems involve bombing or jailing someone, it's about making people feel that something is being done. It's pure sentimentality, masquerading as public policy. It's par for the course in the game of big government.
UK Election Debate 2010 (ii)
Yesterday Britain enjoyed their second Leader’s Debate (or what they have chosen to call Prime Ministerial debate). I must say that I am enjoying these debates much more than the Canadian counterparts. I guess it helps to not have buffoons like Elizabeth May participating.
I previously said that this would be an important debate for Nick Clegg and I think he did well. He was the most dynamic and interesting to watch of the three, and on several occasions he managed to dominate the discussion. He had a great trick of constantly bringing the debate back to the question and interacting with the questioner beyond the first response. This helped him sell the idea that he is part of a ‘new style of politics’ that is more interested in people and not spin.
David Cameron did much better in this debate than he did in the previous debate. He actually did more in this debate to win me over than he has ever managed to do. He spoke to core conservative supporters by talking a lot about how people should take responsibility for themselves and how government rewards the irresponsible. He came off as honest and sincere, though perhaps not as passionate as Mr. Clegg.
Gordon Brown had a horrible debate. His opening statement insisted that the debate wasn’t a game show, which was lame because I doubt anyone watching it was thinking that it was. Also he tried to be witty when he accused Mr. Clegg and Mr. Cameron of ‘quibbling.’ This fell flat because frankly they weren’t quibbling at all. The Telegraph revealed today that this was a prepared line and you can really tell.
Over all I would have to say that after this debate Mr. Clegg is going to continue to be a player in this election. If David Cameron had done worse he might have been on his way to Number 10, but as it is things are still uncertain.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Freedom of religion is redundant
I got a bit of a giggle out of this National Post story’s headline: Cannabis involved in the anointment of Jesus Christ? The image that pops instantly to mind is of Jesus and his twelve apostles sitting around taking hits from a bong, which isn’t really what the article is about. Instead the article raises an interesting and important issue: what is a religion and what is freedom of religion? As a brief background:
[Professor Ruck] was testifying at the trial of two members of the Church of the Universe, Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani, who run the G13 Mission branch of the church in the Beaches section of Toronto. They are both charges of street-level marijuana trafficking.
They are asking Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the country’s marijuana laws violate their freedom of religion under the Charter of Rights.
The Church of the Universe believes that the consumption of marijuana will bring an individual closer to God. Professor Ruck was there to testify that this is not unusual in the history of the world.
Personally I’ve never heard of this religion, and frankly I suspect that it does not have a particularly large following. But does that matter? If this is what they believe, then from the perspective of the constitution, why shouldn’t it be protected just as strongly as a Catholic’s belief? If you think that Catholic Priests should not be forced to marry homosexual couples then surely you would agree that someone of another religion should not be forced to give up their sacrament?
I am going to assume that some of you are going to leap to the conclusion that this religion is nothing but a bogus excuse for a couple of pot heads to get high. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but let us say for the sake of argument that it isn’t. Let’s say that this is truly a deeply held faith of those individuals. What then?
Do you say that it is a cult and not a religion? How are we going to define religion then? Does it take a certain number of people; if so how many? Does it take a certain degree of longevity; if so how long? Or is it that it has to have some political influence; if so do we really want to live in such a society?
The reality is that all this is interesting but irrelevant to how we should be making laws. The freedom of religion is made redundant if the law recognizes individual liberty. Individual liberty covers all religions and all beliefs. If an individual does not want to perform a service that they feel is immoral, such as marrying homosexuals, they should be free to make that decision. If an individual wants to smoke pot to get closer to a higher being then they should be free to do so as well. Hell, they should be free to do so even if they are simply looking for a way to kill a couple of hours.
If we all recognize that an individual is capable of making their own decisions then we do not need freedom of religion, because we already have freedom.
Max Mad, Beyond Harperdome
I don't know what party Maxime Bernier thinks he belongs to, but it sounds like a great party:
Conservative backbencher Maxime Bernier is launching a scathing critique of the bloated bureaucracy in Quebec and the high debt rate of his home province.
In a speech to be given to Conservative supporters south of Montreal on Friday night, Mr. Bernier argues that Quebec is overly dependent on equalization payments and needs to develop its own sources of revenues.
While Quebeckers have spent decades debating the possibility of Quebec becoming an independent country, he says, “we’ve built a system of economic dependence that’s become more and more elaborate.”
“Let’s be frank: many people in the rest of the country perceive Quebeckers as a bunch of spoiled children who are never satisfied and always ask for more,” he says. “This perception has some basis in reality.”
Now the cynically minded argue that Max is just positioning himself for the post-Harper era. The boy from Leaside has been a dud on the east banks of the Ottawa rivers. Perhaps friend Max can do better. The best way to win Quebec, traditionally, has been to put a francophone as your party leader. The Quebecois love voting for their favourite son. It was the trick that dragged the Liberals out of the political wilderness. A succession of dour Scot and Irish Protestants, talking about free trade and separation of church and state, had simply come across as WASPs meddling in the internal affairs of the province. Enter Wilfred Laurier, talking much the same talk as George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie and Edward Blake, and voila! The church hierarchy might not have been amused by Laurier's Rouge past, and the strong whiff of anti-clericalism that accompanied late Victorian Liberalism, but the rank and file Quebec voters weren't about to vote for dull old Sir Charles Tupper. The favourite son won in 1896 and stayed in for an unmatched four consecutive majority governments. The favourite son formula would work again for St Laurent, Trudeau and lastly Brian Mulroney. Jean Chretien became the first francophone Prime Minister who was unable to carry a majority in his own province. He was a Quebecois who rule because Ontario voted for him almost en bloc for a decade.
The defining event of modern Canadian political history is the so-called Night of the Long Knives. In patriating the Canadian constitution Trudeau had been unable to win the support of Quebec Premier Rene Levesque. It was failure at an impossible task. Levesque had skillfully allied himself with eight other provincial premiers to oppose Trudeau's efforts. When Jean Chretien, then Trudeau's right-hand, engineering a flip of all the Anglophone premiers to patriation, it was a political master-strorke. Levesque cried betrayal and the myth of Quebec being backstabbed by Trudeau-Chretien has become a touchstone of provincial politics, genuflected to by even the "federalist" Liberals in the National Assembly.
From that night in 1981 the federal Liberals have been a marginal element in Quebec. When Mulroney's Meech Lake Accord failed, the Conservative Party shared the same fate. The emergence of the Bloc Quebecois ended the favourite son advantage. Max cannot sell himself to the ROC as a francophone they can do business with. In Quebec he is appealing to that phone-booth sized minority of small government conservatives. Bar a revolution in the province's politics, something hinted to in Mario Dumont's brief reign as opposition leader in the assembly, Max is preaching to a fairly empty set of choir stalls. Harold Wilson is suppose to have said that a week is a long time in politics. Quebec's sole libertarian politician will have more than a political week to plan for his future. Whatever his faults, Stephen Harper is not going anywhere soon.
The Minister of Health’s conception of the citizenry
The Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, has declared that the voluntary program for reducing trans fat in Canadian food has failed. Restaurants have not ‘voluntarily’ reduced trans fat in sufficient amounts to satisfy the government. So now the government, having been defied by its subjects, is discussing the possibility of using force to coerce restaurant owners to do as they say.
Of course the mighty and magnanimous state will use the sword only in our protection. The state wishes to save us from the harm that these dastardly business owners are doing to our hearts. How dare they! We the people cry out. How dare they make food that tastes really really good! Punish them, we the masses demand!
No! We did not know. We could not have known that eating at McDonald’s every day would lead to severe health problems. There has never been a well publicized documentary informing us so that we can make responsible choices. It isn’t our fault that we are unhealthy! It is those damn deep frying knaves that are too blame.
Protect us! Oh protect us mighty leviathan. For we the people are ignorant and stupid. Clearly we are incapable of making our own decisions about what we want to put into our bodies.
We are nothing but sheep that must be led and guided by the glorious Sheppard: Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health.
Electoral reform and a possible Liberal Democrat government
Philip Johnston of the Telegraph concurs with my assessment that tonight’s leadership debate could make or break British Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Mr. Johnston also points out an interesting possibility that I had not considered. Could the electoral system actually help the Liberal Democrats?
For decades the Lib-Dems have complained about the electoral system and have championed reform. This makes sense considering they have been at a constant disadvantage. They have consistently won a smaller proportion of the seats than the popular vote. Making the system more proportional was clearly in their advantage.
But as their support grows this dynamic could change radically. The reason they win so few seats is because they tend to come in second in many electoral districts. If Lib-Dem support gets above 30%, according to Mr. Johnston’s article, they will start winning the seats where they traditionally came in second and possibly win a higher proportion than their popular vote. Furthermore if their popular support gets as high as 40% they can expect to win a majority government.
The question is: after calling the ‘first-past-the-post’ system a travesty for so long, will their rhetoric change once that ‘travesty’ works in their favour?
Politicians are human beings just like anyone else. They respond to incentives. If they can gain power under the current system what would be the incentive to change? How deep goes Mr. Clegg’s desire for a ‘new’ kind of politics?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
(Video) Part II of Marc Emery documentary, "The Principle of Pot," released today
Paul McKeever, lawyer and leader of the Freedom Party of Ontario, released the second part of his two-part documentary about libertarian publisher and marijuana activist Marc Emery today. The documentary, entitled "The Principle of Pot," argues that Marc Emery, who is facing extradition to face a five-year prison term for selling marijuana seeds over the internet, should not be extradited. McKeever argues that extraditing Emery would violate Canadian law.
The first part of the documentary was released in January of this year. We covered that release here. The documentary is outstanding (all parts are embedded below the fold).
Here is the press release announcing the documentary:
Ontario lawyer Paul McKeever today released the second part of his two-part documentary about the Canadian "Prince of Pot", Marc Emery. Titled "The Principle of Pot", the release of Part 2 is timed to precede and to inform a decision by Canada's federal Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, about whether or not to approve the extradition of Emery to the United States. If extradited, Emery faces five years of imprisonment in the USA for having sold cannabis seeds. Emery mailed seeds to Americans from Vancouver, Canada, via Canada Post. The Minister's decision is expected by May 10, 2010.
McKeever opposes Emery's extradition, and says extraditing Emery would be a violation of Canada's Extradition Act. "Anyone who watches Part 2 of The Principle of Pot will clearly understand that the USA is seeking Emery's extradition because of the political nature of his cannabis seed campaign", says McKeever. "In my view, even if someone were somehow to doubt that the USA seeks to imprison Emery because of his political influence, Emery's political beliefs and conduct would at the very least result in him being prejudiced in any American court. In either case, the Extradition Act prohibits the Justice Minister from extraditing Emery, and I explain that more fully in The Principle of Pot (Part 2)."
Emery's opponents, and the U.S. authorities who demanded his arrest in Halifax, have attempted to portray Emery as a profit-motivated drug dealer. "The Principle of Pot" demonstrates that Marc Emery was at all times carrying out political campaigns. Part 1 of McKeever's documentary demonstrated that Emery was an individual freedom activist long before getting involved in the marijuana legalization issue. Part 2 goes deep into Emery's marijuana-related activism, explains the surprising origins of his involvement in the marijuana legalization issue, uncovers Emery's widely misunderstood goal, and a gives a rare and revealing look at his behind-the-scenes master strategy and tactics.
Here is the first segment of the second part of the documentary (the remaining parts are below the fold):
NOTE: Anonymous and overly abusive comments may be deleted at the discretion of the author of this post.
Gordon Brown should be given first chance to govern in a hung Parliament
As a hung Parliament appears more and more likely in the UK election, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party have been a bit shy about saying what sort of deal they will make. The Labour Party has indicated that they are interested in working with the Lib-Dems, but the Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, is not going to reveal his strategy until his hand is dealt. The outcome of the election, popular vote and seat distribution, is still very much up in the air. Really, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems are wise to refuse to speculate.
One issue that I have with Nick Clegg’s current position on a hung Parliament is his assertion that Gordon Brown should not be allowed an opportunity to make a deal before he is removed from office:
Senior civil servants have made it clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, Mr Brown would remain as Prime Minister, even if he did not have the most seats, and would be given time to try to stitch a deal together.
The Lib Dem leader said: “It would be preposterous for Gordon Brown to end up like some squatter in No 10 because of some constitutional nicety.”
It is not just a constitutional nicety. Like most of the British unwritten constitutional rules, there is a sound practical reason for giving the current Prime Minister a chance to govern.
Consider what happened in Belgium in 2007. The various political parties could not bridge regional or ideological differences to create a coalition government. The result was that the Belgium state did not have a government for more than a year. Now this may sound awesome to a libertarian, but really what it meant was that civil servants, not elected politicians, were forced to make the policy decisions that could not be put off.
The UK system has a built in method to avoiding this problem. The fact that Mr. Clegg bashes this method reflexively shows a certain shallowness in his political philosophy. Mr. Clegg is making his name by calling for democratic reform, but reform for reform sake is not a good thing. Any reformer must be prepared to acknowledge and defend what is good about an institution as they struggle to change what is bad.
Maxime Bernier should be returned to cabinet
In an interview with CTV Maxime Bernier makes it clear that is ambition is to become a Minister not a Prime Minister. Personally I think Mr. Bernier would make the greatest Prime Minister since Wilfrid Laurier, but realistically that is a long term goal. In the short term, the government and the people of Canada can be well served by putting this man back into cabinet.
Few Canadian politicians are as thoughtful and passionate about the issues facing Canada today. Take a look at this video of Mr. Bernier explaining the issues around inflation and the Bank of Canada:
This video was posted back in November but we can already see the sort of market distortions that he was warning about. The media has recently reported that Canadians have too much debt and that it is not sustainable. This is a direct effect of the Bank of Canada lowering interest rates to a point that easy credit is readily available, thus distorting the market.
As far as I know only Maxime Bernier is talking about this fundamental economic issue in Canada. We need people with this sort of vision and foresight to return to cabinet.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
A Piece of the Action
Brian Lilley on Amazon coming to Canada:
The idea that Amazon would promote Canadian authors and books on its Canadian website only makes good business sense and in fact is something the company already does. Where the extortion comes in is the demand that Amazon set aside $1.5 million for cultural events and awards as part of their $20 million investment in Canada. The deal also calls for an unspecified number of jobs to be created specifically to deal with and promote Canadian content.
Consulting the Publius Political Lexicon (not available on Amazon.ca) we find this definition:
the policy of implementing, or expanding, statist intrusions in the economic and social life of Canada, under the pretence of advocating conservative policies or principles.
bait and switch, evasion, obturation, conflation, misrepresentation
Canada's aging Conservative government has in one stroke appeared to welcome freer trade, by graciously allowing Amazon.com to purchase property and hire Canadians, while at the same time extracting a financial concession to help bribe the arts lobby. To the inattentive members of the Canadian Right this is another way the Harper government is better than the Liberals, by being all free market and stuff. To the arts lobby it's 1.5 million reasons to be less obnoxious come the next election. To those who believe in small and limited government, it's plain old fashioned extortion. Canadians complain about taxes to their heart's content. It's our second nation sport. Yet taxation is only one way in which the state limits our freedom. More insidious, because it is less obvious, is the network of what can be termed "legal corruption," a blatant attempt to subvert the basic function of government in a perfectly legal way. The particular hurdle Amazon had to jump was due to its status as a foreign corporation trying to enter a "protected" industry. It may not seem that a government has the duty to defend the rights of foreigners, yet the rights of Canadians are being undermined as well. The right of Canadians to sell to whom, and buy from whom, they choose, and not have such contracts declared void because the other party has not received permission to operate in Canada. Amazon can't set up shop until the federal government says so. Yet Amazon has violated no one's rights in trying to open a business in Canada. It has harmed or threatened no one, except the quasi-monopolist Indigo.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Andrew Coyne on the root of government corruption
Lord Acton once wrote that "power tends corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." So it is of no surprise that as the state grows corruption grows with it. Andrew Coyne makes a similar point in his column:
But of course the federal government has become a vast spigot of this kind of thing, providing billions of dollars every year in subsidies to businesses, trade associations and other private groups. Just to list the “grants and contributions” over $100,000 takes up more than 280 pages of the Public Accounts of Canada, at around 60 lines a page. With all this money sloshing about, it stands to reason you’d find fraud artists waiting to take their piece, and well-connected friends to help them, just as they did under previous governments. We might as well put up a sign: The Buffet is Open.
As for Guergis, what was most noteworthy about her misbehaviour, until she finally became expendable—coincidentally, the day after Jaffer’s dealings hit the papers—was how little it appeared to discomfit the government. If the Prime Minister did not exactly stand by her, neither was he in any hurry to remove her. And why should he? She was only a cabinet minister, after all, one of 36 in Harper’s entourage. It’s not like she had an important job.
Perhaps the only way to prevent corruption is to cut back on the activities of government.
Our Hate Runneth Over
Only the Toronto Star would try to make us feel sympathetic toward the Human Rights Commission:
Ontario Human Rights Commission chair Barbara Hall believes only a small number of cases are ever reported. "This is the tip of the iceberg," she says.
It is too soon to determine whether discrimination is on the rise or if this deluge is the effect of public awareness campaigns for the new system. But the Star's examination of at least 50 public cases and dozens of normally private mediated ones gives a stark picture of rampant racism and discrimination.
Or people cashing in on easy marks. Or seeing an opportunity for settling grudges. The Star then helpfully provides a series of commission cases, meant one assumes to show the knuckle draggers how much hate there is in modern Ontario.
A black woman whose colleague taunted her with racial slurs won $15,000 through mediation. When she complained about the racist comments to her supervisor, he began to scrutinize her every move. She wrote a letter to the company president asking for help, and he fired her the next day.
Horrifying. Not the slightest bit of journalistic suspicion that an incompetent employee, pretty close to being let go, might devise an elaborate story to her advantage. The rest of the cases fall into a similar manner, spiced up by the occasional example of bad service cum cross burning. My favourite is the one with the smelly lunch. I'm not saying these incidents didn't happen, just that they have the feel of a system being well and throughly milked, or the usual give and take of a multi-ethinic society. People sometimes behave like jerks toward one another. Using this as a pretext for bureaucratic empire building will do little to change human nature. Some of the cases do involve legitimate grievances. Wrongful dismissal, physical and sexual harassment, trespassing on private property and old fashioned breach of contract. Yet these are all matters which could and should be settled through the regular court system. There was no reason to erect, much less maintain a parallel system of kangaroo courts to deal with these matters.
A Voice from Above
While travelling through the TTC's crumbling subway system the other day, I heard a voice. This is a surprisingly rare occurrence on the TTC. Most Torontonians enter into a kind of vapid bubble when travelling on the TTC. It helps suppress the natural instinct to be horrified by the semi-conscious drunks sprawled out hither and yon. Long before the advent of the iPod, Torontonians had learned to pretend that nothing exists more than two inches away from their faces, no matter how bad it smells. This also means that conversations are rare. Trying to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the TTC is not actually a criminal office in Toronto, though the authorities do regard you with a kind of suspicion. Ordinary commuters will assume you are high on something. There are solitary blocks in maximum security facilities with more chattiness than a Toronto subway car. Thus hearing a voice, a human voice, clearly and loudly was shocking.
Was this the Almighty speaking to me? Telling me to repent my infidel ways? Nope. It was Hizzoner, the Mayor of Toronto, urging though the PA that the city's commuters call Premier Dalton McGuinty, and demand he increase funding for a transit expansion project, dubbed Transit City. Long time readers will recall that I'm not a huge fan of David Miller. I've always been fond of Paul Tuns insistence on referring to him as Mayor McCheese. Somewhat juvenile on the surface, it's a put down whose bitting accuracy becomes more apparent as you become familiar with the Miller oeuvre. Mel Lastman might have behaved like a clown, but he was actually a competent public servant and savvy businessman who made North York a force to be reckoned with in regional development. All those shiny office buildings along the upper reaches of Yonge Street are Lastman's legacy. Arguably all those shiny condos in downtown Toronto are David Miller's legacy, except the condo boom started in the city under Lastman's leadership.
Toronto has sprawled to such extent over the last four decades that an affordable starter home puts you about an hour and a half (at least) out of the city center. The commute time, and the city's worsening gridlock, have driven the condo boom, compensating for the steady drain of non-retail commercial businesses out of the city. The Toronto property market is still booming, helped along by historically low interest rates. This boom has masked some of the less savoury aspects of the Miller legacy. As many politicians in their declining years, Mr Miller is seeking a more substantial legacy, a monument in concrete and steel. That monument is Transit City. The proposal, to significantly expand Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), certainly has its merits. It's a solid public policy proposal with strengths and weaknesses.
The provincial government has not been as forthcoming as hoped with financial support. In effect, one level of government has said it has higher priorities than Transit City, and another level has disagreed. This is the nature of constitutional government. If you don't like it, elect someone else. While the Mayor has every right to lobby the Premier for increased funding, the Premier has every right to refuse. It's politics. People disagree and politicians have plenty of forums to make their case. One of those forums should NOT be the public transit system. Yes, private corporations do advertise on public transit, this is done to raise revenue and help keep down fares. It is also visual advertising. Having someone nattering away about detergent, while you're trying to catch a train, would quickly become an irritant. That's probably why the TTC has resisted such advertising for years. The implicit social contract between commuter and the TTC is that announcements over the PA are kept to necessary information only: train delays, changes to fare structure and when the new monthly passes are on sale. The TTC's PA system should not be another medium for political pontification. If David wants to beat Dalton over the head with his begging bowl, let him hold a press conference.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
A new dawn for the Liberal Democrats?
Last Thursday the leaders of the three national UK political parties participated in Britain’s first televised debate. It is widely thought that Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg came out on top of that debate. It has changed the dynamics of the election. For the first time it looks like the Lib-Dems are on the rise. In recent polls they are breathing down the neck of the Labour Party. Though no one seems to be talking about a potential Lib-Dem government, the chances of a hung government have increased and the Lib-Dems will likely play a crucial role in the next Parliament.
That is if they can hold on to that support.
There are three more weeks in this election and two more leadership debates. Mr. Clegg is going to have to shine and keep that shine polished. At the moment his support his mostly based on him being perceived as an outsider; he is benefiting from a general discontent with the political leadership. But he has to make sure that the Liberal Democrats appear as a viable choice for government, otherwise all that support will drift back to the Conservatives and the Labour Party.
The make or break moment will be next Thursday’s debate. Expectations will be extremely high for Mr. Clegg, and the David Cameron and Gordon Brown will likely have learned from their mistakes. They will not ignore the Liberal Democrats in their preparations for the debate. Still, if Mr. Clegg can once again make a strong appeal to the voters, this election could surprise us all with a Liberal Democrat victory.
Friday, April 16, 2010
My pick for Governor General
With all this talk about who the next Governor General would be, I thought that I would put forth my own preferred candidate. A name that I will admit is not on most people’s short list, but I am hoping that Prime Minister Harper and the Canadian people will take a strong look at Taffy Apple Pomeroy.
Ms. Pomeroy has several strong qualifications for the position of GG. The most important qualification is that she is extremely photogenic. If you recall this was touted as a great strength of Ms. Jean. I would argue that Ms. Pomeroy has a greater appeal for both men and women in this area. Personally I think that Ms. Pomeroy would look much better in the robes sitting in Parliament than any other GG in our history.
Second of all she has no political affiliations nor does she have any of her own political opinions. This is a real asset for a Governor General. Ms. Pomeroy can honestly say that she does not care who is in political power, and thus she does not hold any hidden biases. This would resolve any worries that the GG is too Liberal or too Conservative.
There is also the symbolism that she would represent. Ms. Pomeroy is a lifelong resident of Hamilton Ontario. She is a full bred Canadian with deep roots in her community. Yet she can still represent the diversity of Canada because of her own mixed ethnic background. As the offspring of a cocker spaniel and poodle, Ms. Pomeroy can embody the Canadian spirit of multiculturalism.
Furthermore as a female, Taffy Pomeroy would represent inclusiveness. Certainly the last two GGs have been female but the last three Prime Ministers have also been male. I believe that appointing Ms. Pomeroy as Governor General would send a strong message that woman belong in government along with men.
Her experience for the job is as useful as the current Governor General’s past experience. She has every bit the same constitutional expertise as the previous two GGs, and she speaks French just as well as she speaks English. She is also as well known as Michaelle Jean was before she became Governor General. In fact I will be so bold as to predict that if Ms. Pomeroy becomes GG she will instantly become the most recognizable public figure in Canada.
In conclusion I would just like to point out that Taffy Pomeroy will bring to the job the credibility and prestige that the position so richly deserves.
Throw Maggie From the Train
One Nation, One Davy:
In his interview, Mr Cameron deliberately distances himself from some of Baroness Thatcher’s harder-line approaches in a move which is likely to dismay many on the Tory Right.
He says some of the "very important things" that happened in the Eighties, such as "the arguments over deploying cruise missiles and facing down the Soviets, over trade union reform" were divisive.
He adds: "Should we try today, in 2010 and into the future, in doing difficult things like cutting the deficit – should we try and take the whole country with us? Yes."
My recollection of the 1980s seems to be a little better than that of the Conservative leader. Mrs Thatcher never woke up some fine morning and decided to pick a fight with the miners, the trade unions or the wets within her own party. The divisiveness of the era was not due to the Prime Minister of the day's personal preferences, but due to the nature of the problems facing the country. After decades of drifting from one crisis to another, culminating in the shame of Britain approaching the IMF for assistance, any sort of corrective action was bound to be controversial and "divisive." What true leaders do is look past the unpopularity of the moment to wider and longer-term objectives. James Callaghan struggled mightily to avoid being divisive. He was still hated and still lost the 1979 election. Perhaps someone needs to send Davy a link to the below video. The Iron Lady explains very clearly the "divisiveness" she supposedly inspired.
UK Election Debate 2010
The Telegraph and the BBC agree that the Liberal-Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, won the debate. Personally I think the moderator was the real star of the show. He did a fantastic job of encouraging interaction and cutting off debate at appropriate moments.
The biggest disappointment of this debate is that David Cameron did not take on Gordon Brown on his absurd assertion that cutting government spending would ‘take out’ money from the economy.
This is an economic illiteracy that is inexcusable in a Prime Minister or former Exchequer.
Government primarily gets money from taxation, which does take money out of the economy. Cutting government spending will allow money to be put back into the economy and allocated more efficiently. By not addressing this, Mr. Cameron cedes the argument to Gordon Brown.
Keith Martin and marijuana legalization
Keith Martin, a Liberal MP, has written an op-ed piece supporting the decimalization of small amounts of marijuana:
The lethal gun battles on the streets of Vancouver, the astounding number of murders in Mexico, and the insurgency that continues to grow in Afghanistan (which results in our soldiers being killed) all have one thing in common: the trafficking of illegal drugs.
The U.S.-style war on drugs that is being pursued by Canada’s Conservative government has proven to be an utter failure. It has not reduced crime, harm or even drug use. The only groups benefitting from the status quo are organized crime gangs, insurgent groups, and terrorist organizations. Who pays a heavy price? Society, our soldiers, some of the world’s poorest countries, and the most vulnerable people in our communities.
This is an interesting poll; it shows that Canadians support some of the harsh punishments of the Conservative crime legislation. This is in spite of the fact that 53% of Canadians support legalization of marijuana.
This apparent contradiction can be solved by looking at some of the other statistics from this poll. Only 36% of Canadians support the government in scrapping the Liberal plan to decriminalize marijuana. Furthermore only 36% of Canadians support eliminating harm reduction sights. This tells you that Canadians want the government to target drug providers not drug users.
Keith Martin is on the same side of Canadians when he writes:
So how do we deal with this? First, our government needs to change its perspective and see substance abuse as a medical problem, not a judicial one. In order to reduce the supply of illegal drugs flowing into our communities and, by extension, the funding of organized criminal groups and insurgents, we must get our own house in order and reduce the demand for these drugs.
Both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party should take note of this poll. The Liberal Party wants to break back into Western Canada, well 61% of BC and 59% of Alberta support legalization. The Conservative Party wants to strengthen its support in Ontario and Quebec; the support of legalization in Ontario is 57% and in Quebec it is 51%.
Both parties have something to gain in a drug policy that would legalize marijuana and focus on the distributors of other drugs rather than punishing addicts. Keith Martin is principled enough and wise enough to see this opportunity. Let’s hope that other MPs jump on the band wagon.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Son of the Regime
Back in 2000 many, including myself, strongly objected to the returning of Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. Gonzalez arrived in the United States after he accompanied his mother on an inner tube, his mother dying in their attempt to escape Fidel Castro's gulag republic. Those who urged for Elian's return to Cuba argued that the boy should be reunited with his father, that his father had a right to custody of his child. It was the logic followed by the Clinton administration in forcefully removing Elian from his Miami relatives, and returning him to Cuba. Those who protested countered that no one had rights in Communist Cuba, that returning young Elian was a form of child abuse, and a horrible betrayal of American ideals.
As predicted the boy of 6, who was taken from Little Havana a decade ago, is a now a youth of sixteenth, and has spent the great majority of his life as a tool of Castroite propaganda. One of my most vivid memories of that period was the sneering contempt of the MSM toward those who opposed Elian's return. The most common refrain was that family comes before politics, and that to deny the boy a chance to live with his father was cruel and unjust. In the years since I've wondered how much that cliche of family before politics was informed by naivety, and how much by the cynical contempt and anti-Americanism so often expressed by the American Left. In Cuba, as in all totalitarian states, the family cannot be placed before politics. In such regimes politics is everything, one's status in society, one's prospects, even one's very existence is dependent upon politics. Saying that something is merely a political difference is a luxury enjoyed solely by the residents of free countries. The political is just an opinion in Canada or the United States, in Cuba it is life. The worst tragedy is that Elian, kept in ignorance of the true nature of his brief escape from the worker's paradise, is probably a supporter of the regime that enslaves him and the other ten million people of Cuba. A decade ago Elian Gonzalez was returned to his father, not his biological one but the true master of his life so long as the regime stands, Fidel Castro.
UK Conservatives and 'People Power'
The British Conservative Party is talking a
good talk. They are claiming that the prime difference between the
Conservative Party and the Labour Party is that Labour believes in
‘state power’ and the Tories believe in ‘people power.’ As someone who
strongly defends the principles of personal responsibility and
individual liberty, I like this kind of language. The question is: does
the Conservative manifesto live up to the Tory leader David Cameron’s
Recently the Hayekian influenced Institute for Economic Affairs has said that neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party have promised to do enough. The IEA is calling for a fundamental change in the way public finances operate to deal with the dire condition of the public debt. The Conservatives and Labour Party are debating how much to nibble while large bites are needed to save the public purse.
So what does that have to do with ‘people power’? It raises the question of what we can expect the government to be able to do and what do we need it to do. Mr. Cameron seems to be suggesting that we don’t need the government for much, because it is we the people that can best run our lives. It is we the people that can best direct us towards prosperity. Yet if this is so, why nibble? Why not take a bite?
The Labour Party response is pretty predictable. According to the Telegraph article that was linked above:
Last night Lord Mandelson, who is running Labour’s election campaign, said: “When the Tories say 'we’re all in this together’, what they really mean is 'you’re on your own’.’’
Which really tells you how much the Labour Party trusts people to live their lives without a civil servant telling you what you need to do. Yet are the Conservatives really that much better? Do they really think that we still need this disastrously large government spending?
As Publius here at the Western Standard recently said:
The difference between David Cameron's Conservatives, and Gordon Brown's Labour, is the speed at which they would drive Britain off the cliff.
Angus-Reid poll asks wrong questions on seat redistribution
I haven’t had much time to blog the last week, but there was an
Angus-Reid poll out recently that I wanted to draw people’s attention
towards. This poll supposedly
demonstrates that the Canadian public at large are opposed to the
government’s plans for evening out the representation in the House of
To give a brief overview of the proposal: The government wants to change the formula for distributing seats to better represent the population distribution across regions. Atlantic Canada and Quebec are overrepresented and Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta are underrepresented. The new formula will correct this by increasing the number of seats in each of the underrepresented Provinces. As you may expect this has lead to considerable regional saber rattling.
The poll that was conducted by Angus-Reid showed that 37% of Canadians were supportive and 45% were opposed. It also showed that there were strong regional differences. BC and Ontario had about half in support and Alberta had more than half. The other provinces did not even have 30% in support. From this result you would gather that there was a strong regional bias in people’s opinion of how they should be represented. But if you look at the question you will see that the bias is not in the people but in the question:
As you may know, the federal government has introduced legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons from 308 to 338. Ontario will get 18 new seats, British Columbia would get seven new seats, and Alberta will get five new seats. No other Canadian provinces will get more seats. The new riding boundaries will not be drawn until 2011 and are unlikely to come into force until at least 2012. Overall, do you support or oppose this legislation?
The question assumes that the person being surveyed is aware of the imbalance of representation. If they had presented that imbalance in the question people may have changed their answer. The fact that the three underrepresented provinces were all supportive could be due to a higher awareness of the issue. Furthermore the sentence “No other Canadian provinces will get more seats,” makes it sound as if the three provinces are getting an unfair advantage. That in of itself could raise regional discontent.
The survey’s next question is asking which party Canadians think will benefit from the change. 39% said the Conservatives and another 39% said that they don’t know. For me this is an irrelevant question. Perhaps the Conservative government is doing this partially for political gain, but equal representation in the House of Commons is a principle that should cross all parties.
My strongest objection is with the third and final question:
Do you think having more MPs in the House of Commons will be good for Canada or bad for Canada?
This is completely the wrong question.
It hardly surprises me that only 17% of Canadians think more politicians
is a good thing. It also does not surprise me that 31% think it is bad
and 31% think that having more politicians won’t make a difference. This
question, however, has very little to do with the actual issues at
stake. The issue is equal representation not the need for more MPs. Why
did the survey not ask: do you think that each region should be
represented according to their population in the House of Commons?
To use these numbers to describe Canadians as opposed to the government’s plan would be absurd. The questions do not truly ask about the plan. Instead the questions are spinning the plan as ‘more politicians’ and ‘unfair to other provinces.’ It seems that the survey was designed not to gather the opinions of the Canadian people but to prove what the people at Angus-Reid wanted to prove.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Rent Seeking for Fun and Profit
While rather prurient speculation has dominated the coverage of the Guergis-Jaffer train wreck, the real story is the influence peddling Jaffer is alleged to been involved in:
Jaffer, as he often does, told businessmen that he and his company, Green Power Solutions, were experts in obtaining government money. “I can get it, no problem,” he said. His company’s promotional material boasts a “thorough knowledge of government policies and incentive programs.”
“I have access to a green fund,” Jaffer said at the table.
“As most of you may have heard, we had a rather earth moving experience last night at dinner with Rahim Jaffer and Dr. Chen. Mr. Jaffer has opened up the Prime Ministers’ office to us and as a result of that dinner – he today advised me that is just as excited as we are and joining our team seems to be the next logical step,” Gillani wrote to a dozen close associates.
I very much doubt - and certainly the PMO has hotly denied - that a spent force like Jaffer had much influence with the Prime Minister, or senior ministers, after his shock election defeat in 2008. In losing to the NDP in Edmonton-Stratcona he denied the Tories a clean sweep of Alberta, and the defeat was blamed on Jaffer's lackadaisical approach to his re-election campaign. Having been retired by the voters it looks that Mr Jaffer had set himself up as a lobbyist - ex-MPs are exempt from Accountability Act passed by the Tories in 2006. That the influence Jaffer is alleged to have peddled involved government financing of environmental projects is a touch beyond satire. Big government breeds rent-seeking. With or without the aid of "busty-hookers."
Monday, April 12, 2010
One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac Rip-Off Or A Great Album?
I first heard about Jack Kerouac as a small town kid attending a big city university. I remember the cookie-cutter college "intellectuals" debating the merits of Kerouac's prose in an English department hallway and would later that same day hear the Beastie Boys reference "reading On The Road by my man Jack Kerouac" on their superb (and criminally underrated) Paul's Boutique album. Given that I found myself in a stage of self-betterment, I decided to check out Kerouac and his best-known book - On The Road. To be frank and truthful, I didn't get what all the fuss was about. The book was a disjointed work that rambled on, lacked a compelling story line and was downright dull. Apparently, that was the charm of the piece and was a style that inspired some of my subsequent favorite writers like Hunter Thompson (may he rest in peace). However, my brief interest in Kerouac ended with On The Road, a book that I never did manage to finish as the boredom overtook me.
That was where my Kerouac exploration ended until recently when Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar embarked on his latest project, a soundtrack for a film based on one of Kerouac's last works - Big Sur. Both the film and the soundtrack bear the same name - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur. I learned of the project from a typical visit to Son Volt's website and was intrigued when I learned that Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie fame was involved in the project with Farrar. Despite piquing my interest, the project struck me as odd and I was worried that should I choose to pick up the soundtrack, it would be a collection of artsy, self-indulgent rubbish that would only be tolerable while watching the film, if at all. I mean really, the unwarranted hype and mystique that has been bestowed upon Kerouac since his death and my disappointment with what many consider his best work, combined with Jay Farrar of whom I am a big fan, but also sometimes disappointed by, as he veers to the extremely morose and dull reaches of alt-country, combined with Benjamin Gibbard, who apart from my having heard of Death Cab For Cutie I knew nothing about, was cause for concern. Kerouac's penchant for jazz also concerned me, as I worried that this record would be jazzy, or at least jazz-influenced, and if there's one thing Knox hates it's jazz. Despite those reservations, my constant starvation for new music took over and I decided to download the album.
Let me tell you friends, this is where the surprises started. First, I liked this project, I mean REALLY liked it, even on the first listen. The opener "California Zephyr" begins with simple guitar and Gibbard's clear, youthful and energetic voice combining perfectly to create a catchy, yet thoughtful song that is reflective of many songs on the album. While I love Jay Farrar's work and most-often, enjoy his vocals, he can, much like Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, seem a bit too recognizable. The best songs on this album are largely penned by Farrar (the music that is, as the bulk of the lyrics are taken from Kerouac and Big Sur) and sung by Gibbard, with Farrar adding harmony vocals (an unreal combination by the way). "These Roads Don't Move" and "All In One" are examples of this winning formula and are classics of the Americana/alt-country genre. Exceptions to the rule are the Farrar-led "Low Life Kingdom", which is great, and the Gibbard-written (with Kerouac) "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone", which is the best song on the album. The songs on the album are simple, yet intriguing, both in terms of the lyrics and the musicianship exhibited by the dynamic duo. My next surprise was that the project inspired me to look more into Jack Kerouac, 20 years after I had first given him a whirl. The third surprise was what I learned about the man when I did so. Expecting an avowed leftist, given that his "beat" movement had supposedly inspired the generation of hippies that followed, I was shocked to learn that the rabidly individualistic Kerouac virtually despised hippie culture and purportedly held conservative/libertarian political views.
Both the record and my subsequent Kerouac research (if you can call my reading snippets around the internet "research") were inspiring enough to have me give Kerouac another whirl. I ordered Big Sur, mainly because of the Farrar/Gibbard/Kerouac project, but also because I seem to be hooked on junkie rock star books and anything telling a tale of self-destruction and Big Sur is said to be a tale of grim alcoholism, written at a time when Kerouac himself was drowning in a bottle. While it has yet to arrive, if the book is half as good as the spectacular album that it inspired, I am in for a treat indeed.
Labour or Tory, Same Old Bankrupt Story
Regardless of who wins the British General Election, none of the mainline parties are proposing the scale of public sector cuts necessary to restore the fiscal and economic health of the country:
The cuts would include reducing benefits and spending on education and health, but could be carried out without scrapping the bulk of existing public services, according to the IEA, which will map out detailed potential reforms in the coming months. According to Philip Booth, the IEA's programme director, trimming public spending would be more difficult and politically painful to deliver than a broader demolition of public bureaucracy. The IEA figure is based on attempting to keep the tax burden unchanged and bringing public spending down to around 30pc of Britain's economic output within four years – a level it says is consistent with a healthier economy. This year, public spending is set to exceed 50pc of Britain's gross domestic product.The difference between David Cameron's Conservatives, and Gordon Brown's Labour, is the speed at which they would drive Britain off the cliff.
Friday, April 09, 2010
A Respectable Tory Cloth Coat
Davy Cameron has a problem. Despite facing one of the most self destructive Prime Ministers in recent memory, and a governing Labour party going for an unprecedented fourth term in office, the Conservative leader is barely ahead in the polls. Now old hacks like Publius, trapped in Thatcherite nostalgia, can be dismissed for saying that Mr Cameron's lacklustre performance is due to betraying tried, true and blue Tory principles. The smart money around the Conservative HQ holds that Cameron's real problem is that he is a toff i.e. a rich elitist. This is true. A graduate of Eton and Oxford, as well as a direct descendant of William IV, the member for Witney is not common. Just his approach. Earlier this week Cameron, channelling Richard Nixon one assumes, wrote - in the political sense of "wrote" - an impassioned cry for Britain and a defense of his own toffishness. Just an ordinary chap, very nervous you know, who wants to be Prime Minister of this whole darn big country of ours. Someone lend this guy one of Stephen Harper's fluffy blue sweaters, if there's a hung parliament he'll need it:
The past four years have felt like the longest job interview in the world. If I am asking to lead their country, then people have a right to know more about me. It would be naive not to accept this in an age of YouTube and Twitter. Some voters might not like this approach, but the personal is political. The experiences that shaped me have influenced my life, my ideas and my ideals.
Thus spake brave Davy, captain of the gate...
I developed a set of beliefs that remain with me to this day. The state is your servant, never your master. It should defend people from every threat – but it should not use that as a premise to infringe unnecessarily on the freedom of the individual. As far as humanly possible, it should crush bureaucracy and hand power to the people. And the state should support wealth creation, aspiration and enterprise with low taxes, not replace it with grandiose five-year plans. Compassion is not just about what the State does on behalf of us all, it is about what we do as individuals, in our families, in our communities, together.
Wonderful stuff. Do you do parties as well?
It is fortunate that I am an optimist as I survey the devastation and waste caused by his time in power. And I know we have the policies and ambition to get the country moving and to remould it for the age.
For the Lord is merciful, he has given Mr Cameron optimism. Cold eyed clarity might have taken the Opposition Leader into an entirely different career path.
Seven out of 10 working people will be better off with the Conservatives.
That's right, screw the other three. They're probably Labourite trots anyway.
And Labour’s top-down Government will make our broken society worse, not better. So we will create an army of community organisers, independent of the state, to build the Big Society – where people come together to solve their own problems.
I do admire the bait and switch "Big Society" bit, see an earlier post for further details. The state will create these community organizers, communities being incapable of organizing themselves, but they will be independent of the state. Typically creations and creators have a fairly intimate link. It also raises important questions about how these community organizers shall finance their organizational enterprises. Government grants have been proposed. Yet this would make them, semantics aside, agents of the state.
Does all this make me equipped to be Prime Minister? In just a few weeks, you can decide that. But what I do know is that I have the fight of my life on my hands, and I’ve never been more ready for battle. We have had enough of Labour, with its spin, sleaze and spurious dividing lines. We have had enough of the debt, waste and taxes. We’ve had enough of their big government knows best politics. We’ve had enough of them pushing down the poorest.
I like the image this brings to mind, of Gordon Brown cackling manically while he torments an unemployed yob by cutting his benefits. Brown would have made a wonderful Bond villain, or at least an understudy for Donald Pleasance or Gert Frobe. "No, Mr Cameron, I want you to die!" Cameron, sadly, would have made a poor Bond. Playing the brave freedom loving hero in the above Telegraph article, while soft selling big government in his previous four years as Tory leader. A hero who can't shoot straight.
Lenin in Exile
A butcher before the war:
His professional life had a double focus. He strove to assume total control of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party for his Bolshevik faction, which dwindled to a membership of one. He kept up a deluge of unswervingly Marxist articles on Russia. Those articles and the books What Is To Be Done? (1902) and Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909) were written in a jargonridden style that blended scientific pretence with merciless obloquy, and helped poison a short century of Left–Right politics across the world. Everyone who didn’t agree with Lenin was a shithead. He was a self-conscious Jacobin, a deliberate oversimplifier, dictatorial and bureaucratic, who knew what it took to gain power and keep it. An ideological hardliner, he was ready to fudge even the issue of nationalization when his Bolshevik colleagues objected. Call it the people’s ownership, he suggested.
With a politician's knack for evasion.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Honky Like Me
Discovering your inner bigot:
Moreover, I was guilty of "democratic racism" -- by which we apply ostensibly race-neutral principles such as "due process," constantly demanding clear "evidence" of wrongdoing, rather than confronting prima facie instances of racism head-on. "It seems we're always looking for more proof," said the instructor, an energetic left-wing activist who's been teaching this course for several years. "When it comes to racism, you have to trust your gut."
Inmates. Running. Asylum. Read the whole thing. The premises of these "anti-racism" activists is totalitarian. White people are assumed to be racists. It's innate in the individual, and inherent in our capitalist system. Collectivism, however, is still collectivism, no matter how strenuously its advocates say they abhor a particular type of collectivism i.e. racism.
With Conservatives Like These.....
While Stephen Harper drags the Conservative Party to the mushy center of Canadian politics, Davy Cameron seems to be moving the British Tories a little faster in the same direction, indeed right into the far Left. The Cameronistas are proposing a "neighbourhood army" of 5,000 community organizers to be financed by the British taxpayers. That's right, community organizers. Remember again these are conservatives. Heaven knows what the Labourites are plotting. From the Conservative Party's website:
The new policies announced as part of the Big Society plan include:
Neighbourhood army” of 5,000 full-time, professional community organisers who will be trained with the skills they need to identify local community leaders, bring communities together, help people start their own neighbourhood groups, and give communities the help they need to take control and tackle their problems. This plan is directly based on the successful community organising movement established by Saul Alinsky in the United States and has successfully trained generations of community organisers, including President Obama.
A Big Society Bank, funded from unclaimed bank assets, which will leverage private sector investment to provide hundreds of millions of pounds of new finance for neighbourhood groups, charities, social enterprises and other non-governmental bodies.
Neighbourhood grants for the UK’s poorest areas to encourage people to come together to form neighbourhood groups and support social enterprises and charities in these poorest areas.
Transforming the civil service into a ‘civic service’ by making regular community service a key element in civil servant staff appraisals.
Launching an annual national ‘Big Society Day’ to celebrate the work of neighbourhood groups and encourage more people to take part in social action projects.
Providing new funding to support the next generation of social entrepreneurs, and helping successful social enterprises to expand and succeed.
From Edmund Burke to Saul Alinsky. A sad decline. The basic idea isn't completely nutty. It's an attempt to rebuild civil society in an organic fashion, something Burke would have understood. Yet its method reveals how poorly the students have understood the master. Civil societies, those "platoons" of voluntary and co-operative life that Burke recognized nearly two and quarter centuries ago, grow up not down. They cannot be commanded into existence by the state. By their nature they are spontaneous, grass rooted and largely informal. They cannot be "organized" as they are "self-organizing" in the same way as the market.
The market and civil society are simply versions of the same voluntarist system of co-operation. The participants in the market seek economic gain, while the participants in civil society seek non-monetary benefits. A government organized civil society is as non-sensical as a government managed market. The Big Society would really be a potemkin village for what a real society looks like. The Cameronistas' focus on "broken Britain" is a belated recognition that the country's civil society is in crisis. While Thatcherism drove - for awhile it seems now - the state from the commanding heights of the economy, it did little more than check the growth of its dominant position in non-economic life. It profits a nation little to have a private telecom company, while the state raises and feeds the next generation. Instead of recognizing the role the British state has played in undermining civil society - starting with punitive tax rates which force reluctant mothers into the workforce - the Cameron Era Tories are expanding Leviathan. This new "army" of community organizers will soon enough become adept not at solving community problems, but instead at exaggerating ills so as to lobby Whitehall for more money. Between Labourite paternalism, and Cameronesque social subversion, there is little to choose from for the British electorate.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
The Death of Internet Freedom
I first started using the Internet in the early 1990s. I remember tying-up our household's one telephone line as I dialled into the Internet and surfed the web with a text-based browser. Back then the possibilities seemed endless. The Evil Empire had fallen and with it, the threat of a communist world had ended. And here we had this new communications medium, which was free from government control. Back then the Internet was often compared with the Wild West. This inspired images of the lone cowboy, at liberty to do as he pleased, to travel wherever the wind may take him, free from any authorities telling him what to do and think. The Internet was something organic, an interconnected world of communities built from the ground-up by individuals acting of their own volition. This was a world where the politicians—who told us how to live, who took our hard-earned money, and who always had their fingers close to the little red button with the power to destroy the world—were no longer needed.
For many years, governments took a hands-off approach to the Internet and the world witnessed technological innovations that were beyond our wildest dreams. From the creation of e-mail and the World Wide Web, to the browser wars of the '90s, to the creation of online payment systems, streaming video, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, and the open source movement, a spirit of competition and innovation created the modern-day Internet. Likewise, personal web pages, blogs, and other technologies have given people around the world the ability to express themselves to a mass audience. The low barriers to entry that the technology provides created a marketplace of ideas that is unparallelled in any other communications medium and at any other point in history.
Yet, all this seems to have changed. Nowadays people portray Internet service providers as the big bad wolf, arguing that government must step-in to save us from the multinational corporations. They say that government must spy on us to protect us from terrorism. That our ideas should be censored because they might offend someone else. They ignore that government is the one entity that can hold a gun to our heads and call it justice; the one entity that can take our money and call it charity; while companies operating in a competitive market have every incentive to provide people with what they want. At the same time, governments are introducing strict laws that prevent people from using the technology to its full potential. Laws that prevent us from sharing our lives and participating in our own culture.
It is now clear that the Wild West is gone and in its place we have something far more tame and much less free. The Internet, however, has become an indispensable tool in many of our lives. People rely on it for business, education, entertainment, and communication. The future of the Internet is, therefore, more important than ever. My new website Fencing the Digital Horizon: How Government Regulations Threaten Internet Freedom, produced as part of my masters thesis, explores the issues of copyright law and net neutrality in Canada from a libertarian perspective.
UK cider tax to end on June 30th
punitive tax on cider that was brought in by the Labour government will end on June 30th This is thanks to the need to pass
legislation before Parliament closes for the election. Both the
Conservative Party and the Liberal-Democratic Party pushed for this, and
This great news is a bit tempered by the fact that the Labour Party has pledged to reintroduce this tax if they are re-elected.
It seems that the Labour Party is increasingly becoming the party of taxation.
Tax debate in the UK election
The UK election is only in its second day but already the strategies of
the two main political parties have become clear. It Labour Party is
running the classic “don’t want to change horses mid-stream” campaign.
They claim that they are the party to bring the UK out of recession and
the Conservatives are too risky. Meanwhile the Conservatives are pushing
an agenda of moderate change; the Conservatives are presenting
themselves as a party of hope for the future. Already the Labour Party’s
message has become a contentious battle ground that could lose Labour
The most significant issue so far is the tax debate, which may go on to dominate this election. In the last budget before the election was called, the Labour government increased the National Insurance rate. The Conservative Party has called this a “tax on jobs” and vowed to reverse the increase. At the same time the country’s largest employers took the unusual step of backing the Conservative Party position, saying that the Labour Party’s tax increase will indeed kill jobs.
This is a
problem for the Labour Party because it weakens their case that they are
the party of economic recovery. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s only
defence seems to be that the leaders of industry have somehow been decieved by the Conservative Party, that increasing taxation on a business’s
payroll is indeed the best thing for the recovery.
This argument is somehow not very convincing.
What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else -- something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you'd like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times' East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars.
Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don't want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they've already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?
In short, Africa has returned to business as usual before the colonial era. It became fashionable in the 1960s to blame Africa's travails on the exiting European powers. There was some measure of truth to this, as the continent was exploited for cheap labour and its treasure trove of natural resources. Yet the European influence was far more limited than is generally understood. Until the late nineteenth century the ability of colonial powers to project themselves more than a hundred miles inland was virtually non-existent. An explorer, trader or missionary might penetrate the heart of the continent, he was however an isolated individual at the mercy of his hosts.
The advent of the gunboat and early machine guns allowed Europeans to influence affairs deep within the continent. The scramble for Africa which followed established nominal political borders between the colonial powers, which became templates for national boundaries after independence. These lines on coloured maps have been denounced, rightly, for ignoring ethnic and regional considerations, instead being based on the strategic interests of the imperial governments. More gravely it was what the lines implied, the concept of the nation state, that was misplaced.
Much of Sub-Saharan Africa today is not too removed from the stone age tribal societies which Livingston and Pinto encountered a century and a half ago. The cell phones, second-hand t-shirts and footballs notwithstanding. The cultures, however, have remained mostly static. Decolonisation was not the process of granting independence to emerging nations, but a hasty surrender of power by colonial official - themselves exercising only a tenuous control of territories beyond the major cities - to motley collections of tribal leaders. Depending on the skill and outlook of the tribal leaders, and the ethnic composition of their new states, the countries politically degenerated at various rates. Collapsing almost completely within weeks of independence in some cases - Angola - while others lingered for decades until the overthrow of a tribal strongman - as in the former Belgian Congo.
The result was usually the same, either successions of military coups and shame elections, or outright warfare between roving gangs of mercenaries. The fate of modern Africa is scarcely unique. Descriptions like those of the above author bear comparison with Europe during the Thirty Years War. Begun in the heat of religious controversy, the war quickly became thinly veiled excuses for raping and pillaging the German states. Europe grew away from these atrocities, with occasional relapses. There is no reason that Africa cannot do the same.
Stimulus spending and the intelligence of the Canadian people
In late March there was a rather spiteful back and forth between the free market think tank Fraser Institute and the
Conservative government. The Fraser Institute published a study that demonstrated government stimulus has not
significantly helped the economic recovery. The government replied in an attempt to discredit the Fraser Institute that left them looking
They look even sillier this week as it is revealed that approximately 75% of the stimulus spending has not actually been spent. Even if the concept of ‘stimulus’ was economically solid, it is clear that government action still would have been pointless. Even Keynes would agree that an unspent stimulus does not bring a country out of recession.
You have to give Canadians credit; they realize what is going on. According to a study sponsored by a Toronto advertisement firm, the Canadian people do not blame the government for the recession. At the same time they do not credit the Conservatives with ending the recession. Both conclusions are clearly true, which has delighted my usual cynical attitude towards public opinion. Despite the spin Canadians have spotted the truth.
It is too bad that Stephen Harper didn’t trust Canadian people. He brought in this budget not because he thought it would work, considering his background he had to know it wouldn’t work, but because he thought it was demanded of him by the Canadian people. If Mr. Harper had stuck to his lifelong convictions regarding the role of the government, perhaps he would be on the way to a majority by now.
Milton Friedman on minimum wage
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Our Reckless Youth
What is the world coming to:
Two officers called to a home day care to subdue an unruly 10-year-old have been suspended after one used a stun gun on the boy and another slapped him in the mouth, a central Indiana police chief said Thursday.
The child suffered no significant injuries. Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while police investigate the confrontation Tuesday.
Martinsville Police Chief Jon Davis said he believed the officers could have controlled the 94-pound (43-kilogram) boy without using force.
"I think they could have just restrained the young man," he said at a news conference. "Just held him down. Might have ended the situation."
Amazingly enough, I'm not going where you think I'm going with this one. Tasering children is not something I think the police of a free country should be doing, yet I sympathize with the cops more than the kid. The real question is why the police were called. The line between law enforcement and part-time social worker isn't as clear cut as it perhaps should be. The police are paid to enforce the law, but often become entangled in the petty squabbles of daily life. An understanding approach will probably go further than simply arresting the protagonists. Yet it simply isn't the job of the police to be parents to unruly children.
The bigger government gets the more people instinctively turn to the state to solve their problems. A generation ago the nearest authority figure would have slapped or restrained the child. No day care worker, and increasingly few parents are willing to do that today. In part this is a good thing, caregivers better understand that violence, particularly when delivered in an arbitrary manner, can be traumatizing for children. What began, however, as a more restraint approach to disciplining wayward children has become a process of second-guessing the decisions of caregivers. Today parents, teaches and day care workers are fearful of state sanctioned retribution should they use physical discipline.
A generation ago the idea of suing a daycare worker, or teacher, for physically restraining an out of control child, would have seemed laughable. Today it's a looming prospect for caregivers. A child, with little understanding of the long-term consequences, has only to spin a plausible fable about being abused to launch an investigation by authorities. Instead of protecting children, the modern approach to child welfare has deprived them of proper parenting. Whenever I see an out of control child - just take a trip on public transit for examples - I feel sorry for the parent, who is usually horribly embarrassed. I feel for the fellow patrons, who have to gingerly step around these little out of control monsters. I feel most for the child. Parental discipline is a substitute for personal discipline, which children are not mature enough to exercise. We are taught to be disciplined, it is not part of the natural process of growth. Those lacking it will become social misfits, unable to survive in a society where trust, respect and co-operation are essential.
Meet the New Liberals
Just like the old ones, except their campaign signs are blue.
Every time I think Prime Minister Stephen Harper has strayed away from conservatism as far as he possibly can, he continues to surprise me.
In his most recent baffling decision, he has engaged in a very public war of words with the Fraser Institute.
Hold your horses. The Canadian think tank that champions the free market, smaller government and lower taxes? Yep, that one.
An Institute report released last week examined the Conservatives’ $47.2-billion “Economic Action Plan,” and whether it had been beneficial to the Canadian economy.
Long time readers will recall that this time last year Mr Harper, while visiting a Manning Institute confab, flipped the bird to Canadian classical liberals and libertarians. Basically, argued the sage of Leaside, the financial crash of 2008 was the fault of the market, and we free market types had just better grow up and accept that government is good for us, like castor oil and broccoli. I have two theories on the Prime Minister. The first, which is probably the most widely subscribed to, holds that Stephen Harper sold his soul for political power. Better to rule in Ottawa than rant in Calgary. In my more annoyed moments I lean toward this theory. With calmer reflection another theory becomes more plausible, the Prime Minister of Canada wasn't the libertarian firebrand everyone thought he was. He is, and has always been, a middle of the road conservative, with a soupcon of libertarian ideas.
He doesn't like government, granted, but also doesn't see a private sector alternative as being either practical or politically viable. Maybe a more market based approach to health care would work, but most Canadians are used to the current system and some people might be left without coverage, so stick with the devil you know. The same thought process applies to scores of other public policy issues. To those ears, then, the case for minimal government sounds like so much utopian nonsense, so lets move on. All this is fine, as far as it goes, but it also means conceding the moral and intellectual high ground to the advocates of big government. Then you're left haggling over details.
Maybe you won't launch a vast new government program, but you're also not getting rid of the old ones or trimming their size, except in dire fiscal circumstances. This isn't prudent compromise with political reality, it's negotiated surrender with statism. Political cycle after cycle, decade after decade, the government gets bigger and more intrusive. Real change becomes harder to imagine, much less accomplish, when the public sector overwhelms the private and we become Greece with snow, or worse. We are approaching in Canada, though the Americans are likely to beat us to it, a sort of reverse feudalism. The original feudal system had hundreds, or even thousands, of serfs financing the lifestyle of a single lord and his family. The many sacrificed to the few. The progressive income tax has reversed the process, a small elite pay for the entitlements of the many. Once the critical mass of the electorate are net beneficiaries of state largesse, the political options narrow considerably. A politician has to convince voters to give up their freebies, all so taxes can be lowered on the more productive - i.e. the rich. It's not an impossible pitch - Ron Paul is still in Congress - but it becomes increasingly a niche one. Here and there in a large transcontinental nation the payers outnumber the takers, but these are isolated pockets. Over time they become politically irrelevant.
Monday, April 05, 2010
Bigots Among Us
My eyes get misty. The thoughts and feelings come rushing back. A longing returns for those halcyon days when The New York Times was less brazen in its attempts to smear the American Right:
Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy.
Hence their anger and frustration, which is playing out in ways large and small. There is the current spattering of threats and violence, but there also is the run on guns and the explosive growth of nefarious antigovernment and anti-immigrant groups. In fact, according to a report entitled “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism” recently released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “nativist extremist” groups that confront and harass suspected immigrants have increased nearly 80 percent since President Obama took office, and antigovernment “patriot” groups more than tripled over that period.
Excuse us, while me and Billy Bob go drag up the extra flammable cross from the basement (available at Hick-Mart at the everyday low price of $49.95). Has anyone passed along the memo that Sarah Palin is a heroine for the Tea Party? It's unlikely that Nancy Pelosi's gender is getting any of the Tea Party people all that riled up. The American Right, including the Tea Party, is pretty supportive of the State of Israel. The Jews in government schtick isn't going to be all that scary to them. Yes, Barack Obama is black, or more correctly of mixed race. The good old boys may not like that, but aside from a few hand made signs, and the odd nut getting noticed by television crews, the Tea Party as Klan potluck meme doesn't really fly. Certainly the DNC, and the broader American Left, devoutly wishes they could dismiss opposition to the President's interventionist plans as so much knuckle dragging from the John Deere crowd, but the reality is more nuanced.
There are nuts in the Tea Party movement. There are nuts pretty high up in the DNC. The undergraduate Marxist with the "Capitalism Kills" sign is no more representative of the Democratic Party than the Good Old Southern Bigot is a Republican in good standing. With two broad national parties, the lunatic fringe has only so many places to go. The narrow minded redneck is a useful standby in the Democratic rhetorical arsenal - as it is for the Liberals and NDP in Canada. It's a simple caricature which is plausible to people who rarely venture beyond the urban islands of North America. The hick is an old stock figure, every generation reinvents him to its end. He is assumed to be against progress, education and the values of the urban community. Just not with it. It's never asked whether the progress is question is wise or well considered. A battle of ideas instead becomes a clash of rural versus urban, between a presumed improvement in human affairs, and its alleged opponents. Health care reform isn't a public policy initiative, then, it's a totem. A failure at obeisance is heresy, not critical disagreement.
Meanwhile in the Fourth Branch of Government...
The executive, the legislative, the judicial and the bureaucratic:
Top bureaucrats told the Commons government operations committee Monday that departments have to keep on recruiting new employees to "renew" an aging workforce that is more than five years older than its counterparts in the private sector.
"We are continuing to hire," said Daphne Meredith, the government's new chief human resources officer at Treasury Board.
"Just because there's an operating freeze doesn't mean we will stop hiring. In fact, it is absolutely important that we continue to hire. We can't renew the public service if we don't hire, especially with the attrition going on."
MPs duly played the outraged taxpayer routine.
Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay questioned how the bureaucrats could give such "rosy" projections and "glowing" accounts of hiring new people when departments will have to cut jobs and spending.
She argued the government can't manage a freeze without cutting jobs and spending, especially with expected rates of economic and population growth and inflation.
Oh, silly parliamentarian, freezes are for ordinary people. These are civil servants. They're different from you and me, they work for the government. Public Sector employment has certainly grown under Tory rule, something which even the Stock admits. The simple fact is that the cabinet, the talking heads we elect every few years, have little practical control over the bureaucratic system. A typical minister holds his, or her, portfolio for about eighteen months, barring any unforeseen disasters - drunk driving spouses, intemperate undergraduate letters to the editor being discovered, moat cleanings at public expense.
Facing the minister at departmental meetings is a deputy minister with, on average, decades of experience dealing with elected officials and the office politics of the bureaucracy. In other words, the poor politico is utterly outclassed. Even when a savvy and strong willed minister is appointed - who have been as rare as hen's teeth in recent years - he is faced with impossible political conundrums. Every dollar a government department spends has a vested interest group attached to it. The benefits of government spending are often targeted, but their costs are diffused. A million here, a billion there, the impact on the ordinary taxpayer is miniscule in the particular. The vested group has only to raise sufficient stink as to harm the image of the government.
Minister so and so cuts spending to desperately desperate men, women, children or animals. The political benefit of restraint is virtually nonexistent, few are those who cheer a government which cuts spending, but the downside is enormous. A few ill-timed and ill placed cuts can ruin a promising political career. However increasing spending - money for nothing - is sure to win votes. It is a cliche as old as it is true that people always complain about government spending, until they receive their first government check. Nothing so corrupting as being on the government dole. The rationalizations are legion. Other people are welfare bums. I'm getting my just reward. The problem isn't the politicians, not even the unloved bureaucrat, it is the system itself and the mentality which underpins it. The state, observed Frederic Bastiat, is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Until the critical mass of the electorate understands that government magnanimity is as fictional as Santa Claus, the state will keep growing regardless of the colour code of the party in power.
Revisiting the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system
In 2007 Ontario voted to keep the traditional ‘first-past-the post’
electoral system and rejected the Mixed Member Proportional system. At the
time I campaigned hard against MMP. I felt that it would lead to
small parties controlling the agenda and other unpredictable outcomes.
The proponents of MMP held up New Zealand as an example of why I was
wrong. And New Zealand is indeed a fair case study for how the system
works. New Zealand has similar cultural and institutional roots as
Canada (as much as any two countries share such roots). The problem was
that the proponents of MMP drew the wrong lesson from New Zealand.
New Zealanders are set to make a verdict on their electoral experiment in a referendum to be held at the same time as the New Zealand election. Those who are interested in electoral reform should keep a close eye on the debate and results that will be coming out of New Zealand. Australian Policy Online provides a taste of how that debate will likely take form:
The new world of politics and equitable representation, however, never quite materialised. In fact, MMP created many perverse incentives and largely unforeseen consequences, such as increasing the power of political parties, the cessation of MPs being legitimised by their local electorate, and a reduction of political accountability for laws passed. The compromises that MMP encourages have led to a more consensual style of government, but it has also contributed to ad hoc lawmaking, an inability of government to take proper charge of a legislative programme, and pork barrel politics and ‘back room deals.’
MMP is a system concerned with process rather than outcomes. Although MMP has brought proportionality to parliamentary representation, it has produced political results that can hardly claim to be representative. This is because minor parties have a greater say in contentious legislation than their vote warrants. MMP was also designed to give women and ethnic groups more representation in Parliament. Maori and women’s representation has somewhat improved under MMP, but there is little or no evidence that it was MMP itself that led to this improvement.
Another case worth studying is how MMP has worked in Scotland, another country with a historic cultural and institutional relationship with Canada. There is little evidence that the same adverse effects have taken place in the Scottish Parliament, at least not to the extent that there should be concern. Scottish politics are dominated by four major political parties: Scottish National Party, Labour Party, Conservative Party, and the Liberal-Democrat Party. There was an upsurge of small parties in earlier elections, but they have all but disappeared in the 2007 election. MMP has even worked to provide representation that otherwise wouldn’t have existed; the Conservative Party would have barely gotten any seats in the traditional Westminster system even though they get more votes than the Liberal-Democrats. The MMP system has allowed the Conservatives to be a real political force in the Scottish Parliament.
So why does it work in Scotland and not in New Zealand? The answer is pretty simple; the Scottish Parliament did not move from ‘first-past-the post,’ it started off with MMP when it was established in 1999. The whole institution of the Scottish Parliament is built with MMP at the core. This meant that the Scots did away with some traditional aspects of a Westminster Parliament, including confidence votes for budgets and a stronger committee system.
The lesson for electoral reformers and democratic reformers in general is that you can’t just change one part of an institution. You have to make the various bits fit together. They fit together well in Scotland but they don’t fit in New Zealand, this is why MMP is dysfunctional in New Zealand. A lot of reform can be advantageous but a little reform can be a disaster.