The Shotgun Blog
Friday, July 30, 2010
Ignatieff proposes wrong solution to economic problems
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff correctly identifies consumer debt as an ongoing problem in the Canadian economy. Sadly he seems to misunderstand why systemic debt is so dangerous. Consumer debt is not a problem because it will reduce consumption, which only matters if you buy into the nonsensical Keynesian idea of the paradox of thrift. The true danger is if consumers (also known as people) don’t reduce their personal debt.
The fact that debt levels are so high in Canada suggests that the current level of consumption is not sustainable. Borrowing to consume doesn’t increase spending power, it merely redistributes future spending power to the present. The value then of borrowing for consumption is nil. Actually it is worse than nil because interest will have to be paid on the loan.
This should be explained to Mr. Ignatieff as he touts further government spending as a way to increase consumption and avoid another economic downturn. Putting aside the fact that there is zero evidence to support his hunch that the recovery is not stable, Mr. Ignatieff is offering the worse possible solution. More government spending would increase government debt, and government debt is differed taxes from the perspective of the taxpayer/consumer/individual. Ultimately it would mean an increase to the tax burden, and, ironically, a resulting drop in consumption.
Mr. Ignatieff seems to be confused about how he would fund a future ‘stimulus package.’ He says that the government’s planned cuts in corporate taxes will reduce the capacity of the government to ‘respond’ to a recession. Yet at the same time he has already committed his hypothetical government to new spending predicated on those taxes not being cut. So wouldn’t that new spending also reduce the government’s ability to ‘stimulate?’ Where exactly would the Ignatieff government get the money?
All that new government spending will do is increase the amount of debt in Canada.
And as Michael Ignatieff himself says, it is the debt that we should be worried about.
Michael Schmidt's "Milk Trial by Jury" premiers today on Symphony in the Barn
We've written extensively about Michael Schmidt, the freedom farmer charged -- and acquitted! -- of selling raw milk contrary to regulations dreamed up by people who prefer their food to come triple-pasteurized and preferably in a cellophane wrapper (see here and here and here and here and here).
Schmidt has struggled valiantly for our freedom to consume raw milk, if we want to. But he's also something of a classical music buff. He's put together an operetta entitled "Milk Trial by Jury," the story of his legal travails with food-o-crats. Tonight marks the premier of the show, which you can see today, tomorrow, and on Sunday in Durham, Ontario.
It's not an immigration problem, it's a marijuana-is-illegal problem
As though we needed to be told (again), but keeping marijuana illegal is busy funding gangs and bad guys. Can we legalize pot already? Geez.
Here's Jane Hamsher, from Fire Dog Lake, talking about pot (Ignore the pre-pot talk chatter about "increasing teacher's salaries"):
Wildrose Alliance supports plebiscite on fate of Edmonton City Centre Airport
Today, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith announced her party’s support for Envision Edmonton’s petition drive to force a plebiscite on the fate of Edmonton City Centre Airport. The Wildrose party urges all Edmontonians including local MLAs to fight the undemocratic process which has led to its imminent closure.
“The citizens of Edmonton clearly voted to keep this airport open in the last two plebiscites. To me it’s a pretty straightforward issue: to overturn a plebiscite, you should hold another plebiscite” Smith said. “This is the only way that the people will get a chance to have their say before the bulldozers are rushed in -- and after all, this is their airport and their land, not city council’s.”
At the Airco Hanger, Smith signed a petition supporting a proposed referendum that would halt Edmonton city council’s decision to close the airport and give the people of Edmonton the opportunity to once again be heard on the issue. Edmontonians voted overwhelmingly to keep the airport open to general aviation in two plebiscites in the 1990s.
Joining Smith at the Hangar for the petition signing were Cal Nichols of the Alberta Enterprise Group and Chuck Allard of Envision Edmonton, the group circulating the petition.
Calgary-Glenmore MLA Paul Hinman, Wildrose Deputy Leader and Transportation Critic, questioned the strange silence coming out of Edmonton-area and northern MLAs. “It’s pretty clear that government MLAs aren’t being allowed to represent their constituents on this issue, and I’d like to know why,” Hinman said. “Most of them privately say they support the airport. I challenge them to stand up, in public, and do something about it.”
Smith called for an open and rigorous debate on the airport’s future in which Edmontonians would hear from both sides before making an informed decision at the ballot box.
“The vast majority of Edmontonians that I’ve talked to have not been convinced that this forced, permanent closure needs to happen,” Smith said. “I know I haven’t. This whole process has been rushed and undemocratic. I invite northern Alberta and Edmonton-area MLAs from all parties, especially from the government, to stand up for democracy and join us in encouraging Edmontonians to sign the petition.”
Wildrose advances competent, principled and conservative policies that will lower government spending, increase economic opportunities, empower communities and strengthen individual liberties and freedoms.
The above is a press release from the Wildrose Alliance.
You can read Danielle Smith's speech in support of the plebiscite here.
Cheeky suitcase stickers banned in Canada
The above sticker has gotten entrepreneurs at Vancouver-based thecheeky.com in trouble with Transport Canada.
James Kusie, spokesman for Transport Minister John Baird, told the Vancouver Province in an email that "Joking around like this could possibly be a serious violation of the aeronautics act."
"Joking about potentially trafficking illegal substances, or worse, is not funny, and the government will use the full force of the law to ensure Canadians who travel by air are safe."
No one from Transport Canada has yet explained how stickers could possibly make air travel less safe for Canadians. Although some might speculate that stickers might become unstuck, causing paper cuts or stickiness of the fingers for baggage handlers. Whether or not that is an issue that Transport Canada should really be getting stuck up on is a separate matter.
Additionally, Kusie is apparently unaware of the fact that what counts as funny is not determined by the legality of an activity, or even it's potential offensiveness. Humour is not indicative of normative approval; laughing at stickers that portray illegal activity is not the same as endorsing an illegal activity.
In spite of Kusie's bad philosophy, he's managed to scare theCheeky.com from selling the $15 stickers in Canada. A footnote on their suitcase sticker section reads:
"*We are sorry but suitcase stickers are not available to residents of Canada."
The website further explains:
Due to the statement issued by the Canadian Government through the Ministry of Transportation for Canada, thecheeky.com will no longer sell suitcase stickers in Canada. ‘The full force of the law’ is too strong a statement to risk and we hope that at some point the Government will look around the world at some other reactions and re-consider their position.
Our intention has never been to cause risk or harm and was only to make stickers; stickers to put on a bag that might make people take a second glance and maybe smile… at the sticker. It’s a sticker. Our exposure to this media attention has been fun but not fun enough to hang out in prison and this statement puts us in a very awkward place.
The many orders for suitcase stickers that we have had in Canada will be fulfilled but after that we can’t take the risk and we’re sorry. All other products on thecheeky.com will continue. We hope.
Meanwhile, unlike the bumblers at Transport Canada, British security personnel do not appear concerned about the potentially harmful paper-cut-causing stickers. A UKBA spokesperson, asked about the stickers Canada has deemed dangerous and definitely not funny said:
"Our officers see a lot of joke stickers on suitcases and it doesn’t affect their professional approach to tackling smuggling of illegal goods. Staff that protect our borders are highly trained to identify people trying to smuggle illegal items. Our staff use intelligence and utilities the latest technology to ensure our border checks remain robust."
Dear Transport Canada: Please do not make Canada a laughingstock over stickers.
And, Dear Kusie: Those stickers are funny. Please stop being such a humourless, histrionic sourpuss and look up Louis CK on YouTube. When you've accustomed yourself to what is, in fact, funny, come back and look at the stickers, the rest of which we've conveniently posted for you below:
Happy Birthday Milton Friedman
July 31st would have marked Milton Friedman's 98th birthday. Since the 31st falls on a Saturday this year, the Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation has selected today as the third, annual "Friedman Day."
Several think tanks, Institutes, foundations, and student groups will be busy celebrating Friedman's legacy, including the Institute for Liberal Studies, and the Fraser Institute here in Canada.
The Institute for Liberal Studies is hosting a luncheon at Parliament Hill in honour of Friedman's birthday, while the Fraser Institute is celebrating his legacy as well.
Libertarianism 101: Mike Brock vs. Stephen Taylor
Yesterday, Western Standard blogger Mike Brock and Stephen Taylor debated whether or not the Conservative government's move to make the long-form census voluntary rather than mandatory would make libertarians be interested in the Conservative Party again. The debate quickly changed into a broader debate about libertarianism and conservatism. Here's video of the discussion, courtesy of Roy Eappen:
Obviously you can't trust voluntary surveys
The Globe and Mail is reporting on a survey that shows that 76 per cent of polled economists think that the long-form census should remain mandatory. An interesting number to be sure, but unfortunately the survey is completely unreliable.
You see, no one threatened anyone with fines or confinement to fill out this survey. If no one was under physical threat then how can we possibly trust the results?
I call upon the government to institute a mandatory survey of economists and their opinion on the census. It is only then that we will get to the truth of the matter.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
"I had no idea libertarianism was so exciting..."
Western Standard blogger Mike Brock just appeared on CBC's Power and Politics alongside Stephen Taylor, prominent Canadian blogging pundit. The two of them got into a bit of a debate over the mandatoriness of the long-form census, and over whether or not this move by the Stephen Harper-led Tories would bring more libertarians into the conservative movement.
Brock and Taylor seemed to be at odds with one another. While both were supportive of this most recent move by the Tories, Brock was insistent that this move is not enough to bring in libertarians. That libertarians cared about other issues that the Conservative government has failed them on. He cited the war on drugs, a dramatic increase in the size of government, and the G20 as thorns in the side of libertarians who might, otherwise, take a second look at the Conservative Party.
Taylor hit back, arguing that Brock's view was too low to the ground, that he needs to go up 30,000 feet to see the bigger picture, and to realize that politics is about the art of the possible.
While Brock is sure to post a few follow-up posts after his debate, one thing might surprise those watching the show -- Brock and Taylor took different positions, and debated the issue, but both Brock and Taylor count themselves as libertarians.
Rosemary Barton, host of CBC's Power & Politics, basically said "huh?" when Taylor said he was a libertarian. She double-checked. And, sure enough, Taylor did admit, somewhat sheepishly, that he is a libertarian (this isn't news to readers of this blog, or to readers of Taylor's blog either. Taylor's been a libertarian for a long time).
No one would be surprised to hear two conservatives differ about policy or strategy. Of course they would differ -- conservatism is a broad movement, comprising fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, social liberals, foreign policy hawks and doves, and so on.
But the same is true of libertarians.
Libertarianism is both a political philosophy, as well as a political morality. On the former, it is a view about the proper function of government, and the proper size of government. It is possible to be a consequentialist, utilitarian, deontological, social conservative, natural rights, and so on, libertarian. "Libertarian" describes what your view is on the role of government, but is silent on why you endorse that role, and no other. For that, you need to look at political morality.
As a political morality, libertarianism refers only to the natural rights foundations of libertarian political philosophy. This might be part of the confusion, since the same label refers to two distinct things -- foundations and outcomes.
Recently, I posted about reason magazine's debate entitled "Where do libertarians belong?" It was a debate between Brink Lindsay, Matt Kibbe, and Jonah Goldberg. This CBC panel on the census was a snapshot of the same debate within the libertarian movement about where libertarians belong. Taylor thinks being a part of the conservative movement is the best way to reach more individual liberty and individual responsibility, while Mike Brock is no longer so sure.
Barton permitted Brock and Taylor to tussle back-and-forth for some time. When all was said and done, she laughed and said, "I had no idea libertarianism was so exciting! Thank you to the both of you for making it so."
It is exciting.
Learn more, pick up these major works of libertarianism (two authors are Canadian, two are American):
WS writers around town: Mike Brock will be on CBC's Power & Politics tonight at 5 p.m.
Shotgun blogger Mike Brock will be on CBC's Power and Politics tonight at 5 p.m. in order to bring a libertarian view to the census debate.
The show is available as a live-stream here: Power and Politics.
If you'd like to know what libertarians think of the census, you can check out our census page on WS on the census.
Political ad watch: Peter Schiff's new campaign video accuses Linda McMahon of being liberal, and a kick in the groin to conservatives
Peter Schiff, candidate for Connecticut's senate and president of EuroPacific Capital, has released a new television advertisement destined to cause a commotion. Earlier today, Schiff was endorsed by Forbes magazine founder Steve Forbes. Schiff is touted as a Ron Paul Republican, and one of several candidates with strong ties to the Tea Party movement in the U.S.
Here's the ad:
Bullshit, and the Ironic Invalidity of the Census Debate
“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” – Professor Harry G. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit”, pp. 55-56.
The ironic truth is that a debate focusing largely upon the validity of census data is comprised of so much bullshit as to make the debate itself invalid. Witnesses and Parliamentary Members at committee hearings, columnists, and even those who write letters to the editors of our vestigial newspapers have decided that the this issue – more than most others – demands that all concern over truth and falsehood must be abandoned if the debate is to be resolved favourably. The debate has turned even serially honest thinkers, writers and speakers into at least second-class bullshitters for the purposes of either backing or opposing the Conservative government’s decision to make completion of the long form census voluntary; to repeal laws that impose penalties of fine or imprisonment for failing or refusing to fill out the long form census and remit it to government.
In the hope that participants might choose to stop bullshitting, and instead state clearly what they want, why they want it, and who they think ought to be footing the bill for what they want, I provide, below, a short-list of seven of the most salient and high-profile bullshit submissions upon which decision makers are likely to rely due to pressure from their constituents (who are the intended victims of all of this bullshittery). I conclude with a succinct description of the real issues that the bullshit arguments are designed to bury or obfuscate.
Bullshit Submission #1: "The fact of the matter is that we [made the decision to make the long form census voluntary] on a principled basis, that we wanted to balance off the interests of those Canadians who are worried about this with the desire [of users of the data] for more and more data." - Conservative MP Tony Clement, Industry Minister, at the July 27, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (hereinafter referred to as the "SCIST Hearing").
This claim is bullshit for at least two reasons. First, the Conservatives clearly are not acting on any "principled basis". A principle is a fundamental truth of general application. For example: "Government must use coercion only to prevent the violation of individuals' lives, liberty, and property" is a principle. At the SCIST Hearing, Clement represented that "...we should encourage people and use non-coercive methods if we want data from them and that's simply our position". This is, in my view, was a wording (i.e., "non-coercive methods") deliberately chosen to lure the sympathies or loyalties of those who think that government ought never to use force other than to defend every person's own life, liberty, and property. It is a wording chosen to suggest, falsely, that Conservatives have a principled objection to government coercing the governed with respect to acts and omissions that harm nobody. But, as even the Liberal MPs on the SCIST panel were quick to point out, the Conservatives are not consistent on their allegedly "principled" stance against coercive methods. Most damaging to the Conservatives' claim to principle is the simple and painful fact that the Conservatives are proposing that fines and imprisonment continue to be imposed with respect to those who refuse to fill out the short form of the census (not to mention the fact that the Conservatives have no qualms about threatening Canadians will fines and imprisonment with respect to refusals to file income tax returns).
Second, it is now clear that I was called upon by the Liberals to be a witness at the SCIST hearings on July 27th. It is equally obvious that I was chosen because of what I wrote on both the Western Standard's Shotgun blog and on my own blog on July 17, 2010 (the general thrust being that the decision to make the long form voluntary was little more than an attempt to bring "libertarians" and other objectors who oppose government coercion into, or back into, the Conservative fold). It is similarly obvious that the Liberals chose me as a representative of "libertarians" or others who are the targets of the Conservative pandering to which I referred in my July 17th post. Finally, it is obvious that, having presented me as a representative of that target group, they wanted the public to believe that, if such a representative says his group is being pandered to, his group is indeed being pandered to.
What is most interesting, however, is that, despite the fact that I wrote that I agree with the Conservatives' decision to make the long form census voluntary, not one of the Conservative MPs on the SCIST panel asked me any questions. None of them took the opportunity to bolster the Conservative claim to acting on "principle", by asking me a question to which I could respond that making the census voluntary is quite a principled thing to do. None of them took the opportunity to appear friendly to a freedom advocate well known among Objectivists, libertarians and other individualists in Canada; a to risk the appearance of being allied with, or of similar mind to, a reasonably well-known opponent of government coercion. All of the Conservative MPs on the SCIST panel avoided that opportunity like the plague. The message to all lovers of liberty: 'we want your support, but we do not actually share your commitment to individual freedom, and we certainly wouldn't want to be seen allying with you in public'. So, ask yourself: if Conservatives do not want to appear to be supported by, allied with, or of similar mind to principled opponents of government coercion, how can their claim to holding a principled opposition to government coercion be anything but utter bullshit?
Bullshit Submission #2: Only 50 or so people have called the privacy commissioner to complain about the census, so the actual number of people who object to filling out the long form census is being immensely over-stated.
This line of argument was offered up primarily by Liberal MP Dan McTeague, during the SCIST Hearing.
The argument is bullshit for numerous, somewhat obvious reasons. Two biggies follow.
First, the violation of ones privacy is a concern for only a fraction of the estimated 19 per cent of Canadians who would not fill out the long form census were it voluntary (note: the 19 per cent figure is a result in a poll conducted by IPSOs pollster Darrell Bricker, who testified to the SCIST Hearing. I, for example, do not regard it as a well kept secret that I am a middle aged Caucasian male: anyone with could easily find that out. I do not regard it as a violation of my privacy for people to look at me, so I do not regard it as a violation of my privacy to write down, in a census form, that I am a middle aged Caucasian male. And I have no fear that the census will tell the government something "private" about my money: it already gets that information from me yearly via my tax return. Because I have no concern about such alleged "privacy", I have absolutely no reason to call a Privacy Commissioner.
As any politician debating the voluntariness of the 2011 census should try to remember or discover, in the lead up to the 1996 census, the public was outraged that it was to be denied the opportunity to identify their "Ethnic Origin" as "Canadian". Political pressure led to the inclusion of "Canadian" as a response. They objected then -- as objectors do now -- to a government that doles out special barriers and disadvantages, and special privileges and advantages, to different Canadians based upon their "ethnic origin". A large -- perhaps the largest -- proportion of Canadians upset with the mandatory long form these days similarly are upset not because of privacy issues, but because they want a government that is blind to issues of race, sex, religion et cetera. They have no reason to call a Privacy Commissioner when what is bothering them is collectivism.
Second, among those objectors whose concern is the violation of their privacy, we may rightly expect to find individuals who are distrustful of or who fear government. Survivors of the Holocaust who were targeted because of their race, religion, profession, income, et cetera; those who - like former StatsCan head Ivan Fellegi -- have left countries because of governmental tyranny; or as the SCIST heard from a witness, Inuit living in the remote north: all have reasons for fearing that the government will use such information against them. Mr. McTeague would have us believe that people so terrified of government would actually contact the government's Privacy Commissioner to complain about the government's census. For people having such fear of government, that is like expecting them to stand outside of Parliament with a sign saying "Shoot me, loot me, I'm your enemy." A government body can say all it wants about how it will maintain the anonymity of complainants, but can anyone permanently terrorized by the abuse of governmental power and information rationally be expected to trust that a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner will not put them in the government's cross-hairs?
The bottom line: the argument that the number of complaints made to the Privacy Commissioner demonstrates few people care about census penalties is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #3: Nobody has ever gone to jail for refusing to complete the census. That people go to jail is an "urban myth". Therefore, the government’s decision to eliminate penalties for non-completion of the long form census is a response to a crisis manufactured by government.
Bullshit arguments of this sort have been made most prominently by NDP MP Charlie Angus, and by Liberal MP Marc Garneau.
The essence of this bullshit argument is that that, because the imprisonment penalty is never actually imposed, nobody is harmed by it, so there is no reason to repeal the penalty. This line of thought has at least two possible interpretations.
One interpretation is that the penalties have no effect on anyone. If that is the case, there is no rational reason for opposing their repeal, so the argument is bullshit.
The other interpretation is that the effect of the penalties is nothing more than to create sufficient fear of imprisonment that non-consenting Canadians will be coerced into completing the long form census. If that is the case, then it is false that Canadians are not being harmed by the imprisonment penalty: fear and coercion is harm. It is because of that harm -- because of that violation of ones liberty -- that, if a stranger were to appear at your door and say, in a threatening manner, "Tell me your name, or I'll forcibly take all of the money from your wallet", he could be charged with a criminal offence. As with the first interpretation, the implication that the law harms nobody is bullshit, so the conclusion drawn from that bullshit - that the penalty should not be repealed -- is also bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #4: What we advocate is a mandatory long form census, not penalties.
Arguments to that effect have been made most prominently by Statistical Society of Canada President Don McLeish, and by former Toronto Dominion Bank Chief Economist Don Drummond (now Chair of an Advisory Panel on Labour Market Information), both of whom were witnesses at the SCIST Hearing. See also a (typically) bizarre media release by the Green Party of Canada.
Sexual contexts aside, one cannot suck and blow at the same time. In law -- and I say this as a lawyer -- "mandatory" means: if you do not comply, your liberty or property will be taken away to one extent or another. There is no other meaning for "mandatory", if we are speaking about a law. The argument is bullshit because -- if pressed to take a stand on whether or not all penalties for non-completion of the long form census should be repealed -- those making this bullshit argument ultimately state that at least some form of penalty (i.e., fine or imprisonment) must remain. In other words, the people spouting this bullshit argument want their audience either to remain ignorant of the existence of a penalty, or to hold a false belief that things mandated by law do not necessarily involve penalties or coercion of any sort.
Thanks to the cross-examination done by Conservative MP Mike Lake (who should have been a litigator, and probably deserves a promotion...perhaps to Tony Clement's position), the argument was exposed to be bullshit both when made by SCIST Hearing witness Don McLeish and when made by SCIST Hearing witness Don Drummond. Their testimony -- and their faces -- must really be watched to get the full feeling of their discomfort with giving an honest answer to Lake's questions, but here are the exchanges in question (without changing the meanings of the questions or answers, I edit out parts of the questions and answer that are not directly on-point). First, the cross-examination of Don McLeish:
Lake: "Should your daughter...be threatened with jail time or a fine for not wanting to answer the question 'How much house work did you do last week?'" McLeish: "...My Society has not taken a position on what the penalties associated with non-compliance with the Statistics Act should be, because that's not really our expertise. That's a government decision."
Lake: "Your association does advocate for penalties though." (Note: McLeish was testifying as a witness opposed to the Conservative government's decision to repeal penalties associated with non-completion of the long-form census).
McLeish: "No. My association advocates that the voluntary long form of the census be mandatory as it has in the past... In my personal view, they should not be threatened with jail time, in part because it's never happened and it's a red herring in this debate; in part because [the magnitude of the penalty is] all out of proportion [to the nature of the offence]... The word 'mandatory' is important. I submit that the level of fine associated with it, which is under government jurisdiction, is much, much less important".
Next, Lake's cross-examination of Drummond, who was also testifying in opposition to the Conservatives' decision to make the long form census voluntary. Lake gives Drummond essentially the same question he gave McLeish, namely, should a person threatened with jail time or a fine for not wanting to answer the question 'How much house work did you do last week?
Drummond: "If the problem is the threat of jail time, remove it, you don't need it. It's not used."
Drummond having dodged the issue of fines with his answer, Lake moves in for the kill, asking Drummond whether a fine should be imposed were a person not to answer a long form question about the amount he has spent upon water.
Drummond: "The fine itself is not the issue. There's a notion in Canada that filling out the census is mandatory. I don't think people look at the fine. The fines are not invoked very often. I don't think that's the notion. The right notion, which people have understood in Canada, is: it's mandatory. And the vast majority of Canadians do it. And I don't think they do it because of the threat of a fine..."
Lake: "So, you're saying we could go without fines then?"
Drummond: "The fines probably have to be there on paper, but I think they're not really the central issue. If people understand that this is a benefit and it's part of being a Canadian citizen, then they would fill it out whether there's a fine or not. They won't pay attention to the existence of the fines."
Lake: "Isn't that a voluntary system, then?"
Drummond: "The fines are there, on paper, so it's not a [does not complete his sentence, for obvious reasons. He instead switches to] It's more of an attitude, and it's a promotion of [public duty, personal benefit]."
Lake: "Okay, so that's basically the approach that the government has put forward, and that sounds like the same approach you are talking about".
Drummond: "No...I think that you need some measure of -- on paper, at least -- hopefully not used very much, but certainly not jail."
When subsequently questioned by NDP MP Claude Gravelle, Drummond states: "I think the most important thing is the question: 'Is there a sentiment that it's part of your civic duty to fill it out or not?'. I think the fines and the penalty are irrelevant, relative to that."
Again: one cannot suck and blow. When McLeish and Drummond say they want completion of the long form census to be "mandatory", even they are unwilling to deny that "mandatory" requires the continued existence of a penalty. Had they been so willing, they would actually be witnesses supporting the Conservatives' decision. In short: the above argument -- an argument made by numerous opponents of the Conservatives' decision -- is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #5: "I would fill out the long form census if it were voluntary".
IPSOs pollster Darrell Bricker testified to the SCIST that 19 per cent of people he polled would not voluntarily fill out the long form census, and that 80 per cent would do so. A good proportion of those saying they would fill out the long-form census in a voluntary system are clearly bullshitting. These poll respondents expect us to believe that although they are barely more than 50 per cent likely to find it worth their while to take 10 minutes to walk a block and place a single check mark, to answer a single question (i.e., the ballot) once every few years, they are somehow 80 per cent likely to answer 50 or 60 questions comprising a 40 page long-form questionnaire asking them about their religion, their "race", and -- for all intents and purposes -- whether they are regularly having sex in their home with someone who is not their spouse. They are the same people who promise themselves they will start dieting and working out tomorrow, and who buy year-long gym memberships to work off the Christmas goose, only to quit by the end of January. We all like to believe that we will take the time to do things like vote, and take voluntary government polls and, when asked, few of us want to admit -- to ourselves, and much less to others -- that we just do not think voting, or census-completing, or gym membership buying will ultimately end up giving us anything of value. In the immediate term - when we really do not care whether or not our answer will turn out to be true -- a significant percentage of us will answer to a pollster that, yes, we would answer a voluntary long-form census. We will take a "tomorrow's another day", wait-and-see attitude with respect to the issue of whether or not we are bullshitting ourselves and others (knowing full well that we will, by that time, have forgotten even being polled). The claim by a good proportion of the 80% - that they would answer a voluntary long-form census - is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #6: If we were to get rid of the jail term, and leave the fine in place, that would be a good compromise.
Noteworthy sources of this bullshit proposal are numerous, but clearly include Don Drummond, as indicated by his testimony, above.
This argument is the perhaps the oldest bullshit in the history of tyranny. That it is bullshit is probably best demonstrated with an example. In 1986, it was illegal for most retail stores to open on Sundays. To challenge the constitutionality of the ban in court, then London bookstore owner Marc Emery opened his bookstore contrary to the ban. At trial, he was fined $500. He refused to pay the fine. The government's response: imprisonment. He remained in jail for four days, until the general public contributed the money to pay the fine. The lesson: there is no such thing as a fine that does not necessarily imply the availability of imprisonment as a penalty. In other words: the notion of a penalty that excludes the implication of imprisonment is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #7: "What Canadians are witnessing in the census saga is the temporary triumph of ideology over reason...The Statistics Canada fight is not the usual clash of competing political visions, of left against right, of Conservatives against progressives. Rather, this is a fight about rational decision-making that requires the best fact-based evidence available against a reliance on ideological nostrums that scorn facts and reason when they stand in the way of those nostrums." - Direct quotation from Jeffrey Simpson's July 23, 2010 column in the Globe and Mail.
Noteworthy sources of this bullshit argument include not only Jeffrey Simpson, but also NDP MP Charlie Angus, and Bloc Quebecois MP Richard Nadeau (who, in the SCIST hearing of July 27th, 2010, kept insisting that the central issue is one of science and of the validity of census data, rather than one of whether or not it is morally right to penalize a person for refusing to complete and remit the long-form census).
This argument is not only bullshit, but hypocritical bullshit. The fact that evidence exists, and that it is accurate, does not mean that the evidence is relevant. A person's belief that one ought not to eat an apple each day does not necessarily imply the existence of an ideology that makes one willfully blind to the fact that apples are red. An alternative implication is that the colour of an apple has no bearing on whether or not one ought to eat an apple every day. Similarly, the (pretty much undeniable) fact that making the census voluntary will introduce sampling bias that will narrow the usefulness of the census does not necessarily imply that it is wrong to make the census voluntary. The effect of voluntariness upon the usefulness of the census is a matter of metaphysics and epistemology; a matter of what IS. Given what IS, the question of what the government ought therefore to do is a question of ethics and politics, not of metaphysics and epistemology.
"Ideology" is a matter of ethics and politics, not a matter of metaphysics and epistemology; it is a matter of what ought to be, not of what is. Even if both sides of the debate were to agree that making the long-form census voluntary will cause sampling bias that will narrow the usefulness of the long form census, it is no more and no less "ideological" to argue that the government therefore ought not to make the census voluntary, then to argue that the government therefore ought to make the census voluntary. In other words, everyone who has an opinion about whether the government ought to make the census voluntary and of narrowed use has an "ideology". It is utter bullshit to say that "ideology" has trumped "reason" if one believes the government ought to make a decision that narrows the usefulness of the census, but that "ideology" has nothing to do with it if one believes that the government OUGHT NOT to make a decision that narrows the usefulness of the census.
In short: no matter which side of the debate argues that their opponent's stance is an example of ideology triumphing over reason, the argument is utter bullshit.
Lying beneath all of these bullshit arguments is a rather simple debate that nobody wants to have in public: Should the government distribute wealth and political influence to individuals in accordance with each individual's race, sex, religion, nationality, mother tongue, income, wealth et cetera, or should the government be blind to such individual differences and stick to the business of defending the lives, liberty, and property of all individuals, irrespective of their race, sex, religion, nationality, mother tongue, income, wealth et cetera? In other words, those complaining about being forced, under penalty of fine or imprisonment, to pigeon-hole themselves into man-made collectives see the issue as a matter of individualism versus collectivism; as a matter of government as keeper of peace, order and good government among adult Canadians, versus government as daddy of a Canadian family that shares wealth equally, regardless of which individuals earn it.
Those collectivists opposing the lifting of penalties for non-completion of the long form census also see the issue as a matter of individualism versus collectivism. However, they do not want anyone to know that that is the issue in question. They are happier obfuscating the ethical-political issue with yammerings-on about the metaphysical and epistemological issue of the effect of voluntariness upon the validity of census data (which is, in reality, a non-issue, because it is simply true that making the census voluntary will introduce sampling bias, thereby making the census a picture of the nature of people who choose to fill out the census, rather than a picture of the nature of the entire Canadian population).
This debate is not happening for one reason: the majority of both liberals and conservatives want to be treated as children of a collectivist daddy government. They are, in other words, on the same side of the real issue involved (i.e., individualism versus collectivism). However, there is nonetheless inter-party disagreement about making the long form census voluntary because, unlike the liberals, the conservatives want to have their cake and eat it too. To individualists -- many of who, for years, have misguidedly treated the Conservatives as allies in a war for individual freedom -- they want to be seen as defenders of rugged individualism. The conservatives want individualists to believe that, if the Conservatives only had a majority, there would be a big anti-collectivism, pro-individualism revolution. However, to the majority of conservatives -- who are not pro-individualist but who are pro-theocracy types; 'cops can do no wrong' types; 'bring back the good ole' days' types; 'gimme the common sense, dumbed-down Homer Simpson version' types; and so on -- the conservatives want to appear as the defender of the status quo; the "natural governing party"; a party that twiddles with the fine tuning knobs of government, but that never touches the big dial. Thus the bullshit Conservative use of the words "principle" and "principled" in the context of a decision so utterly unprincipled (e.g., long form census voluntary, short form census mandatory) that even Conservatives can hardly keep a straight face when they use such words.
So here is what is going to happen. If the Conservatives fold on this issue, it will prove a lose-lose for them electorally: they will have lost this tussle over the census, and will be seen by the pro-individualists to whom they implicitly are pandering, as cowardly turn-coats; as lacking the desire, will or courage to stand up for individual freedom; and as having lacked any viable plan for proposing and delivering their long form census decision to the public. The mooching egalitarians will continue to point to point to income disparities between those who produce more and those who produce less, blaming such disparities on racism, sexism, and any other collectivist ism they find to meet with general public disgust. The mooching researchers and central planners will continue to stick the taxpayer with a good part of the cost of their research, most of which will be research devised to support claims that there is a problem that government ought to fix, at taxpayer expense. Producers will see less and less wisdom in assuming the risk and burden of producing and, in increasing numbers, they will jump on the moocher-looter bandwagon instead of continuing to pull it.
If, instead, the Conservatives dig in their heels, the public will simply grow bored of reading about the issue, and lefty writers who continue to carp on about it will have their readership rolling their eyes (to the general public, this whole issue is totally fringe, so dwelling on it makes any writer look out of touch). When the voluntary 2011 census rolls out next year, the left will again start writing columns about the voluntary nature of the census: some will write that the Harper government has made it worthless; others will implicitly campaign that it is in every moocher's and looter's interest to fill out the census, and that it is every Canadian's "civic duty" to fill it out. Response rates will be much lower than 80 per cent. The general public will get its first true datum -- response rate -- concerning how many Canadians think the census is something they should be paying for and spending their time filling out. As a result of poor public interest in filling out the long form, the public will be much more willing to agree that it's time to get rid of the long form census altogether. An actual, non-bullshitty debate about individualism versus the collectivist purposes of the long form census might actually be held and debated on its merits. And, if opponents of a mandatory long form census (Conservative or other) remain in power until 2016, there might be no long form as soon as 2016. As I wrote a few days ago, the long form -- a weapon used by racist egalitarians and other collectivists to make the government take more money from those who earn it, and give it to those who do not -- will be destroyed. It will be somewhat harder for the collectivists to blame differences in wealth and income upon false claims of racism, sexism and the like. The collectivists will have to fall back on being more truthful; on saying that they simply want what others have earned, and are willing to beg, steal, and vote to get it. The mooching researchers, academics, businesses who use data of the kind collected in the long form census will start paying for the data they get, like everyone else does. And those of us who want our freedom - who honestly believe that they are members of only one race: the human race -- will have won a significant battle against collectivism, though certainly not the war.
WS/LP joint poll: Conservatives want to scrap the mandatory long-form census -- what do you think?
Had about enough of the census debate? Yeah, us too, really. Brian Lee Crowley from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute suggests we call issues that matter a great deal only to those in government buildings (or the media and academics that care very much about what happens in those buildings) as "Inside K1A" issues.
We like that description. And the census seems like a K1A thing. But, who knows, maybe you care a great deal. So give us your opinion.
This is a joint poll of the Western Standard and Libertas Post.
[Note: Obviously unscientific. It's not like the census. It's just meant to be fun, etc.]
Political video watch: Rob Ford claims he'll stop the gravy train in Toronto
I haven't been following the Toronto mayoralty campaign, so I haven't made up my mind about which of the candidates is best. However, this video from the Rob Ford camp is silly enough to warrant being posted here:
The message is good. But, Team Ford, Ford hasn't yet stopped any gravy train, he only promises to (if elected). I've heard promises like these before...
I'd be curious to hear which candidate is best, from a libertarian point of view (I don't care about electability, I'll worry about that after figuring out which candidate is best on the issues).
Peter Schiff garners endorsment from Steve Forbes
Peter Schiff, Ron Paul's former economic adviser, president of EuroPacific Capital, and candidate for Senate in Connecticut, garnered the endorsement of Forbes magazine founder Steve Forbes.
Schiff is commonly known as one of the few people to predict the economic crash back in 2006.
Here's the press release from the Schiff for Connecticut Senate:
Steve Forbes, a staunch defender of the free-market and one-time Presidential candidate, today endorsed Peter Schiff's bid for U.S. Senate in Connecticut.
"I have known Peter Schiff for several years. He has a deep knowledge of finance and economics," said Steve Forbes. "He had long warned of the troubles we now face. As your citizen-Senator he will be a fierce fighter for cutting spending, cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare."
Mr. Forbes has only endorsed three other candidates for U.S. Senate running in the 2010 election cycle: John McCain, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
"Steve Forbes understands the massive strains the American economy is under, and to have his backing and trust means a great deal to me," said Peter Schiff. "We need to restore free-market principles, get government out of the way and put people back to work. Steve's understanding of my vision, coupled with his backing, will help me get to Washington to make sure we grow the economy, not the government."
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Man arrested and jailed under fake G20 law finds there's no record of his arrest
If the whole G20 policing debacle wasn't sufficiently Kafka-esque, today a man arrested and charged under the law that the government and police later admitted did not exist, showed up in court at the scheduled time for his pre-trial hearing only to find the court did not have his case on the docket. In fact, they have no record he was ever charged.
From the Globe and Mail:
The only person charged under the controversial G20 five-metre rule appeared in court Wednesday, only to find the charges did not exist.
David Vasey, an environmental justice organizer, was arrested near the security fence in downtown Toronto on June 24 and brought to the Eastern Avenue detention centre. Hours later, he was released and told he had been charged under the Public Works Protection Act, a law quietly updated to include the summit site for the duration of the G20.
Mr. Vasey signed a promise to appear in court. But after showing up Wednesday, he and his lawyer discovered that the case was not on the docket and there was no information pertaining to the charges. His lawyer, Howard Morton, says it's unclear if Mr. Vasey was ever charged at all, despite what he was told at the detention centre.
Lawsuit? I sure hope so.
Of course, the defenders of the police will still stick to their guns on not having a judicial inquiry. This incident is just another one of those "few" and so totally "rare" and "minor" incidents on the part of the police for which we shouldn't be concerned.
Why more immigration is better for the poor
Here's an inspiring video about how we can help the world's poor, and ourselves, by simply allowing more foreigners to come to Canada or the U.S. and participate in the labour market. The speaker is Michael Clemens, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development:
Meanwhile, here's reason magazine's Kerry Howley from last year's Liberty Summer Seminar (the tenth annual seminar was held this past weekend). Kerry also argues against restrictions on immigration on the grounds that it benefits the poor in other countries immensely, without causing harm to wealthy countries:
Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law to take effect Thursday (UPDATE: Judge blocks controversial sections)
Arizona's controversial immigration law is set to take effect this Thursday.
Meanwhile, federal judge Susan Bolton has not yet issued an injunction, requested by the U.S. justice department, to prevent the law, SB 1070, from taking effect.
The law, "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" but popularly referred to as simply Arizona SB 1070, will make it a misdemeanor for an alien to fail to carry their documents, introduces additional penalties for sheltering, transporting, or hiring of illegal aliens, and empowers police to request documents from anyone they suspect of being an illegal alien.
According to one recent poll (CNN/Opinion Research), the law has the support of 55 per cent of Americans. 54 per cent, however, thought the new law would lead to discrimination against Latinos. Only 48 per cent thought that the law would actually help stem illegal immigration, with 50 per cent saying that it won't have an effect.
While there are many reasons to oppose the law, one unintended likely side-effect is to decrease census compliance amongst Hispanics.
At least part of the reason for illegal immigration into the U.S. is the complicated process immigrants have to navigate through in order to immigrate into the U.S. That process lasts between six and 16 years.
UPDATE: Judge Susan Bolton has blocked several controversial parts of Arizona's SB 1070 from going into effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.
According to the Associated Press:
The overall law will still take effect Thursday, but without the provisions that angered opponents — including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.
The judge also put on hold parts of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the controversial sections should be put on hold until the courts resolve the issues.
h/t sam, in the comments.
Reason debate: Where do libertarians belong?
During the Liberty Summer Seminar this past weekend, our associate editor Terrence Watson and Shotgun blogger Mike Brock challenged former Fraser TV chief Leah Costello (who is currently working on a documentary of talented communicators for liberty) over the issue of whether or not libertarians belong in the broader conservative movement.
Mike's concern, echoed by Terrence, can be summarized like this: in the alliance, it has always been the case that libertarians have had to compromise, while conservatives did not. The two camps agree on fiscal issues -- lower taxes, smaller government, less spending -- but often disagree on civil liberty and social issues -- war on drugs, police powers (illustrated powerfully in the debate that was sparked by Brock's post here on the WS following the G20), role of the state in foreign policy.
Watson, meanwhile, took issue with the fact that conservatives often add insult to injury by publicly denouncing libertarians -- like prime minister Stephen Harper did at the Manning Centre -- only to turn around and grumble about a lack of support from libertarians on issues like the census.
Reason magazine has spent some time discussing whether or not a wedge exists between libertarians and conservatives, and have posted the video of the July 12 debate at reason headquarters between "liberaltarian" Brink Lindsay of the Cato Institute, fusionist Jonah Goldberg of National Review, and FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe. Their description:
Should libertarians forge alliances and risk being compromised, or preserve their purity and risk irrelevance? Which political groups are worth rooting for, collaborating with, or just sprinting away from?
Filibuster on the Census
The census is still causing a stir. We've seen Jedis up in arms, a battle between nations over who has the most absolute and per capita Jedis, a curious attempt to figure out whether Jedis are libertarian or socialists, the resignation of our chief statistics bureaucrat, a gathering of interesting witnesses before Committee (including WS blogger Paul McKeever), an online live-blog debate between our associate editor Terrence Watson, CBC Inside Politics blogger Kady O'Malley, CBC national affairs editor Chris Hall, Nanos Research president and pollster Nik Nanos, Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon, the libertarian cavalry come riding onto a field with almost no allies, the Green Party issue a strange mandatory and voluntary census proposal, and on and on.
It should come as no surprise that WS cartoonist J.J. would turn his poison pen to this issue, with the above result.
J.J.'s commentary, appearing on his website Filibuster Cartoons, is reproduced below:
As there was in the States some months ago, there has been much controversy in Canada recently regarding the so-called “long form census.” Tony Clement, Stephen Harper’s minister of industry, has said he considers long census questionnaires, which ask all sorts of prying questions about race and religion and occupation and whatnot, excessively intrusive, and plans to phase them out. The government has already phased out punishments for non-completion, and is promoting the idea that the bulk of long form census data should only be submitted voluntarily.
Since most Canadians don’t even receive the long form survey to begin with (the short-to-long ratio is presently about 70-30), a lot of statisticians and demographers are raising a fuss, saying the Clement plan will lead to all sorts of distorted and useless statistical data, which will in turn lead to the poor management of government programs that rely on it.
My pals at the Western Standard’s Shotgun blog recently asked me for my opinion on the census kerfuffle, to which I replied:
A lot of people seem to be clinging to this misguided idea that census data only exists for the benefit of the government. On the contrary, I find thorough demographic statistics a vital tool that ordinary Canadians can use to hold their government to account.
When the government makes claims about jobs, or immigration, or bilingualism, or families, or multiculturalism, or any one of dozens of other topics, it’s always nice to know that the Census website is only a click away to find out if the facts match the rhetoric.
In my more conspiratorial moments, I sometimes wonder if undermining the census is just a very convenient way for politicians to keep the citizenry in the dark about the realities of their own country.
Conrad Black - Folk Hero?
Let me tell you a story, 'bout man named Conrad...
In the lead up to Conrad Black’s 2007 criminal trial, a Toronto designer created some t-shirts with the slogan “Conrad will win” printed under a cartoon of Black’s face. As a backer of Black’s from the beginning, I arranged to get myself one. The shirt symbolized what Conrad’s friends and supporters thought was destiny at the time.
But despite being cleared of the majority of criminal charges against him, its wasn’t to be — and Black has been in jail for more than two years. Like many of his “foul-weather friends,” to borrow George Jonas’ term, I held out hope for as long as I could, but I packed away my t-shirt when George W. Bush left the White House. When Bush declined to give Black a pardon, it appeared the war was lost and no plausible battlefields remained. Others I spoke to privately felt the same way.
If his bail conditions permit him to leave the United States, we should all welcome Conrad Black home. Other exploits notwithstanding, his accomplishments as a newspaperman and writer are prodigious and unusual. And, if he sometimes got profligately confused about what he was entitled to, that is an understandable by-product of being a very prodigious, and ridiculously talented, individual.
As long as he doesn’t insist on being addressed as “Lord”, I’ll be happy to buy him a welcome-back beer at any time. Bring him home now.
Publius is fine with referring to Mr Black as His Lordship. But I'm a Whig Monarchist Reactionary, so my position may not be reflective of prevailing trends. The motto of my life. Still Conrad Black has had a kind of cult following for years, especially among conservatives.
They are not quite fans, by their nature they are a reticent lot, but certainly admirers. Black is scarcely the Horatio Alger type of figure the free market minded tend to admire. A scion of a wealthy WASP Montreal family (originally from Winnipeg), Black was famously kicked out of Upper Canada College for selling test answers. His first major success was a corporate coup, seizing control of the legendary Argus holding company in the late 1970s, with a measure of personal charm and strategic acuity that would have impressed Talleyrand.
A documentary on Black's takeover, based on Peter C Newman's book, transformed the thirty-something into a national celebrity. Brilliant, erudite and conservative, Black exuded a charm that was perfectly in step with the age of Reagan, Thatcher and Alex P Keaton, who might have been a younger American cousin. He was not, despite the haranguing of the Canadian Left, a hard-core free marketer. An admirer of Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon (both grand villains in libertarian cosmology), Black is really a sort of moderate British Tory, somewhere to the right of Harold Macmillan and the left of Geoffrey Howe.
To the Canadian media of the era, he was a gift. Canadian businessmen, by instinct and training, are a grey lot who shun public attention. They seek to blend effortless into the soft leather cushions of their limos, being driven at moderate speeds down Bay and King. Black was nothing of the sort. He was flamboyant, albeit by conservative Canadian standards, and like Pierre Trudeau in politics he was accorded points for style. Being so, by the meek standards of the day, militant in his defense of capitalism, he was immediately branded a modern day robber baron. A slag that became more plausible when he became an actual baron in 2001, and was convicted in 2007.
Despite the steady stream of sneers, Black spent the 1980s and 1990s acquiring a reputation as a formidable reorganizer of ailing corporate giants. His passion for newsprint lead him to revitalize Canadian journalism, an effort which met with the typical ingratitude of the hacking class. When he was offered a peerage, a traditional prerogative of owners of the Telegraph, he accepted.
To the fur traders back in Toronto and Montreal, it was further proof that the boy-wonder had delusions of grander. For an anglophile history-nut, the temptation of sitting in the house of Beaconsfield and Liverpool was too much. Jean Chretien, annoyed by the Post's dogged tracking of his Prime Ministerial excesses, decided to block the peerage. He was on the shakiest of constitutional ground, citing the Nickel Resolution of 1919 which allegedly barred Canadians from accepting honours from the Crown.
Yet it was simply a resolution passed by the House of Commons, it was never agreed to by the Senate and no formal request was ever made to the sovereign. The successor government of R.B. Bennett ignored the resolution, and Bennett himself accepted the title of Viscount after leaving office (a step above baron). Frederick Banting and William Stephenson were both made Knights after the passage of the Nickel Resolution. Chretien was playing the vindictive ward heeler.
In his rapid ascent, wide learning and powerful style, Black accumulated a small but dedicated following. Few of these people had ever met Black. They were not friends or allies, but ordinary Canadians, professionals, small business people and conservative fellow travellers. He was a larger than life character, born in a country that in a deep and powerful way was still essentially provincial. The old Canadian joke about the lobsters applies to Lord Black.
How can you tell a pot is full of Canadian lobsters?
When one tries to escape the others hold him down.
He was too bright, too interesting, too grand a figure for the people who believed in Little Canada, a smug colonial outpost that alternately hated and envied its mother and older brother. To those whose vision of Canada is wide and free, who imagine it capable of great things, if only its talents were unleashed, to many of those Lord Black was a prophet in pinstripes. For all his faults he remains prophet. From his ordeal at the hands of a vindictive American government, he has acquired a sort of strange martyrdom, endured with the stoicism of his class and generation. He is a powerful reproach to the worst of modern Canada, especially the cults of envy and greyness. For this alone he deserves to be welcomed back to the land of his birth.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
When free trade isn't all that free:
Canada is currently negotiating two major international trade agreements whose success may ultimately depend on the level of protection provided to Parma ham. While it may seem hard to believe, the Canada – European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) are both facing increasing opposition based on European demands to expand protection for “geographical indications.”
While not always officially calling themselves free trade deals, such agreements are invariably sold to the public as such. The sad fact is that free trade, the sort that Smith, Ricardo, Cobden and Bright advocated, is largely unfeasible with our modern mixed economies.
The great stumbling block to freer trade in the Victorian world was money. Tariffs (taxes on imports and exports) were the principal source of revenue of the federal governments of Canada and the United States. The great political battles fought by Brown, Mackenzie and Laurier were not over free free trade (no tariffs) but over whether to have a revenue tariff (i.e. to levy only so much in taxes as needed to pay for government services) or a protective tariff (the sort introduced by the National Policy).
Emergence of income and sales taxes did away with the reliance on tariff revenues, and allowed for the growth of modern big government. It also meant that reducing tariffs, even to zero, could be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations. But tariffs are only one tool in the modern protectionist's arsenal. Import quotas are another favourite. When such blunt instruments are found wanting, the broader policy tools of a mixed economy come into play. Health guidelines, environmental restrictions, certification requirements and the byzantine network of subsidies and rebates (back door subsidies). The French, for whom statism is a high art, once forced the import of all Japanese electronics to enter France through a single undermanned custom post in a provincial town. So long as government remains big and intrusive, genuine international free trade will be elusive. True free trade begins at home.
Watching the Watchers
Public officials, public places, public acts and some old fashioned bureaucratic ass covering:
But it wasn't his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket. It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later -- taken with his helmet camera -- of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.
In early April, state police officers raided Graber's parents' home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.
Another example of why the most dangerous phrase in the English language is: "There ought to be a law." A law intended to protect genuinely private conservations twisted, apparently with little effort, to allow the police to hide their conduct. What part of the term "public servant" do they not understand?
Monday, July 26, 2010
The Summer Miracles
An amazing thing has happened in Canada this summer. An astonishing thing. The Conservative Party of Canada has, much to the shock and wonder of its dismayed supporters, begun to act conservatively. First Tony Clement, the Minister of Industry, decided to make completion of the Census long-form voluntary. This one, literally, came from way out of right-field. Had Minister Clement ordered the sidewalks privatized around Parliament Hill, it would have rated only a few notches higher on the political shock scale. There has been for many years a low grumbling about the mandatory long-form, with its intrusive list of questions and jail-time penalties, but it was not a big hot button for the grass roots, like the long-gun registry or the Canadian Wheat Board.
A vast army of interest groups has risen, denouncing the Census move as detrimental to their interests. Minister Clement, more wonders, has refused to budge. These miracles - for 'twas a miracle - were merely overtures to the announcement made by Stockwell Day late last week that, believe it or not, affirmative action was to be ended as hiring policy for the Public Service. Well not exactly, the Minister has ordered a "review." Which may or may not mean anything, but Stock is a good chap, so we'll give him benefit of the doubt.
This disturbing pro-freedom trend in Conservative Party policy and pronouncement is baffling. There are many theories circulating today. Perhaps the real Stephen Harper was kidnapped and replaced by an android, remotely controlled by a cabal of tech-savy libertarian activists. While plausible, it fails to explain why nothing was done to improve the Prime Minister's hockey-helmet hairstyle. Another rumour goes that the ghost of Murray Rothbard appeared to Stephen Harper, telling him to repent his sinful ways, and return again to the path of freedom. Fair enough, but you'd think Murray Rothbard's ghost would prefer to spend time trying to spook Barack Obama.
The most plausible reason for the Tory about-face is this interesting item:
The federal Conservative Party continues to stay ahead of the Liberals, suggests a new EKOS poll, which found a gap of seven percentage points between the rivals.
The poll, released exclusively to CBC, suggests 32.4 per cent of Canadians would vote Conservative in a federal election, compared with 25.5 per cent who'd chose the Liberals.
The NDP has the support of 18.4 per cent, while 10.1 per cent back the Green Party and 10 per cent support the Bloc Québécois, the poll suggests.
Respondents were asked who they would vote for if a federal election "were held tomorrow."
Nor is this a one-off, polls have been tracking a substantial CP lead for weeks now. The political gods, who are of course fickle, have given the Tories not only a lead but the second most incompetent Liberal leader in history. These are the things that snap elections are made of. Having fallen short of the long-dreamed majority in 2008, largely due to the Quebecois having lost interest in Mr Harper, the so called Quebec Bridge is now dead. La belle province will not give the Conservatives a majority, they'll be lucky to hang onto what they've got in Quebec come the next trip to the hustings.
While blocked from expanding up the St Lawrence, the Tory High Command has also noticed that the grassroots are not completely pleased. A low grumble has passed through the blogsphere, and not just from libertarian outfits. The coffee shops of the nation are buzzing that Stephen Harper, while the wonderful and amazing saviour of Canada from the Evil Liberals, might have drifted just a wee bit too much to the centre. Practical Politics 101 says that in the lead up to an election, especially a damn close run thing, first thing is to shore up your base. You want the True Believers believing all the more as we enter the autumn canvassing, and perhaps also campaigning, season.
Before this impressive burst of pro-freedoming, the Tories had spent much of the first half of 2010 pushing a Law and Order platform, including a Truth in Sentencing Law and mandatory minimums for pot growers. They're basically running down their check list. Suburbanites fearful of crime CHECK! Curmudgeonly libertarians CHECK! It shouldn't, and likely won't, be that easy. Pre-election conversions are always the least sincere.
Her Majesty's Governments - One Wise, One Foolish
Turning from growth rates to levels gives a tangible sense of the impact of these growth-rate differentials on long-run standards of living. In 1960 real GDP per capita was $3,395 in Barbados and $2,208 in Jamaica. In 2002 Barbados’s GDP per capita was $8,434 while Jamaica’s was $3,165. The $1,187 income gap that existed between Barbados and Jamaica around the time of independence now stands at $5,269 dollars. Put another way, the income gap between the two countries now exceeds Jamaica’s level of GDP per capita.
A strange divergence. Until you consider what happened in Jamaica:
In 1972 the People’s National Party (PNP) rose to power under the leadership of Prime Minister Michael Manley (son of Norman) and the promise of “democratic socialism.” The two cornerstones of democratic socialism and the PNP’s economic policies were “self-reliance” and “social justice.” Self-reliance translated as extensive state intervention in the economy. The PNP nationalized companies, erected import barriers, and imposed strict exchange controls.
How often does this story have to repeat itself?
Friday, July 23, 2010
Putting tyranny in perspectiveLots of people are talking today about the comments made by Joyce Murray. So I thought I would post this link to put the whole tyranny thing in perspective.
Ontario Independent Police Review Director announces investigation.
From the Globe & Mail:
After receiving close to 300 G20 complaints – and counting – Ontario’s newly minted police watchdog is stepping into the policing-inquiry fray.
The Ontario Independent Police Review Director, created last fall to provide civilian oversight into police conduct, announced Thursday afternoon it is launching a systemic review of police conduct during the G20 summit in Toronto.
More than 1,000 people were arrested over a three-day period as protesters clashed with police across the downtown area. More than 700 were charged with nothing more than breach of peace, then released; more than 100 were never charged.
Independent police review director Gerry McNeilly says he’s received more than 275 individual complaints about police conduct during that weekend, with more popping up every day.
And they’re startlingly similar.
While the police may be winning the public relations war over their conduct, they seem to simultaneously be falling under more and more institutional scrutiny. This adds a second investigation to the Toronto Police Services-led self-investigation.
This is a positive development.
Despite polls showing that 80% of Canadians agree with the police arresting people for no reason, beating up journalists who get lippy, and conducting unlimited warrantless searches on the streets, it would seem that the issue has legs where it matters.
Myself, I sent my complaint directly to the Toronto Police Services complaints division. I have received no formal reply at this time. I'm interested to see what response I get, and if and when I do get it, I will definitely post the response here.
Affirmative Action is Racist
The government has announced a review of affirmative action in the Canadian government’s hiring practice. Minister Stockwell Day implies that hiring someone on the basis of their ethnic background is racist. This is one of the rare occasions when I can completely agree with Mr. Day. Affirmative action is fundamentally racist.
Unsurprisingly NDP MP Pat Martin disagrees. He seems to think that discriminatory practises are somehow not discriminatory:
“I don't think they can make a case that white, middle-class people are being denied access to public service jobs, or that there's any preference shown.”
I not only think that such a case can be made, I think that making it would be extremely simple. To do so I will use an example that has been recently provided by Blogging Tory Sara Landriault.
Ms. Landriault posted the requirements of a job for a position in the Federal government:
Applicants must meet at least the first requirement:
* Open to: Members of the following Employment Equity groups: Aboriginal persons, visible minorities
* Persons residing in Canada and Canadian citizens residing abroad.
It then went on to define what a ‘visible minority’ is:
A person in a visible minority group is someone (other than an Aboriginal person as defined above) who is non-white in colour/race, regardless of place of birth. The visible minority group includes: Black, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, South Asian-East Indian (including Indian from India; Bangladeshi; Pakistani; East Indian from Guyana, Trinidad, East Africa; etc.), Southeast Asian (including Burmese; Cambodian; Laotian; Thai; Vietnamese; etc.) non-white West Asian, North African or Arab (including Egyptian; Libyan; Lebanese; etc.), non-white Latin American (including indigenous persons from Central and South America, etc.), person of mixed origin (with one parent in one of the visible minority groups listed above), other visible minority group.
This is a government job that is open to anyone except for someone of a particular ethnic background. Just because it doesn’t explicitly say “no whites need apply” doesn’t mean that this isn’t what the government is saying.
So Mr. Martin please explain to me how exactly white people aren’t being denied access to public service jobs?
Harper the Tyrant
Liberal MP Joyce Murray had an interesting take on the census debate:
A Liberal MP from Vancouver has said the Conservative government’s move to scrap the mandatory long-form census and make it voluntary is “definitely part of a pattern that is very bad for democracy and bad for Canada”.
“This is also part of the pattern of trying to control the independent agencies and offices of Parliament that are the oversight to government and are a very important part of our democracy,” Joyce Murray, the MP for Vancouver Quadra, told the Straight by phone today (July 22). “Having those neutral agencies and voices to be able to speak to Canadians is a very important [part of] governance. And that is what separates a government from a tyranny.”
Independent agencies are what fundamentally separate a good government from a tyrannical government, really? It isn’t civil liberties, free speech, or property rights. The most important feature of good government is independent agencies? Are you kidding me?
Oh don’t get me wrong, there is certainly merit to having certain functions of government out of reach of a politician’s control. Offices of Parliament are also most important when they are able to operate independently of any influence of a political party. Yet to say that these are features that distinguish Canada from a North Korea is an exaggeration that does nothing but make Ms. Murray look absurd.
Ms. Murray looks even more ridiculous when you consider that Stats Canada is not an independent agency of Parliament or any other government body. It is part of the portfolio of Minister Tony Clement and the Minister has responsibility for the actions and policy of Stats Canada. Mr. Clement made a policy decision that was completely within his rights to make. To argue that the census reform is undue interference with Stats Canada would be like arguing that ordering a deployment is undue interference with the military.
The very basis of Westminster democracy is Ministerial responsibility, but apparently for Joyce Murray this is tyranny.
Where the Bureaucrats Roam
Oh, dear, Stephen Harper isn't even a good statist:
The Harper government is prepared to bypass Toronto as the headquarters of its proposed national stock market watchdog even though the city is the country’s financial centre, sources say.
The latest public blueprint for the national securities regulator, to be made public Tuesday, dodges the question of where the headquarters will be located, according to government officials.
But business sources say the Ontario government, which has staked its support for the new regulatory system on the possibility of putting the head office in Toronto, is going to be disappointed when — and if — the new agency takes shape.
Asked about this in the Commons in May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was blunt. “As an Albertan, I have no interest in seeing this sector centralized in Toronto,” he told MPs.
Ahem, it already is centralized in Toronto. Has been since Montreal imploded in the mid-1970s. Not putting the headquarters of the new stock market "watchdog" in Toronto, or Ottawa, is like putting the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries in Saskatoon. The American Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has its HQ in Washington, but the planned Canadian Securities Regulatory Authority (CSRA) would have a decentralized structure, with offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. So it's a national regulator, without a national HQ, not even in the national capital. This certainly makes vote pandering sense, but its sheer absurdity should make it a perfect target for attacks from the Opposition. But this is too much to expect from Lord Iggy and the Gritettes.
The proposed CSRA, essentially a super sized version of the already obnoxious Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), puts us rabid free marketers in a bit of quandary: Is it better to be ruled by one great busybody or by ten? To have one's rights trampled and privacy invaded by a great absurdity, or many smaller ones.
Supporting the Great One approach to rights infringement is the argument from simplicity. One set of rules - however arbitrary - are better than many sets of rules. Contra is the argument from diversity, the more bureaucrats the greater the confusion for everyone, including the bureaucrats. It might also stir some regulatory competition, different jurisdictions vying for business by being less irrational in their demands.
While I'm leaning toward diversity over unity on this one, it does have its pitfalls. Sometimes regulatory competition sinks to the level where the government doesn't even bothering doing what it is suppose to be doing. Case in point, the history of the old Vancouver Stock Exchange, whose listings included some of the highest flying gamblers since Icarus. A lot of the stock promotion in Lotusland went past the usual blue-skying and into genuine fraud. The guilty never seemed to get caught though. There was also the VSE's laughable "administration." Take this classic case:
In January 1982 the index was initialized at 1000 and subsequently updated and truncated to three decimal places on each trade. This was done about 3000 times a day. The accumulated truncations led to an erroneous loss of around 25 points per month. Over the weekend of November 25-28 1983, the error was corrected, raising the value of the index from its Friday closing figure of 524.811 to 1098.892
Ouch. Imagine a mutual fund misstating its unit price for nearly two years. Big government is bad. No government can be worse.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Open thread: Tories to end affirmative action for federal jobs
From the Globe & Mail:
The Conservatives say race and ethnicity shouldn't enter into the hiring process for federal jobs and have ordered a review of affirmative action policies.
They want to look at government hiring practices, which currently give priority to qualified applicants from minority groups.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin called the move a “full-frontal attack on affirmative action.”
Speak amongst yourselves.
A World Class Mess
The Dirtier Way:
The TTC is marginally cleaner than it was two years ago. But an audit of 69 stations shows none of them meet the highest standard of cleanliness being applied to the system.
Was that before or after the vagrants had been removed? To those casual visitors to the Imperial Capital, the TTC's subway system is an unpleasant surprise. It is part open sewer, part world's largest moving homeless shelter. So long as you travel in daylight, and in the central business district, it's not too bad. But beyond the core, you take your chances. A few years back one of my blog's readers, and a few cohorts, tried to organize a campaign to ban the TTC from striking. I don't usually like the idea of banning people voluntarily withholding their services, but I like even less a government monopoly - and its pampered employees - holding the country's largest city hostage. As I recall, the idea went nowhere. Pity.
I know people, who make very modest salaries, that refuse to travel on the TTC. These include women, of all ages, who are terrified of travelling at night in the less trafficked areas of the system (the periphery of the Bloor-Danforth). Instead they fork over a large share of their meagre cash flow for used cars and basic insurance. Having seen young women harassed by professional drunks on subway trains, with TTC employees doing their level best to ignore the proceedings, I cannot blame them.
Others have more aesthetic objections. They are less afraid than appalled. There is something about the smell of vomit, the bits of ceiling plaster on the track, and the incessant flapping of pigeons that puts one off. My particular peeve is the pigeons. They are flying rats and rather stupid creatures. I've yet to see one be disintegrated by an oncoming train, but statistical speaking it is a certainty to happen. It's funny, until it happens within splattershot.
Birds sometimes fly into other public places, like shopping malls. The mall security then gets them out. It's a little thing, not to be defecated upon while trying to get to work, to in turn earn money to pay TTC workers' bloated salaries. Maybe if we paid TTC workers less, but had more of them, the place would be cleaner? People would be and feel safer? Just a thought.
Courtesy of the government of Ontario:
Ontario Place, a fading Toronto icon, will soon be torn down and replaced by a newer version to restore the park to its former glory.
The provincial Crown corporation has put out a formal request for ideas to completely redevelop its 39-hectare (96-acre) space along Lake Ontario, which will probably result in the removal of features, such as the once groundbreaking Cinesphere, that have grown tired.
About twenty years too late. I have fond memories of Ontario Place. But those memories are old ones. Forty years after its opening, it's difficult to recall how original the idea was and how popular its attractions, including the groundbreaking Cinesphere. Ontario Place is proof that governments are like broken clocks, they are right about twice a day.
Building and running amusement parks, however original in concept and implementation, is not the proper function of government. Its near hundred acres of developed landfill is a monument to a different age, when governments thought they could be all things to all people, and when people still believed that was possible. Big government is still big, bigger than it was in 1971, when the park opened. What's gone is the optimism of that era.
Sure Queen's Park could take care of your health care - Ontario had opted into Medicare in 1969 - why couldn't it do something simple, and popular, like set up an amusement park? Certainly no grubby little businessman would take a risk on something as bold as Ontario Place? More than few laughed when a serious competitor, Canada's Wonderland, opened a decade later and miles to the north. But the success of the latter, and the decline of the former, showed just how misplaced was the optimism of the Robarts-Davis era. Sure government could do something spectacular, but it couldn't keep it up. Like plenty of other Crown corporations, Ontario Place sat on its laurels while the world moved on, and its customers made the drive up to Vaughan.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Head of Statistics Canada Resigns!
It's not often that a senior bureaucrats resigns willing. It's even less often that they do so as a matter of principle. This is exactly what Munir Sheikh, head of Statistics Canada, has done today. Albeit he resigned in deference to a bad principle, but hey, good enough for government work:
There has also been commentary on the advice that Statistics Canada and I gave the government on this subject.
I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes.
I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act.
I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.
It can not.
Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.
Well, thanks for showing up.
We are entering the summer doldrums and so any news, even the resignation of a statistician, can become big news. Since Industry Minister Tony Clement's decision to make the Census long form voluntary, some three weeks ago, this minor administrative change has evolved into a full scale affair. Google News gives 756 results for "canada census long form." A group of Census lovers has even created a You Tube video. The whole thing is somewhat bizarre. As Colby Cosh noted, scrapping the long form is "not literally among the first 200 policy changes that would be implemented by an intelligent libertarian given plenary power."
Sure enough, but if you can tweak leviathan, why not tweak leviathan? It's a small battle, but the small battles are often the most revealing. Want to get an idea of how mixed our mixed economy really is? Just look at the long list of organizations that oppose scrapping the mandatory long form. Business, charities, government agencies, municipalities and a long line of ethnic pressure groups. Their dependence on government data is suggestive of their dependence on government itself. They need government data to demand government largesse.
What's fascinating is how the Census Centurions are seeking to defend what is, for many of them, their literal meal ticker. To them the debate over the long-form is not about freedom, but just a matter of statistical accuracy. What the defenders of the mandatory form exhibit is the casual presumption that they have a right to intrude into people's personal lives, and then with nary a pause, to use that data to plan people's lives. Earlier today the Western Standard's Associate Editor, Terrence Watson, participated in a live blog on the Census. I was impressed with this response (at 2:58) from Nik Nanos, a highly regarded pollster:
Not to upset the applecart but perhaps we should discussing the merits of fact-based policy-making versus ideologically based policy-making. After all, if you are driven by ideology, research is not as much of a priority. There's obviously room to mix both but how much is the question.
An individual's personal privacy is regarded not as a right, but as merely an "ideological" position. Libertarians, conservatives and classical liberals are often branded as "ideological," as if our positions were something akin to Catholic dogma, a set of arbitrary rules decreed by supernatural instinct. There is no conflict between a "fact-based" policy and an ideological policy, unless your ideology isn't based on facts.
Those who accuse others of being ideological are, usually, throwing stones while living in very big glass houses. It is an ideological position to believe that the state has a right to monitor the private lives of its citizens, and to use that data as it sees fit for the "public interest." While such a position has many variants, they can all be subsumed into one word: statism. Statism is itself the product of moral collectivism.
Practical men, such as pollsters, usually dismiss such terms as "collectivism" and "individualism" as floating abstractions, the sort of thing graduate students discuss, not adults in the real world. I'm not a fan of John Maynard Keynes, but he often made, within fairly narrow contexts, many astute observations. His best was this one: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." To which I would correct by replacing economist with philosopher. The defenders of the mandatory long-form presume that the individual's rights extend no farther than the needs of the collective, be that the whole of Canada or merely whatever socio-economic or ethnic group they belong to. This is an ideology with a pedigree at least as old as Plato.
We are not so terribly sorry that the end of the long-form, however disingenuous were the Minister's motives in ending it, has made made the life of government statisticians that much harder. That's the breaks. Demanding that police officers obtain warrants before entering private dwellings, without permission, is a hardship for police officers. Expecting the Prime Minister of Canada to answer, or at least evade with some skill, embarrassing questions in the House of Commons is a hardship, for the Prime Minister. Believing that politicians should seek election for public office is a hardship, for the politician. The fact that something is hard for a public servant is neither here nor there. It is their job.
The government works for us, not the other way around. It's sole legitimate function is to defend our rights. If in protecting those rights it must encounter some bother, well, tough. 'Tis a pity that a voluntary Census will make things harder for Statistics Canada - though the Scandinavian countries ditched their Census years ago without a noticeable collapse in law and order. Simply put, our rights are more important that their convenience.
CBC Live blog on the census
Associate editor, Terrence Watson, is participating in a CBC Inside Politics blog live townhall regarding the census. Also participating are CBC Politics blogger Kady O'Malley, CBC national affairs editor Chris Hall, Nanos Research president and pollster Nik Nanos, Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon.
You can check it out on the CBC website here, or follow along below:
Childless and Clueless
Could these childless women be harbingers of a new world, one in which parenthood is considered an active choice and not simply the default state of adulthood? As the Pew research shows, childlessness was once the domain of the highly educated, but now every other segment of society is catching up. Perhaps future generations will look at phenomena like the Jennifer Aniston tabloid womb obsession and wonder how it was possible that anyone could have once cared so much if some women chose not to have babies.
What future generations? If enough women don't have children now, there wouldn't be much of a future generation to worry about their past, and our present. The above author is correct to point out that child rearing is now, rightly, seen as a choice, and that there are plenty of people who should never be parents. Western society as a whole is still sorting out, in a post-religious and post-Pill age, why people should assume the burdens of parenthood. But I doubt existential angst is the main reason for declining birthrates. Demographics, unfortunately, tends to get a short-shift from serious intellectuals. Witness the guffaws that greet Mark Steyn's population polemics.
Why? Because population growth has always been taken for granted. Even if you and your spouse don't reproduce, or reproduce less than the demographically desirable 2.1 rug rats, others - i.e. the poor - always will. You don't have to worry about children taking care of you in your old age, they'll always be a large cheaply paid semi-skilled serving class. When that began to run out - about two generations back - they simply imported a serving class from the poorer parts of Europe, and then the rest of the world. It's not that I'm knocking unskilled immigration, just that the demographic myopia of our rulers stems from some long standing assumptions. But like they tell you in the mutual fund ads, past performance is no promise of future returns.
Why women are having less children is a well enough trodden ground. As infant survival rates shot up after the industrial revolution, the need to have so many children - knowing that at least some would survive to adulthood - declined. Pension schemes - both private and public - made children less a necessity than a choice. Modern contraceptives made the whole process simpler. The question is why people are choosing to have less children than the replacement rate. Surveys conducted over the years suggest that most people who do want to have children, believe that between 2-3 is the right number. That would seem to make evolutionary sense, that human beings would seek to reproduce themselves at a rate sufficient to keep the species going. I'm not speaking here of particular individuals, just as a matter of averages. Yet it's not happening. The main culprit, however, is a simple one, it's too damn expensive to have kids.
Let me start with a personal example. My father has four years of formal education, as do most Portuguese people of his class and generation. He left school at the age of eleven to go work in a pulp and paper mill, the mainstay of the village economy. He was sent off to work not because my grandparents were greedy and sadistic, but because they were poor. I don't mean poor as that word is understood in modern Canada, which generally means having fewer toys and gadgets than average, I mean not-knowing-where-your-next-dinner-is-coming-from-poor.
Publius pere was the fourth of five children, about average in middle of nowhere Portugal in the mid-Salazar era. His father came from a family of eleven, which was tending toward the large by the standards of the time. One of the reasons you could have so many children, and not starve, was the expected cost of raising a child. Feed 'em for about a dozen years, and then they start to earn their keep. By twenty they're out of the house, either with their own children or out in the big-wide world making a go at it. No iPods, no cars, no graduate school, no living at home until thirty because a starter hovel is a quarter of a million anywhere near a large city. My grandfather actually built - with his brothers - the house my father grew up in. Not a practical option in modern Canada for most, though I do know people who've done it. As you can guess the permits are murder.
While children are more expensive, and certainly less remunerative than they once were, parents are also far richer. The richer you are, the more you can invest in long-term capital projects, which is one way - if you're a heartless economist - of viewing children. With two parents working, that should seem to provide ample enough funds to have larger families. It wasn't too long ago, about two generations back, that one income was more than enough to provide a middle class lifestyle for a family of four. That was before about 40% of the average Canadian family's income was taken in taxes.
Defenders of big government like quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, the US Supreme Court justice who more than any other enabled the statist subversion of the American constitution. One of Holmes most famous quotes is: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." Statists are like the salesman in the suit store saying: "Sir, you have to pay for quality." Up to a point, sure, but not everything pricey is worth the price. Some of that 40% or so we fork over in taxes does provide valuable services, schools, hospitals, roads etc.. Quite a lot of it pays for commissioners of human rights and official bilingualism. Even a lot of the useful stuff is, as the economists say, sub-optimal.
There is no business that would long survive, except perhaps in niche luxury markets, by putting its clients on months-long waiting lists, but Medicare just past its forty-fifth anniversary. Private schools are booming, despite the fact that parents still have to pay education taxes for the public system, a fact that is as complimentary to the former as it is damning to the latter. Even if its "free" many parents still don't want it.
Now add all that up. The French language-gender-equity commissars, the roads to nowhere, regional development programs that develop only dependency among a once proud people, the public school teachers who confuse propaganda with history, and what you get is dead weight. Let's be conservative (in the non-political sense) and say that just half of government spending is dead weight, stuff that could be better done by the private sector, or just not done at all.
Now imagine if tomorrow morning someone gave that half back to you and your family. What could you do with that money? A bigger house? A nicer car? More toys? Sure. But maybe you'd spend that money on something of real value. A mother who can stay home when her children are young. Less time at work, more with the family. Maybe another child. When the welfare state was first being sold to the electorates of the western world, one of the main pitches was how it would help families. Instead it has hurt them, placing a burden that keeps families smaller than they might be, and less happy than they should be. For once I'll agree with that old so-con chant: Won't anyone please think of the children?
In support of giving Louis Riel a pardon
The National Post yesterday accused Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff of historical revisionism when it comes to Louis Riel. Mr. Ignatieff has recently announced that he is a supporter of the movement to give the 19th century western rebel a pardon for his conviction of treason. The Post thinks that this is mere pandering and that Mr. Ignatieff is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest. The Post’s article, on the other hand, reads like a propaganda speech by Dalton McCarthy, the anti-Catholic politician and contemporary of Louis Riel. There is a complete lack of balance displayed in the historical perspective of the National Post.
The grossest mischaracterization of Louis Riel and his rebellions came in this sentence:
Riel had also attempted to unfairly distort the land-claims process in order that his own Métis people might receive the majority of land being offered by Ottawa to native people.
No one was trying to distort anything, except for the federal government. The Métis people had settled the land in what is modern day Saskatchewan. They had cleared it with their own hands and they relied on the food that it produced for their survival. Then the federal government came to ‘survey’ the land and assign block allotments to settlers.
That is to say, the government was stealing their land.
And this is not just an abstract idea of the value of property rights. The federal government was threatening the survival of the community and causing starvation. The North-West Rebellion was a desperate act of self defence.
No one can claim that the Métis and other natives didn’t try other means than violence to resist the government. Native leader Chief Big Bear and others spent a decade petitioning the government and peacefully protesting their treatment. They were completely ignored by the political establishment in Ottawa. What choice was left them?
As much as we all deplore violence, we must remember the context of that violence.
The National Post also brings up the murder of Thomas Scott. This murder took place during the Red River Rebellion, and all participants in that rebellion received an amnesty. This amnesty included killing Thomas Scott. So as much as the National Post would like to resurrect the ghost of the dubious Thomas Scott, it is unjust to offer amnesty one year and then execution the next. If he was executed for the murder of Thomas Scott, it was an unjust conviction.
The primary issue of Riel’s trial, however, was not Thomas Scott but the more recent history of the North-West Rebellion. It was certainly a crime for Reil and his followers to take up arms against the government, but it was a crime against tyranny. Usually Canadians, as a freedom loving people, celebrate such a crime.
I will conclude with the words of Wilfrid Laurier:
His whole crime and the crime of his friends, was that they wanted to be treated like British subjects and not to be bartered away like common cattle. If that be an act of rebellion, where is the one amongst us who if he had happened to have been with them would not have been rebels as they were?
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The United States and Canada: "peace, commerce and honest friendship"
One of the major themes of 19th century French liberal Frédéric Bastiat is that market exchange engenders harmony. Perhaps his most famous sayings is "if goods don't cross borders, armies will."
With the help of friends in Kyrgyztan, China and Windsor, Ontario the Atlas Foundation's Tom Palmer explains this simple truth:
Green Party: Keep the mandatory long-form census mandatory and voluntary (?)
The Greens today issued a wonderfully bizarre press release. They support the "mandatory" long form census, but think that a legal penalty for non-compliance "goes too far." I'm not sure what they think "mandatory" means, but what is a census that doesn't have any legal penalties behind it except, uhm, voluntary.
Is there some sort of magic attached to the word "mandatory" that makes Canadians fill out paperwork even if it's understood that nothing will happen to them if they don't? I don't know. Perhaps they will use Jedi mind-tricks, in place of legal sanctions.
Here's the press release:
The Green Party of Canada supports a mandatory process for Canada's long-form census but says that a legal penalty for non-compliance goes too far.
"We need to ensure that Canadians understand the usefulness of the type of data contained in the long-form census but we must do so through a process that builds community and strengthens citizenship," said Eric Walton, Green International Affairs Critic. "It is far better to engage in an informed dialogue with someone concerned about completing the long census than to come down hard on them with legal sanctions for not disclosing what they may consider to be confidential information -- even if it is untraceable to them."
"We need adequate information to set policy and the data needs to be reliable," said Green Leader Elizabeth May. "Neither a voluntary process nor coercion will result in dependable data. The long-form census is important to informed decision making on a wide range of policies. If we need to better address privacy concerns, we should do that but to make it completely voluntary would distort the census data."
I can't help but wonder what this magical third option is between mandatory and voluntary. If it's voluntary, and you don't fill it out, then there are no legal penalties. If it is mandatory, and you don't fill it out, then there are legal penalties. That's it, near as I can tell.
WS on the census: Ezra Levant "So long, long form"
In a column printed in the Sun chain of newspapers, Ezra Levant, former publisher of the Western Standard, writes that he's glad to be rid of the mandatory long-form census. An excerpt:
As someone who received the long-form census in 1996 — and refused to complete it — let me tell you why this is a good thing.
The regular census is short. It asks who lives in your house and some questions about how everyone is related to each other. It also asks about language use -- information that fuels Canada’s bilingualism policy. That’s about it.
But the long-form census feels like it was written by the biggest gossips in the country. The 2011 version hasn’t been released yet, but the 1996 one can still be seen online.
Some of it is the basic stuff. But how about this: Question 7 demanded everyone in your home describe any physical or mental-health condition, and what limits that places on your school, work or home life.
Sorry, that’s just none of the government’s business. It’s supposed to be a census, not a peek through a family’s medicine cabinet.
Ezra also made reference to the famous Jedi:
In another question, the census asked your “cultural group.” It listed only one religion (Jewish), and several countries. Is Jewish a country?
Given that “etc.” was also listed, it’s not surprising that in a recent census, 21,000 Canadians described themselves as Star Wars Jedi Knights.[...]
Let the nosy bureaucrats pound sand: Scrapping the mandatory long-form census is a small victory against big government.
Read the rest
All WS on the census
“Stop, Question, Frisk"
Police harassment by any other name:
This small army of officers, night after night, spends much of its energy pursuing the controversial Police Department tactic known as “Stop, Question, Frisk,” and it does so at a rate unmatched anywhere else in the city [New York].
The officers stop people they think might be carrying guns; they stop and question people who merely enter the public housing project buildings without a key; they ask for identification from, and run warrant checks on, young people halted for riding bicycles on the sidewalk.
One night, 20 officers surrounded a man outside the Brownsville Houses after he would not let an officer smell the contents of his orange juice container.
The encounters — most urgently meant to get guns off the streets — yield few arrests. Across the city, 6 percent of stops result in arrests. In these roughly eight square blocks of Brownsville, the arrest rate is less than 1 percent. The 13,200 stops the police made in this neighborhood last year resulted in arrests of 109 people. In the more than 50,000 stops since 2006, the police recovered 25 guns.
This isn't even about trading freedom for security, 109 arrests out of 13,200 stops? Brownsville is definitely a high crime area, and the NYPD, of course, argue their tactics have reduced crime in targeted neighbourhoods. The searches are conducted on the filmiest of pretexts:
And so on a single Friday in January 2009, the police stopped 109 people in this area, 55 of them inside the project buildings, almost half for suspicion of trespassing. The show of force resulted in two arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of a weapon.
In other words, pretty much anyone the police find suspicious they can and do search. The residents have mixed feelings. They need the police but also fear them, knowing they can be stopped and searched essentially without cause. The tactic's one clear success is in alienating much of the youth in these neighbourhoods, dominated by large public housing projects. One of the tenets of modern policing - dating back to the time of Sir Robert Peel - is that the police are the community, and the community the police. For policing to be effective it must have the support of those whom they protect. If the police are seen as the enemy, not a surprising sentiment in Brownsville, by members of the community, they will find it difficult to protect the community.
Oddly, years ago when crime was higher, relations with the police seemed better, several residents said. The officers seemed to show a greater sense of who was law abiding and who was not, they said. Now, many residents say, the newer crop of officers seem to be more interested in small offenses than engaging with residents.
"Stop, question, frisk" looks to be policing by the numbers. Rather than trying to build relationships with locals, they instead rack up stop numbers to "prove" their effectiveness. Since the municipal and public housing law are so extensive and vague, practically anyone can be stopped and searched. A hostile community will make it harder to obtain witnesses and leads when genuine crimes occur. In Brownsville, the NYPD risk becoming seen less as protectors and more as bureaucrats with guns.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Jedi knights mobilize against libertarian cavalry
In response to our series on the census, the Jedi Knights have amassed a campaign to defend the mandatory long-form census against the libertarian cavalry. Jedi Knights demand to be demanded to be counted.
The force is strong with these ones.
And we reject the use of force, whether from the light or dark side.
FT: Conrad Black set to be freed on bail, use of vague "honest services" law questioned
The Financial Times:
Lord Black, the Canadian-born peer and former publishing magnate who was convicted of fraud, could be released from a Florida prison on bail within days pending an appeal.
The decision to release Lord Black by a three-judge appeals court panel follows a sweeping ruling by the US Supreme Court in June that found prosecutors wrongly applied the the so-called “honest services” law in their case against the former media executive.Lord Black, the Canadian-born peer and former publishing magnate who was convicted of fraud, could be released from a Florida prison on bail within days pending an appeal.
The decision to release Lord Black by a three-judge appeals court panel follows a sweeping ruling by the US Supreme Court in June that found prosecutors wrongly applied the the so-called “honest services” law in their case against the former media executive. [...]
The ruling represents a blow to the US Department of Justice, which had argued against a request for bail while the case was re-examined by an appeals court in light of the Supreme Court ruling.
The decision to release Lord Black, even temporarily, underlines the impact that the Supreme Court ruling will have, not only in the case against the British peer, but in other high-profile, white-collar cases in which prosecutors convicted individuals based on “honest services” fraud charges.
The ruling raises the stake for the DoJ in its handling of the Enron case. The court ruled that prosecutors wrongly used the honest service law against Jeffrey Skilling, the convicted former head of Enron. But the high court did not advocate or suggest the mistake should necessarily lead to a reversal of Mr Skilling’s conviction.
The justices agreed with critics that said the DoJ’s use of the honest services law was too vague, and should be limited to instance of bribery.
Maxime Bernier: Scrapping the compulsory long-form census questionnaire
I intervened in the media over the weekend to defend my government’s decision to scrap the compulsory long-form questionnaire of the census. There has been a lot of opposition to this decision over the past two weeks coming from all kinds of interest groups who use the data from the census.
Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don’t believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don’t.
Most people don’t want to be called or be visited at home by a census bureaucrat pressuring them to answer the questions and threatening them with sanctions. They understandably do not want trouble with the government and when they get such threats, they simply comply. Few will officially complain to the government, although when I was Industry minister in 2006 during the previous census, several thousand email messages of complaint were sent to my MP office. (Some people have asked me to show proof of this. It was evidently part of an organized campaign, as my Parliament colleagues and I sometimes receive vast numbers of messages on controversial issues. They are one way among others to gauge the level of public support or opposition to a decision. These messages were obviously not filed for future use by my staff and were deleted.)
As I keep saying, government is already much too big and intrusive, and this decision will restore some balance. Private businesses and organizations who want such data should pay to get surveys done that answer their needs instead of relying on government coercion to get them.
For those who want to read more on this issue, here is an excellent column by Gordon Clark in the Vancouver Province, and this one by two economists from the Fraser Institute in the National Post. Also, the Western Standard has been publishing a series of commentaries supporting the decision, including one by one of my former advisors at Industry Canada, Martin Masse.
Those who have never seen the 40-page long-form questionnaire that is at the center of this debate can check the 2006 one here on the website of Statistics Canada. Among other intrusive questions, you are asked about your ethnic background, how many hours of unpaid housework, yard work or home maintenance you did the previous week, details about what kind of job you are doing, how you get to work, all your sources of income, who pays for what in your household, how many bedrooms there are in your home and if it needs minor or major repairs, etc.
Why in the world should peaceful and honest citizens be threatened with jail if they refuse to answer these questions?! Why do the Liberals support this?
Maxime Bernier is a Member of Parliament from Beauce, Quebec. This post is also available on his blog, here.
All WS on the census.
NDP "Reality Check": Dmitri Soudas uses the Jedi defence
Long known for defending minorities in Canada, the NDP throws the Jedi Knights under the bus:
Dimitri Soudas created an instant internet classic with his line of defence on eliminating the Census long form:
“21,000 Canadians registered Jedi knight as a religion in the 2001 census. Religion is asked every 10 years. We made the 40-page long form voluntary because government should not threaten prosecution or jail time to force Canadians to divulge unnecessary private and personal information. Canadians don't want the government at their doorstep at 10 o'clock at night while they may be doing something in their bedroom, like reading, because government wants to know how many bedrooms they have.”
What do 21,000 Jedis have to do with the Long Form Census? Nothing. What does the long form census have to do with government officials showing up at 10 o'clock at night at Canadians’ doors? Nothing. What does bedtime reading have to do with an accurate statistical portrait of our country’s demographics? Nothing.
But there you have it: the spokesperson for the Prime Minister of Canada talking about Jedis.
The force is weak with these ones.
Perhaps. But the farce is strong.
More WS on the census.
Iggy's Antiques Roadshow
They dig through their closets. They come clutching ancient bric-a-brac, which they solemnly proclaim as treasured heirlooms handed down from much beloved aunts, whose names they struggle to recall. Never, never would they part with the 1950s Mickey Mouse figurine, the old Coke bottles, the walnut armoire or the Louis-the-what's-it chair with the faded ketchup satin. Unless the price is right. They are the about ready for rummage sale cast-offs that might yet be the key to fortune, happiness and thirty-seconds of bewildered national celebrity. That's the Antiques Roadshow, a British import that has had both Canadian and American retreads. Last week Michael Ignatieff tried his hand at the format, going on his own roadshow, and boy did he dig deep in Liberal Party's attic.
To some, mostly Grit hacks, he is akin to a fine vintage wine, recalling warm summer days of happy Liberal hegemony, for everyone else Jean Chretien went vinegary some time ago. The Catskill-meets-Gatineau schtick wore out back when Pierre Trudeau was still knee-capping the Alberta economy, but Iggy is getting desperate. Papa Jean was many things, most of which are unprintable on a work-friendly blog, but he was also a winner. He won three majority governments, back to back. The first Liberal leader to do that since Mackenzie King, though to his credit the little guy from Shawinigan never mulled strategy with his dog or dead mother. Wanting some of that Jean magic to rub off on him, now that enough people have forgotten about Adscam, Iggy has invited the former PM to join him on the roadshow.
While bringing Papa Jean back might make sense, if you're Michael Ignatieff, bringing back Paul Martin doesn't, to anyone. There are no electoral triumphs in the History of the Reign of Paul I. Not even bad jokes about protestors, pepper spray and steaks. Does it really make sense for Iggy, who is seen as indecisive, to be on the same stage as the man dubbed "Mr Dithers" by The Economist? It's a self inflicted wound. One of many. The problem with self-inflicted wounds isn't just the bleeding, it's that no one will ever trust you with a weapon again. The weapon at hand is the leadership of the Liberal Party. It used to be the most coveted job in Canada. From 1887 (when one W. Laurier took over the job) to 2003 (when the aforementioned Mr Martin ascended) every leader of the Liberal Party became Prime Minister. Stephane Dion, the compromise candidate who taught us all the dangers of compromising, became the first leader of the party of King, St Laurent and Trudeau to never lead the country.
The Dion Years were a unique time in our nation's history. Well unique for Liberals, for the first time in living memory they knew what it felt like to be Tories. Incompetence is common enough in politics, but Dion and his C-Team elevated the act of screwing things up into an art form. The Green Shift, the dog named Kyoto, the train-wreck of interviews and the general inarticulateness. The latter isn't a fatal weakness in politics, it can even be a strength, see the career of Jean Chretien. The problem was that Papa Jean's mangling of both official languages was seen as a cunning stratagem, for poor Stephane it sounded like a call for help. Even the bitterest of Tory partisans, in their human moments, must have muttered softly to themselves: "Won't someone please take him back to the faculty lounge? It's just too painful."
The leather padded cells of academia were calling Iggy last week too. Janice Gross Stein, long-time head of the Munk School of Global Affairs, is stepping down and Iggy looks like a solid replacement. Returning to the old Alma Mater would be a nice place to relax after the rigours of politics. Sure the students are slightly more impertinent than political staffers, though they are about the same age, but the media generally ignores you when are quietly indoctrinating the young. University life is far less stressful too. No longer having to cram things down into five second spots for the nightly newscasts. Instead a whole New York minute's worth of platitudes can be leisurely stretched into an hour long seminar. In politics people call you a fool and liar all the time, but that's only because you can't tell some graduate student to flunk the uppity little brat. Nothing like being a professor, so long as you're tenured. Nothing like being the leader of the Liberal Party, so long as you've got a chance in hell of becoming Prime Minister. It's a chance Michael Ignatieff is slowly and surely losing.
The Tories' Need for Speed
The federal government goes into the gaming business:
The online description of one of the games reads, “Compete at the highest level of street racing with Need for Speed ProStreet. It’s no longer good enough to simply rule your local neighborhood; you need to dominate on a global stage.”
The government placed ads in a number of video games during February and March of this year. The ads were part of an attempt to encourage young people to complete their apprenticeship training and alert them to grants of up to $4,000.
Because the little darlings can't be expected to, you know, find out this information themselves. A government big enough to give you apprenticeships, is big enough to invade your video games.
Opposition Seeks to Force Inquiry on G20 Mass Arrests
From The Hill Times:
The evidence includes eyewitness accounts from lawyers who acted as monitors during the protests where police arrested 1,105 people, including bystanders, lawful protesters and some of the legal monitors, but released more than 900 with no charges.
Up to six lawyers who volunteered as monitors with the Osgoode Hall Law Union were swept up by police and have provided affidavit-style evidence to organizers about the abuses they witnessed in the notorious temporary prison Toronto police set up in an abandoned film studio, says Adrienne Telford, one of the organizers. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union had up to 50 legal monitors at the protests and is compiling information.
But don't worry, it'll never happen to you.
The police only ever arrest bad people, or least people who look suspicious. It's their own damn fault they dress the wrong way, or wanted to express an opinion too openly. Normal people have jobs and families, they don't waste their time protesting. Just a bunch of hippies. So they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, big deal. Maybe they should live somewhere else. They're all lying, or exaggerating. Just to get on TV. Just to discredit the police. Just to attack Stephen Harper.
I'm sure the police had the best of motives.
You have to maintain law and order in a society. Police cars got destroyed. Windows got smashed. Huh? Why didn't the police prevent that? Well that's because they weren't handed enough special powers. You don't trust the police? Well then you support the criminals? Yes, I know what a criminal is, they're the bad people the police arrest. It's the usual complainers that are complaining.
But don't worry, it will never happen to you. You live in the suburbs. You live in a small town. You live in a nice neighbourhood. Bad things only ever happen to bad people, elsewhere. They deserve it. You're not a bad person. You never do anything suspicious. Just don't blow any bubbles.
(More WS on G20 commentary).
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Filibuster: A note to Tea Party activists from the NAACP
J.J. McCullough writes:
The NAACP, one of America’s most eminent black civil rights groups, came out swinging at conservative Tea Party activists this week. In a resolution at their annual general meeting, the organization blasted the Tea Party for containing “racist elements,” and demanded the group fully repudiate the bigots within their midst.
“The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no space for racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their movement,” declared NAACP president Ben Jealous after the resolution passed. Much of the racism allegations swirling around the Tea Party center on the sorts of protest signs many of its members have chosen to bring to their rallies. The NAACP website presently contains a little gallery of some of the most offensive ones, under the heading “don’t let hate divide America.” Among other crimes against humanity, we can see depictions of President Obama as Mr. T, or that jolly black chef from the cream of wheat box.
As a visual satirist myself, I have to say I find all of this a bit dopey. Unflattering visual analogies do not presuppose racist intent. Depicting the President of the United States as a witch-doctor or monkey is hardly new; practically every president has faced similarly unflattering analogies. I can particularly recall a lot of witch-doctor related parodying directed towards George Bush Sr., a man who coined the term “voodoo economics” to describe his own party’s fiscal philosophy. And of course we all remember how frequently his son was depicted as some sort of slope-browed chimpanzee.
We’re only reading more into this kind of stuff today because the president is black, so every bit of teasing that used to be regarded as innocuous is now scrutinized under the racial microscope.
While genuinely racist caricatures are obviously hateful and ignorant, I reject the premise that Obama’s race is completely off grounds for mockery. A public figure’s appearance is always a healthy source of material for satire. Again, we can think of all the times Dubya was teased for his vacant facial expressions, or the many grotesque caricatures of John McCain’s hideous neck-flesh. When making parodies, you compare people to things they look like, and the fact remains that Obama does look a lot more like the cream of wheat guy than Bush or Clinton.
Seems to me that a truly a non-racist political culture would see parody as parody, and not get excessively flustered trying to constantly find “hidden agendas” motivating everything. Sometimes a poster is just a poster.
J.J. McCullough is a political cartoonist from Coquitlam, British Columbia.
Does Canada lead the world in Jedi knights?
It is difficult to argue with the claims of long-form census supporters that the long form of the census is really important and vital (although we've given it a shot -- see here for the latest in a series of posts entitled "WS on the census"). For example, how else can we find out how many people are Jedi knights?
According to the 2001 census, 21,000 Canadians listed "Jedi knight" as their religion. Dmitri Soudas, communications director for the prime minister's office, made prominent reference to this fact in an email to the press gallery:
21,000 Canadians registered Jedi knight as a religion in the 2001 census.
Religion is asked every 10 years.
We made the 40-page long form voluntary because government should not threaten prosecution or jail time to force Canadians to divulge unnecessary private and personal information.
Canadians don't want the government at their doorstep at 10 o'clock at night while they may be doing something in their bedroom, like reading, because government wants to know how many bedrooms they have.
The Ignatieff Liberals promise to force all Canadians to answer personal and intrusive questions about their private lives under threat of jail, fine, or both.
We're not sure if Canadians want the government to show up on someone's doorstep at 10 at night, but we are fairly certain that no government official wants to mess with a competent Jedi knight, especially if the knight has succumbed to the dark side of the force.
This is unfortunately the case for Canadian Hayden Christensen, whose Jedi name is Anakin Skywalker. Christensen is one of the three or four most significant adherents to Jedi knightry.
In spite of the significance of this Canadian to the faith, and in spite of Canada being, on January 12, 2009, the first country in the world to recognize the Order of the Jedi Inc. as a federally incorporated non-profit religious entity, Canada did not lead the world in Jedis.
According to 2001 census reports from the English-speaking world, England and Wales led the world in absolute terms, with over 390,000 (0.8%) Jedis. "The 2001 census reveals that 390,000 people across England and Wales are devoted followers of the Jedi 'faith,'" the BBC reported in 2003.
England also has the distinction of having elected a Jedi Member of Parliament. Jamie Reed, then-newly-elected Labour Party MP, commented on the proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill by saying, "as the first Jedi Member of this place, I look forward to the protection under the law that will be provided to me by the Bill."
Canada also lagged behind Australia, with over 70,000 (0.37%) Jedis in 2001. In May of 2001, the Australian Board of Statistics released a press release to the media on the topic of Jedis. "If your belief system is "Jedi" then answer as such on the census form. But if you would normally answer Anglican or Jewish or Buddhist or something else to the question "what is your religion?" and for the census you answer "Jedi" then this may impact on social services provision if enough people do the same," read the press release.
The honour of most Jedis on a per capita basis goes to New Zealand, with over 53,000 adherents, making up 1.5 per cent of the population, second only to "Christian" at 58.9 per cent ("No Religion" accounted for 28.9 per cent, with 6.9 per cent objecting to the question).
Membership in the Jedi Church is not restricted to English-speaking humans from Earth. "The Jedi Church recognises that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together, and accepts all races and species from all over the universe as potential members of the religion," explains the official website of the Jedi Church.
The Conservative Party promises to make the long-form of the census voluntary, which may, according to census experts, make the results statistically non-robust, and therefore will not be as useful as earlier censuses have been at accurately capturing the total number of Jedis, and providing specific services tailored to the needs of Canadian Jedis.
More WS on the census (a.k.a. the "libertarian cavalry"): Pierre Lemieux, Mark D. Hughes, Karen Selick, Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.
UPDATE: This story appears on Fark. You can read Fark readers' comments on this story by clicking here. It's worth the trip.