Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Friday, May 22, 2015
 
I'm for getting rid of the tampon tax
The Conservative government has endorsed the NDP idea of getting rid of the "tampon tax" which is actually just the fact that the GST/HST applies to feminine products. Left-wing politicians, egged on by identity feminists, have taken up this cause as discriminatory and they have brilliantly marketed their cause as targeting a product that most women can't avoid using. Whatever. Let's get to root causes and eliminate the root of the tampon tax: let's get rid of the GST/HST, and cut spending accordingly.


 
Reason enough to vote Tory
The Globe and Mail: "Conservatives would likely cut more taxes if re-elected, Oliver says." The Globe reports:
“I think we could do more,” Mr. Oliver replied. He noted that Canada’s debt in relation to the economy is low by international standards and will shrink from about a third of GDP to one quarter by the end of the decade. Mr. Oliver did not comment on the potential impact of rising interest rates on federal finances.
“So, as the debt declines and as debt payments decline as a proportion of expenditures, there’s more opportunity to provide tax relief and to provide other benefits to businesses and to Canadian families and to the Canadian middle class,” he said.


Thursday, May 21, 2015
 
Martyrs for their art. But they're not dead. And as art it's questionable.
Rick McGinnis:
Karen Finley was considered a martyr for free expression in the arts back in the '80s. And like most martyrs for this sort of thing she has the distinction of still being alive. Which makes you a funny sort of martyr, don't you think?
She might not be so famous today, but back in the '80s Karen Finley was known for all intents and purposes as the Lady Who Stuffs Canned Yams Up Her Ass.
That's some division of labour specialization.
McGinnis describes the photo-shoot:
I had Finley lean into the wall and slowly rotate her face in the tiny pool of light while giving a few directions - "Look up." "Put your cheek against the wall." "Look at me."
Later my editor, Nancy, told me that Finley had described it all to her like a parody of a high fashion magazine shoot, with the photographer - me - making effusive, even campy, pleas and commands: "Beautiful, darling!" "Give me more!" "Work with me, baby!" Which scandalized me more than her show, to be honest; my working method has always been low key, almost wordless, and I didn't understand why Finley felt a need to tell such a fib, except perhaps she needed a better story to tell.
The essay is worth reading 1) because it includes some sensible observations about censorship and public funding (and a great line about the Draw Muhammad event) and 2) despite the post containing a photograph of Finley plying her art.


 
2016 watch (HRC or 19 edition)
The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger: "The GOP free-for-all is better politics than the Democrats’ Clinton coronation."
Henninger has one of the best lines in American punditry in a long time: "If the NBA were run like the Democratic Party, Charles Barkley would still be starting for the Houston Rockets and James Harden would be on the bench." Ouch.


 
Interesting idea regarding Canadian political leaders' debates
Huffington Post Canada:
We couldn't agree more that the federal election debates need a refresher. So last week HuffPost Canada and Twitter Canada, along with Samara Canada, submitted a proposal that invites federal parties to a debate worthy of a connected and social age.
Canadians are busy, make no mistake. But we're also more connected to information and to each other. We don't make appointments with our televisions -- the news comes to us while we are on the move and from friends.
Great idea in theory. In practice, not sure if the Conservatives want to get involved with a flaky outfit like Samara which has romantic and unrealistic ideas about democracy and elected officials. And not sure if a direct Q&A with regular voters on social media is the best way to advance thoughtful discussion of issues. But at a time when the political class is seriously talking about moving beyond the outdated model of letting a broadcast cartel dictate the terms of a singular national debate in each official language, such innovative thinking and partnerships could move the political debates into the 21st century.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015
 
Raise the minimum wage and a robot will thank you
Alex Tabarrok has a photo and caption that will illustrate the point of the headline.


 
Debating designer babies
Bryan Caplan and Dan Klein debate the issue of designer babies. It all started with Caplan's thoughtful but provocative "Genetic Engineering Is Reproductive Freedom," to which Klein responded (via David Henderson) and Caplan tries to answer those criticisms. It seems to me that, as Henderson warns, neither side wants to admit that there are costs and benefits to each position. Weighing these is no easy matter. Henderson adds his two cents, noting:
Think of the diseases that genetic engineering might be able to reduce or even eliminate. I have a friend with a severely autistic 10-year-old child. Taking care of that child is stressing his marriage every single day. What if genetic engineering had been able to prevent autism? I don't know if it can. But it might. Isn't this a benefit?
But -- and I wouldn't want to focus on this too much -- is it not possible that learning to care for people with various diseases and conditions is a benefit, even though it might be stressful? Isn't learning compassion and sacrificing one's own happiness good for one's soul, and perhaps even society. Wouldn't these, admittedly hard, lessons in compassion be lost?
Two important and under-appreciated points. Klein wonders about the loss of liberty that is possible through genetic enhancements (while admitting there would be gains in personal liberty, also). There needs to be some long, serious thought about the relationship between liberty and designer babies beyond whether parents have the right to alter their children's genetic makeup. Also, when most people hear designer babies they think changing eye colour, enhancing physical attributes to make children stronger, faster or more beautiful, and the elimination of various diseases. Caplan reminds us that it might be possible to increase character traits such as sympathy. Does that alter you view on designer babies?
The best debates pose more questions than they provide answers by broadening how we think about a topic. Caplan and Klein's exchange qualifies as such a debate.


 
'It’s probably time for the Liberals to let Trudeau be Trudeau'
Michael den Tandt:
Liberals of a previous era muttered, “let Chretien be Chretien.” Funny how history repeats.
For more than a year Justin Trudeau has played a front-runner’s game, bobbing and weaving rather than meeting critics toe to toe. He will very soon need to get back to something approaching the more freewheeling style of his leadership run, with all the attendant pitfalls, or risk seeing Thomas Mulcair shoulder him aside as the preferred leader of Canadians seeking change ...
[T]he PM keeps himself in a bubble. Why should Trudeau be any different, when the cost of a single mistake can be so very high?
A few thoughts.
If Trudeau has been in a bubble to prevent Canadians from learning more about the Liberal leader, we all should ask why? What is he hiding? His incompetence? An extreme left-wing ideology? If we haven't seen the real Justin Trudeau, there is a reason for it and that reason can't be good.
Stephen Harper might be in a bubble where he doesn't share himself with the vulturous media. That's entirely different. After nine years in the office of Prime Minister, Canadians have a pretty good idea of who and what Harper is. The same can't be said of Junior.
Den Tandt has some advice for Trudeau:
He could try to tap the same vein Notley recently did in Alberta, by reclaiming his place as the anti-politician politician. He could speak repeatedly and off the cuff with authenticity and wit, scrumming until reporters are tired of the sound of his voice. All summer long, he could wade into town halls and other unscripted settings, giving the lie to the most damaging point in the narrative prepared for him by his opponents, which is that he’s in over his head.
Trudeau would have to do all this, of course, without making a single major gaffe.
Oh gosh, please.
Please.
Pretty please.
There is no way that the unscripted Justin Trudeau can go an election campaign, let alone three months without inserting his foot deep down his gullet. He can't. It will be admiring-China/joking-about-Russia-invading-Ukraine/fighting-ISIS-with-dick-jokes good.
Please Liberals, let Justin be Justin.
But wait, why does Junior need the Party's permission?


 
What Pan Am Games?
Gods of the Copybook Headings:
Living and working in Toronto I cannot recall a single conversation, at least not in the last few months, in which the Pan Am Games have even been alluded to. The level of enthusiasm has to be measured in microns. In a real sense these are Games by and for the bureaucrats. A gigantic make work project that will, possibly, snarl traffic for a few days this summer.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015
 
The real Trudeaumania
In 1983 there was a board game called True Dough Mania in which the first player to lose all his or her money to the government won. The Montreal Gazette wrote about it and the Calgary real estate developer said it was really an attack on the "bungling bureaucracy" than the prime minister of the day.


 
The unbearable next generation of entitled scions
The New York Post on the Clinton daughter:
Chelsea Clinton is so unpleasant to colleagues, she’s causing high turnover at the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, sources say.
Several top staffers have left the foundation since Chelsea came onBoard as vice chairman in 2011.
“A lot of people left because she was there. A lot of people left because she didn’t want them there,” an insider told me. “She is very difficult.” ...
Chelsea has embraced all the trappings of a corporate CEO, with a personal staff almost as big as her father’s. “He has six. She has five,” said my source.
None of this would surprise her former co-workers at McKinsey and NBC News. At both the management consulting firm and the network, co-workers allegedly were told they couldn’t approach Chelsea.
Instapundit is not surprised: "That’s the problem with dynasties. They breed entitled descendants."


 
If Republicans are Mad Men ...
Democrats are The Wire (Baltimore), Sopranos (crooks), and The Odd Couple (convenient partnerships) all rolled up into one. So says Twitter, via The Corner.


 
Bill Clinton in Haiti
Patrick Moynihan, a Catholic deacon and president of The Haitian Project and head of its Louverture Cleary School (a school for gifted but poor Haitian children), writes in the Providence Journal about what he considers the pernicious effect of Bill Clinton on Haitian development:
I assure you that my interest in encouraging a closer look at Bill Clinton and his family’s foundation is not political — it is philosophical.
I am most deeply concerned about Bill Clinton’s “win-win” philosophy, and consider it a real menace in Haiti. When Clinton stands between an industrial titan and a small underdeveloped nation and claims a pending win-win victory, the world ought to wince rather than clap. Why? Because it is far more likely that a 20-something intern will end up married to an adulterous president than that a small, developing country will benefit from a partnership with a global money-grabber of the sort Clinton attracts.
In dire economic and social conditions, the common good cannot be properly fed by a win-win approach. On the basis of what I have observed during my 20 years in the mission field, in the case of extremely underdeveloped and impoverished countries like Haiti, only a "lose-win" approach, one based in actual altruism, can kick-start real social and economic change.
Not everything good for society is win-win. The disadvantage of others is not a public stage for legacy hunters or an opportunity for profit seekers — it is a reason for each one of us to make a sacrifice (lose) so others might advance (win). The support of the common good often requires selfless participation and clear, farsighted vision. This is why the common good is so often best served by the church or the state with the generous support, but not direct control, of the private sector.
Those of us who favour the free market might wince at these comments, but while the tide of capitalism can raise all boats, the tidal wave of crony capitalism can sink many ships. Moynihan shares one example of a Clinton friend/donor who has had a pernicious effect in Haiti:
One example of Bill Clinton's dressing a wolf in lamb's clothing with his win-win spell is the Irish telecom mogul Denis O’Brien. Clinton cannot seem to praise his billionaire friend and foundation donor enough. In an article he penned for Time, Clinton wrote, “In Haiti ... phones have revolutionized the average person's access to financial opportunity,” and goes on to write glowingly about O’Brien’s role in Haiti’s mobile “revolution.”
Today, Digicel soaks up nearly 10 percent of Haiti’s real GDP by taking veritable pennies at a time from the pockets of the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. To get a bit more, O’Brien has encouraged his clients to play the lottery on the same phones Clinton claims have revolutionized banking for the poor. To be clear, O’Brien essentially put a slot machine in a bank parlor. Win-win?
Clinton opened doors not to a free market competitor but a capitalist skilled at using his connections to gain favour. While self-interest can help deliver needed goods and services to the poorest of the poor and the discipline of the free market help deliver them efficiently, sometimes self-interest does not align with what the most vulnerable need immediately. It would seem that Bill Clinton attracts a certain kind of capitalist, and not the kind that developing nations need.
(HT: Greg Mankiw)


 
Trudeau practicing for the leaders' debate
The Hill Times reports, "Cognizant of the fact that he’s a rookie and the federal party leaders’ TV debates could make or break a potential prime ministerial candidate, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been doing full rehearsals for more than two months and for five to six hours a week, say Liberal sources." It seems a little early. Maybe Junior is a slow learner.
The Hill Times continues:
“He’s putting in hours every week in full rehearsals, quietly, discreetly, with the assumption that nobody expects much of him, or they expect Mulcair or Harper to dominate him. He’ll surprise everybody with his preparation. They’re doing the full studio set-up, lighting, everything,” one Liberal source told The Hill Times last week.
The source said that Mr. Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) senior advisers, Gerald Butts and Dan Gagnier, are the two driving forces behind the exercise and that the rehearsals will continue in the coming months right up until election time.
The source said during the practice runs, Mr. Trudeau goes through a variety of subjects related to the Liberal Party’s policy platform and practises how to deal with political verbal attacks from other party leaders. At the rehearsals there are podiums, lights and other people playing the roles of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulfislands, B.C.), a Liberal source told The Hill Times.
“They’ve gone over comeback lines and you know how it works. They’re spending hours and hours in preparation.” ...
The October election will be the first in which Mr. Trudeau will be leading his party. Based on his performance in the House and media interviews, the other party leaders have taken shots at him for being not ready for prime time. Last week, in an exchange with Prime Minister Harper on family tax cuts in the daily Question Period, Mr. Trudeau said: “Benefiting every single family isn’t what is fair,” attacking Mr. Harper for providing more tax relief to the wealthiest Canadians. “What is fair is giving help to those who need it the most.”
Prime Minister Harper shot back: “Mr. Speaker, you see what happens when someone goes off script.”
All the parties do this, but again, it seems a little early.
Here's a bit from my forthcoming book, The Dauphin: The Truth About Justin Trudeau, relevant to the debates:
Polls and political commentators all agree that President Barack Obama lost his first debate to Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod says in his autobiography Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, that he told the President before the second debate: “It’s not a trial or even a real debate. This is a performance. Romney understood that. He was delivering his lines. You were answering questions. I know it’s a galling process, but it is what it is.”
Some Conservatives strategist were talking about having more than the usual single English and French debates in order to expose Trudeau as an intellectual lightweight. Perhaps. But they must beware the fact that Trudeau, the former drama teacher, is a great performer. He is not great ad-libbing as his forays into foreign policy jokes illustrate. But if he remembers his lines and stays on message, he can perform well enough to win over voters who might be attracted to his uplifting yet meaningless platitudes.
The Dauphin will be available from Freedom Press (Canada) next month.


 
Another story about Patrick Brown, and why they all might be wrong
Have you noticed that every story about Patrick Brown is the same: hard-working with the inevitable mention of Red Bull, mostly anonymous nobody in federal Conservative caucus, a social conservative who will drop socons the first chance he gets, and pragmatist who doesn't think any party or clique has a monopoly on good ideas. It might all be true, but it seems that there is an official media narrative that involves little more than cutting and pasting each others work when journalists write their stories. By this point, Robert Fisher's CBC "analysis" adds absolutely nothing new.
Another name for the official media narrative is conventional wisdom. I think it was Michael Kinsley who said that generally the conventional wisdom is wrong. In Brown's case the CW is more wrong than right. Brown is hard-working, but he is also really bright. The combination is dangerous. If he was a mostly anonymous federal Tory, why did so many of his colleagues not only endorse him but work to help him win the Ontario PC leadership? Furthermore, the implication that he was a nobody on the federal scene because he didn't chair parliamentary committees or join the cabinet ignores the important role he played as GTA caucus chair in which he, like Jason Kenney, was active in engaging the area's ethnic communities (and he was busy forging international friendships, including, most notably, the Prime Minister of India). The question is not whether Brown will drop socons but whether they stick with him; Brown does not need to lead on the issues of abortion and gay-marriage (both of which are mostly federal issues anyway) but he will have to continue to press the government on its sex-ed curriculum and keep them at the table as part of the broad and successful coalition that elected him leader. Lastly, Brown is a pragmatist but he's still a conservative. His test will be how he marries the two, and its very early to jump to any conclusions about that.


 
Obama (and Trudeau) don't want to ask the wealthy to help out; they want to take their money
Thomas Sowell complains that Barack Obama has proposed that in order to fight poverty he would "ask from society's lottery winners" that they make a "modest investment" in government-run anti-poverty programs. (Recently Justin Trudeau announced he would ask wealthy Canadians to pay more by increasing their taxes four percentage points.) Sowell says that rhetoric is inaccurate:
But the federal government does not just "ask" for money. It takes the money it wants in taxes, usually before the people who have earned it see their paychecks.
Despite pious rhetoric on the left about "asking" the more fortunate for more money, the government does not "ask" anything. It seizes what it wants by force. If you don't pay up, it can take not only your paycheck, it can seize your bank account, put a lien on your home and/or put you in federal prison.
So please don't insult our intelligence by talking piously about "asking." And please don't call the government's pouring trillions of tax dollars down a bottomless pit "investment."
It's not investment, its spending.


 
Against grade inflation and extra credit
Writing in Investor's Business Daily, Daniel J. Smith, assistant professor of economics at the Johnson Center at Troy University, says:
Very little productive learning would occur if grades were assigned by anything other than merit. First, it would severely diminish the incentive of students to learn the skills and individual responsibility required to contribute to society. Instead, they'd learn to dwell on and even exaggerate their own needs.
There are other issues, including fairness (to those who earned their grades) and reputation (for the outside world to know that grades are earned), which Smith addresses.


Monday, May 18, 2015
 
Foreign military bases
Ezra Klein tweets: "The US has 800 foreign military bases. Every other country combined has about 30." Assuming that's true, wow. But even if the numbers aren't quite right, the whole idea of foreign military bases is weird, right?


 
There is no seasteading paradise
The libertarian goal of a stateless island might have to be metaphorical because a real island in the ocean seems more like a fantasy than a doable dream. Wired.com reports:
More than a half-decade later, the dream has yet to be realized. And optimism is starting to waver. Earlier this year, during a talk at George Mason University, [venture capitalist Peter] Thiel said, “I’m not exactly sure that I’m going to succeed in building a libertarian utopia any time soon.” Part of the problem: A truly self-sufficient society might exceed the range even of Thiel’s fortune. “You need to have a version where you could get started with a budget of less than $50 billion,” he said.
For its part, The Seasteading Institute has also come to appreciate that the middle of the ocean is less inviting than early renderings suggest. It now hopes to find shelter in calmer, government-regulated waters. According to its most recent vision statement, “The high cost of open ocean engineering serves as a large barrier to entry and hinders entrepreneurship in international waters. This has led us to look for cost-reducing solutions within the territorial waters of a host nation.”
Thiel’s reassessment marks a clear departure from tech culture’s unflinching confidence in its ability to self-govern. In recent years a number of prominent entrepreneurs have urged Silicon Valley to create a less inhibited place for its work. Larry Page called on technologists to “set aside a small part of the world” to test new ideas. Elon Musk has aimed at colonizing Mars.


 
Christians and poverty relief
Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle responds to the erroneous idea that Christians have been absent on the fight against poverty:
Conservative religious groups spend an enormous amount of time and energy on fighting poverty, much of it in the kind of hands-on, direct action that us secular types rarely get involved in. The Mormon Church runs one of the most effective private welfare states in the world. And if you don't like that model, which focuses on other Mormons, you can go to the Catholic Church's many poverty ministries, or the private welfare organizations run by evangelical megachurches across the land. You'll find pastors and lay volunteers stepping into the gaps that government welfare doesn't fill: helping single parents get cars and apartments using church funds, offering material help and social support for drug addicts who are trying to get clean, providing everything from day care to a new stove for families who cannot afford them. These churches are sending their members out on mission trips, here and abroad, that offer food, medicine, and help building homes or infrastructure needed by the community. They are going into prisons and working with inmates. They are fostering needy children.
What critics of Christians really mean is that the Christian Right is not out there advocating for Big Government programs to alleviate poverty. Instead they are often getting personally involved in the lives of the vulnerable and marginalized, something the impersonal state cannot do. To slur the faithful as unChristian because they are not helping enlarge the Welfare State is lacking in the sort of charity that Christians themselves are exercising.


 
2016 watch (Lindsey Graham edition)
Politico reports:
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday that he will announce his decision about whether to run for president on June 1 in his hometown of Central, S.C., but left little doubt about his intentions by saying “I’m running.”
“I’m running because of what you see on television, I’m running because I think the world is falling apart, I’ve been more right than wrong on foreign policy,” he said on “CBS This Morning,” when asked if he was running because he was unimpressed with the rest of the field (and appearing to dispense with the pretense that he hasn’t decided whether to jump in). “It’s not the fault of others, or their lack of this or that that makes me want to run, it’s my ability in my own mind to be a good commander-in-chief and to make Washington work.”
We'll see if Graham can convince others he has the ability to make Washington work or be a good Commander-in-Chief or whether that perception only exists in his "own mind."
I don't get announcing the intention to announce a presidential run. Having a fully staffed exploratory committee is the announcement that you are likely to run. Just announce. There are no Vegas odds, but if you are wondering what Graham's self-declared odds are, they have moved from 91% to 98.6% to 99.9%.
Jim Antle tweets: "Is this the exploratory committee or the exploration of the exploratory committee phase? Expect an announcement of the announcement soon."


 
'The right to be mentally ill'
E. Fuller Torrey writes about the death of Alberta Lessard died last month. Lessard was at the centre of the 1972 court case that reversed the Common Law tradition of assisting the mentally ill and established in American law "that non-dangerous people have the right to be mentally ill." Torrey writes:
Because of her psychotic behavior she was briefly hospitalized more than 20 times, but, because of the new focus on immediate danger in commitment standards, she could never be held long enough to be properly treated ...
One wonders what would have happened if Ms. Lessard had received proper treatment for her schizophrenia. With luck she would have recovered enough to resume working. At a minimum she would have experienced less “harassment” and led a less chaotic life.
I have mixed views on forcing people to take drugs or into confinement. I'm open to respecting neurological diversity. But the social experiment on how we treat and deal with the mentally ill over the last few decades has been a colossal failure and demonstrates the limits of liberty and tolerance as public policy goals in and of themselves.


 
'Why China is hard to figure out'
Tyler Cowen says it is hard to understand what is happening in China because of "differences of language, history, and culture," "the (sometimes) questionable economic data," and the "the paucity of good Chinese academic research until very recent times." But he offers another, somewhat persuasive explanation: China's economy grows more quickly than the West in both relative and absolute terms, and therefore is constantly changing. By the time an observer might figure out China, there is a new China: "In economic terms, China seven years ago is equally removed from China today as the United States about thirty-five years ago is removed from the United States today."
Another factor that Cowen does not admit but is related to the questionable econ data and lack of quality academic research is secrecy. In many important ways China is still a closed country and official measures are unreliable because of the ingrained communist culture of secrecy.


 
Headline of the year?
The Grocer: "Oregon sewage treatment company plans brew-up in a pissery." The trade magazine reports: "Clean Water Services, an Oregon company that cleans up local effluent, has proudly applied to the local authorities to be allowed to process the water into beer." And approval was granted.
(HT: Tim Worstall)


Sunday, May 17, 2015
 
Oilpatch and jobs
Canadian Business: "Job cuts continue to sweep the oilpatch as uncertainty reigns on the global energy markets." Billions in capital projects delayed. Thousands of construction jobs lost. And as the Manning Center tweets: "Imagine what royalty review will do."


 
Cowen on the new normal/financial crisis re-set
Everyone seems to assume that the western economies are going to return to the pre-financial crisis way even if it is taking longer than expected, but Tyler Cowen begins his New York Times column:
It is hard to avoid the feeling that our current economic problems are more than just a cyclical downturn. We know that the economy has gone through some bad times. But what exactly are we experiencing?
Cowen does not provide a definitive answer, but a number of scenarios and what-ifs. But if the Financial Crisis exposed a (new) underlying truth about our economic system ("the radical and sudden changes of the financial crisis were early indicators of deep fragility and dysfunctionality") rather than a problem in one part of the economy, the 2008 crisis could have been a reset rather than a setback. If that's true, says Cowen, some policies based on the old assumptions could be making matter worse. There are long-term implications about wages and employment, and perhaps more importantly our expectations about such things. Pundits are often wringing their hands over revolutions that are not, but Cowen subtly challenges the working assumption that we will return to "normal" by pointing out that sometimes 'it is difficult to be sure when a reset is underway' because the changes "seem to be gradual and slow."
Cowen says:
If a reset is underway, we might have to accept that public policy cannot reverse it easily. Once unsustainable economic structures begin to fail, it takes a significant improvement to make them viable again.
Or, it could be added, these structures might not be made viable again.
Cowen does not get into this, but technology and culture can alter a society in ways that are not anticipated. From low-cost entertainment and information on the internet to a generation that does not value the traditional fruits of labour (a house, car, family), the underlying foundation of our economic system is being challenged. Public policy isn't going to dramatically change consumption preferences (iPads and dinner out instead of houses that need furnishings). All this gets to a different point than Cowen's: the new normal might still deliver a higher standard of living for many people, especially the Creative Class in large urban centers, but it might be brutal for less educated/lower IQ individuals.


 
Ranking things
Buzzfeed: "Every Episode Of 'Mad Men' Ranked, From Good To Perfect." This seems premature considering the last few episodes cannot be judged until you see how they move the story to the finale.
Yahoo!'s Shine: "Tim Hortons Doughnuts: Ranked." Where is the Caramel Apple Fritter? (And why did Tim Horton's kill the Dutchie?)


 
2016 watch (The 'It might have been' edition)
George Will looks at Rick Santorum as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, the former Pennsylvania senator's second go at the nomination. Will notes that there are a lot of "what ifs" that could have made Santorum, the last Republican standing against the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, an even stronger candidate. Santorum is not a one-trick pony, a Catholic moral conservative who could be the Religious Right standard-bearer, but the candidate who could attract working class voters who have been turned off the GOP over the perception that they are the party of the rich. Santorum is an immigration and free trade skeptic which might attract a certain kind of voter. I find the policies erroneous but for the GOP to win they need to reach out to lower middle class voters who are worried about jobs and their children's future, and who blame foreigners and immigrants for their economic uncertainty. Santorum's appeal is nostalgia: nostalgia for a father-knows-best moral conservatism, but also the father-can-support-his-family-working-in-a-factory economic narrative that is no longer true. I think this could combination could have beaten Barack Obama in 2012 -- instead of the GOP foisting a fucking plutocrat on the electorate -- but the Santorum moment might have passed.


Saturday, May 16, 2015
 
Fun econ paper
Tim Harford links to "Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food?" and calls it "My favourite economics paper ever." While almost three-quarters of the subjects rated the dog food the worst of the five meat mousses, only one-sixth of participants could identify the canine kibble. The study is not new (2009) and it is sort of like those studies of wine connoisseurs that can't tell the difference between cheap and expensive wines.


 
Alberta Tories closing shop to rebuild
The Canadian Press reports on the troubles of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party from their removal from power earlier this month:
The once mighty Alberta Progressive Conservative party plans to close its offices in Edmonton and Calgary and cut all but one staff member.
Bill Smith, past president of the party, said Friday that the moves are being made to save money.
"We have got to look at the longterm interests of the party and the carrying costs of the infrastructure that we have is just too high," he said.
Twelve people are losing their jobs at the party offices. The National Post reported last year that the provincial Tories were already in debt trouble last year and had to borrow against a trust the party set up before Lougheed-era finance reforms.
The Ontario Tories have learned the hard way the fate of parties that have poor on the ground operations. It is technically possible to run an organization without central offices or full-time staff, but it is difficult, and it's not clear what the Alberta Tories' plans are other than to save itself some money. It will be difficult for the Alberta Tories to fundraise when they look to be in such trouble and there is little reward for donors in the near-term as a provincial election is four years away. It is wise to stop digging when one is in a hole this deep, and one could make the case that the Alberta PCs needed to streamline and layoff workers, but a reduction of 13 to one and closing both of its offices signals crisis not rebuilding.
No party booted from Alberta government has ever regained power, and several parties have died off completely. Considering these latest developments the Alberta PCs could become the United Farmers and disappear, the Social Credit and field a handful of candidates to finish sixth or seventh but not elect any MLAs (the last one was 1979), or the Liberals and become mostly irrelevant and elect a handful of MLAs and sometimes forming the official opposition.


 
Democratic hypocrites
Reuters on the Clintons:
Hillary and Bill Clinton earned over $25 million for delivering more than 100 speeches since 2014, according to financial disclosure forms released by the Clinton campaign.
Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, also earned $5 million in royalties for her book, "Hard Choices," which was released in June, according to the forms.
The Clintons' income puts them at least in the top 0.1 percent of the U.S. population, the Journal reported.
Economic inequality has been a top campaign theme for Democrats for the past several years and Clinton in April voiced concern about the hefty paychecks of some corporate executives in an email to supporters.
Nothing wrong with earning millions of dollars. But there is something wrong with earning millions while inveighing against wealth.


 
2016 watch (eyeing better GOP losers)
Hot Air's Noah Rothman examines and applauds the Republican effort to decrease the Democratic advantage in the major cities by finding better congressional and other candidates for local office that will still lose but lose gracefully and (presumably) closer than the retreads that sometimes get nominated in unwinnable elections. Despite Rothman's enthusiasm, there are reasons to look askance at this plan. Having closer races at the local level might backfire by motivating the Democratic base to become more involved; it's not clear that the reason Republicans are seeing Dems rack up huge vote totals in the cities, especially among minority voters, is due to a lack of competitive congressional races. It might have more to do with the fact that minority voters are wholly owned by the Democratic machine. Republicans, and Rothman, think that even if the immediate rewards are unapparent, there are dividends in the long game by running credible candidates that can run again in the future but with campaign experience. The whole plan seems questionable when you consider Rothman's (laudatory) short description of it: "The GOP is building up the farm team by recruiting a stable of sacrificial lambs." Does that really sound like a long-term winning plan?


 
FAO Schwartz to close flagship Manhattan store
CNN reports: "FAO Schwarz will close its doors on July 15 after calling Fifth Avenue home for nearly 30 years." FAO Schwartz is owned by Toys R Us and the rent is too damn high, although the company says they will open another Manhattan store somewhere, sometime. I wouldn't hold my breath.
Trips to New York City won't be quite the same.