Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).
Thursday, June 30, 2016
2016 watch (Ridiculously meaningless polls edition)
The Washington Examiner reports:
The SurveyMonkey Election Tracking survey found that Clinton holds a massive 23-point lead, 59 percent-36 percent, among people who used to watch "The Apprentice," a reality show where Trump judged contestants' business skills.
Didn't The Apprentice debut back when The Donald was donating to Hillary Clinton? Maybe there is a reason Democrats like Trump. Or maybe this is meaningless.
2016 watch (Why-not? headlines only possible in 2016 edition)
The Washington Examiner: "Nude dude shuts down Times Square in search of Trump." Story provides details, but why bother.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The question qualification for leadership aspirants in Britain
The Daily Telegraph editorializes:
[T]he crucial issue for the candidates to show leadership on is tariff-free access to the EU’s single market. Is it essential for our national prosperity, and if so, what price is worth paying for it in terms of European immigration?Britain needs a leader who can answer that question convincingly, then deliver that answer.
The intersection of public service & self-interest
The Hill Times reports:
House committee chairs asked for a 65 per cent increase earlier this month to their budget to help them travel to meet Canadians on their home turf — a move one Conservative chair said is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
There is nothing inherently wrong with holding consultations across the country on various issues. But self-interest can be dressed up in high-sounding ideals like citizen input.
Goldberg on Mencken & Nock
Jonah Goldberg has a phenomenal column today, "The Wisdom of Mencken and Nock Seems Fresh Today," that needs to be read in full rather than excerpted. H.L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock called out the bullshit of their era and a similar cynicism is warranted today.
I would love to see what Mencken would do with a candidate/president Trump as his subject.
Brooks the revolt of the masses as symptom of cultural divide
Yesterday David Brooks had a good column in the New York Times looking at the "revolt of the masses" in which he talked about honor among tribes (especially the family). He observed:
But the honor code has also been decimated by the culture of the modern meritocracy, which awards status to the individual who works with his mind, and devalues the class of people who work with their hands.
Let me translate: Richard Florida's celebrated Creative Class is divisive. And yet the economic progress that leads to a culture in which most people don't need to work with their hands presents an existential threat to free market societies:
The sociologist Daniel Bell once argued that capitalism would undermine itself because it encouraged hedonistic short-term values for consumers while requiring self-disciplined long-term values in its workers. At least in one segment of society, Bell was absolutely correct.There’s now a rift within the working class between mostly older people who are self disciplined, respectable and, often, bigoted, and parts of a younger cohort that are more disordered, less industrious, more celebrity-obsessed, but also more tolerant and open to the world.
The drivers of culture are at odds with large swathes of the population. My guess is that the future of politics is going to be even grumpier and less pretty than it is today -- and I hold contemporary politics in low regard already.
I'm not sure that Brooks' calls for "better form of nationalism, a vision of patriotism that gives dignity to those who have been disrespected, emphasizes that we are one nation and is confident and open to the world," is sufficient to bridge the divide, or what it really means. I am sure that the future has a lot more Donald Trumps (and worse) if we don't address the deep cultural divisions and the resentment (both ways) they cause.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
The most Jeremy Corbyn headline ever
The Daily Telegraph: "Labour crisis: Jeremy Corbyn refuses to resign after losing confidence of 172 MPs as Angela Eagle eyes up leadership challenge." Yeah, 172 of 229 Labour MPs vote non-confidence in his leadership and Corbyn insists on sticking around (only 40 supported him). To depose Corbyn as leader probably means that the rebels need to back just one candidate going forward, so egos will need to be set aside if the Labour malcontents' complaint that the party can't win a snap election with Corbyn at the helm is to be taken seriously.
Trump's charitable giving
The Washington Post reports that despite pledging millions of dollars to charities since 2007, there is precious little evidence he has given money to the causes he is connected to or says he supports publicly. A total of 167 charities were contacted by the Post "for evidence of personal gifts from Trump" between 2008 and May 2016, and they found a single donation of under $10,000 to the Police Athletic Association of New York City. He also gave a million dollars to a veterans' group earlier this year following public pressure during the primaries. Trump has given directly or through his Donald J. Trump foundation a meagre $3.8 million in total since 2001, a pittance for a billionaire. The paper reports, "What has set Trump apart from other wealthy philanthropists is not how much he gives — it is how often he promises that he is going to give." Trump supporters should recognize a habit of over-promising and under-delivering. The Post also reminds readers that Trump won't release his tax returns, leading to speculation that it would expose his lies about the amount of money he gives to charity.
Loser MLA doesn't want Jason Kenney running for Alberta PC leadership
Despite saying there are several reasons to rescind former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney's provincial Progressive Conservative Party membership, former deputy premier and MLA Thomas Lukaszuk does not offer any. Lukaszuk is perhaps most famous for being called an asshole by Kenney, and apparently with good reason. Lukaszuk, who finished third in the party's leadership race in 2014 and who is not considered a candidate this time around, implies differences on social policy and a possible merger with the Wildrose Party should disqualify Kenney from running for the PC leadership. But aren't those matters for the grassroots to determine, not a person who has lost the last two races he competed in (2014 leadership, 2015 re-election).
The Olympics as an investment
Tim Harford: "hosting the games is not unlike building a church for one single, glorious wedding celebration."
Linker on Brexit: smashing the illusions of progressives
Damon Linker writes in The Week about how the Brexit vote shatters the illusions of progressives:
[P]rogressivism holds out a very specific moral vision of the future. It will be a world beyond particular attachments, beyond ethnic or linguistic or racial or religious or national forms of solidarity. In their place will be the only acceptable form of solidarity: humanitarian universalism.And this means that the progressive future will even result in the end of politics itself — at least if politics is understood as encompassing more than the jostling of interest groups, bureaucratic administration, and the management of government benefits. Politics in that narrow sense will remain. But politics in Aristotle's sense — this particular community in this place with this history and heritage, determining its own character for itself, deciding who is and who is not a citizen, who will rule, and in the name of which vision of the good life — that existential form of politics will cease to exist in the progressive future ...It would be one thing if progressives understood their universalistic moral and political convictions to constitute one legitimate partisan position among many. But they don't understand them in this way. They believe not only that their views deserve to prevail in the fullness of time, but also that they are bound to prevail.
Progressives have encountered their fiercest resistance to their leveling, dismal, anti-democratic philosophy. The over-the-top reaction to the Brexit vote not merely from Europeans, but the American and Canadian Left is most easily understood as having the core of their belief system challenged.
Exit is contagious
Zero Hedge has a post on the growing number of countries in which support for a referendum exceeds 40% and support for leaving the European Union is above 25% (eight of them). This is an important snarky comment: "they worry the pound might crash? Pay attention to the euro." Polish politicians are openly saying the EU should wake up to the meaning of the Brexit vote: it's time for reform in Brussels.
Will of the voters vs. the opinion of a billionaire
Monday, June 27, 2016
Beware 'data journalists' with stories based on Google Trends results
Danny Page has an excellent essay and graphs on the problem with Google Trends as a source for news stories saying it provides no context. There are several problems, in fact.
1) We don't know who is doing the searching, so connecting searches to vote results doesn't tell you about voter regret or ignorance.
2) A chart with a peak tells you about growing popularity of a particular search, but not the total numbers. Both Game of Thrones and Euro 2016 searches were much more popular in recent weeks, even compared to the (nearly imperceptible) peak of those asking "What is the EU?" It ends up that the story is based on about 1000 people searching "What is the EU" at its peak. Page says: "It’s ludicrous that so few people get turned into a massive story, but it underscores the need for context."
3. "What is the EU?" was much less popular than searches for the European Union sans the question. Who searches with questions anymore?
The Labour Party crisis
The Daily Telegraph headline says it all: "Labour crisis: Jeremy Corbyn sees 32 shadow ministers quit as new MP is told 'keep your phone on, you might be in the shadow cabinet by end of day'." The Telegraph reports:
The rebels have criticised his performance in the EU referendum and he faces further resignations from the junior frontbench ranks amid fresh calls for him to stand down as leader.
Things are moving so fast, the number of shadow ministers and MPs quitting is hard to track. Policing shadow minister Jack Dromey saying in his resignation letter: "I believe we may now be on the brink of a catastrophic defeat from which Labour may never recover ... You are a decent and honourable man. But we cannot fight back and win with you as leader."
The paper also has a running clock: "How long has Labour’s ‘leadership coup’ lasted?"
Meaning of Brexit vote
Tyler Cowen says the Brexit vote was about keeping England English, or at least parts of it. Cowen offers a very clever and fair commentary and one need not agree with it to find it thought-provoking. Two points stand out, however.
1) There has been plenty of commentary suggesting racial motives or questioning the intelligence/sophistication/decency of the pro-Leave voter. Cowen warns: "At some point we have to limit our moralizing about the vote and start treating it more like data." Cowen says viewing the vote as data is important to undo the supposed damage of the vote, but regardless understanding is better than moralizing.
2) A key to understanding is not assuming the worst about the "other" voter (Remain pundits demeaning Leave voters in a multitude of ways, and Leave supporters generally distrustful of those who want to Remain). Cowen says: "Much has been made of the supposed paradox that opposition to immigration is highest where the number of immigrants is lowest. Yes, some of that is the racism and xenophobia of less cosmopolitan areas, but it would be a big mistake to dismiss it as such or even to mainly frame it as such. Most of all it is an endowment effect. Those are the regions which best remember — and indeed still live — some earlier notion of what England was like." It is probably inaccurate to dismiss anti-immigration sentiment as racist; it might not even be really anti-immigration as much as pro-English. According to Cowen's frame, culture not economics is the most important driver of the Leave sentiment, and culture need not be a code for white and English.
Politics and neighbours
The Pew Research Center asked Republicans and Democrats if certain attributes would make it easier or harder to get along with new neighbours. Those attributes included ideology, party affiliation, church attendance, sexual orientation, and others. Democrats and Republicans were equal in being more welcoming of like-minded people and less welcoming of people from the opposition party or end of the ideological spectrum. Democrats and Republicans had about equal scores for new neighbours that had children, liked sports, or volunteered in the community. The big divides were gun ownership and attending church/believing in God, in which case Republicans were much more likely to say it would be easier to get along with new neighbours and Democrats said they were less likely. What was interesting is that both Republicans and Democrats treated gays/lesbians and those who liked hip hop about equally.
If you read Bill Bishop's 2009 The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded American is Tearing Us Apart, the numbers in this new Pew study could be surprising for how open-minded people think they are.
2016 watch (Donald Trump doesn't need no damn professional spokesman edition)
This past weekend, the New York Times had a profile of Donald Trump's 27-year-old spokesman, Hope Hicks. Hicks quite rightly refused to be interviewed for the story because she's there to help with Trump's image, not hers. I love this part of the Times article (via Ann Althouse) on so many levels:
Did he have qualms about hiring a campaign spokeswoman with no political background? “Well, I have a lot of political experience, so I wasn’t really concerned about it,” Mr. Trump said.
At least she played lacrosse for four years at SMU.
JO'S on Brexit
John O'Sullivan writes in the Globe and Mail about how British and international political and opinion leaders were on the wrong side of the Brexit debate and will likely be proven wrong in their apocalyptic visions of a post-Brexit Britain. As for those who wonder about the credibility of the referendum vote, O'Sullivan notes: "This 52-48 victory for Brexit on a turnout of 72 per cent has more democratic authority than any election in Britain since 1945." And to those hoping for a redo: "The political reality is that it can’t be reversed."
The shrinking middle class -- and growing upper middle class and rich
I've already mentioned the Stephen Rose study for the Urban Institute on how the middle class is shrinking because there is a growing number of people in the upper middle class. Robert J. Samuelson has a good column on the study in the Washington Post, noting that nearly one-third of households are making $100,000 or more. Just more than 29% of people live in households making $100,000 to $350,000, the thresholds for upper middle income. In 1979, only one in eight people were in the upper middle class. The rich (over $350 K) grew from 0.1% of households in 1979 to 1.8% in 2014. All other income quintiles declined:
Meanwhile, the poorer segments of the population declined. The poor and near-poor (less than $29,999 of income) dropped from 24.3 percent of the population in 1979 to 19.8 percent in 2014. The lower middle class ($30,000 to $49,999) fell from 23.9 percent to 17.1 percent, and the middle class ($50,000 to $99,999) decreased from 38.8 percent to 32 percent.
It is possible that $100,000 doesn't buy what it used to (the study compares adjusted incomes but not purchasing power), but the scope of the shift is significant and challenges the narrative of the shrinking middle class.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Labour Party post-Brexit
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn sacked shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn. Then 11 members of the shadow cabinet resigned in protest and could face a non-confidence vote in caucus. The Guardian's Paul Mason wonders whether some of the rebels are seeking to start a new centrist party. (Mason says that Corbyn delivered Labour's share to the Remain vote, a point that is both disputable and irrelevant to the socialist anti-Semite's worthiness as leader of the Labour Party.) The Wall Street Journal editorial takes a slightly different tact: "One happy result of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union is some belated signs of seriousness from grown-ups in the Labour Party." Jumping the gun a bit, the Telegraph gives odds on Corbyn's likely replacements, with former justice minister Dan Jarvis and deputy leader Tom Watson being the named the co-frontrunners (5:1). All this is in the context of speculation that an early national election could be called within the year, if for no other reason than the (constitutionally irrelevant) consideration that the new Tory Prime Minister decided by the party this fall will not have a "mandate" from the voters; he or she won't but the party still does. Whenever the election is held, Mason's point that the Labour Party must find a way to connect to voters not merely upset with the current leader but susceptible to shifting their vote to UKIP (as has been occurring over the past few elections), is one that squabbling about left and centrist politics will not answer. Labour must provide answers, other than an ever-larger welfare state, to those who are left behind by economic growth, within or outside the EU. It is not evident who might provide those answers but it seems that Corbyn is not it. As the Journal concluded its editorial: "If the Labour Party now ousts Mr. Corbyn, it will be a sign that voters have realized that a return of sovereignty to London from Brussels will require more than nostalgic, anti-Western socialism."
George Will quits the Republican Party
Frequent (justified) critic of the GOP, George F. Will, quit the Republican Party and officially became an "unaffiliated" voter in Maryland. The last straw was not Donald Trump winning the nomination, but Paul Ryan's endorsement of the party's presidential candidate. According to a PJ Meida report, Will told a Federalist Society meeting this weekend:
A “President Trump” with “no opposition” from a Republican-led Congress would be worse than a Hillary Clinton presidency with a Republican-led Congress.
I agree. A Republican Congress would oppose Hillary Clinton's agenda and actions but would probably remain silent on Trump's abuses of the constitution.
Saturday, June 25, 2016
The EU, it appears, doesn't want Britain to stick around. The Guardian reports:
Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, told the Guardian that EU lawyers were studying whether it was possible to speed up the triggering of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty – the untested procedure for leaving the union.As the EU’s institutions scrambled to respond to the bodyblow of Britain’s exit, Schulz said uncertainty was “the opposite of what we need”, adding that it was difficult to accept that “a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”.
This is not unreasonable, although it also comes across as Eurocrats having a hissy-fit. Which they are. Yet Bloomberg reports that anti-Cameron/anti-British sentiment is high among many European leaders, not just those at the EU. This is probably unfair. I see Europe making an example of Britain to keep the malcontents in other countries from demanding exit referenda in their countries.
Another election, yet again a familiar narrative. The Guardian: "How the pollsters got it wrong on the EU referendum." I'm not sure this is correct. In the closing days of the campaign, it seemed neck-and-neck, with the last four polls being split, two predicting a close Remain win, two predicting a close Leave win.
I can see both arguments for David Cameron resigning as prime minister. MP Liam Fox said Cameron started the process of Britain leaving and he should see it through. True enough. Ali Wambold writes in the New York Sun that Cameron was the right person to negotiate Brexit. True, too. There is also the argument that he was on the wrong side of the most important issue facing England in a generation, he bet his political career on Remain winning, and now he must pay the price of failure. That might be too harsh. The real reason he has to leave is that he led some of the ridiculous claims in Project Fear, including claiming that leaving the EU could trigger a Great Depression-like economic crisis or even continental war; this scare-mongering was bad enough and beneath a prime minister like Cameron, but if these were truly outcomes he envisioned if Britain he left, he made a catastrophic mistake in even letting Leave be a possibility. For that failure in judgement -- or his making scary claims that bore no resemblance to reality -- means Cameron surrendered any right to continue leading the island nation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney must go. Now. They have zero credibility.
I'll have more about the post-Brexit British political consequences sometime soon, I hope. For now suffice it to say that I totally support either Boris Johnson or Michael Gove becoming the next leader of the British Tories and thus prime minister. I doubt BoJo will win and think that someone like Theresa May, a low-key Remain senior member of government should be considered the the early favourite to replace Cameron.
For all the talk about division within the Tories, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn also faces a backlash within his party. In The Spectator, Brendan O'Neill says the Left more generally must figure out its post-EU future. And FT on Twitter: "Regions with the biggest votes for Leave are also the most economically dependent on the EU." Or as someone quoted in this Guardian story said: "If you've got money, you vote in ... if you haven't got money, you vote out." So blame unequal distribution of the benefits of economic growth, not racism or anti-immigration sentiment.
I mostly agree with Alex Morton's mostly positive assessment of David Cameron's prime ministership, although Morton is a formerly Cameron adviser. I thought he was an exemplary leader for a conservative party and very good prime minister until the referendum campaign (although I have no issue with his calling the EU referendum).
Andrew Lilico, chairman of Economists for Britain, writes in CapX that Britain must become engaged and open to the world, suggesting a alliance/free trade market with Australia and Canada.
Reuters reports that "Global stock markets lost about $2 trillion in value on Friday" although markets in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain suffered losses two to three times as larger as London's stock market hit (3.2% decline on the day); the major North American markets fell roughly in line with what was happening in London and not the continental stock exchanges. I expect a quick correction over the next few weeks as investors realize this is not the end of the world or even Britain's access to the European market. The New Yorker's James Surowiecki examines whether the markets over-reacted.
In an editorial in The Spectator praising Cameron -- and The Speccie supported Brexit -- the magazine makes the most important observation, at least regarding the EU:
The fault with Cameron’s strategy is that it was based on a false premise: that the EU is open to reform.
That is important to remember that going forward. My guess is the EU changes by doubling down, becoming more of what Brexit supporters disliked about the European Union.
Friday, June 24, 2016
Trudeau and pipelines: dithering or dishonesty?
The Calgary Herald editorializes against the new consultations Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government will require before Ottawa approves new pipelines:
Certainly, there may be some room for improvement in Canada’s regulatory system — some possible tweaking, if you will — but our energy industry is among the most responsible and environmentally defensible in the world. This notion of endless consultation is just a stall tactic on the part of the Trudeau administration — a Pollyanna belief that if you talk about an issue long enough, everyone will reach the same conclusion — sunny days, as the PM says.
There may be something to this pathological need to be liked and agreed with that prevents Justin Trudeau from acting on the contentious issue, but that might be too charitable a take. It might be more accurate to say the Prime Minister is gumming up the approval process because counter his repeated claims to the contrary, he doesn't want to get oil to market; he is likely hiding his environmental extremism behind the consultation process.
2016 watch (Trump isn't Reagan edition)
There are people who say that Donald Trump is like Ronald Reagan. Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal about conversations she has with people who believe this:
Look, Mr. Trump is not Ronald Reagan, I said. Reagan served two full terms as the governor of a state so vast that if it were a country it would have been one of the important economies in the world. He was a union president who served seven terms during the most fraught time in Hollywood’s history and emerged respected by all sides. He was no novice.He was the leader of an entire political movement (however nascent) for more than a decade before taking the White House. Yes he had been an entertainer, an actor, and had loved it and seen himself as an artist. And it is true that he was looked down on by liberal elites. But it is not true that nobody respected him. The people elected him in landslides ...“Reagan wasn’t Reagan in 1980,” she explained.“That is exactly who he was,” I said.No, she replied: He hadn’t had his triumphs yet. People didn’t know he would go on to be who he was.I said that they knew who he was based on his history and previous accomplishments which is why they felt free to make him president.
Trump supporters should be able to make an affirmative case for their candidate without diminishing Reagan or anyone else. You shouldn’t cut down a man you know was great to make him fit your candidate’s size. It is poor political etiquette. It’s also historical parallelism gone mad. Mr. Trump isn’t Reagan, and he isn’t Andrew Jackson either. He’s Mr. Trump. Take him on his terms and make the case.
Brexit: what now?
The Financial Times has an excellent article on the forthcoming divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union. There is a lot that can happen and its mostly speculation because this is new territory. It could take two years or a decade. Britain could take unilateral steps to limit the EU's leverage, but that could sour the relationship and future negotiations or force Brussels to retaliate. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, is probably correct to say that Britain leaving the EU will be relatively simple but renegotiating the terms of their new relationship could prove very difficult. Brexit supporters hope that the break will be quick and clean with common-sense winning the day, but it is more likely that former Hungarian prime minister Gordon Bajnai is right: "There are too many changing factors to speculate clearly, but the logic of politics would be a bitter, nasty and not technically optimal solution."
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Why is Silicon Valley pro-Democrat/anti-Republican
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute has a good interview with Greg Ferenstein, editor of the "Ferenstein Wire: and author of The Age Of Optimists. Pethokoukis asks, "Why do all these free enterprise loving Silicon Valley folks vote for Democrats?" and Ferenstein answers:
The high level elevator pitch is that Silicon Valley and, broadly, urbanized professionals, represent an entirely new political category — not libertarian, not Democrat, and not Republican. I argue that they are pro-capitalism and pro-government and their belief is that the government should be an investor in citizens to make them more educated, entrepreneurial and civic, rather than act as a regulator of the two parties.What we’re seeing is the emergence of an entirely new thing… They’re trying to race into a better future as quickly as possible. The Democratic Party comes closest to this.
This seems likely, but the hypothesis comes with an important insight: that the binary approach of pro-capitalism and pro-government is not, or is not viewed as, mutually exclusive. This will be an important political development in the near future, and the Left is better situated to take advantage of it. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the very least, gives lip service to this seemingly contradictory position. I worry that politicians pretend to be more pro-capitalist and pro-market than they really are, and seemingly intelligent business folks fall for them.
Will on Trump's bluster and cowardice
Trump’s campaign has less cash ($1.3 million) than some congressional candidates have, so Republican donors have never been more important than they are at this moment. They can save their party by not aiding its nominee.Events already have called his bluff about funding himself and thereby being uniquely his own man. His wealth is insufficient. Only he knows what he is hiding by being the first presidential nominee in two generations not to release his tax returns. It is reasonable to assume that the returns would refute many of his assertions about his net worth, his charitableness, and his supposed business wizardry. They might also reveal some awkwardly small tax payments.If his fear of speculation about his secrecy becomes greater than his fear of embarrassment from what he is being secretive about, he will release the returns. He should attach to them a copy of his University of Pennsylvania transcript, to confirm his claim that he got the “highest grades possible.” There are skeptics.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. Ostensibly about PTSD, Junger explores concepts such as loyalty and community through the prism of tribalism. Not what I expected but not bad, either.
2. The Spring/Summer 2016 Cato Journal focusing on "Rethinking Monetary Policy." Of particular note is John B. Taylor's "Rethinking the International Monetary System," Scott Sumner's "Nudging the Fed Toward a Rules-Based Policy Regime," and Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr.'s "Monetary Policy and the Knowledge Problem." And having read William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe's Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government— and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency, F.H. Buckley's review is bang-on.
3. The July/August edition of Foreign Affairs with its focus on Israel and a post-Crisis capitalism.
4. "The Imperative of a Referendum," an essay by Patrice Dutil on electoral reform and the need for a referendum before substantive changes are made.
China's silicone dolls are used for more than sex
Yahoo! reports that some Chinese men are using their life-like dolls for sex, but others are substituting silicone women for daughters they never had or are using them as female versions of themselves. One presumes that these alternative uses for the dolls are in lieu of a sexual relationship, although the other uses are not exclusive of a sexual relationship, I guess.
The EU maybe made sense in the '50s. Now it only impedes progress.
Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal:
A centrally planned, regional customs union—though not one run with a colonial mind-set, chaotic accounts, a bureaucratic surplus and a democratic deficit—might have made some sense in the 1950s. That was before container shipping, budget airlines, the internet and the collapse of tariffs under the World Trade Organization made it as easy to do business with Australia and China as with France and Germany. But today, Britain—the most outward-facing of the major European economies—will thrive if it leaves. Europe’s GDP has only just staggered back up to where it was before the 2008 financial crisis.This is because the EU’s obsession with harmonization (of currency and rules) frustrates innovation. Using as an excuse the precautionary principle or the need to get 28 countries to agree, the EU gets in the way of the new.
Ridley also notes that the EU gets in the way of free trade:
The EU is also against free trade. It says it isn’t, but its actions speak louder. The EU has an external tariff that deters African farmers from exporting their produce to us, helping to perpetuate poverty there, while raising prices in Europe. The EU confiscated Britain’s right to sign trade agreements—though we were the nation that pioneered the idea of unilateral free trade in the 1840s. All the trade agreements that the EU has signed are smaller, as measured by the trading partners’ GDP, than the agreements made by Chile, Singapore or Switzerland. Those the EU has signed usually exclude services, Britain’s strongest sector, and are more about regulations to suit big companies than the dismantling of barriers.
In a separate article, the Journal reports that Big Business is pushing against a Leave vote on Thursday, including attempting to scare employees of the economic consequences of leaving the EU. Ridley maybe explains why:
Even worse than in Westminster or Washington, the corridors of Brussels are crawling with lobbyists for big companies, big banks and big environmental pressure groups seeking rules that work as barriers to entry for smaller firms and newer ideas. The Volkswagen emissions scandal came from a big company bullying the EU into rules that suited it and poisoned us. The anti-vaping rules in the latest Tobacco Products Directive, which will slow the decline of smoking, came from lobbying by big pharmaceutical companies trying to defend the market share of their nicotine patches and gums. The de facto ban on genetically modified organisms is at the behest of big green groups, many of which receive huge grants from Brussels.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Why the middle class shrinks
The middle class is shrinking as the upper middle class and upper income cohorts grow, according to Alex Tabarrok: "By one measure, the middle class has shrunk from 38% of the US population in 1980 to 32% today but at the same time the upper middle class has grown from 12% to 30% of the population today." The Urban Institute also finds the percentage of people who are poor is declining.
NR on Brexit: remember Atlee
National Review editorializes in favour of Brexit, recalling Clement Attlee's opposition to British membership in the proposed European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1950, stating in the House of Commons: "We on this side are not prepared to accept the principle that the most vital economic forces of this country should be handed over to an authority which is utterly undemocratic and responsible to nobody." NR's editors state:
Attlee was more perceptive than he knew. The ECSC was designed to morph in stages from a limited industrial cartel into the present unified European “entity” of 28 member-states, which is supposedly neither a state (though it increasingly exhibits the attributes of statehood — flag, anthem, the power to sign treaties, etc.) nor a diplomatic body promoting cooperation and arbitration between independent states, but something new under the sun. Moreover, the lack of democratic accountability in its political arrangements underlined by Attlee was entirely by design. Its founders were suspicious of national sovereignty and popular passions, on which they blamed the recent war. They quite consciously set out to avoid submitting their grand design to democratic debate and the verdict of the voters. Instead it would proceed “functionally,” treaty by treaty, regulation by regulation, committee vote by committee vote, largely shielded from oversight, until one day the peoples of Europe would discover they were living under a new “European” government. That bright new day has now dawned.
Atlee was, NR states, Britain's "greatest Labour prime minister." He was, at the very least, prescient.
And countering Campaign Fear, NR's editors say:
The second half of the argument — Brexit would be ruinous — is transparently silly. Economically speaking, leaving the EU would mean that Britain was outside both a customs union with an average tariff of 3 percent and a system of massive and intrusive regulation. The first would be a trivial disadvantage, the second a strong positive benefit. Britain is the fifth-largest economy in the world. If Britain cannot survive outside the EU, what on earth are 150 or more other countries doing?
Welfare reform worked
Scott Winship, Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has a new report (and summary article) that the 1996 welfare reform passed by the Republican Congress and (grudgingly) signed into law by then President Bill Clinton resulted in "more families were lifted out of poverty than were made poorer because of it," and is not the "disaster" that many of the Left now claim it is. In 1996, Washington reformed Aid to Families with Dependent Children by narrowing it, and applied more effective forms of government assistance to the problem. Winship reports:
According to the best available estimates, 29 percent of children were poor in 1993—no lower than in 1967. But child poverty then fell strongly, reaching 18 percent in 2000 and 17 percent in 2009. As of 2012, emerging from the Great Recession, 19 percent of children were poor.Why did poverty fall even though welfare receipt plummeted? Other safety-net programs played a role. Even in 1996, AFDC was a smaller means-tested program than Medicaid, SSI, food stamps, and the EITC—and those programs expanded after welfare reform.
2016 watch (Trump's campaign/Trump's business edition)
Brexit vote is about optimism for Britain
Dominic Raab, MP for Esher & Walton, writes in the Daily Telegraph, that "60 per cent of UK laws made in or derived from Brussels." He thinks Britons can do better without the European Union and with decision-makers being responsible to British voters or their representatives:
So, this Thursday is a chance to vote for an innovative, global Britain, cooperating and trading with all – but democratically accountable to you.At heart, it’s also a choice between optimism and pessimism. The Remain camp have spent four months telling us Britain won’t amount to much, standing on our own two feet.The Leave campaign is the side with the ambition for Britain, and the belief in the British people.
Rio Olympics: Zika but no subway
Forbes: "The Zika virus outbreak in South America has caused thousands of cases of microcephaly, where an infant is born with an unusually small head and brain. The threat is so serious that the CDC has issued a level 2 alert for anyone attending the Olympic Games in Brazil this summer. The World Health Organization has also issued travel precautions. Most of the attention has focused on microcephaly, understandably so, but Zika threatens more than just pregnant women. In recent months, the evidence has been building that Zika also causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)."
The Associated Press: "Seven weeks before the Olympic Games, a subway expansion that was supposed to transport hundreds of thousands of athletes and fans is not done. While Brazilian officials insist it can still be finished in time, frequent delays, skyrocketing costs, and a financing snag have created doubts."
2016 watch (Corey Lewandowski doesn't matter edition)
Slate: "Firing your campaign manager is not a big deal when there’s nothing to manage." Jamelle Bouie reports:
How much staff has Donald Trump hired? At last count, the Trump campaign has roughly 30 staffers nationwide. By comparison, Team Clinton has hired 50 people in Ohio alone. Even if it’s still early in the cycle, a typical campaign would have several senior staff members in place in most, if not all, contested states. Trump has close to none.
2016 watch (Fundraising edition)
Slate: "The Trump Campaign Raised Less Money in May Than the Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter." The Donald raised $3.1 million in May and Veronica Mars raised $5.7 million (May 2013).
With loans from himself, he can contest California for two days.
Monday, June 20, 2016
The essence of government
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux has a quote from James D. Gwartney’s, Richard L. Stroup’s, Dwight R. Lee’s, Tawni H. Ferrarini’s, and Joseph P. Calhoun’s Common Sense Economics: "The power to tax and regulate makes it possible for the majority to coerce the minority."
Pro-oil First Nations
The Globe and Mail reports on the efforts of pro-development First Nations groups that are organizing a conference in order to get Canadian natives behind resource development plans that would bolster their economic growth, creating jobs and funding much-needed services. The importance of such initiatives are hard to overstate. Last month, Globe health columnist Andre Picard noted a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study on indigenous child-poverty and reported that the James Bay Cree have the lowest child-poverty rate in the country amongst all First Nations populations, although it is still a too-high 22% compared to 60% for First Nation reserves and 38% among all indigenous people. Picard said "It is not a coincidence that the communities are highly autonomous and have modern treaties that allow them to benefit from the exploitation of natural resources on their territory, including hydro dams, forestry and mining." Expedited development approval means having the resources to help aboriginal communities. First Nation leaders holding up natural resource development projects are doing their people a disservice, and are the real bad guys the pipeline debates.
At least the pro-aborts are admitting it's killing
The Daily Mail reports on the views of Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who is calling for the United Kingdom's abortion law to be liberalized, saying there is no difference between having an abortion and using contraception:
'The clinical risks of early abortion are not significantly higher than those of contraception, so why should it matter morally or legally if a woman chooses to practise birth control through this method instead of another? Abortion may be an act of killing – but it kills a being that has no sense of life or death, and no awareness of itself as distinct from others. Women make moral choices all the time. An abortion may be a difficult choice that a woman would rather not make.
2016 watch (What the pollsters are seeing edition)
The Wall Street Journal interviewed Bill McInturff, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, and Frederick Yang, senior vice president of Hart Research Associates, a Republican and Democrat pollster respectively who conduct polls for the WSJ. A lot of it is conventional wisdom. Yang, for example, talks about how Donald Trump is style over substance, talking loudly rather than ideologically coherently. (I take the view that what Trump is saying matters a lot to his supporters and that his style makes sure it is heard.) A few observations deserve note, however.
McInturff says polls find both Trump and Hillary Clinton unpopular:
We have had polling since the 1930s, and we’ve never had two candidates who’ve had negatives this high. We have a majority of people saying, “I’m voting because I want to vote against the other person.” That has never happened.
This observation from McInturff makes the same point I was and sort of contradicts his contention that volume is more important than substance:
Exit-poll numbers tell you a lot. We had a majority of Republican primary voters saying they’ve been betrayed by their national party. Republican primary voters’ perceptions were that there was too much compromise with the Obama administration. They saw Donald Trump as somebody who would be aggressively at the barricades for a point of view; you could count on him to be an unrelenting battle fighter for that point of view.
Yang on the economy and why it matters (and could help Trump):
In the December poll, we asked what’s the biggest concern in the economy. And by about 57% to 37%, it was lack of economic opportunity for working families, versus inequality on Wall Street. That stems from a very real debate we’re having on the economy and economic security. We asked in May, about the Great Recession, “Are you and your family still feeling the effects?” Two years ago, the percentage of Americans feeling the effect was around 64%, 65%. This May it was 64%, 65%. And Trump voters were more likely to feel the impact than Democrats.
Republicans talk economic opportunity but it is conventional wisdom that when people are being left behind, it is often assumed that it is the Democrat message that appeals to them. Yang suggests that the Democrat focus on inequality is getting in the way of reaching those left behind the economy.
Near the end of the interview the two pollsters also talk extensively about the arithmetic and while it sounds a lot like mainstream media coverage -- HRC will have a big lead among blacks, Hispanics, youth, and women with college degrees -- there is a little more detail than you'll see on the panel shows. Unlike most talking heads, these pollsters don't necessarily believe that these numbers are static. Also, turnout matters. Trump boosting turnout among whites without college degrees and narrowing the gap among black and Hispanic voters can go some way to making this a very tight race.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Will Robin Hanson's Age of Em become a reality
Robin himself believes that market prices are the best arbiter of truth. But which market prices today show a realistic probability for an “Age of Em”? Are there pending price bubbles in Em-producing firms, or energy companies, just as internet grocery delivery was the object of lots of speculation in 1999-2000? I don’t see it.
Can Wynne win in 2018. Will it matter if she doesn't?
Writing in the Toronto Sun, Lorrie Goldstein warns that the 2018 provincial election is still up for grabs and that the unpopular Wynne government could be re-elected because of two important advantages:
Indeed, it starts with the political power of Ontario’s public sector unions, representing 1.1 million workers, almost 10% of the province’s population, even before you add in spouses, voting-age children and other relatives.That’s a powerful voting bloc and it means any PC leader taking the fiscally responsible position that the public sector must be reined in — given that Ontario is the world’s most indebted sub-sovereign borrower — starts behind the eight-ball in an election ...In the 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014 elections, public and private sector unions spent millions of dollars on co-ordinated attack ads against the PC leader, first Ernie Eves, then Tory, then Hudak.
The second advantage the Liberals have is that after 13 years in power they have a huge network of private and public sector corporate and union supporters, who fund their political organization and campaigns in hopes of influencing government policy and getting government contracts.
Goldstein says, "Anyone who thinks money and networks of political influence don’t affect elections, doesn’t understand politics."
Patrick Brown, unlike Tim Hudak, is working hard rebuilding the party's grassroots and building new relationships. There is not the slightest hint of complacency among provincial Tories. That might not be enough and I'm a little worried what the lesson of these two disadvantages and the 2014 provincial election might be for Brown and his team. I fear that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives will play me-too politics and promise increases in education and health care spending (inevitably calling them "investments") in order to "correct" the impression that they are anti-government and blunt any criticism that they are any threat to the livelihoods of public sector workers. In other words, the best we can hope for in 2018 is different people in charge of doing the same thing(s) in government.
Shaidle on modern liberalism
Last week Kathy Shaidle wrote about the Supreme Court of Canada's bestiality decision and other Canadian sex news, and in doing so notes modern liberalism's bumper sticker philosophy:
Our ruling class has based practically its entire worldview on one sentence uttered by Trudeau the Elder in (when else?) 1967—“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”—yet one branch of government has apparently sprung for a circular California queen with satin sheets and runs the whole country from there like Hugh Hefner.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Jason Kenney's future
Adam Radwanski's Globe and Mail column on Jason Kenney pondering is future sounds mostly correct and is good. I can't comment on specifics without violating confidences, but a few points points about the column:
1. Radwanski's sources are making the same sounds as the people who I talk to around Kenney which is one reason I trust this column.
2. Radwanksi doesn't explore enough a non-elected political or non-political future for Jason Kenney.
3. Radwanski doesn't examine how Kenney could play kingmaker if he doesn't run for the federal Conservative leadership.
4. Radwanski should have talked a little about a dynamic that is playing out in the Conservative Party right now: there is both a strong stop-Peter MacKay contingent within the party and stop-Jason Kenney contingent.
5. My feeling is that Kenney would run if he felt only he could stop MacKay.
British Tories pretend to play nice The Spectator reports:
Boris Johnson has signed a letter saying that Cameron must carry on as Prime Minister regardless of the result; making clear that he isn’t interested in any coup attempt. Michael Gove, the most senior member of the Cabinet campaigning for Leave, has done the same. Other Cabinet Brexiteers have also added their names to it.The letter is now being circulated among Tory MPs. The organisers are confident of getting a three figure number of signatories.The aim of the letter is to make clear as soon as the polls close that there is no chance of deposing David Cameron. The hope is that this will dissuade Tory malcontents from trying to gather the 50 names needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in Cameron among Tory MPs.
This may be irrelevant. If voters support Leave and implicitly reject Cameron, it will be difficult for the Prime Minister to remain.
Sad day for India
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley dragging their feet in making an announcement about re-appointing Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, the former chief economist for the IMF, announced he was ruling out a second term, insinuating the decision might not be his due to pressure to leave from the current government. Bloomberg reports that some members of Modi's government were unhappy that Rajan kept interest rates high. This week's Economist says that Rajan deserved a second term and highlighted his accomplishments and why he made such an effective (but disliked) bank governor:
Mr Rajan favours incremental reforms over wholesale ones. He has made it easier to move money in and out of India, but not abolished capital controls in the way you might have expected from a former IMF chief economist. He does not try to dictate the level of the rupee, but still stage-manages it. Licences for new banks are no longer rationed in the manner of the “licence raj”; they are instead awarded to all those who show they are fit and proper. But the existing banks, which the RBI oversees, are in grim shape.Lenders remain bound by intricate rules that dictate what assets they can hold (over half must consist of government bonds, reserves at the central bank or loans to particular industries, such as agriculture). Meanwhile state-owned lenders, which make up 70% of the banking system, have huge problems with bad loans. Some will breach regulatory standards on capital absent promised new money from government. Even healthy banks are foiling monetary policy by not passing lower interest rates on to clients. But Mr Rajan largely inherited this mess and has at least forced bankers to admit to their bad debts.Mr Rajan’s stature has helped attract investors. Domestically, it has given him a confidence to speak his mind. When government ministers gloat that India has the world’s fastest-growing economy, he likes to point out how low a bar that is. When ministers publicly urge him to cut interest rates, he pushes back by demanding a more balanced budget first.
India's loss will be Chicago's gain, as he will return to the Chicago Booth School of Business this September.
Friday, June 17, 2016
2016 watch (Sanders doesn't concede edition)
The Washington Post reports:
Bernie Sanders profusely thanked his supporters. He said he looked forward to working with Hillary Clinton to advance key issues. And he urged like-minded followers to run for state and local offices so they can continue the “political revolution” he began.In short, during his 23-minute speech live-streamed across the country, Sanders sounded very much like a candidate prepared to drop out of the Democratic presidential race. But the senator from Vermont pulled up short Thursday night, neither conceding the party’s nomination nor endorsing Clinton in the general election.
In the video, Sanders says supporters should focus on defeating Donald Trump in November. What does that mean? Vote Democrat seems to be the obvious message. As for his place in the party right now, the Post reports that Sanders is not lobbying Super Delegates, focusing instead on influencing the party's platform. By not yet conceding the nomination, Sanders has some leverage in negotiations for the platform which will be severely diminished the moment the Clintonistas no longer have to worry about what the Vermont senator might do to embarrass the candidate or the party if he doesn't get his way.
A collection of dumb things Donald Trump said
The Washington Post has an article, "23 things Donald Trump has said that would have doomed another candidate." The article tracks polling both before and after the statements, and provides the quote and context (and sometimes video). It also gives a rating (out of "Jebs") on how badly these comments would have hurt other candidates. Dumb gimmick and they get some wrong. Trump's attack on Carly Fiorina -- "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that — the face of our next president!?" -- was so much worse than saying John McCain was not a hero. Saying reporters care more about policy than voters is probably not controversial at all. Questioning the intelligence of Iowa voters doesn't not warrant a 10/10 when Mexican rapists gets an 8/10. Still a pretty amusing article with which to spend some time.
'Our voracious executive branch'
Christopher DeMuth of the Hudson Institute has a longish essay in The Weekly Standard on the federal executive branch's usurpation of lawmaking responsibilities. DeMuth goes over the long intellectual and recent political history behind the rise of executive power, and concludes with an agenda for the legislature to limit the over-reach practiced by recent presidents (George W. Bush and Barrack Obama) and which will surely be embraced (and possibly expanded) by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. This is an important but under-appreciated issue; bureaucracies are supposed to implement laws, not create them.
One issue that DeMuth only briefly touches upon is that sometimes legislatures can be guilty of buck-passing and let the executive branch rule in order to avoid making unpopular decisions themselves.
Why the Tories should contest the by-election following Jo Cox murder
ConservativeHome's Paul Goodman: "Senior Tories: the decision not to stand a candidate in the Batley and Spen by-election is 'simply wrong'." There are some pragmatic concerns, but also one of high principle:
At its heart, though, the case for standing in the by-election is that since the murder of Jo Cox was an attack on democracy itself, it is all the more important that the democratic process goes on as usual, and is not knocked off its course by murder and mayhem.
The sentimentalization -- what one senior British Tory called the Diana-ification -- of politics is profounding at odds with deliberative democracy which requires thoughtfulness not surrender to emotion. In Canada, we saw a similar thing happen when the House of Commons backed changing Canada's national anthem to make a dying MP happy.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
The Speccie vs. Brexit
The Spectator editorializes in favour of Brexit noting that its predictions about the Common Market in 1975 -- that it would mutate from trade zone to "common government" -- have come true. The magazine begins its editorial trumpeting its past correct calls:
The Spectator has a long record of being isolated, but right. We supported the north against the slave-owning south in the American civil war at a time when news-papers (and politicians) could not see past corporate interests. We argued for the decriminalisation of homosexuality a decade before it happened, and were denounced as the ‘bugger’s bugle’ for our troubles. We alone supported Margaret Thatcher when she first stood for the Tory leadership. And when Britain last held a referendum on Europe, every newspaper in the land advocated a ‘yes’ vote. Only two national titles backed what is now called Brexit: the Morning Star and The Spectator.
Just because the magazine was correct before does not mean it is automatically correct every time, or even this time. But the track record suggests that its independence in the face of the conventional wisdom is not something to be automatically feared, either.
About this there can be little debate:
The EU’s hunger for power has been matched only by its incompetence. The European Union is making the people of our continent poorer, and less free.
Bossiness is one thing, but incompetent bossiness is another, and it cannot be countenanced.
Experts were wrong on euro and other problems with Project Fear
At Bloomberg View Clive Crook notes that experts had once said it would be catastrophic if Britain was not part of the euro, but Brits are probably pretty happy they didn't listen to these experts considering that the euro zone is a mess. Crook says that "Campaign Fear" could fail considering the previous fear-mongering failed to materialize. Crook, who supports staying in the European Union, wrote: "Project Fear was a potentially fatal mistake. The positive case for a British future in Europe needed to be made as well." Or it could still work. Crook says undecideds will likely play it safe and vote to stay, suggesting that the fear-mongering did indeed move voters. All that said, he also points out that Prime Minister David Cameron's European allies didn't do the PM any favours and backed the UK leader into a corner where the only way out was the fear card. I would humbly suggest the reason for this is because there is no compelling reason to Remain in the EU.
Nanny statism setback in Hamilton
The Hamilton Spectator reports:
The city won't force future pool owners to build a "fence within a fence" in the name of child safety.An updated pool bylaw — first proposed in 2013 — would have required new pools to be fenced on all four sides to prevent child deaths. Existing pools would have been grandfathered and unaffected by the new rule ...Initial support from several councillors early this year gave way in the face of mounting opposition from both pool owners and industry representatives.After allowing extra time for public feedback, councillors at a general issues meeting Wednesday voted 9-5 in favour of dropping the four-sided fence requirement from the rest of the bylaw.
Parents should be responsible and watch their kids, and as a society we must be mature enough to resist the "one-is-too-many" substitute for an appreciation of trade-offs of costs and benefits.
The only issue in Brexit
John Pepall has a good essay on Brexit, and he correctly says, "neither the economy nor immigration is the real issue. The real issue is whether 28 countries and 500 million people should be governed by an unaccountable bureaucracy headquartered in Brussels." Whether it is the economy, immigration, or whatever, the issue has always been who governs. Pepall explains why the EU makes for poor governance:
For European elites this if fine. Able bureaucrats and politicians ejected from office in their own countries beaver away beyond the interfering scrutiny of national media, and voters are distracted with increasingly meaningless national politics, while Brussels sees that all is for the best.
And he concludes:
Many outside Britain, from Barack Obama to the Pope and Justin Trudeau and most commentators, have said Britain should remain in the EU. They would be more circumspect in saying whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom or Quebec leave Canada. They should ask themselves how they would like to be governed as the EU largely governs Europe.That’s the real question voters in Britain are faced with on June 23.
Inmates and assisted suicide
Globe and Mail: "Can inmates ask to die? Clarity urged around doctor-assisted death in prison." The issue is being framed in terms of equal access to care and proper consent, but what about choosing death to avoid a long prison term?
Interim report on Toronto police urges police focus on policing
The Globe and Mail reported that the task force appointed by Mayor John Tory to contain costs in the bloated billion-dollar police budget has recommended that most non-policing work be turned over to civilians, including parking enforcement, court security, and clerical or support work such as background checks. A previous KPMG report made many of the same recommendations last year. Let's hope that two studies are enough, and the Toronto Police Services Board directs the force to make these changes.
The task force is also recommending merging or examining merging several police stations, freezing promotions and hiring for three years, and using crime data in order to better deploy police. The report, which will not be officially released until this afternoon, suggests ways to not only save, but to better carry out a narrower understanding of police functions. Mayor Tory says the report "is going to be one of the most significant documents that has come out with respect to policing in Toronto in the last 25 years." It might well, if Tory and city councillors put pressure on the TPSB to enact many of the changes.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
What I'm reading
1. The Price of Prosperity: Why Rich Nations Fail and How to Renew Them by Todd G. Buchholz
2. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter about People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman
3. Europe’s Orphan: The Future of the Euro and the Politics of Debt by Martin Sandbu (I'm re-reading this 2015 book.)
4. "Tear Down These Walls: Dismantling Canada's Internal Trade Barriers," a report by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Important topic. Hope it gets some traction. Reports like these are the best case for keeping the Senate (as is).
5. "Increasing the effectiveness and sustainability of the nation’s entitlement programs," a report of The American Enterprise Institute authored by Andrew Biggs, James C. Capretta, Robert Doar, Ron Haskins (of the Brookings Institute), and Yuval Levin
Peak container ship
Bloomberg's Adam Minter says that the mega container ships hitting the seas today are coming on board at the worst possible moment, when global trade is slowing down amid sluggish global economic growth. Minter reports:
That's a major change. Between 1955 and 1975, the average volume of a container ship doubled -- and then doubled again over each of the next two decades. The logic behind building such giants was once unimpeachable: Globalization seemed like an unstoppable force, and those who could exploit economies of scale could reap outsized profits.But by 2008, that logic had begun to falter. Even as global trade volumes collapsed after the financial crisis, with disastrous effects on the cargo business, ship owners were still commissioning more and bigger boats. That had ruinous consequences: This year, 18 percent of the world's container ships are anchored and idle (adding up to more capacity than was idled in 2009). In just the last quarter, global shipping capacity increased by 7 percent while demand grew by only 1 percent. As a result, the price of shipping a container fell by nearly half.
These things tend to be circular, and low shipping costs could -- should? -- spur more trade. At least in theory.
Blame central banks, not Brexit, for negative bund yields
The Wall Street Journal summarizes the negative-rate bonds on offer in Germany:
We live in an age of astonishing events, not least the 10-year bond requiring that you pay the government to borrow your money. This has been true in Japan for a while, and on Tuesday the yield on the 10-year benchmark German bund also fell into negative territory for the first time.
Negative interest rates have yielded (sorry) to bonds that not only pay nothing, but oblige investors to pay the state "for the privilege of holding their money and returning it after a decade, which is a large chunk of the average human lifetime." The conventional wisdom is that amid the market volatility surrounding the British referendum on the UK's future place in the European Union, investors are willing to park their money in a sovereign asset for a fee. Rubbish. Negative-return bonds are the natural next step of negative interest rates.
Zero Hedge reminds us that negative yields are not as novel as the reaction about the news regarding German bonds suggests:
As a reminder, in its latest calculation in early June, Fitch estimated that the total amount of fixed-rate sovereign debt trading at negative yields grew to $10.4 trillion ($7.3 trillion long term and $3.1 trillion short term) as of May 31, up 5% from the $9.9 trillion that Fitch calculated as of April 25. Of this Japan still by far the largest source. Modest declines in Japanese, Italian, German and French sovereign yields during the month drove the $0.5 trillion increase in the total stock of negative-yielding debt.
Michael Kruger of Bloomberg says to expect bond yields to continue to fall, due to both the sluggish global economy and the dearth of (effective) policy tools that central banks have to deal with slow growth.
Deutsche Asset Management Chief Investment Officer Stefan Kreuzkamp said in a note to clients on Wednesday that the negative interest rates on so-called German Bunds showed that markets have been so distorted by central banks that they were no longer representative of the investment environment.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Household data by quintile
Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has a fascinating chart on how much each quintile of households earn in market income, receive in government transfers, pay in taxes, and receive in government benefits per tax dollar paid. Top income earners are more than carrying their weight, so let's end the "fair share" talking point. If anything, we could ask if low income household are paying their fair share.
The Detroit Lions are going to get cheerleaders. The obvious joke is that football fans in Motown need a reason to come to Ford Field and cheer, and the players on the gridiron aren't providing it. I'm sure every real football fan would prefer the Lions organization bringing in a couple of capable wide receivers to replace Megatron over young ladies shaking their stuff. I'm very happy that the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of five remaining teams to eschew the sideline distraction, along with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, and New York Giants. It is tempting to note that some of these teams are owned by Catholic families (the Steelers and Giants) or all of them have deep-seeded football tradition, but along with Detroit the final six holdouts are all northern cities where cheerleading in December and, in the playoffs, January wouldn't be very much fun the young women or the fans (inevitably the cheerleaders would be over-clothed).
Pro football is a great product and doesn't need cheerleaders. No fan will stop watching the game if teams sent the cheerleaders packing. I hate throwing the word "exploitation" around, but it really does seem like cheerleaders get a shitty deal.
55 years ago today, the multiverse was introduced to the DC universe
Wikipedia has an article on the issue "Flash of Two Worlds."
2016 watch (Candidate v. Press edition)
The Wall Street Journal reports: "Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday said his campaign is revoking the press credentials of the Washington Post, citing its coverage of the candidate’s comments on the Orlando shooting." He considers the paper dishonest (and phony, which is a weird adjective) because, Trump says, it misrepresented his (rambling) comments on the Orlando terrorist attack and President Barack Obama. I'm not sure this is the wrong move, at least from a political standpoint. Trump isn't hurt when the media goes after him, and maybe getting tough with them will improve how journalists cover his campaign.
Representatives of the Post say that Trump's actions violate the principles of the free press, but the value of a free press is negated when journalists write biased or incorrect reports on politicians.
Trump could help himself by helping journalists understand what the hell he's saying by not talking in run-on, rambling, often incoherent sentences.
Ontario cabinet tinkering
David Reevely of the Ottawa Citizen says that Kathleen Wynne's cabinet
The changes are a facelift rather than a total reconstruction, with most senior ministers remaining exactly where they were before: the ministers of finance, health, transportation, environment and economic development all kept their jobs, and so did many lower-level ministers.Wynne’s right-hand woman, Deb Matthews, stayed as deputy premier but exchanged her position as president of the province’s treasury board, responsible for squeezing every possible dollar out of the province’s budgets to try to close Ontario’s multibillion-dollar annual budget deficit, for one in charge of advanced education, skills development and “digital government.”Matthews’ shift is symbolic of the whole shuffle: The fundamentals of Wynne’s government stay the same, but she’s turning its attention from getting Ontario’s act together to working up new successes that will show the Liberals are worth re-electing in two years ...Wynne managed to engineer a cabinet shuffle in which almost nobody got demoted. Four old veterans departed more or less willingly and she named more ministers, but nobody was dropped without warning and only two ministers lost responsibilities. Michael Chan gave up his citizenship and immigration duties but kept international trade; Tracy MacCharles gave up responsibilities for children and youth, a ministry with a real budget for a range of children’s health services in particular, and took on accessibility, where she’ll be more of an advocate than an overseer (she keeps women’s issues).Those are minor changes. Kathleen Wynne’s government is much as it was before, for better or for worse.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says he is voting for Brexit because it's all about the supremacy of Parliament. While it is sometimes wrapped around other issues, ultimately this is the case every campaigner for Leave is making. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Tyler Cowen calls this "by far the best case for it" if he means the argument, not how it is marvelously stated by Evans-Pritchard.
Dion brings petty Canadian politics to Turtle Bay
David Akin has a very good column in the Sun papers today, which challenges one of the current government's favourite, self-congratulatory, and, frankly, puerile themes: Canada's back. Akin writes
Speaking to the United Nations Security Council Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion couldn’t help himself.“Canada is back,” he declared as he closed his brief remarks endorsing the (obvious) idea that civilians need better protection during U.N. peacekeeping operations.We’ve heard this phrase a lot — too much — from Justin Trudeau’s ministers as they speechify in the House of Commons, across the country and around the world.For a domestic audience, Dion and other Liberals who use the phrase “Canada is back” intend it to be interpreted as drive-by sneer at the foreign policy of the government of Stephen Harper.But to an international audience, like the one at the security council Friday that heard Dion use this phrase, “Canada is back” will sound confusing and make Canada’s current government seem petty and provincial.Canada is back? What can that mean? To the regulars at UN headquarters in New York City, Canada has never left and has been a visible and steady presence all through the Harper decade.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
2016 watch (The race to be slightly less unpopular)
Nolan Finley in the Detroit News:
Both candidates are spending most of their campaign energy doing a job that has already been done — trashing the image of their opponent.These are the two least-liked presidential candidates in history. Each has a negative rating with voters approaching 60 percent. It’s hard to imagine those numbers can get much worse.The challenge ahead of them is to improve their own numbers. To make people like them. And more importantly, to make people trust them.
Question: do attack ads work on opponents who are already at 60-65% disapproval?
I don't know if HRC or The Donald can make people like them. Clinton has a quarter-century track record to undo and Trump is probably the most media-exposed candidate in American political history. It will be extremely difficult for either to change a significant segment of the voting public's impression of them.
If it were not part of the EU, would the UK vote to join it?
Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph: "Life in the EU is hardly going to get better. Would we vote to join?" Booker writes:
But if we weren’t already in it today, is it conceivable that we would now wish to join the European Union as it has become? What a sad place it now looks. We see it hopelessly embroiled in that seemingly insoluble crisis brought on it by its hubristic gamble over the euro. We see the chaos into which it has been plunged by its equally reckless “open borders” policy, faced with that uncontrollable flood of migrants, not only from outside Europe but within it. All over the EU we see angry people flocking to join “anti-Brussels” parties.
In many ways voting to not join and voting to leave are not the same issue, but it is a useful exercise.
Headed toward Mars? Temper that excitement.
The Washington Post reports that Elon Musk has more details -- more of an idea than details, precisely -- on his goal of sending human beings to Mars by 2025. Musk has long been an advocate of colonizing the Red Planet and equates sending an expedition there to pioneers coming to the New World. It all sounds very exciting but as Gregg Easterbrook has been saying for years, it is impractical. Writing in Time magazine in 2004 (scroll down), Easterbook noted: "there are vital differences between Lewis and Clark's expedition [to the American West] and a Mars mission. First, Lewis and Clark were headed to a place amenable to life; hundreds of thousands of people were already living there." This is not insignificant; getting people through the months-long journey to Mars is relatively simple, though not easy. Mars is inhospitable given current technology. And even if it were possible, not even Musk has enough money. Estimates from 1989 had the cost of going to Mars at $400 billion; at the time of Easterbrook's essay in 2004 dollars, that would be $600 billion. It would cost even more now.
Musk wants to establish a cargo route to Mars by 2018 and says it will be inexpensive, but hasn't described how he is lowering costs. Journalists should be a whole lot more skeptical of Musk's claims.