Mao’s Inhumanity to Man

Human beings are capable of many wonderful things: creating inspiring works of art, curing debilitating and deadly ailments, connecting the corners of the world with ever more impressive technologies of transport and communication. Though not the stuff of newspaper headlines, most of us contribute at least in some way to the betterment of our fellow man and woman through our productive work. We also perform many small yet significant acts of kindness and respect that reaffirm the value and dignity of each individual, as well as acts of love that signify even more. Read more

In Praise of Shame

Human beings are flawed creatures. All of us are afflicted, to some degree, by laziness, greed, selfishness, dishonesty and every other distasteful characteristic that haunts our species. Living in civilized society requires us to suppress that side of our nature, and so we’ve developed all kinds of mechanisms to keep those impulses at bay. One of the more important ones, no doubt, is shame: the idea that there are certain things that one simply does not say or do in public, no matter how much one may want to, out of fear that those around us will disapprove.

I was recently reminded of the great value of shame, as I read an interview with Montreal restaurateur David McMillan. McMillan’s flagship restaurant, Joe Beef, needs no introduction to Montreal foodies. Consistently rated as one of the best in the country – if not the world – Joe Beef has flourished in one of the toughest dining markets around. Read more

Talking past each other on identity politics

The debate about whether ‘identity politics’ is crucial or dangerous to liberalism is on. And it is frustrating.

Jacob Levy came out swinging yesterday in defence of the crucial role of identity politics in liberalism, against arguments about the role of identity politics in the rise of illiberalism (and Trumpism) in the U.S., such as those presented by Reason’s Robby Soave and in Mark Lilla’s recent NYT piece. Jason Kuznicki has responded to Levy. Elsewhere, Tom Palmer names identity politics as a danger to liberalism in his fabulous essay on the three fronts of growing anti-libertarianism.

The first order of business seems to be to decide what, exactly, we mean by ‘identity politics’. Jason Kuznicki agrees:

“An equivocation is occurring here, between good and bad, both claiming to be “identity politics.” In cases like that, it’s morally imperative to differentiate rather than to lump together.”

I am concerned about identity politics as it’s represented by Tom Palmer and Jason Kuznicki, so I’ll draw from them as I take a stab at nailing down a definition of the ‘identity politics’ that worries me.
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Compromise and responsibility in the bureaucratic state

“If we have proportional representation, the government will have to compromise.”
 
As opposed to what? Whether the compromise takes place as it does now between factions of one party, or — as it supposedly will under PR — between parties, what difference will it make to the voters?
 
Here’s one difference: when party factions compromise, someone has to take responsibility for the result. When different parties compromise in a coalition… Not so much.
 
If you’ve ever worked in a bureaucracy with, uh, diffuse responsibility for decisions, you may appreciate my misgivings about this “reform”.

Time to rehabilitate a pejorative?

As folks struggle to deal with the populist, anti-market realignment on the right, Godwin’s law has been making itself more relevant. People who make the mistake of equating today’s right-populism with national socialism might be forgiven, even if they go too far, for a more appropriate term has been drained of meaning: fascism.

Anyone who says that politicians today are fascist sounds nuts. The word has been applied indiscriminately to dismiss people and policies so often that it’s devoid of meaning, though it’s broadly associated with an unhinged lust for power, disregard for constitutional law, and eugenic racism. But the original intent of fascism aimed at none of these things. I’ve written on how modest the tenets of fascism sound in today’s political climate. Steve Horwitz has been pressing the applicability of the technical term since last summer. The fact is that, fallen as the word might be, there’s simply not a good substitute.

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The Sham of Democratic Reform

Often, when politicians break their promises the voters politely look the other way. After all, they understand that such promises are not to be taken seriously. Occasionally, however, a commitment comes back to haunt the candidate that abandons it, and Justin Trudeau’s guarantee that last year’s vote “will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system” may be among them. While it was always going to be difficult to pivot away from such a clear pledge, the Liberals’ response to the report submitted by the all-party committee they themselves created was particularly inelegant, as the responsible minister insulted its authors, mocked their use of mathematics, and did little to dispel the notion that the entire exercise was a sham. Read more

Who’d a Thunk It?

Canada’s Auditor General used his fall report to Parliament to break 2016’s least surprising item: the federal government is a mess that stubbornly refuses to clean itself up. The litany of chronic problems that Michael Ferguson notes include the following:

  1. “Programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services.”
  2. “Programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served.”
  3. “Regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate.”
  4. “Public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on for a myriad of reasons—such as systems that are outdated or just not working, or data that is unreliable or incomplete, not suited to the needs, or not being used.”

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Not to Praise Castro, but to Bury Him

The life of a revolutionary need not be a hard one: having survived so long one wondered if he was immortal, former Cuban President Fidel Castro died yesterday at age 90. Unsurprisingly, the news was greeted with intense reactions; if nothing else, the man left few people indifferent.

By any reasonable standard, Castro was a disaster for his country. He leaves behind an impoverished land virtually devoid of freedom, where the most banal opening constitutes a major reform. His party won praise for Cuba’s education system, even as it imposed strict censorship, banned private libraries and cut its people off from the world. It won accolades for a healthcare system in which infant mortality is reduced by aborting “substandard” fetuses and doctors are rented to foreign governments like chattel. Castro’s recklessness came close to triggering global nuclear war. His destruction of Cuba’s economy left people on the brink of starvation when Soviet aid collapsed. Many Cubans preferred to float through shark-infested waters on precarious rafts rather than endure his socialist paradise. And not once did Castro give Cubans an opportunity to choose a path different from the one he imposed on them. Read more

The right’s brittle support for trade

As the American right jettisons support for international trade, globalist conservatives despair – and rightly so. An insular world is less prosperous and less peaceful. Opposition to trade seems to fly in the face of the core beliefs of Republicans in the United States and worries Conservatives in Canada, where broadly conservative pundit Ezra Levant has renounced his support for trade and Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch romanticises Trump’s victory.

Is the shift really so surprising? Since the end of the Cold War, the left has accepted limited support for markets, but conservatives have backed off of their deeply rooted support for trade. Many are worried by things like the ‘elephant chart’, shared widely by conservatives and progressives alike on social media, and what it means for… well, what trade means. But trade long ago became more a talking point than a pillar of conservative policy beliefs.  Read more

Government Isn’t the Solution

If US presidents have accumulated genuinely terrifying powers, such as the authority to execute American citizens without trial, it’s in part because they built on lesser powers that have accumulated over time in the Oval Office and in Washington generally. To roll back the powers that everyone agrees are scary, we also need to roll back those that some believe are appropriate. And that means changing how we think about achieving our policy objectives.

There’s no shortage of policy goals we could use as an example, but let’s take increasing access to birth control among low-income women. If you can’t relate because you don’t think that this goal is desirable, don’t worry, this same reasoning could apply to almost any other objective.

Currently, the most commonly-advocated way to promote access to low-cost birth control seems to be enacting a law; for example, one to provide direct subsidies or to oblige health insurers to cover it. The goal is achieved by compelling third parties to assist women in obtaining their pills, IUDs, etc. An alternative approach, one that’s perhaps less-commonly touted, is to support groups, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide birth control to women in need.

Which alternative is better? Read more