Sobering Thoughts

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).

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Monday, February 08, 2016
 
Immigration and income inequality
Via Marginal Revolution we learn of a forthcoming paper by Rui Xi:
This paper proposes an additional channel through which highly skilled immigrants change the underlying talent distribution and thus raise top income inequality. This channel is supported by the empirical observation that immigrants are increasingly represented among top income earners ... Based on my preliminary calculation, the change in immigration patterns can explain 10 – 15% of the observed rise in top income inequality in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the study is not yet available.


 
2016 watch (Vagina voters edition)
The New York Times reports that feminist Gloria Steinem and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright have "scolded" and "rebuked" young women who are supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. Albright said the fight for women's rights is not complete and strongly implied that young women who don't support Hillary are going to hell ("there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other") as if the only way to advance women's rights is by voting for a woman. If it came down to Bernie Sanders versus Carly Fiorina, would Albright insist that young women help the female candidate in that race? Of course not. Steinem said last week that young women are supporting Sanders because that's "where the boys are" although the feminist icon has since apologized for her statement, claiming that her comments were "misinterpreted as implying young women aren't serious in their politics," which is what she was clearly saying. Polls show that in New Hampshire, where Sanders appears to have a huge lead, 64% of women under 45 are backing Sanders compared to 35% who are supporting Clinton. This might have something to do with HRC's foreign policy hawkishness or Sanders' strong support of an expanded state with universal "free" health care and "free" university tuition; polls consistently show women more skeptical of foreign military adventurism and supportive of Big Government. Modern liberalism has set up the state as the caring and caretaking alternative to a husband thus ensuring that the candidate that offers the most government "freebies" to voters will win over young women. Sanders, not Clinton, is that candidate.


 
Because 'why not?'
As Small Dead Animals tweets: "The world is being run by crazy people."


Sunday, February 07, 2016
 
Super Bowl 50
I didn't have the time to watch old games and read as much analysis as I would like in order to put some meaningful thoughts to paper (or keyboard) and come up with a quality Super Bowl analysis or prediction. I suggest you read the long Football Outsiders analysis and the insightful Bill Barnwell piece at ESPN (in the process of writing it, he changed his mind that Denver might win). The Carolina Panthers are 5.5 favourites last I checked and I'd take that because of a propensity to take the foot off the pedal or the fact Denver's defense is excellent which should prevent the Panthers from opening a huge lead in the first place. I'd take Denver simply because the spread is too big, but it is hard to bet against Carolina winning. Football fans are probably over-estimating how dominant the Panthers are based on their destruction of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game, but that was less about Carolina winning than Arizona losing as they turned the ball over six times (including five interceptions). I'll predict a 23-20 Carolina victory, with near zero confidence. I'm cheering for Denver but that's only because I want to see Peyton Manning go out on top.


 
Should be a good week
It begins with Super Bowl 50, ends next Sunday with the return of The Walking Dead, and has a great middle.


 
Coalition of the awful


 
Will on football
George Will jumps on bandwagon to criticize football for concussions and CTE, concluding: "Are today’s parents, who put crash helmets on tykes before they put the tykes on tricycles, going to allow these children to play football? Not likely." Gregg Easterbrook often says that pro football can afford the lawsuits, but high schools can't, nor will public schools be able to afford the insurance.


Saturday, February 06, 2016
 
The end of Twitter. Not.
Alex Tabarrok says we will soon learn to not only live with, but love the Twitter algorithm:
Think of the algorithm as an administrative assistant that sorts your letters, sending bills to your accountant, throwing out junk mail, and keeping personal letters for your perusal. The assistant also reads half a dozen newspapers before you wake to find the articles he thinks that you will most want to read that morning. Who wouldn’t want such an assistant?
Keep calm and tweet on.


 
Mosquitoes
Samizdata's Perry Metzger says it is "gravely immoral" to not exterminate all mosquitoes. Queue outrage, despite no mention of DDT (until comments) as Metzger focuses on "death trait" genetic engineering. This isn't just about Zika virus: "Few actions could reduce human misery and improve the condition of mankind so greatly as the permanent elimination of mosquitoes and the myriad of diseases they spread throughout the world."


 
2016 watch (Advice for GOP edition)
Possibilities also include Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And independent candidate Donald Trump.
But probably not Al Gore.


 
Electoral reform
I have a Q&A format article in the February Interim on electoral reform, with a focus on why social conservatives should care about it.


Friday, February 05, 2016
 
Liberals, Tories debate deficits
PostMedia's David Akin reports on the back-and-forth between Conservative Finance critic Lisa Raitt and federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Morneau said, "Let me remind the House that the previous government added $150 billion to our national debt yet still managed to have the worst economic growth record since the depth of the Great Depression." Might this not be an argument against deficits to stimulate the economy, as the Liberals are promising to in their forthcoming budget? Morneau would respond that it is how the money is spent, not the amount of money, that leads to growth, but he still handed a talking point to his political opponents: "the Finance Minister himself admitted that adding to the national debt does nothing to improve economic growth."


 
The Left and terror
CapX interviewed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens about the legacy of Jeanne Kirkpatrick and how she sought to balance interests and values. CapX American editor Abby W. Schachter asks Stephens why, if the public rates terrorism as an important issue, the Democrats (the Obama administration, the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination) do not seem to take it seriously. Stephens answers:
The basic liberal belief in terms of foreign policy is that the only sin is American overreaction. And if you listen to the Obama administration, the consistent message has been that terrorism is a nuisance threat. We should deal with it, we should try to stop it but the worst thing that could happen is to treat it as an existential threat that would lead to invading other countries and curtailing civil liberties.
That analysis seems correct, not as an indictment of the Left but rather an observation. (Stephens and many on the Right will consider it an indictment.)
I think the same could be said of Justin Trudeau in Canada. It is not that terrorism is not a problem, but rather it is not the existential threat the Right sees it as and thus responding to terror is just one of dozens of foreign policy matters to be addressed.


 
2016 watch ('The Libertarian Moment' edition)
Ben Domenech of The Federalist has a good essay rebutting the argument that Senator Rand Paul's fifth place finish in Iowa and subsequent end to his presidential campaign signifies the end of "The Libertarian Moment." Domenech says that Paul didn't do better in the primaries in part because of changes in the country (legalizing gay marriage and pot), movement in the Republican Party (taking on criminal justice reform), and the other Republican presidential aspirants (Ted Cruz and Donald Trump sharing some of Paul's skepticism on foreign adventurism). Far from the Libertarian Moment having come and gone, it is now part of the political landscape and, perhaps more importantly for it to have lasting influence, a vital vein in the Republican Party. As Domenech says, Paul finished fifth, with more votes than Establishment candidates like governors John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush did. But now, Domenech says, Paul's views are "the stuff of the Senate, not the presidency." And that's fine as the Senate is the institution where one person can push back against the insanity and make a difference, whether it be stopping bad legislation through the filibuster or using the bully pulpit the position has to educate the party and the public about the U.S. Constitution and the principles of liberty.


 
Manning's advice to the Alberta Right
Writing in the Calgary Herald Preston Manning has some advice the Wildrose and Alberta Progressive Conservative parties based on what he learned about uniting the Right on the national stage. He fleshes out each of these lessons: Build on principles, balance, incremental steps, grassroots involvement and consent, and respect current leaders.


 
2016 watch (Relative endorsements)
Via Hot Air, we find that Jimmy Carter prefers Donald Trump over Ted Cruz, because the businessman "does not have any fixed opinions" while Cruz "is not malleable." As Hot Air's Allah Pundit wonders, "How valuable is this anti-endorsement to Cruz?"


 
Cutting greenhouse gases ...
Won't be painless, the Globe and Mail reminds readers:
Last Friday, Environment and Climate Change Canada, as the federal department has been renamed, very quietly posted its latest GHG projections for 2020 and 2030. They aren’t good.
In 2020, emissions will hit 768 megatonnes of carbon dioxide – way above Canada’s target of 622. By 2030, they will have jumped to 815 megatonnes, compared with a target for that year of 524 ...
Justin Trudeau came to power with a promise to cut GHG emissions and put a price on carbon. He made a show of attending the Paris climate talks in December, where he got a warm welcome. But that was the easy part. Now he has to find ways to reverse the runaway emissions train that Canada has been riding for years.
The hope is a technology fix (cleaner ways to get oil out of the ground, better mileage for cars), but in all likelihood it will mean a lower standard of living or (more likely) the continuation of increased GHG emissions.


Thursday, February 04, 2016
 
Time 'interviews' Hillary Clinton
Time's Joe Klein interviewed Hillary Clinton. Two blow-jobby excerpts:
[Klein:] I was watching you in Iowa last week and you were working so hard and by the way, really well. And then I saw what happened last night and it occurred to me that it’s never easy for you in politics.
That's not even a question, and yet that's how Klein begins the interview, at least according to the transcript that appears online. Perhaps the Clintons require interviewers to be supplicants, lavishing praise on them -- "you were working so hard" and working "really well" -- but journalists should refuse this (I hope, implicit) condition.
Klein prefaces the third question with this:
I love the ad of you and your lifetime support for children’s issues and seeing you with those pictures going all the way back.
I don't recall being told in J-school that there is a rule, "don't tell interview subjects 'I love you/your X'," but you would think that this rule is understood by journalists. If Klein had the capacity for embarrassment, he should be embarrassed by this interview. I doubt he is.
For the record, this is the 30th time Hillary Clinton has been on the cover of Time.


 
2016 watch (Rand Paul edition)
I was swamped yesterday and did not comment on Senator Rand Paul's exit from the Republican presidential primaries. Paul was my overwhelming first choice for the GOP nomination. There are Republicans with whom I can live (Governor John Kasich, maybe Governor Chris Christie and former governor Jeb Bush) and others for which I am more enthusiastic now that the field is becoming clearer (Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, for very different reasons, despite their substantial shortcomings). I lean toward Cruz because he's more libertarian; for an excellent review of whether Cruz is libertarian enough for Rand Paul's former supporters read Scott Shackford's thorough "After Focusing on Social Conservatives, Can Cruz Appeal to Rand Paul’s Liberty-Minded Voters?" (What Shackford does not acknowledge, however, is that Paul, as a thoughtful federalist pro-lifer, had some appeal to socons himself.)
I agree with the Cato Institute's David Boaz that Paul could have enlarged the Republican tent by appealing to new voters, including youth and blacks. Boaz says, "No other candidate in either party spent so much time talking about civil liberties issues." Certainly no one talked about civil liberties more substantially than Paul, and that will be missed. And that's why, as the New York Sun says in an editorial, his leadership in Congress is still necessary. He can be the conscience of an institution that never asks "Is this constitutional?" or "should the government being doing this?"


 
$25 million for Toronto bike lanes
The Toronto Sun's Mike Strobel does not like city councilor Mike Layton, crown prince of Toronto’s cycling royal family, idea to spend $25 million building new bike lanes in Toronto. Strobel's argument is basically that Layton is a bike-zealot and that there just aren't that many bicyclists. Both points are true, but the better one is that the city has limited resources and every dollar spent on bike lanes for the downtown is a dollar not spent on priority neighbourhoods and the needy. Despite the belief by the Left, especially on Toronto city council that there is a bottomless well from which to draw taxpayer dollars, there are limits and governing involves choices. The principle of opportunity cost -- the decision to spend a dollar on X means no or less funds for Y -- is an economic idea they simply don't understand.


 
Lowe's takeover of Rona
The Globe and Mail rightly applauds the Quebec government's decision not to block the takeover of Quebec-based Rona by U.S. home renovation giant Lowe's. The Globe incredulously asked in 2012 when Lowe's tried to buy Rona and the Parti Quebecois government of the day threatened to nix the deal, "So now hardware stores are 'strategic assets' too?" The PQ under Pierre Karl Péladeau is still calling for the the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec pension fund, Rona's largest shareholder, to block the deal. But it's a stretch to consider hardware stores a strategic asset that cannot be owned by foreign companies.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016
 
'Keep an Eye on Kasich As Primaries Advance To the Next Stage'
I saw this headline at the New York Sun and I was excited to read the column or editorial because I expect intelligent analysis from Sun contributors, but then I saw Conrad Black wrote the needlessly long essay, so fuck it.


 
Canadians, including Liberal voters, don't want massive deficits
The Angus Reid Institute surveyed Canadians on the economy, both their feelings about the state of the economy and the government response to what's happening. More than four-in-ten Canadians are worried about the state of the economy and think things will get worse (42%), with another 16% saying they are not worried but think things will get worse. In other words, nearly 60% of Canadians think the economy will get worse, implying little faith in the Trudeau government's ability to address Canada's economic woes.
Asked what the government's top priority should be, a fair tax system and controlling inflation were the top two priorities (39% each), with just over a third of Canadians wanting the deficit controlled (35%) or the economy primed through greater deficit spending to create jobs (34%). (Respondents were asked their top two priorities, so the numbers exceed 100%.) Asked specifically about deficits, a plurality (44%) say the Liberal government should keep its campaign promise to limit budget deficits to $10 billion over each of the next few years, while a third (34%) say the government shouldn't run a deficit at all; just 22% say the Liberal government should spend "as much as is needed" to promote job and economic growth. That means more than three-quarters of Canadians do not want deficits larger than $10 billion annually. Interestingly, a majority of Liberal voters (56%) want the government to maintain its $10 billion budget deficit pledge, while 32% say Ottawa should spend more. Will the Trudeau government heed the wishes of their own supporters? Probably not. Many of us assumed Justin Trudeau had no intention of keeping that promise and Finance Minister Bill Morneau has redefined the goal of the government to tie deficits to the size of the economy, not the (admittedly arbitrary) $10 billion limit. Will it matter politically in four years? Probably not if the economy picks up, but if the economy sputters or stagnates for a few years it won't matter what the first couple Liberal budgets look like.


 
What makes a great speechwriter
A few months ago Real Clear Books interviewed Barton Swaim, who worked for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, which became fodder for The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics. First, "speechwriters" are generally "writers" who produce not only speeches but thank you notes and op-eds.
Asked by John Waters, "What skills must this particular writer possess in order to craft the best letters, memos and speeches for a politician?" Swaim responds:
It also helps if you’re able to forget about your hang-ups and annoyances. If you’re, for example, extremely concerned about grammatical correctness, speechwriting is probably not what you want to do for a living. If your boss likes the phrase “at the end of the day” and it annoys you – as it should – you’re just going to have to write “at the end of the day” and live with it. If he likes a certain overused metaphor – maybe he likes to call every big decision a “crossroads” – you’ve just got to go with it.
Asked "is political speech disingenuous or is it merely functional?" -- a false dichotomy that does not begin to assess the possibilities of political speech -- Swaim says:
[W]e expect our politicians to speak all the time, about everything, even about things they’re not interested in. So there’s just no way they can win. They do the only possible thing they can do: They express themselves in bland language, generalities, unwieldy abstractions that nobody can object to.
I'd say I hate politicians as much as the next guy, but that's not true; I hate them much more. But I have a certain sympathy for them when they trip on their words or are held to a ridiculous standard for mistake-free speaking considering how much they talk, how often they are asked about items and issues large and small. Ideally, we'd hear from politicians less often.


 
Occupational licensing stifles economic opportunity
Politico reported yesterday on Senate subcommittee hearings that are examining how "over-licensing significantly limits professional opportunities for people who need them most." Politico reports that "Since the 1950s, the percentage of jobs licensed at the state level has quintupled, rising from 5 percent to at least 25 percent," an egregious increase in limiting economic opportunity. From cosmetologists to tree trimmers to interior designers to packagers, the list is long and ridiculous. Many require payments of hundreds of dollars and hundreds of days, if not years, of training. We aren't talking about doctors here, we are talking about people who braid hair or put things in boxes. Politico notes "the level of licensing defies the traditional red state/blue state divide," with states like Louisiana and Arizona at the top of the tables depending on how you want count the regulations.
Politico reports:
The costs of these licensing requirements are borne by American workers who forgo these professions and the U.S. economy as a whole. A 2011 paper by University of Minnesota professor Dr. Morris Kleiner estimated that “licensing results in 2.85 million fewer jobs,” mostly in low- and middle-income professions. These burdens fall hardest on veterans, immigrants and people who run afoul of the criminal justice system.
Similarly, licensing hinders entrepreneurship in low-income communities. Stephen Slivinski, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University, concluded in early 2015 that states with the highest rate of occupational licensure “had an average entrepreneurship rate 11 percent lower than the average for all states.” At the other end, states with fewer licenses saw increased low-income entrepreneurship.
Occupational licensing does not exist to protect consumers, as many politicians, bureaucrats, and professional bodies claim. It exists to protect those vested interests who are fortunate enough to already be employed in the profession. Fortunately, there is a growing bipartisan understanding of the perniciousness of occupational licensing and the harm it does to low- and middle-income Americans by limiting employment opportunities, increasing the costs of goods and services provided by the protected occupations by decreasing choice for consumers, and retarding economic growth in general.
This is not only an economic issue, but a moral one: rewarding rent-seeking by vested interests at the cost of people trying to get a start in a profession is wrong.
(HT: Senator Mike Lee on Twitter)


 
A welcome welcoming of Uber
The Globe and Mail praises Edmonton permitting Uber to operate in the Alberta capital:
Thus, Uber agrees to a litany of conditions – safety and criminal record checks, commercial insurance coverage, minimum charges, an annual operating fee – and the legacy cabs’ monopoly is broken.
It’s a sensible arrangement, and one that’s good for customers. Ride-sharing operations have produced tangible benefits: In some U.S. cities they’ve expanded transit options in places poorly served by taxis and municipal services.
In Canada, stultified, comfortable monopolies have been forced to improve, innovate and in some cases – gasp! – lower prices.
And the Globe's editorial condemns the heavy-handedness of the taxi industry in Montreal:
In the continuing battle against the market-disrupting interloper, lawyers for Quebec’s 4,000 cab drivers and licence owners were in court on Tuesday morning seeking an injunction to shut Uber down for good.
That includes the unusual and technically difficult demand of rendering the company’s successful mobile app inaccessible in Quebec.
The taxi drivers have also announced plans to file a class-action suit seeking to recoup lost revenues since the California company’s arrival. At least they’ve dropped all pretense that this is about anything other than money and market share.


 
2016 watch (Bernie Sanders edition)
Only a gazillion dollars to catch up to Hillary Clinton.


 
2016 watch (bad advice edition)
John Hudak of the Brookings Institute says that Hillary Clinton should take the advice of a fictional character (Toby from West Wing) and skip New Hampshire. She's going to lose anyway, she might as well campaign where her time will pay rewards. The problem with this strategy is that it will make Clinton look weak, and after tying Senator Bernie Sanders in Iowa, the former First Lady cannot continue to look weak without it compromising her support in other primary/caucus states.


 
2016 watch (Bryan Caplan bets)
I would make the same wagers as economist Bryan Caplan: even odds $50 against Ted Cruz winning the GOP presidential nomination and 2:1 for $40 against Hillary Clinton winning the presidency.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016
 
'We're the Only Animals With Chins, and No One Knows Why'
And as The Atlantic's Ed Yong reports, evolutionary biologists can't explain why.


 
Brick and mortar Amazon
Tyler Cowen has a link to the story and wonders "What is the underlying business plan?":
To make these iconic locations like Apple stores? To treat all future business, in all sectors, as depending on the focality of the company behind it? To start with books, move on to other items, and eventually steal middle-class and upper-middle class consumers away from Walmart? Somehow use these stores to lock people in Amazon Prime? Do you have other hypotheses? Is this overconfident folly, or is it the “for good” return of brick and mortar bookstores to our lives?
I think this answer in the comments section sound correct: "Premium locations not too far from cheaper shipping/logistics not-quite-warehouses for quicker fulfillment."


 
What happened in Iowa
Writing in the New York Post, John Podhoretz explains why Senator Ted Cruz won:
He won with the most votes any Republican has ever gotten in an Iowa caucus, through old-fashioned means — and because he appealed to voters for the old-fashioned reasons politicians appeal to voters.
Cruz built a sensationally effective ground organization, at least twice as large as any other candidate’s. He had 12,000 volunteers (a fourth of his vote total) ringing doorbells, making phone calls, and gathering people to show up and caucus. He worked for and secured important endorsements.
More importantly, he ran a campaign affirming classic conservative ideas of particular resonance to the voters of Iowa. They did not fall for Donald Trump’s vainglorious and solipsistic blather about making America great again without ever explaining how on earth he would do such a thing.
I don't typically go for this sort of analysis: "In fact, 75 percent of the Republicans of Iowa rejected Trump’s nonsense." That's almost true of Cruz and Marco Rubio, too, and more so for Ben Carson and Rand Paul and John Kasich. But to the degree that the caucus was a referendum on Donald Trump, Podhoretz is correct.


 
Iowa takeaways
Jim Geraghty has ten takeaways from the Iowa caucus. I agree with them all except regarding Bernie Sanders, who I think needed to win by a few percentage points. He needed to prove he could win outside New England, and he didn't. And this is a really important question: "Does Trump have a good get-out-the-vote operation anywhere? Is he a paper tiger?
One betting market has Marco Rubio at over 50% to win the GOP nomination.