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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Sunday, October 04, 2015
Natural science is endlessly interesting. And human beings even more so.
George Will:
Our wee solar system is an infinitesimally small smudge among uncountable billions of galaxies, each with uncountable billions of stars. Our Milky Way galaxy, where we live, probably has 40 billion planets approximately Earth’s size. Looking at the sky through a drinking straw, the spot you see contains 10,000 galaxies. Yet the cosmos is not crowded: If there were just three bees in America, the air would be more congested with bees than space is with stars. Matter, however, is not all that matters.
And Will on the James Webb Space Telescope being developed at Johns Hopkins University:
Webb will not shed light on two interesting questions: How many universes are there? Is everything the result of a meaningless cosmic sneeze, or of an intentional First Cause? Webb will, however, express our species’ dignity as curious creatures.

Saturday, October 03, 2015
Regulation prevents markets from transmitting information
Adam Millsap, a research fellow for the State and Local Policy Project with the Mercatus Center, at Inside Sources, on one (under-appreciated) reason regulations hamper economic growth:
Economists have long maintained that profit and loss are important signals, which relay information about the most efficient use of scarce resources. Like losses, firm failures also serve a useful function. A recent study in the Journal of Regional Science finds evidence that both firm openings and closings positively affect subsequent entrepreneurship and employment growth in metropolitan areas. The researchers contend that firm closings — when combined with new openings — transmit valuable information to future entrepreneurs about the local economic environment such as the level of demand, availability of financing, and quality of the labor force.
The more information prospective entrepreneurs have, the less likely they are to err, which increases their chance of success. This conclusion is probably not surprising to anyone who has ever learned what not to do by watching someone else make a mistake.
Regulations at both the federal and local level can prevent the information transmitted by firm openings and closings from ever materializing. This is because many regulations act as a barrier to entry that prevents entrepreneurs from ever serving a single customer. We can never know how many potential entrepreneurs have tried to start a business, only to run into some regulatory hurdle that made it impractical to continue. This type of “failure” is unseen and as such it doesn’t provide the same level of information to other entrepreneurs that traditional failures do.
Failure is an important aspect of markets, but regulations prevent new firms from entering into the marketplace thus limiting the amount of information that successful and failing firms can provide other entrepreneurs. I would add that regulations also keep some companies in business, therefore incentivizing sub-optimal investments in what should be failing businesses.

Cheering for Liberals or NDP, at least conditionally
I hope that Jennifer Hollett beats Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland in University-Rosedale. The less Freeland on TV talking about the economy, the better.
If the NDP were to form government, I would hope Liberal MP Adam Vaughan beats Olivia Chow in Spadina-Fort York because Chow would be a terrible cabinet minister, although it is difficult to imagine the NDP winning government while losing Spadina-Fort York. But if the Conservatives form government, I want Vaughan defeated, because he's only marginally less annoying that Freeland.
I'll take either the NDP or Bloc Quebecois in Papineau.
I'm going to give this more thought because there are certainly many ridings where the lesser evil must be cheered for.

The Bet
Alex Epstein talks to Pierre Desrochers about the 25th anniversary the bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. It's worth a listen.
I reviewed Paul Sabin's The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future last year for The Interim. Ehrlich's bet reinforces the notion posted earlier today that The Left hates, or at least, distrusts markets. Julian Simon had faith in both markets and people -- but I repeat myself because what are markets but the actions and decisions of billions of individuals?

There is no non-political argument against marketing boards
The Globe and Mail has a conversation with three economists (Eveline Adomait, Jack Mintz, and Christopher Ragan) about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and the most recent GDP numbers), and all three economists agree that marketing boards need to go. Mintz summarizes the case against quite nicely:
Supply management is like putting an excise tax on necessities – eggs, poultry and milk – and it hits low- and modest-income Canadians the hardest. Parties that seem so concerned about income inequality should be ashamed of themselves for supporting this policy. The argument that this is better than subsidies is callous given that this is a large transfer to a few firms covered by a regressive ‘tax.’ Australia has shown that supply management can be phased out by reimbursing those farmers who are affected with a tax on the product. With lower dairy and other prices, we could spawn export-oriented products quite successfully once input prices fall.
And here's Adomait:
The bottom line is that agricultural supply management, taxi medallions, the bridge to the U.S. at Windsor, the Beer Store and the LCBO are all making higher profits because they are monopolies.
The leaders of the five major political parties all publicly support marketing boards, siding with a small number of (mostly wealthy) farmers over every single consumer in Canada. Rob Silver once called marketing boards evil, and he's right. Any system that rewards well-connected suppliers at the expense of millions of low- and middle-income consumers is evil. No party that purports to care for the poor can defend this system, although the NDP and Liberals both do. (Hence, they don't really care for the poor.)

Against compulsory voting
At the Princeton University Press blog, Jason Brennan (author of, among other books, The Ethics of Voting), refutes William Galston's recent argument for mandatory voting. Brennan makes the case that moral goods should not be enforced, that compulsory voting doesn't achieve the social or political goods that advocates claim, and that the freedom to do something should imply the freedom to abstain. He will be expanding on some of these ideas in a future post.

Left and right explained
Bryan Caplan:
1. Leftists are anti-market. On an emotional level, they're critical of market outcomes. No matter how good market outcomes are, they can't bear to say, "Markets have done a great job, who could ask for more?"
2. Rightists are anti-leftist. On an emotional level, they're critical of leftists. No matter how much they agree with leftists on an issue, they can't bear to say, "The left is totally right, it would be churlish to criticize them."
Yes, this story is uncharitable and simplistic. But clarifying.
This is the best summary of the two sides of the political spectrum I've seen. If you want to add depth to the summary, you could say Leftists are reflexively anti-tradition and that rightists are reflexively anti-science.
Comments are worth reading; I found this one funny: "Capitalism cause leftists."

Friday, October 02, 2015
Trudeau isn't good with facts

A blow against civil asset forfeiture
The Toronto Star reports on an important legal case:
A Superior Court judge has struck back against the province’s efforts to expand civil forfeiture and seize property only tangentially linked to crime.
In a ruling published Wednesday, Justice David Corbett rejected a government bid to seize the sailboat of a man who had crashed it into another boat and fallen overboard. He was later picked up by police and found to have had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit.
While the conduct of Valentin Chygyrynskyy, 62, deserves criminal prosecution, Corbett wrote in his decision, “it does not warrant seizure of his sailboat.”
The case had serious implications for those caught drinking and driving and, had it been successful, could have opened the door to more widespread seizure of cars and trucks ...
The province did not claim the boat was purchased with the proceeds of crime, only that it was “likely” to be used in unlawful activity that would “likely” result in serious injury.
“The law was never intended to lead to forfeiture in these circumstances: it was aimed at organized crime and intentional crime undertaken for personal gain,” Corbett wrote in his decision.

Conservatives need their own online infrastructure not more right-wing news sites/aggregators
Mark Steyn:
During her visit to New York for the grand UN dictators' ball, Angela Merkel was overheard rebuking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for permitting people to post "anti-immigrant" sentiments on social media ...
The very small cartel that run "social media" worldwide are increasingly hostile to free speech outside of a limited and largely trivial number of subjects. Ours will be the first civilization to slide off the cliff while watching cat videos.
Kathy Shaidle linked to the Steyn post at Five Feet of Fury, introducing it thusly: "Say, are you sick of me screaming that, instead of one more goddamn ‘conservative’ ‘news’ site ... we need to invest in conservative/libertarian-friendly social media platforms not run by our enemies — or more accurately, we should have done that ten years ago?"
Shaidle is correct. So if there is a very wealthy conservative/libertarian who wants to promote the cause of liberty ... there's a need for a right-wing Twitter/Facebook/YouTube.
For those insistent on providing right-wing content, the niche, as noted by Instapundit last year, is women's magazines.

Posted without comment

Infrastructure is meaningless Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has a good column in the Toronto Sun on how the overuse of the term infrastructure in Canadian political discourse:
One thing most commentators seem to agree on is: infrastructure. Canada could use more of it. Both individuals and businesses would probably enjoy having better roads, bridges and transit, for example. But a funny thing happened once everyone agreed that “infrastructure” was a good thing. Politicians starting appropriating the word to use as shorthand for “anything we want to spend money on.”
Gone are the days where “infrastructure” simply meant roads, bridges, hospitals and power lines.
According to the Liberal election plan, for example, “infrastructure” is either public transit, “social infrastructure” or “green infrastructure.”
That's just rhetoric. But even with regard to traditional infrastructure, politicians should be required to spell out very specifically what they want to build, how much it'll cost, give realistic timelines, and justify the need. That won't happen. Justin Trudeau says a Liberal government will double infrastructure spending over the next decade, but is that even possible without redefining infrastructure? Without a redefinition are there enough projects ready to go in the next 3-5 years (with the requisite approval process) and construction workers. Doubling funding for projects is huge. But is it doable?
Just as any spending can be sold as "investment" so, too, can it be trotted out as "infrastructure" -- a good and important justification for government spending that cannot be resisted without supposedly risking the future of the country.

Gatorade is big business
Good article at on the how the creators of Gatorade, their families, and the University of Florida, have been compensated with more than $1 billion in royalties since 1967. Interesting details of the business of Gatorade, which has revenues of more than $5 billion each year.

Stats and graphs
This, from Max Roser, is a month old, but worth noting again and again.

Jack Kemp's lesson for today
David Smick, who served as Jack Kemp's chief of staff, reviews Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke's Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Kemp was a supply-sider who detested his party's "southern strategy" and any perceived slight to blacks. Smick says:
To kill the slight chance that the young congressman might also run, Kemp had been asked to become the Reagan campaign’s lead policy adviser and economics spokesman. For several months, he had close access to Reagan and preached the supply-sider’s gospel. The “welfare queen”—a black woman in Chicago who fraudulently collected $150,000 a year—had been a centerpiece of Reagan’s 1976 campaign and still lingered in 1979 as he prepared for another run. Kemp questioned the economic relevance of the story and detested its racial implications. I was present during one blistering exchange when Kemp demanded that Reagan stop making references to the welfare queen. Make the message restoring the American dream, Kemp yelled; growth is everything. Reagan agreed.
A positive message of restoring the American dream after 16 years of Barack Obama and George W. Bush should resonate, and focusing on economic growth will help spread the American dream more broadly. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are battling to become Reagan's -- and Kemp's -- heir. The one who does has the better chance of living in the residence that Reagan spent eight years in.

Operation Tinfoil
J.J. McCullough is up to 71 reasons not to vote for Elizabeth May and her Green Party. Just 71? And 70 more than is necessary. Liz May is not a serious adult.

Thursday, October 01, 2015
Darrell Bricker on everything that needs to be said about the politics of the niqab
Three tweets collated by Small Dead Animals.

If I was a good teacher, it was because I had a great student

Stupid/great story
The Toronto Sun: "Julian Fantino charged with assault over 1973 arrest: Suit alleges former chief smeared ketchup on man's behind." It took me a minute to remember that there is no statute of limitations in Canada for crimes more serious than summary conviction offences. Several thoughts/reminders: 1) it's a four-decade old allegation, 2) these are privately laid chargers, 3) nothing is proven in court, 4) that doesn't matter politically, 5) it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

2016 watch (Bloomberg edition)
The Washington Examiner's Byron York reports:
[I]t was striking Wednesday that Mike Allen, Politico's well-connected chief political reporter, devoted not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six paragraphs of his newsletter to the virtually nonexistent presidential prospects of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In an item headlined "The Conversation," Allen wrote that the billionaire businessman "has gotten a new surge of pleas to run for president over the past month, making him the most-buzzed-about current non-candidate whose name isn't Joe Biden." Allen reported that Bloomberg is "politely waving off" entreaties that he run, but that he could change his mind.
York quotes Republican strategist Alex Castellanos: "Michael Bloomberg is a solution in search of a problem ... There is no demand in the electorate for a third party candidate." Agreed. That probably won't change, but could, sometime next summer. York notes that the "buzz" around the Bloomberg candidacy is pretty thin. Remember that strategists want more candidates because it's more business. Pundits want more candidates because it's something new to talk about. But voters? Probably not.

Winnipeg Free Press
Their stock is down to 45-cents a share and their market cap is $3.38 million. Still sounds like too much.
(Via John Collison)

I wish they'd frame the question this way

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Doesn't fit the narrative

Justin Trudeau on pot: "right away" when asked when an elected Liberal government would legalize marijuana. There goes any chance of the Liberals winning Peel Region.

2016 watch (Clinton edition)
Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of, dissects Lena Dunham's interview with Hillary Clinton, and concludes:
Ultimately, what comes across is the rather unexpected and unarticulated revelation that America is in fact a much better place than it was 40 or 50 years ago when it comes to treating people as individuals.
Oddly, though, that also undercuts one of Clinton's easiest appeals to voters: We can make history by electing our first woman president. Instead, the focus will be on her record, her policies, and her ideas for the future. That's exactly as it should be, even if it helps explain why Clinton is dazzling fewer and fewer people even in her own party.

Hidden agenda
A few days ago William Watson wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that the real hidden agenda of 2015 is how would either a Liberal or NDP regime govern after it enacts the platform upon which it is running. Good question. Here's my answer: there will be few business or right-wing Liberals in caucus if they win, so it'll probably follow the progressive-dream agenda Trudeau is laying out which is far to the left where the NDP are campaigning. Tom Mulcair, however, will have to contend with a nutty left-wing caucus whose demands for radical programs will be hard for him to resist.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
What I'm reading
1. Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception by George Akerlof. I was hoping it wouldn't be so Galbraithian. My hope wouldn't be realized.
2. Ed Broadbent by Judy Steed. I decided to read this book from 1988 after reading Tom Mulcair's autobiographical Strength of Conviction last month. The NDP has changed.
3. Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces And Careers One Truth At A Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer. I avoid books about leadership because they are bullshit. A book about the bullshit of leadership seems like something I should read.
4. The Next Urban Renaissance: How Public-Policy Innovation and Evaluation Can Improve Life in America's Cities by Ingrid Gould Ellen, Edward L. Glaeser, Eric A. Hanushek, Matthew E. Kahn, Aaron M. Renn. Public policy surrounding municipalities is too often neglected by those on the Right, and yet it might be the most relevant to the everyday lives of citizens.
5. The "Reviving Economic Growth: A Cato Online Forum" featuring 51 experts including Ryan Avent (The Economist), Tyler Cowen (George Mason University), Brad DeLong (Berkeley), Eli Dourado (Mercatus Center), Richard Florida (University of Toronto), William Galston (Brookings Institution), Edward Glaeser (Harvard), Robin Hanson (GMU), Philip K. Howard (Common Good), Derek Khanna (X-Lab), Megan McArdle (Bloomberg View), and Scott Winship (Manhattan Institute).

Pay no attention to criminal charges regarding the Sudbury by-election
The Toronto Star reports, "Ontario premier mum on scandal involving Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed, saying case is now before the courts." But ...

Guys. And girls.
Tyler Cowen comments on Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller's new book Mate: Become the Man Women Want. Cowen says, "Hard to argue with that, right?" Unless what women want is stupid or unrealistic. There seems to be good advice for men, at least according to what Cowen has highlighted: "Focus on the women who seem interested in you." And this is good advice for everyone, not just people looking for (soul)mates: "Hang out with Intelligent People." Cowen questions this: "Most guys have sexually repulsive feet, and women notice." Me: feet are generally gross.
Robin Hanson also writes about Mate:
[S]tern older men giving harsh but needed instructions to younger men. They don’t mind using some crude language, and they don’t argue much for their claims, expecting readers to accept what they say on authority. Fortunately, most of what they say seems to be pretty well-grounded in the literature.
Both Cowen and Hanson find that mating is mostly signalling. Hanson says:
At several points Max & Miller warn their readers that women never evolved general ways to see and appreciate things like wealth and intelligence; women instead evolved to appreciate more specific signals like nice clothes and wit. So don’t go trying to show off your IQ score or bank balance.
They don’t advise women to fix this oversight, but instead advise men to fix how they show off.
Navneet Alang writes in the Toronto Star today that it is time for people to stop flirting and start talking, saying that her "flirtation blindness" impeded her ability to understand subtle signals:
It’s the uncertainty that is the curse of signals. It leaves too much unsaid, which leads to confusion on all sides. The obvious response is to remind oneself that other people are just that: people, with whom one can communicate.

Monday, September 28, 2015
Challenging the narrative with facts
Some libertarians and progressives claim that America incarcerates too many people because of tough anti-drug laws that are punitive against those who commit a supposedly victimless crime. Tyler Cowen points to Slate interview with John Pfaff, a Fordham Law School professor, from February:
But just letting people out of prison—decarcerating drug offenders—will not reduce the prison population by as much as people think. If you released every person in prison on a drug charge today, our state prison population would drop from about 1.5 million to 1.2 million. So we’d still be the world’s largest incarcerating country; we’d still have an enormous prison population.
This is not to say that the war on drugs is not problematic from a criminal law point of view and that there aren't still 300,000 too many inmates in prison for drug-related charges. It is to say, as Pfaff does, that there are no easy solutions because it is politically implausible to argue the case for not incarcerating violent criminals, which make the bulk of inmates.
The standard libertarian/progressive narrative is that there is too much incarceration in America. Perhaps that's because America has more violence than other developed countries.

Harper's foreign policy
The papers this weekend had numerous articles and commentaries on Canada's foreign policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper (ahead of Monday's foreign policy debate). Many of these stories -- and the foreign policy experts who serve as their sources -- lament that Canada has abandoned its peace-keeping tradition and working with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations. They chastise the Harper doctrine of defending Israel and challenging aggressive autocrats like Putin's Russia and Iran. They claim that Harper's foreign policy is more about electoral politics (supporting Israel is popular with evangelical voters) than national interest. A near lone dissent from this criticism is Derek Burney, former ambassador to the United States, who is quoted in the long Globe and Mail article on Harper's foreign policy:
But Mr. Burney, the former chief of staff to Mr. Mulroney, says many of those nostalgic for Canada’s former role in the world over-romanticize the part Canada once played, and overstate the impact it could have on the world stage now.
He said Canadians should be debating their role in a world where the influence of the United States is declining, while China’s power grows. Those bilateral relationships are now far more important to Canadian interests than what went on at the UN, which Mr. Burney called a “hurting” institution.
“I’m always troubled by these the-world-needs-more-Canada analyses,” said Mr. Burney, a former ambassador to South Korea and the United States. He said the next government should spend less time fretting about foreign aid than about foreign trade.

Stop the war on Uber
Andrew Vila and Kevin Gardner, respectively the Florida and Michigan state directors for Generation Opportunity, write in the Wall Street Journal about municipal wars on Uber (and other ride-sharing programs), touting riding-sharing's benefits:
As ride-sharing grows in popularity, it deserves the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Uber alone has facilitated more than five million rides in Florida and two million in Michigan since launching in our states. More than half of millennials report having used ride-sharing, and older generations aren’t far behind. Research from the American Action Forum indicates that ride-sharing generated $519 million in economic activity between 2009 and 2013.
It has also put thousands of people to work. Uber had more than 150,000 active drivers in December of last year. These workers set their own hours and earn income when they need it. Ride-sharing’s growth has been especially good news for millennials, considering high youth unemployment. At Uber, internal data shows nearly 20% of drivers are under 30.
Politicians may fret about public safety, but a Cato Institute analysis concluded that ride-share companies have safeguards “stricter than the screening requirements for many American taxi drivers.” A Temple University study even found that the introduction of low-cost ride-sharing services to California meaningfully lowered deaths from intoxicated driving by up to 5.6%.
Providing both employment and valuable customer service should be welcomed by city and state governments. Instead cities and now some states find the need to regulate or ban Uber and Lyft, often to protect the heavily regulated taxi monopolies under the guise of public safety.