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Op Ed

Time and information guide Economic Decisions

08/14/2017

Time and information are two sides of the same coin when it comes to the economy.

I often drive with the majority shareholder in my household. Many of these trips entail searching for a parking spot by our destination. Now, I am a “close enough” kind of guy; the other shareholder in our household is a “nothing but the closest” type of person.

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Raising minimum wage won’t fight poverty

08/8/2017

It is construction season in this city and, while idling with hundreds of other drivers, I wondered what economic lessons we can learn from gridlock.

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Curing the ‘cost disease’ in health care

06/30/2017

Hip replacements have experienced rapid technological advancement. Surgeons predict that within the next few years, some patients may be treated on an outpatient basis — in at 8 a.m., out in the evening. The surgical procedure, actual replacement unit and improved rehabilitation have combined to restore function quickly.

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Health costs rise as tech prices plummet — but why?  (Part 1)

06/29/2017

I have just had my hip replaced, one of approximately 1,500 similar procedures to be performed in Manitoba this year. Aside from the nervousness I experienced since my hips are close to where I normally keep my brains, the experience afforded me an opportunity to reflect on the state of health-care costs.

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Mad Cow disease holds surprising lessons

06/1/2017

The BSE crisis teaches us lessons to this day.

For most of us, the year 2003 is of no importance. However, an event occurred then that holds useful lessons in the current political and economic environment.

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Private MRIs won’t endanger health care

05/3/2017

What do pizza joints and MRIs have in common?

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The economy of useless things

04/10/2017

The robots are coming! The robots are coming! Many social commentators raise alarms about impending technology induced job losses. The vision is dire — professional jobs in accountancy, law and medicine are all on the chopping block in the face of technical change that threatens to turn humanity into couch potatoes on minimum income, binge watching streaming TV.

This dystopian view is unlikely. Two changes will rescue us: the economy of useless things and how we define work.

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Structural approach needed for budgets

03/18/2017

This is the season for taxes and brave promises. Taxes are inevitable, but is it not time to ask our finance ministers to stop spinning fairy tales?

On the left hand, many see government spending as good and taxes as financing the “essential” services of the modern public sector. On the other hand, those on the right advocate for reduced services and taxes, resulting in a dynamic economy that floats all boats and trickles in all directions.

These notions are simplistic bunk, as is balanced-budget legislation…

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Basic income, child benefits best bet to reduce poverty

03/1/2017

Poverty — especially child poverty — is pernicious. The latest research reported in Scientific American shows children born into low-income situations experience a range of intellectual deficits compared to their counterparts raised in homes at a higher socioeconomic status (SES).

Poverty is also persistent. Children born to a low-SES family start the foot race of life several metres behind the pack and with ankle weights. They are less likely to reach higher incomes and will likely have children born in a low-SES environment. The cycle perpetuates.

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Revisiting Manitoba’s basic-income experiment

01/23/2017

There seems to be a persistent misunderstanding and mythology surrounding the Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment — or Mincome, as it came to be known. With the recent publication of a working paper on the Ontario Basic Annual Income and the universal basic income experiment about to begin in Finland, it is time to review Manitoba’s experience with a basic income, also known as a guaranteed annual income.

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University teaching methods mired in the past

12/30/2016

With the cessation of the recent labour action by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, it is an opportune time to reflect on why the strike occurred.

It is tempting to see this issue in classic Marxist terms, where the workers (faculty with salaries ranging from $75,000 to $140,000 per year) defend their rights against administrators who have been captured by a corporate agenda. Equally, one can view it as an administration holding the line, in the face of revenue constraint and enrolment increases, while confronted by a faculty that seeks undue control.

Some truth exists in both views, but not a lot. More profound are two disruptions that have fundamentally changed the nature of post-secondary education in Canada: technology and globalization.

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Forget rights,  focus on obligations

12/05/2016

Whenever I go for a walk, my feet each claim credit for any forward momentum.  My right foot says it has all the initiative and is the real driver for my progress.  It sometimes complains that my left foot just tags along, not doing the heavy lifting.

My left foot replies that it plans where we should go and without its direction the right foot would carry me off randomly.  My left foot also seems to care about the welfare of my right foot. My right foot is self-interested.

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Rescuing economy requires risk, individual responsibility

11/21/2016

So much gnashing of teeth has occurred in the last week as almost every pundit pours over survey data trying to understand what happened on November 8.  Social commentators and other shamans sift through the entrails of our culture trying to make sense of the unthinkable election.  Half of North America seems to be in grief counselling.

The answer is much easier to understand, and thankfully economics offers some insight.

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Political boundaries make little sense

11/04/2016

I enjoy driving to Saskatchewan.  As I pass Virden, I do not need the sign welcoming me to Saskatchewan to know I am in another province.  No, I can tell by the quaint provincial costumes that so uniquely mark the provinces of Canada.  The purple hats and the lime green leggings of Saskatchewan men are a sure tip-off that I am in a different place.

This is silly of course, but the existence of provinces demanding that they have a “made in Saskatchewan energy policy” or a “made in Nova Scotia health policy” underscores the arbitrary nature of political and administrative divisions in delivering public policy for a federal state such as Canada. In most cases the boundaries we use to deliver public policy make little sense, do not align with unique needs of the population, and add administrative cost with little commensurate value.

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Affirmative action beneficial, but also risky

10/22/2016

Affirmative action to revise outcomes is a bad idea.  There… I have said the unthinkable.  Now before my friends and colleagues strike me off their invitation lists and my inbox groans under the weight of inbound indignation, I need to explain myself.

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Governments must make more prudent investments 

10/06/2016

When politicians debate whether deficits are needed for economic stimulus, the entire discussion is pointless. It’s not the deficit that matters, it’s how it is spent.

Imagine your household were a break-even operation — your income covers food, utilities, entertainment, home and transportation costs. Now you decide to go to the bank and take out a loan for additional education. You have a debt, which puts your household budget into a deficit.

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Impartial data essential for economy, democracy

09/21/2016

The news Wayne Smith, the chief statistician of Canada, has resigned should worry us. He is the second chief statistician to resign in six years. After serving just two years, Munir Sheikh resigned in 2010, in objection to replacement of the long-form census with a voluntary survey. Prior to that, Ivan Fellegi had served in that position for 23 years.

Why should you and I care about the comings and goings of senior civil servants? What do dull, dry data matter to the ordinary Canadian?

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Playing nice won’t work in negotiating trade deals

09/08/2016

What do canola and students have in common?

If you had answered “China,” go to the head of the class. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has returned from his latest charm offensive with the hope that Canada has worked out a firm deal on canola exports to China. Farmers can breathe a sigh of relief… or can they?

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It’s time to implement a national gas tax

08/23/2016

According to opinion polls, Canadians are accepting the idea that humans are changing the climate. While our readiness to undertake major lifestyle changes remains uncertain, the political rhetoric is also warming. The provincial premiers and the prime minister tout their favourite magic-bullet remedies for climate change.

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Social licence for mega-projects must include all stakeholders 

08/17/2016

The extended controversy over the proposed Energy East pipeline reveals fatal flaws in how we collectively decide on the benefits and costs of resource mega-projects.

With the collapse of oil prices, Canadians can see how natural resources support our standard of living. Recent estimates from Statistics Canada suggest this sector underpins 20 per cent of the country’s GDP and 1.8 million jobs, most of which link to export markets.

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Press pause on rapid transit plan 

06/20/2016

The current imbroglio between the City of Winnipeg and Manitoba Hydro is creating, in the minds of some, a reason for halting the development of the next phase of Winnipeg’s rapid transit plan. However, this is a minor cost — a drop in the bucket of the projected $500-million-plus expenditure for the extension.

Still, there are two fundamental reasons for pausing our transit plans. These are tactical and strategic.

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Census survey a quaint way to collect data

05/05/2016

Census season is upon us. I just received my invitation in the mail to go online and complete the questionnaire. Bold letters informed me to complete the census — “it’s the law.” The census remains the backbone of Canada’s official statistics.

However, change is sweeping across the world of official statistics. Collecting census data will soon experience fundamental revision, supported by big data, the “Internet of things,” and an evolving sensibility of privacy by Canadians.

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Guaranteed annual income difficult to implement 

03/14/2016

The guaranteed annual income (GAI) has been touted as an antidote to poverty and inequality. Initiated in the mid-1950s as the negative income tax proposed by Milton Friedman and subject to major experimental studies in the ’60s and ’70s, why does this idea periodically rise, only to fade from public discussion?

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