Grazing at the public trough

August 25, 2016

Making life easy and rewarding for servants of the people remains with us, although social media may today make it more embarrassing for MPs and government appointees. In February 1960, the board of directors of the Bank of Canada unanimously decided to increase the pension of the Governor of the Bank, James Coyne, from $12K to $25K. His salary at the time was $50K, or around $400K in today’s dollars. At the time, the Governor was in a controversy over monetary policy with the Conservative government headed by John Diefenbaker with Donald Fleming as Finance Minister. Coyne resigned at the time the pension decision was made. He died in 2012, age 102.

I have been unable so far to find on the web the names of the board members at the time, but this should be possible. They apparently had no difficulty in providing what some might consider a generous settlement out of public funds. Scott Gordon, then professor of Economics at Carleton, lead the criticism of a number of Canadian economists of the Governor’s monetary policy decisions which lead to his resignation.

Where will the jobs be – 3

July 18, 2016

Can machines replace humans?

As background to forecasting jobs and education/skills for the future, a McKinsey Quarterly study provides input.

“Michael Chui, James Manyika, and Mehdi Miremadi have been exploring what jobs are likely to be altered more or less by technology. They present some results in “Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet)” in the July 2016 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly.” (from The Conversable Economist, July 11, 2016 posting.)

 

In order to view this chart please click on:

http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.ca/2016/07/when-technology-alters-jobs-but-doesnt.html

( I was unable to copy the chart to this posting!)

The chart lists sixteen sectors of the economy in different manufacturing and service sectors. Each row lists seven activities which are broadly common to each sector, thus “managing others” and “data processing” for the agriculture sector are an example of two of the seven activities in this sector.

The size of the circles shows how much time is spent on each activity – a small circle for little time and a large one for much time. Thus a lot of time is spent on “unpredictable physical work” in agriculture and on “predictable physical work” in manufacturing. The colour of the circle shows how easy it is to automate that activity, thus easy to do in retail trade for “predictable physical work” and hard to do in “applying expertise” in finance and insurance. In accommodation and food service, a large amount of time is spent doing “predictable physical work” and this is easy to automate. In general a worker entering a sector where anything is easy to automate will probably have a lower salary and a higher risk of losing that job.

The table provides information to job seekers and counselors regarding employment opportunities. What sectors and skills to prepare for (education and training) can be gleaned from this figure. While some jobs are likely to be lost due to some form of automation, others will be created to provide whatever needs to be substituted. The US Department of Labour lists 800 occupations and 2000 tasks performed in the context of these occupations.

Data on wages and salaries in Canada is another source of what remuneration can be expected today for particular jobs. A web search will locate this type of information for different occupations in Canada.

One example, and there are many more, is at:

http://www.canadianbusiness.com/lists-and-rankings/best-jobs/2014-full-ranking-canada-100-best-jobs/

This listing shows expected jobs by title, median salary, 5 year wage growth, 5 year job growth and demand outlook.

Where will the jobs be? (2)

July 12, 2016

Those who subscribe to a “lump of labour” view believe that there is only so much work to be done, and when, for example, machines substitute for what was previously done by humans there is nothing more, or something less, for workers of any age, sex or race to do. I and many others don’t believe this is the case, but there are serious questions about what displaced workers will do and, for example, whether they can be retrained for other jobs.

In thinking about this question, consider the following, in no particular order:

  1. In countries like Germany and Japan, the population is ageing and the concern is for a future workforce shortage. This explains Germany’s welcome for refugees and displaced persons from the Middle East and Africa. Japan so far is reluctant to dilute its native population with foreigners, and will reap the consequences if it fails to do so. As people are living longer, the present retirement age can be extended providing partial relief, but there is a limit.

 

  1. Unemployment due to the need to adapt to changing technology – the Schumpeterian case of creative destruction – that is the introduction of different ways to produce familiar as well as new goods and services, gives rise to the need for retraining. This is easier for some, say younger folk, than others, but is an option that almost always occurs in similar circumstances. How fast workers can adapt is an issue. For example, a change from manual work to engaging with digitized production processes may require more of a generational change than a simple retraining course. If the change is too slow or virtually impossible then other measures, preferably of a temporary nature, can be tried.

 

  1. Young people have the flexibility to aim for employment in areas where demand is growing in both low and high skilled occupations, and to take courses accordingly. It is pretty obvious that in higher income countries there is strong demand for service sector employees in food and other types of retail operations. The job vacancy signs are posted in store windows as well as in help wanted electronic and other billboards. No, they don’t pay well, frequently offering minimum wage but they exist. Some taking these jobs may decide to experiment themselves by starting their own businesses.

 

  1. There is an active market for caregivers for old people (like myself) and for children in rich and poor countries as well as for healthcare workers. Where available nationals won’t apply for these jobs, temporary or permanent foreign workers are often hired. The work is there. The locals don’t want to do the jobs. In general, employment is increasing in the service sector in middle and upper income countries. There is no shortage of work, often a shortage of the type of work people may be willing to do.

 

  1. The educational and training paths may be out of whack with available job opportunities. A higher percentage of the population in upper income countries now go to university than previously, but the available jobs may not need degree training. Often a rewarding career in the trades benefits from attending community colleges where skills required from emerging technologies can be acquired. Past emphasis on the three Rs may now need the addition of skills like computer programming and apprenticeship-type programs. (I learned the basics of Fortran programming in the 1960s, and whereas I never followed this up and could not earn a living at it, I know what is involved. It may now be a necessary and rewarding skill in many industries subject to the use of computers.)

 

  1. There is considerable research available that addresses the question of where future job opportunities lie. I will refer to these in a future posting.

 

None of the foregoing suggestions involve rocket science. They do suggest ways of looking at the future labour market and its required skills. They do indicate a willingness to be adaptable and engage in life-long learning, something that recent technology facilitates. In my view, there is no fear of a finite lump of labour syndrome.

 

Where will the jobs be?

July 11, 2016

Global affairs is a stew with many ingredients and seasonings.  The flavours vary in different parts of the world. As of summer 2016, they include a US election, the fallout from Brexit, war and terrorism in the Middle East and parts of Africa, a stuttering Chinese economy and politics in the South China Sea, tensions on Russia’s European borders and events in numerous other places. Keeping track is challenging, let alone trying to understand how they interact.

 

An analysis of international affairs used to be simpler or at least appear to be. Parts of the world were not as connected as they are today, largely as a result of falling communication and transportation costs. These have lead to changes in the way people move, where and how they travel, as well as how, and the frequency with which they talk to each other.

 

When I moved to Canada from the UK over 60 years ago, it took ten days to travel from London to Vancouver by train, boat and train. A long distance phone call was exorbitant, the $3.00 per minute in 1962 dollars would translate into over $21.00 in today’s dollars. You just did not call. Snail mail and telegrams were a cheaper substitute. Few today using the internet would know how a telegram was transmitted and its cost. One result is that information and events which seemed to be unconnected no longer are, meaning that analysis and forecasting of events are much more difficult….at least for me.

The future for jobs?

Consider the issue of jobs and employment. With the mechanization of many jobs, how will future generations be employed? This question is frequently posed to grandparents enjoying , at least at the moment, a comfortable retirement. The following is one way to think about it.

First, reflect on what has happened to employment and occupations since the 1900s. The level of unemployment (employment) has fluctuated, but except for the 1930s and a few shorter periods it has been around 5% or less. WW2 solved the unemployment crisis and brought women into the workforce for wartime, if not later peace-time, production. It provided an enormous fiscal stimulus, and the immediate postwar period lead to civilian spending which was depressed during the war. When I first studied economics, a big macro question was whether there would be a return to the depression years. It did not happen for what now appears to be obvious reasons, but didn’t at the time.

Second, technological change always brings employment impacts in terms of level and type of jobs. Around 1900, about 25% of the labor force was in agriculture, today it is less than 2% in North America, while farming output has grown enormously, and with it rising labour productivity. But this took place with the growth of jobs associated with mechanization, and the development of improved strains of meat and crops. In a sense, jobs in agriculture morphed into jobs in machinery, equipment, agriculture research labs and firms producing new and improved plants and animals.  These were not counted as farm workers but in an indirect sense they were.

 

Similar adjustments took place in other industries as technology peculiar to those industries took hold, none more so than recently with the introduction of computers, the internet and all that. Jobs in almost all industries except perhaps hairdressing and undertaking have been affected. As new technologies are introduced, some jobs become obsolete while others open up often requiring a different type of education and training.

 

One difference is that today’s technological tsunami may be having a faster and perhaps more devastating effect on jobs than did the previous agricultural one. It has translated understandably into a political backlash as seen in both the US (Trump, Sanders and the dislike/distrust of Clinton) and Europe with Brexit, and the rise of mainly right wing political parties seeking to distance their countries from immigration, the EU and its bureaucracy.

 

How will this all pan out? Only God, Allah, Buddah or Brigham Young probably knows. I don’t. My gut instinct is that over time economic adjustments will be made that are not too disastrous for those of us and our children, who at present enjoy a remarkably high standard of living, at least relative to a century or even half a century ago. What it will require is for many existing workers to be retrained, and for new entrants to the labour force to receive a different type of education/training.

What type of education/training?

In the last 50 years, the proportion of people attending university has risen markedly as many feel that a degree is necessary for lifetime success. The data show that those with a degree tend to have higher lifetime incomes, than those with only a high school diploma. But at the same time many successful entrepreneurs were university dropouts including Bill Gates from Harvard – later he received an honorary degree from the university. People with technical training can often earn six figure salaries. Granted these are a small proportion of the population and workforce, but they point to one road to employment opportunities.

In recent years, community colleges providing education and training in the trades are experiencing increased enrollment as young people, and older people who have lost their jobs, receive training suitable for today’s workforce. This is merely a continuation of the idea apprenticeships and that education is a life-long process and not just undertaken at the start of life. A combination of university courses and trade skills is one option, as is a mix of academic courses and work related activities including apprenticeships. All point to adjustments being made and the need for these to occur during a person’s working life.

 

More on what and where are the jobs of the future? A topic for a future posting.

 

Brexit and all that (2)

July 6, 2016

What would the reaction have been if the UK vote had been 52/48 in favour of staying in the EU? Almost half the UK population would still have wanted to leave and would have continued to lobby for such an outcome. The message seems to be that there is extensive dissatisfaction with the status quo, as there is in the US for different but related reasons. But the historical and geographical circumstances differ.

Think back to 1945 and the end of WW2. For at least the next 35 years there was a period of global prosperity with rising per capita income reasonably distributed in developed, and in an increasing number of developing countries, as well as in countries ravaged during the war. This postwar fiscal stimulus prevented a return to the dirty thirties.

Politically, the postwar period contained a number of regional wars, Algeria, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam being examples, while colonies gained independence in Africa and Asia. The Soviet and Chinese empires remained mired in their communist molds, each of which was broken but with differing outcomes. China has since experienced rapid economic growth with an economy promoting exports of manufactured goods, while Russia has depended on export earnings from energy and other natural resources. The politics of the two communist systems differ.

The next 35 years, say since 1980, saw major technological change especially  the introduction of computers and the internet affecting many industries such as communications, transportation and manufacturing as well as resource based industries. Around 2008 there was a global recession with the slowdown affecting countries, industries and occupations differently. While Gross Domestic Product grew in most countries, it did so unevenly,  in that some citizens  made a great deal of money, while many saw their real incomes either stagnate or shrink, leading to dissatisfaction and the general malaise found in both Europe and North America. Supporters of Trump and Sanders in the US, and those unhappy with the EU are a reflection of these events. Immigration and the crossborder flow of refugees and displaced persons are other factors affecting both areas in ways peculiar to their locations.

Brexit has understandably forced attention on conditions in Western Europe. Meanwhile the rest of the world has not stood still. Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and parts of Africa, Chinese naval actions in the South China Sea, Russian moves in eastern Europe, and the nuclear factor in countries like North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are also cause for concern. The list of political/economic factors could easily be lengthened, one of which is cyber-terrorism (for a future posing)..

A summary of these issues illustrates the context within which Brexit is taking place in a domestic and international setting. If the vote had been no, the context would have changed very little, with the same set of dissatisfactions remaining. For a fuller listing of these see the web report by Maudlin Economic, posting for July 2nd, 2016.

I have no idea what will happen. There are too many factors at play. It easier to forecast the result of a World Cup soccer game, a Wimbledon tennis match, the Tour de France, or even a chess game than it is to assess how world events will evolve.

In the UK, I will watch how the political parties and parts of the country respond, and how other European countries react to the British vote and what follows. It already seems that the EU Council of Ministers, if not the EU Commission made up of officials, recognize that something needs to be done. The fallout from the US November election is even more difficult to forecast.

Brexit or 2016 and all that

June 29, 2016

“Every might at six o’clock Alvar Liddell brought us news of fresh disasters. ….Never you mind the thousands of dead, I said, you put on the kettle and we’ll have a nice cup of tea.” (Beyond The Fringe skit).

What will happen next? The most accurate answer is that no one knows. We are pretty good at reporting what has happened and fairly hopeless at what will happen after some major event. In order to have forecast today’s global economic circumstances, investment advisor John Maudlin writes as follows (from his website for June 25, 2016).

“If I had come on to this stage four years ago and told you … that we were going to have 40% of the world’s governmental debt at negative interest rates, $10 trillion on central bank balance sheets, and $10 trillion worth of dollar-denominated emerging-market debt, and that global GDP growth would average only 2%, unemployment would be below 5%, and interest rates would be negative in much of the world and less than 50 basis points in the US, you would have laughed me out of the room. You would have all hit the unsubscribe button. Today’s world was unthinkable a mere four to five years ago.”

Maudlin causes pause for consideration for those who think that anyone has a good grasp of what is likely to happen in the political-economy sphere over the next five even two years. Economic and political forecasting is far less reliable than weather forecasting and that’s not saying much. The forces of globalization perhaps sums up what is happening, but that overused term needs interpretation and refinement in today’s world.

What appears to be happening?

The Brexit vote is described by some as a tectonic shift in world events. I have my doubts. In the past 110 years there have been two world wars, many smaller ones, as well as a great depression and numerous recessions. Another source of disruption is technological change. It has affected a wide range of activities with the introduction of the steam engine, trains, planes, ships, cars and more recently computers and communications technology. Schumpeterian “creative destruction” took place. Economies were shocked by these technologies, but adapted, sometimes more quickly than others, and life went on. Some people were affected more than others, but in general the standard of living in the world improved. There were winners and losers.

Coinciding with these developments world population was increasing, so that whereas median world income rose there would be more people in the lowest quartile of incomes. It’s a good or a bad news story depending how you spin the statistics. If your income is below the mean today, you are worse off than those above it, but you may be significantly better off than those below the mean twenty or fifty years ago.

With many more people, the current world economy also has more international trade and investment, and more crossborder movement of people as migrants, workers, tourists, criminals and refugees. Developments in communications technology allow people in different countries to have immediate information about conditions around the world, including through the use of social media. In this sense, the world has shrunk, not physically but in the ability of people to be informed about what is happening elsewhere, and in being able to visit and trade with each other. Just listing and mapping trade and investment agreements between countries produces a spider’s web of people and firms connecting around the world.

A similar set of linkages can be mapped by listing the supply chains of firms manufacturing goods and services. The inputs of items like cars come from many countries where part of the value-added is undertaken before shipping to another location in the same or another country. A Japanese car sold in North America may have been made there with few actual Japanese inputs.

Along comes an event like Brexit. Some view it as an unraveling of the movement towards economic and political union in Europe since 1945, and a return to nationalism and the antagonisms between nation states, especially if other countries decide either to leave the EU or weaken their ties to it. Others see it as a restoration of state sovereignty and the desire of countries to shape the social and economic environment within their borders. For reasons similar to why clubs are formed, people want to live beside other like-minded persons, as they do in neighborhoods, clubs and religious communities. Concerns are raised because state sovereignty can lead to nasty nationalism, but this is something that the promotion of human values tries to ameliorate, not always that well as the record of conflict shows.

My take is that things will settle down as people and firms view their options and make adjustments. These will occur in trade agreements, defense alliances, the way industries are structured and organized, .and the ability of people to move between countries.

What is the alternative?

If Brexit had not occurred something else would have to relieve the pressures caused by a combination of the crossborder movement of persons whether as refugees, illegal migrants or others, the debt situation outlined in the Maudlin quote, and the environmental movement.

The last does not seem part of the Brexit debate. It takes place in other circles but will likely become part of the dialogue. My take on this is that there are obvious visible signs of environmental problems such as air pollution in Asian cities, and water pollution in rivers, lakes and oceans. The plastic junk pictured in the Pacific and other oceans is a visible cause of concern with viable alternatives available to address the situation. The link between human activity and global warming is, in my mind, an interesting hypothesis but not one where the facts collected so far confirm the linkage, but that is for another day.

As far as Brexit is concerned, it will cause adjustments to be made. If the vote had gone the other way, the pressure for change would still have been there and would have become manifest in other ways. The pressure for change exists in continental European countries for reasons similar to that in the UK. In the current US presidential campaign, the desire for change is manifest by the widespread support of Trump on one side and Sanders on the other, together with a visceral dislike for Clinton by some. But for now as the opening quote said about the WW2 bombing of Britain,

“Never you mind……you put on the kettle and we’ll have a nice cup of tea.”

The Idea of Canada – a review

June 21, 2016

David Johnston, The Idea of Canada, Letters to a Nation (Penguin 2016).

A challenging topic is addressed in an interesting and highly readable style. The contents certainly justify the title, which should be required reading for all foreign diplomats posted to Canada, and probably all Canadian officials posted abroad. Although not written as a history of Canada, it is one, with morsels of the historical record in each chapter. Each is written as a letter to some Canadian or foreigner past or present who has excelled in some manner. Many could be expanded into a chapter for understanding some aspect of Canada.
The Idea of Canada could also be used in school and university classrooms for the presentation and discussion of Canadian history, a subject woefully under-taught at the moment, judging by what students today seem to know about their country. It would also require that teachers having a better knowledge of Canada, which I fear may often also be missing. My understanding of the country is vastly improved by this book. Especially how the parts fit together and how values have emerged.

The author’s hero is Samuel de Champlain (1574 – 1636), one of whose skills was to learn about coping with all aspects of the environment, from those already living in what was to become Canada. (Note, these natives were themselves immigrants from earlier years as humans moved out of the African continent. All Canadians are immigrants of some generation. I am one from 1956). As an individual, Champlain achieved on land and sea with the limited technology available, at least by today’s standards, what NASA is achieving in exploring space supported by vast amounts of public funding.

Foremost in David Johnston’s life is his family, especially six womenfolk and twelve grandchildren, who continue to educate him. Through their lives and work they provide linkages to various aspects of Canada, especially those related to current conditions.

In the letters the author has written to a wide variety of persons, the combination of people, places, values, and events become both summarized  and intertwined, providing material for understanding Canada’s history. Few are able to take these pieces and fit them together so that the jigsaw becomes a comprehensible picture of a society, and what can be viewed as a nation. The author has done this.

The sections of the book are entitled What Shapes Me, What Consumes Me, and What Inspires Me. Summarized in each section are topics such as education, caring, innovation, philanthropy, volunteerism, and support for families and children. Many of these are in letters written to Canadians who have won awards in one of these areas.

Readers will have their own “aha” moments. One of mine was p.179  “…I’m a regular churchgoer, I tend not to get caught up in the doctrinal aspects of religion. To me church is a way to connect with friends and neighbours to get a sense of the views of others…..” (Though both my grandparents were vicars, I am not a regular churchgoer, but I understand how the various aspects of religion may satisfy individuals and contribute to societal wellbeing, as does club membership).

It would be easy to extend this review, but I recommend that readers read the book themselves, find out what interests them, and use it for discussion purposes. Each chapter is short, well written, understandable and thought provoking….easy to pick up and put down.

Galileo would be smiling

June 14, 2016

The climate debate

  • A lethal phrase about a highly contentious issue is that “the science is settled”. Climate change is one such subject. There is an ever expanding literature claiming that human activity, and especially the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2), is responsible for global warming. Galileo must have felt like today’s climate deniers, when he asserted that the earth rotated around the sun thereby contradicting the religious experts. Although eventually proven right, Galileo had to appear before the Inquisition whose membership of learned clerics held the opposing view that the sun circled the earth. In the end the clerics were found out to be charlatans. (The film The Name of the Rose, and in a lighter vein a Monty Python skit, illustrate how the Inquisition worked in a less than politically correct manner.) My colleague Michael Hart explains this and much more in Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change.

 

  • I enter this debate with no background in climate research, having written nothing on the subject except a blog posting on Dec 8, 2014 (cmaule.wordpress.com). But after a half century in academia, I do have some ability for detecting bullshit, how it gains financial backing and then becomes considered a financial entitlement.

 

  • The essence of the global warming argument goes something like this. The temperature of the earth varies over time, by the hour, season and era, either rising or falling. In the past few decades it has been stable, but in the last decades of the twentieth century, it rose by perhaps as much as half a degree. Human related activity is thought mainly responsible by causing increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The consequences are bad if not catastrophic for humanity, and thus the need to introduce policies to prevent the rise. So goes the argument.

 

  • This doctrine has a large following around the world, and those who think otherwise are viewed as heretics. Elected politicians dare say nothing critical for fear of offending true believers, while pouring forth policies to support it. A recent example is the Ontario government’s Five Year Climate Change Action Plan, 2016 – 2020 – see (http://www.applications.ene.gov.on.ca/ccap/products/CCAP_ENGLISH.pdf).  There are many others in the bible of climate change.

 

  • (As an aside, less than flattering commentary is made about how Ontario has dealt with similar policies to-date.  “ The Liberal Government brought in the Green Energy Act and signed multibillion-dollar deals with manufacturers of solar- and wind-power parts and were very proud of it, and then they watered down parts of the law and carved billions of dollars off the manufacturing deals and are very proud of that too. They pushed for offshore wind farms and then scrapped them, and now we’re being sued for a billion dollars. They brought in variable pricing for electricity to make it more expensive to use when it’s more expensive to generate, but didn’t make the difference sharp enough to make a really big difference. Wynne (the Ontario Premier) herself promised an adult conversation about raising money to pay for a giant transit construction program, then backed away from all the(Ottawa  hardest ideas like increasing sales and gasoline taxes. Nobody’s built a new toll road either. (Ottawa Citizen, June 9, 2016, A7).

 

  • Similar behaviour took place when the Limits To Growth hypothesis was proposed in 1972, and later found to be wanting.”The original version presented a model based on five variables: world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resources depletion. These variables are considered to grow exponentially, while the ability of technology to increase resources availability is only. The authors intended to explore the possibility of a sustainable feedback pattern that would be achieved by altering growth trends among the five variables under three scenarios. They noted that their projections for the values of the variables in each scenario were predictions “only in the most limited sense of the word,” and were only indications of the system’s behavioral tendencies. Two of the scenarios saw “overshoot and collapse” of the global system by the mid to latter part of the 21st century, while a third scenario resulted in a “stabilized world.”

 

  • The science is settled was the cry of the “Limits To Growthers”. It turned out differently in many ways. For example, today the planet is awash with oil and natural gas. But examining this earlier religious belief, which turned out to be flawed, is for another time. For those interested, Wikipedia, source of the above quote, provides a summary account of what happened and why some still claim its validity while others disagree. A scientific approach is to state a hypothesis and then collect facts to support and refute it.

 

  • How might science be able to help regarding the present climate change debate?  “The science is settled” mantra reflects a misunderstanding of what is generally considered to be scientific methodology.  It involves stating a relationship which can be tested against available facts and information. The information is either supportive of or contradictory to the proposed hypothesis. Those wanting to support a hypothesis should search diligently for information which will reject it. If they find none, then they have not settled the issue, but they have reason to believe in it until conflicting information is found. Science is never settled as Galileo’s opponents found…..maybe one day we will find Galileo was wrong but at present most support his view.

 

  • What scientific inquiry aims to establish is whether global warming is taking place, whether carbon dioxide is increasing due to increased human activity and whether this is the cause of global warming today. By testing these hypotheses it will be possible to say that available evidence supports or rejects the relationships. It will never be possible to say that the science is settled, because it never is about any hypothesis. Religious beliefs can be settled for believers, but not scientific knowledge for scientists and those using their research. If you, the reader, know the science is settled, then there is no need to read any further. You are a believer not a scientist, and you will join a large band of believers, who unfortunately, in my view, are driving the debate for policy change.

 

  • How do you measure the temperature of a planet consisting of land and water, of places with different latitudes and longitudes, of seasons that vary from hot to cold, and of land areas and oceans with different altitudes and depths? These are only some of the variables that may affect how the temperature of planet Earth is determined.

 

  • There seems to be general agreement that the temperature of the planet changes over time, and that at present it is experiencing a warming trend from an earlier ice-age some centuries ago. There is also agreement that the population of the planet has increased from around 2.5 billion in 1950 to over 7 billion today, heading towards 10 billion by 2050 before it starts to taper off. Finally there is agreement that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by a combination of factors, one of which results from human activity. There is no agreement that the increase in CO2 today is primarily due to human activity as opposed to the other factors which cause changes in the level of this gas.

 

  • In the past there have been periods when the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increased but global warming was not observed. Something else was the cause of global warming. This should at least give pause to the views of some believers.

Finally, a modest suggestion to the Canadian Environment Minister,that she appoint at least one advisor who has  a scientific frame of mind and is willing to go beyond the “science is settled” mantra. It is not the number of people who take a particular position but the quality of their case that matters.The proposal here is for an adult conversation about these important issues.

Canadian Content – Milking the System

May 31, 2016

 

What do cows and culture have in common? Both crave protectionism, supply management for dairy products and content quotas for culture. While technology has driven a stake through the heart of cultural protectionism, Canadian dairy content at present remains intact.

The Liberal government is re-examining Canada’s cultural policies, which includes the hoary issue of the nature of Canadian content and whether it needs protection. Robert Fulford speaks of this in the National Post (May 27th, 2016)

 “Canada notably lacks a collective imagination. Individual novelists find ways to develop Canadian stories that win both national and international readers. But for the CBC “our stories” remains an empty slogan, a claim that commanding and important legends live offstage, waiting for broadcasters to bring them to life. Federally mandated Canadian content regulations express a yearning for a more robust national spirit, but it’s not something you can regulate into existence.”

On the same general topic, Andrew Coyne in the National Post (May 25th, 2016) writes

“… “American” TV, much of which is created by Canadians. As if the other paradoxes and contradictions of cultural nationalism were not enough, there is no self-evident definition of “Canadian content.” How do we define a Canadian? Parentage? Place of birth? Residence? What makes a Canadian story? Written by a Canadian? Set in Canada? “Identifiably Canadian themes,” whatever they are? 

Now add together all the moving parts needed to make a film or TV show — producers, directors, actors, writers, “in-betweeners” — and you have the absurdity of CanCon as it is actually practised, teams of dedicated bureaucrats using precision-crafted calipers to determine that, say, a Blue Jays broadcast from New York is Canadian but a Bryan Adams song is not.”

Lobbyists for retaining CanCon are the cultural industry associations, their lawyers and academics who feast on the policies.

So should cultural nationalism be supported? The answer here is a conditional yes, but not as presently structured. Questions to be answered include:

What is a Canadian story?

When do Canadians create them?

Why should Canadians listen/view them?

What happens if Canadians don’t read, listen to or watch them?

I will try to address some of these questions and suggest some policy options, one of which is to do nothing and let audiences decide. This is pretty much the view of Andrew Coyne, and one which has merit.

One qualification I would make is to recognize that at the birth of film-making, radio and TV, there may have been an infant industry argument for granting some support/and protection, so that Canadian producers and distributors could get started. This was one reason for establishing public broadcasters like the BBC, CBC and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in a number of countries, although not in the US….ok, PBS and NPR have elements of public broadcasting.

The difficulty is that once the infant is supported it is never weaned from the public teat. Canada made the mistake, in my view, of funding its public broadcaster with a combination of public funds and commercial advertising revenue, unlike the BBC and ABC. If the public broadcaster is to remain, it should not be in competition with private broadcasters for commercial revenues.

What is Canadian?

Content is usually considered Canadian if it is authored, acted/performed or produced by Canadians, involves Canadian writers, actors, performers etc, or Canada is where the money to produce it is raised and spent. Some connection to Canada is required. A movie made in Canada about Denmark would likely be considered Canadian content, while a movie made in Denmark about Canada would not. All sorts of anomalies arise.

In the case of current policies, whether Canadians are actually the audiences for Canadian defined content does not matter. For example, the audience for CBC English language TV has been declining markedly, and French language TV to a lesser extent.  CBC radio in both languages has experienced a lesser decline. It does not broadcast commercials.

A private Canadian broadcaster is required to distribute a certain amount of Canadian defined content regardless of whether anyone watches it. It is a push as opposed to a pull strategy where audiences choose to see certain programs. Check the channel packages you are forced to purchase with channels you never watch. Or imagine going to the grocery store and being told that if you want to buy a cabbage, you have to buy a turnip as well.

 Why the need?

The need for Canadians to create Canadian stories is argued to be good for national cohesion and as an aid to education. Canadians need to know about Canada, and the media is an important avenue for this to happen if it transmits the “right” content. So goes the argument.

The problem is that Canadians often do not fall into line. They choose to spend their time with other types of print, sound and visual content. Never more so than now, when the internet age makes it possible to access content either for free (if you own the right hardware) or at low cost and in a wide variety of locations.

So is there another way to proceed? That is to meet the desire of governments to support the arts, which is a branch of education, and to get larger Canadian audiences to pay for the output and delivery?

An alternative approach?

Those most in need of support are in the early stages of their artistic careers, where they have yet to gain a reputation and a track record whether as author, director, producer, performer, artist, etc. Similar to the support given to education and athletes at an early stage of their careers, assist those developing cultural related talents.

Subsidies directed to those who are already established can be both a waste, and a disincentive to survival without dependence on state support. The state does have a role, but it is with measures like copyright and patents to support those who are creative and who do succeed.

In today’s world (globalization and all that), creative opportunities have expanded as it becomes easier for artists to reach larger audiences. Challenges will remain to be rewarded financially from all those who benefit as audiences from artistic work, but this has always been the case. Today, the technology makes it easier to create and publish works, even though the competition for audiences has also increased. Music groups, for example, use the internet to distribute their productions for free with the aim of becoming known and then being paid. Apprentices in the trades face a similar situation.

Like the success of dairy farmers in retaining supply management, the cultural industry lobby in Canada has captured the politicians and bureaucracy to provide increased funding and protection without Canadians necessarily consuming it. Benefits accrue to certain cultural participants but not necessarily to Canadians as consumers.

There is a case for certain types of government support for creative endeavor by Canadians (I prefer to call it that rather than Canadian content). At the same time, there is a need to wean the lobbying groups off the existing so called cultural teats that have been used by all three levels of government. An alternative is to direct support to those at the outset of their creative careers. But at some point they need to be able to stand alone and not turn to the nanny state.

 

Having spent a lifetime in academia with tenure and as the recipient of grants, I realize a similar argument can apply. Here new technology may also bring about change, the subject for a future posting. With a colleague Keith Acheson, I did write Much Ado about Culture, North American Trade Disputes (University of Michigan Press, 1999) which dealt with these issues. We were unable to find a Canadian publisher interested in publishing this book.

Federal Voting in Canada

May 20, 2016

The argument made that the Bloc and the Green Party should have a vote in the Canadian House of Commons (HOC) Committee to propose a new electoral system is, in my view, without much merit. If it has any, it is more so in the case of the Bloc with ten seats and 4.5% of the popular vote, than the Green Party with one seat and 3.5%. The Green party member could be considered an independent MP who happens to be associated with a party. In the future, any elected independent MP could claim some party affiliation to gain membership. In the 2015 election there were candidates from 18 parties other than the 5 with seats in the HOC.

This is an illustration of what could happen with an electoral system using proportional representation. Debate to-date assumes that only the five parties who at present have elected members will run candidates. If that was the case, then these parties would get more members elected at the expense of especially the Liberals and the Conservatives. But that will not be the case, as other parties will spring up, and the HOC could look like a case of measles with an array of parties, and increased difficulty in getting a majority vote on anything like a budget, unless each of the parties is bought off with taxpayers funds. To see what might happen watch Borgen on TV, a Danish series based on what takes place in the Danish parliament where there are many parties.

If there is change to the existing system, then some form of preferential voting appears preferable, where elected members retain links to ridings. Proportional representation, in my view, invites disaster for the governing process, and has not been favoured in referenda in several provinces. No province appears to be making any changes, suggesting that the present system is probably the least worst of those being considered. Regrettably, no party elected on a platform of electoral change can be seen doing the sensible thing and not making a change.


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