Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mid-Week Musings

Can you feel that warm front of hope drifting up from Washington DC? No? Not yet? Well, regardless, here are a few random news stories that caught my eye today:


1) For anyone preparing for their SATs, here's a handy word association to keep in mind: Sheila Fraser is to Paul Martin as Kevin Page is to Stephen Harper.

Today, Page answers the question on everyone's mind - how long will it take Stephen Harper to undo all the economic gains the Liberals made during their time in power? You can read all the gloomy projections here.


2) The League of Below Average Prime Ministers Strikes Back! Fresh from their annual Christmas pilgrimage to the grave of Arthur Meighen, the League of Below Average Prime Ministers has decided to re-iterate their call for green infrastructure spending.


3) The Liberals are drafting their own budget up - it's unclear as to whether this will be made public or if it's a "just in case" document, but I like the optics of it. It shows you're ready to govern and that you have a plan.


4) Not that they'll need to implement it.


5) When I first heard that Iggy was spending his holidays finishing his book, I kind of had a "huh? remind me again why he was in such a hurry to take over?" reaction. But now that we know some details about the book, it's clear it could be a very useful political document. One of the biggest knocks on Ignatieff remains his time outside of the country. And I think it's a fair critique, since you want a leader who truly understands what it means to be Canadian running the show. Well, if Ignatieff can show he understands Canada in this book, it might go a long way towards easing some of the doubts that voters may have of him. At the very least, it will help him win the votes of the dozens of poli-sci students who will be forced to read it.


6) To drift off-topic for a minute, I must say that both BSG and 24 have been top notch since their January returns (although I could do with the constant monologuing about the pros and cons of torture use on 24...if I wanted that, I'd read a Michael Ignatieff essay. I kid, I kid.). Tonight, Lost is back with a vengeance. Woo!

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20 Comments:

  • Those numbers are less bad than I thought. One year of slow growth (which just ended) and one year (2009) of slightly negative growth, with unemployment peaking below 8%. That hardly erases the gains of the past 16 years.

    1. If growth has averaged say 3% since 1993, then we are 60% richer than before. A drop of 1% (followed by the sharp recovery) does not mean we lose all the gains of the past.

    2. Average unemployment in Canada since 1980 was 8.8%. Unemployment at 7.7% is the same as in such "horrible" years as 1988, 1999 and 2003. The peak unemployment projected in the average scenario is not that bad by any reasonable historical comparison.

    3. One could make the case, as somebody (I forget who) that deficits will erase all of the debt repayment since 1998. That is probably true. The argument has two flaws:
    -NOT running deficits would probably result in larger deficits in the long run, because of the evisceration of the tax base absent a modest stimulus. It is logically fallacious to argue simultaneously "BOO the Tories are costing us our treasure" and "BOO the Tory stimulus doesn't go far enough."
    -The economy has grown considerably since 1998. A debt's burden is only meaningful relative to the ability of the debtor to pay. The debt as a % of GDP will grow, but remains pretty low.

    The real challenge of this recession will be how it plays relative to people's expectations about the future - expectations bourne in an era of unsustainable consumer spending and irrational exuberance.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 7:33 PM  

  • I disagree with your assessment of 24. I think the whole, 'working outside the government' plot line is a bit hokey, even for 24. You'd think Bill, Chloe and Tony would at least have some kind of helper on the inside. Have you seen Wild Roses yet? I think you would find it amusing.

    By Anonymous eh, at 9:22 PM  

  • OK c'mon. Jack and Tony! Together again! Going rogue! Burrying FBI agents alive! How can you not love it?

    As for Wild Roses...errr....I think I'll pass. Or just read your reviews.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:39 PM  

  • My problem with Ignatieff is that in my view,he talks down to people. When he says "you have to understand" he reminds me of the teacher that he is with his audience the stupid ones. Anyone who doesn't agree with his is dumb, according to him.

    By Blogger Rositta, at 11:20 PM  

  • Interesting to hear that 24 Day 7 is top notch. I decided not to tune in because I thought that Day 6 was just plain terrible. Maybe I should give the show another shot, though.

    By Blogger - K, at 12:39 AM  

  • League of Below Avg PMs -- ha, I love it.

    By Anonymous jason bo green, at 8:19 AM  

  • omfg. I missed the return of BSG. completely forgot. Damn you work!

    and kudos on the LOBAPMS and Meighen hommage.

    By Blogger matt, at 8:26 AM  

  • Today, Page answers the question on everyone's mind - how long will it take Stephen Harper to undo all the economic gains the Liberals made during their time in power?

    "Stephen Harper"?

    Stephen Harper is the one undoing the economic gains? Not the recession?

    Seriously? We're blaming Harper for the effects of the world-wide recession? Seriously?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:23 AM  

  • I have to somewhat disagree with you on point 5. Ignatieff has demonstrated throughout the course of many years that he understands this country, going as far back as his 2000 book, The Rights Revolution. He gets this country pretty well, it's amazing how effective the Tory canard has been in portraying him as somehow out of touch with how Canadians feel and think because he was at Harvard and elsewhere for many years. But I guess if people haven't actually read his books and rely solely on the Tory spin machine for his biography, they would arrive at the conclusion that he's just some ivory tower professor who is just here to lecture us into thinking how Canada should be governed. He's never lost touch with the country, and I'm looking forward to reading what he has to say in this new book.

    By Blogger RGM, at 10:26 AM  

  • RV - Well, obviously Harper isn't to blame for the worldwide recession any more than Pierre Trudeau was the blame for the drop in the world price of oil in the 80s.

    Now, that said, talking explicitly about a deficit (which the story focused on), a lot of his moves like the GST cuts, certainly haven't helped. We could probably still be in surplus pre-stimulus if he'd handled things better.


    K - Yeah, day 6 was puke. Barely watcheable. This season may still degenerate into that and a lot of the plot lines are still recycled from past years, but it's been good so far.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:23 AM  

  • As the first of many below average PMs, I believe the current league should make a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of Alexander Mackenzie.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:29 AM  

  • Lost is back...perfect! I think that storyline will be easier to follow than Jack Layton's positions lately...! Great site...

    By Anonymous CalgaryrRants, at 11:44 AM  

  • Rositta: "My problem with Ignatieff is that in my view, he talks down to people. When he says "you have to understand" he reminds me of the teacher that he is with his audience the stupid ones. Anyone who doesn't agree with his is dumb, according to him."

    Two changes and you have "My problem with Harper is that in my view, he talks down to people. When he says "Let me be clear" he reminds me of the teacher that he is with his audience the stupid ones. Anyone who doesn't agree with his is dumb, according to him."

    Ask any reporter covering Ottawa and they'll tell you the Conservatives have perfected the practice of dumbing down the message. The whole Conservative communication strategy is based on the assumption citizens are dumb and worse yet, will take for fact whatever they are told. That's is an insult to all Canadians.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:22 PM  

  • "The whole Conservative communication strategy is based on the assumption citizens are dumb and worse yet, will take for fact whatever they are told. That's is an insult to all Canadians."

    But shouldn't politics be as inclusive as possible - which ultimately means tailloring a message to the least politically informed Canadians precisely because those are the people that get shut out of politics by complexity.

    It isn't a matter of assuming Canadians are "dumb" either. Knowledge about politics does not necessarily reflect one's intelligence. Moreover, different people have different opportunity costs to learning about politics.

    I, for instance, am a political science graduate student, and learn about politics in my work anyway. By contrast if I were a janitor (OR a doctor) working 60 hours a week, I would have less of an inclination to pay attention.

    Simple messages are the epitome of democracy because everybody can understand them. In a pluralistic society those messages surely have the compete with alternatives - including interest groups of which voters are members.

    I have heard the assumption of stupidity far more from the left, which tend to accuse the right of being anti-intellectual.

    During the recent constitutional crisis, they accused ordinary Canadians of "not understanding parliamentary democracy". A poll conducted during the crisis found that 90 % of Canadians realized that the governor general COULD replace the Tories with a coalition. However, most of those people also didn't want to, because the coalition would have been terrible.

    During the 2008 election, Liberals sneered that the public simply "didn't understand" Dion's green shift because it was too complicated and misrepresented by the Tories. This, when the Liberal tax calculator showed tax reductions that would offset the increase in prices for virtually every single Canadian.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 4:25 PM  

  • hosertohoosier: "Simple messages are the epitome of democracy because everybody can understand them"

    There's a huge difference between simple messages and massaged messages. People make the incorrect assumption what they are being told is a summarized but complete representation of the facts. Each party is guilty of putting out what they want people to believe, not what is necessarily true.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 PM  

  • It isn't a matter of assuming Canadians are "dumb" either. Knowledge about politics does not necessarily reflect one's intelligence. Moreover, different people have different opportunity costs to learning about politics.

    Opportunity costs? Like what? These issues really aren't that complicated, and it's ridiculous to assume that the coalition was "terrible" in some sort of objective sense that has nothing to do with Conservative rhetoric about its illegitimacy.

    I, for instance, am a political science graduate student, and learn about politics in my work anyway. By contrast if I were a janitor (OR a doctor) working 60 hours a week, I would have less of an inclination to pay attention.

    I'd counter that poli sci students spend far too much time on CTV Question Period-style minutiae rather - by contrast it's not hard to follow the big issues or events, like the so-called constitutional crisis in December. In fact, I distinctly recall an animated discussion between an internal medicine resident and his staff specialist on that very subject. Lack of time to troll around blogs is not the same as lack of time to follow the news.

    By Blogger Josh, at 11:01 PM  

  • "Opportunity costs? Like what?"

    Something like one to two hours every week that could be spent doing something else (not reading the news). In addition, some sort of civics lesson might be needed for people without enough of a background. That, again, would require time (and there may be reasons that certain people are among the least politically informed segment of the population - be it a lack of interest or ability).

    "These issues really aren't that complicated, and it's ridiculous to assume that the coalition was "terrible" in some sort of objective sense that has nothing to do with Conservative rhetoric about its illegitimacy."

    The Conservatives made three arguments: The coalition would is illegitimate, would be led by Dion, and would effectively include separatists. The latter two are true (and were effective). The first was less effective, but a case could be made for it (legally the only thing that was ironclad was that it was the governor-general's call).

    "I'd counter that poli sci students spend far too much time on CTV Question Period-style minutiae rather - by contrast it's not hard to follow the big issues or events"

    1. Have you ever read a political science journal article? Academic political science does not follow recent current events. What it does is gives people general concepts they can apply to events as they happen, so as to understand them better.

    2.

    "There's a huge difference between simple messages and massaged messages. People make the incorrect assumption what they are being told is a summarized but complete representation of the facts. Each party is guilty of putting out what they want people to believe, not what is necessarily true."

    I will grant - lies are certainly a bad thing. Of course, if voters are as smart as Josh suggests, how can they simultaneously be smart enough to understand complex arguments, while also stupid enough that they will easily fall prey to misleading attacks?

    Perhaps I should state my case more parsimoniously:

    1. All voters are rationally ignorant to varying degrees (memorizing Hansard would yield little utility to anybody, so clearly their are instances where costs outweigh benefits for everybody). Some are highly ignorant, some highly informed.

    2. Even ignorant voters have means to make good decisions through: opinion leaders, friends and interest groups that are more informed. They may also use heuristic devices (like remembering that they LIKE/DISLIKE a party leader, but not why). Thus ill-informed voters can still make good choices.

    3. Nonetheless, argument complexity narrows the field of people able to engage in a debate, meaning that a greater proportion of people are reliant on blog aggregators and interest groups, rather than their own judgments. This is bad because every individual is an expert in their own self-interest.

    4. A bit off-topic, but much of politics is about residuals: you can't know in advance that 9/11 will happen, and may not know that a housing crisis is on its way. Much of what politicians say may not be strictly true, but still provides valuable signals. Knowing that Obama's preferences are spending > tax cuts > deficit reduction are probably more useful than anything in an uncertain world.

    5. The real problem facing politics is meta-narrative not "dumbing down of the message". Much of the 2008 US and Canadian coverage was about "will action X help person Y", plus some horse-race coverage (eg. the focus on the Dion tape, or McCain's "suspended campaign"). Comparatively little was about substantive matters (almost nobody pointed out that neither presidential platform was economically feasible BEFORE the market crash). It is the product of a partisan public that cares more about their guy winning than anything else (witness the left's continuing enthusiasm for a centrist Obama, or the right's erstwhile defence of a president that enlarged the debt to expand democracy and more than double education spending).

    6. Oh and politics are NOT too negative or too tribal. Having a reason to vote against something is just as good as voting for something. As for identity politics, again, events are often unexpected. People want "guys like them" reacting to unpredicted events, because they are more likely to consider the same things (or more cynically, because much has been invested in say, the image of Harper as Canada's hockey dad, which would be wasted if Harper say, banned street hockey).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 3:16 AM  

  • RV - Well, obviously Harper isn't to blame for the worldwide recession any more than Pierre Trudeau was the blame for the drop in the world price of oil in the 80s.

    But he *was* to blame for the NEP, which cratered the Alberta economy years before the 80s oil crash.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 3:37 PM  

  • The word association section was removed from the SAT some years ago.

    By Blogger Yining Su, at 5:37 PM  

  • hosertohoosier: "I will grant - lies are certainly a bad thing. Of course, if voters are as smart as Josh suggests, how can they simultaneously be smart enough to understand complex arguments, while also stupid enough that they will easily fall prey to misleading attacks?"

    A top salesperson once told me a great pearl of wisdom: When emotions go up intelligence goes down.

    Humans are wired to hear emotion first and then logic. The Conservatives frame their message skillfully in emotion - primarily fear. They understand threats to survival get first attention and possibly the only attention.

    People listening to this framing have to push through the fear & emotion to get to the logic and the whole picture. Once you understand the Conservative's modus operandi it's easier and faster to identify the emotional strings and get to the logic.

    So yes, seemingly smart people can easily fall prey to misleading attacks. It's all in the messaging.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:01 PM  

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