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What's So Special About 65?

Friday, 03 February 2012 21:13

Conspicuously missing in the uproar about Old Age Security is the most basic question: Why do we have a publicly funded retirement pension? Let's answer that. Then we can talk about when the age of eligibility should be.

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In Good Times, Prepare For Bad

Monday, 19 September 2011 16:13

The United States of America is in trouble. The mammoth deficit. The gargantuan debt. The moribund economy and appalling unemployment. It's hard times in the land of plenty - as anyone could see with just a glance at the thin, exhausted face of President Barack Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress last week.

But how did it come to this? That's the $64,000 question, as Americans said in a more optimistic time. It's also the question we must answer if we are to learn from our neighbours' brutal experience.

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Rather awkwardly for the evangelist who said the world would end Saturday, it did not. But Harold Camping is an irrepressible fellow and, after further study, he announced that he was merely off on timing. The world will end Oct. 21. Really.

The purpose of this column is not to have a laugh at poor Mr. Camping, tempting as that is, or to boast that I predicted both outcomes, which I did. It's to remind people that this is much more than a silly little story about a kook and the people who believe him.

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In every speech, Stephen Harper describes Canada as a uniquely sunlit island of tranquillity in a storm-ravaged ocean of uncertainty. And he knows who's responsible for Canada's good fortune. He is.

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If there's an election this spring, cuts to corporate in-Icome taxes are likely to play a big role. Conservatives are in favour. Liberals are opposed. Conservatives say cuts will make the economy stronger. Liberals say they'll drown the budget in red ink.

Who's right? I asked Don Drummond. In the late 1990s, Drummond was the economist at the Department of Finance who pushed the Liberal government to cut corporate income taxes. The top rate then was almost 30 per cent. Getting it down was essential for the economy, Drummond insisted.

The Liberals agreed and the rate was slashed to 18 per cent. The fight now is whether that should go to 15 per cent.

"You would think if anyone among the 33 million Canadians would care deeply about this, it would be me," says Drummond, who was, until recently, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank and is now Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen's University. But he doesn't. Not in the least. "I have a hard time getting beyond a yawn."

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In 1999, three men in suits shared the cover of Time magazine. One man suppressed a smirk, as if he were a math geek who had just solved a problem everyone else said was too hard. Another grinned like a cat with a full belly. The third looked lumpy and glum.

In the words emblazoned on the cover, they were "The Committee To Save The World."

Truly, they were supermen. But where are they now?

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It's Still The Economy, Stupid

Wednesday, 26 January 2011 11:30

Ronald Reagan is in deep trouble. He probably won't be re-elected. He may not even run.

That was the conventional wisdom in January 1982, when Reagan delivered his third State of the Union address. Barack Obama is at precisely the same point in his presidency, but the conventional wisdom on Obama's future is quite different. And that is hugely significant.

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Yes, Culture Matters

Wednesday, 12 January 2011 17:38

Imagine two people. One is sure in his bones that he can succeed, but only if he works as hard as he can, gets the best education, and constantly puts off small rewards today for greater rewards tomorrow. The other doesn't believe his actions will determine his fate, doesn't work as hard as he can, doesn't get an education, and consistently chooses the rewards of today rather than waiting for tomorrow. Who is more likely to succeed?

Of course. Our values, beliefs, and attitudes make a big difference in whether we succeed or not. The point is obvious, even banal, when we're talking about individuals.

But values, beliefs, and attitudes aren't created by individuals, at least not individuals alone. They are shaped and shared within communities. We call these shared perceptions "culture."

Does culture make a difference in whether a community succeeds or not? The point would seem to be equally obvious. But don't you dare say it out loud.

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Think You Have Ireland All Figured Out?

Thursday, 25 November 2010 22:06

The "road to prosperity" is clear, wrote Pat Toomey in a book published last year. Cut taxes. Deregulate. Get government out of the way and let the free market rip. This isn't dogma, emphasized Toomey, a former Republican Congressman and former president of the Club for Growth. It's empirical fact. Why, just look at the miraculous economy of Ireland.

Yes, just look at it.

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Should the government of Canada spend $16 billion on 65 of those supercool F-35 stealth fighter jets? I don't know. But I do know one of the arguments often made in the debate, explicitly or implicitly, is dangerously misguided. Worse, it's common. Extremely common. Planners of all sorts routinely fall for it -- and get themselves into serious trouble as a result.

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