Roundup: The Luddite debate

The NDP held their second leadership debate yesterday in Montreal on the theme of youth, and the first part of the event went pretty much as expected. All four candidates went on endlessly about the need for free tuition without actually seeming to grasp the underlying issues with such a pledge – not only that in Canada, this is an area of provincial jurisdiction (and no, it’s not as easy as giving the provinces a whack of cash and telling them “this is for free tuition!” because watch what happens when you start putting strings on provincial spending), and the fact that there are always limited resources no matter how you slice it. That means that if you’re offering free tuition, that tends to mean you either need to raise the bar for entrance to universities so that it’s higher and weeds people out, or you water everything down and the quality of the education you’re offering for free declines because systems have only so much capacity and you’re not going to find an infinite number of good profs who are willing to make the smaller salary dollars you’re able to offer in order to keep tuition free for all. It’s basic economic theory.

The other issues paid a great deal of lip service were precarious work, and automation, and while there was a lot of talk about it, I’m not sure there were a lot of answers. Just decrying precarious work doesn’t mean that the government has the power to mandate that there be full-time employment, especially when the problem is in part because of demographics (as in, there aren’t enough Boomers retiring fast enough for jobs to be taken up by Millennials in a serious capacity) and the fact that the economy is restructuring itself and we haven’t arrived at sustainable models for a number of fields yet, particularly when some of those jobs bump up against other Millennial maxims like “information wants to be free” and nobody wanting to have to pay for content that they nevertheless want to be paid to create. But this also fits in with the question of automation, which the candidates didn’t have much to answer with either.

Being worried about automation while at the same time insisting that you want “value-added” jobs and the kinds of manufacturing jobs that we saw in the fifties and sixties is kind of like the Trump promise to return to coal-fired electricity, which no longer makes sense in the age of cheap natural gas. Those kind of jobs aren’t going to exist because there’s no economic rationale for them, particularly when our economy is moving more toward being service-based. Not to mention, automation is largely taking over the most menial of tasks, which is why it’s not a bad thing that it’s happening. And sure, there are differing ways to deal with it, from skills retraining (as the Liberals are trying to move toward with aspects of their new budget) to basic income (which Guy Caron is proposing), but that may not in the end be feasible. But you can’t just say that you’ll ban automation or tax it in the hopes of supporting displaced workers, while at the same time demanding greater innovation because things don’t work that way. Innovation will demand disruption, which these candidates seem to want do avoid. If things did with without disruption, we’d still all be labouring on farms. And that’s why I found the leadership candidates to be largely unconvincing on this topic. It is an issue we’ll have to deal with, but you can’t just wish for old manufacturing jobs to come back as the answer. It’s not going to happen.

Good reads:

  • Part of the big weekend Liberal caucus meeting was laying out a plan to sell their budget, especially to premiers after those bruising healthcare talks.
  • Patty Hajdu acknowledges that extending mat leave to 18 months at a smaller rate won’t help everyone, but it can help some more women.
  • Trudeau says that plans for a peacekeeping mission are still on the table, but they’re not rushing a decision because of our troubled history with peacekeeping in Africa.
  • Apparently a marijuana legalization bill will be tabled the week of April 10th, for an effective coming-into-force date of July 1st 2018.
  • As it turns out despite the anecdotal evidence, fewer people are being turned away at the US border since the Trumpocalypse, not more.
  • Liberal Access to Information reforms are stalled in part because of considerations of privacy, public service neutrality and judicial independence, says Scott Brison.
  • The Information Commissioner warns that if the government doesn’t follow through on their Access to Information promises, they’ll lose the trust of voters.
  • The new Chinese ambassador’s tough talk about terms for bilateral trade terms is being panned by opposition parties here.
  • Our CF-18s will be deployed to Iceland and Romania over the next year.

One thought on “Roundup: The Luddite debate

  1. What free tuition means is that it becomes available for those with merit. Yes, it means that not everybody gets in, and that’s a big worry for the elites.

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