Sunday, February 24, 2013

Equality of Opportunity Requires Greater Equality

I know this isn't new to many, but it doesn't get said enough.  Various conservatives and neoliberals get away with saying "I'm for greater equality of opportunity, meritocracy, but not enforced greater equality."

They should be called out on it, as it is utter nonsense.  You cannot promote equality of opportunity without some amount of greater equality.  Some kind of economic wealth redistribution is required.

Take education, the favourite go-to issue of "equality-opportunists" - you say you want to ensure low income people are able to attend good or even elite schools.  Well Harvard isn't cheap. If someone too poor to pay its outrageous tuition is going to attend, who is going to pay for that?  Whether you favour tax funded programs or private scholarships, you still require rich people to pony up cash and pay for low income kids to get into Harvard.  Even if you're just talking about improving schools in poor areas, you need funds to make good schools, and if the tax base of the poor area doesn't support that, the money has to come from wealthier people.

Even legalistic means like anti-discrimination laws are a form of redistribution.  Government has to pay regulators and courts to enforce these laws, and provide disadvantaged groups opportunities to have redress that aren't paid for by the taxes of those disadvantaged groups.

Capitalism generally distributes economic opportunity according to wealth or income.  Rich people have more opportunity than middle income, who have more opportunity than low income.  Yes, Albert Einstein born to a poor family will likely succeed in at least escaping poverty and possibly more, but dullards born to the wealthy will succeed and mediocre kids of the middle most often do too.

If you are really for greater equality of opportunity, you are by definition in favour of greater equality.  If you're not, whatever ideas you have will fail and you're frankly most likely insincere about the equality of opportunity thing to begin with.

Solid Monckton Journalism

Viscount Monckton is on another one of his highly lucrative climate denial evangelism tours of Australia.  I caught this great piece from a Tasmanian newspaper called "The Mercury", Monckton's Hot Air:

At a public lecture in Hobart this week, he said there had been no global warming for at least 16 years. 
"The climate models were wrong and the world is not going to end," he said. 
Tony Press, former director of the Antarctic Division and now CEO of the University of Tasmania's Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre, said Lord Monckton's interpretation was unscientific. 
"The argument of 'no recent warming' is wrong and has been debunked time and again," Dr Press said. 
"The cherry-picking of dates or selected time periods to cast an argument in support of a pre-conceived idea is not scientific method.
Good stuff, no "he said, she said" false equivalence, most of the piece is scientific experts rebutting Monckton's many falsehoods.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Difficult is Senate Abolition? A Law Professor Responds

Yesterday I came across this piece in the Hill Times that was quite negative on the constitutional prospects for Senate abolition.  A couple different experts were quoted in the piece, and a couple elements of what they're quoted as saying weren't clear to me so I wrote to one of them, Bruce Ryder of Osgoode Hall Law School.  He was gracious enough to write back, quite quickly.  My questions and his answers follow.

Before I start, a quick primer on amending the Canadian Constitution, there are several sections of the 1982 Constitution referenced, here's what they roughly mean:

s38 - This is the "default" amendment formula, requiring approval of the federal Parliament, and the legislatures of seven provinces that collectively have at least 50% of the Canadian population.
s41 - Certain parts of the Constitution are deemed as requiring an even higher bar for approval, all provincial legislatures plus the federal Parliament must approve.
s43 - Amendments that basically only affect 1 or 2 provinces can be enacted by approval of the federal Parliament and the legislatures of the affected province(s).
s44 - Amendments that only affect the federal Parliament, and aren't specifically listed as requiring s38 or s41 can be enacted by the federal Parliament on its own.  s42 in particular sets limits on when this can be used by requiring s38 for a number of things.
s47 - This isn't an amendment formula but stipulates that for amendments under s38, s41 and s43, if the Senate fails to pass an amendment already passed by the House of Commons, the House can just re-pass the same amendment after six months and bypass the need for Senate approval.

On to the questions:

[D] I am curious about some things you are quoted saying in a recent article in the Hill Times:

1) You state clearly that consent of the Senate would be required to abolish it.  My plain reading of section 47 says the House of Commons can twice pass an amendment and thus the Senate's consent is not required.  Am I missing something or was that an error on your part?

[BR] Yes, your reading of s.47 is correct, the Senate has only a "suspensive veto". That is, in the context of a proposed amendment to abolish the Senate, the Senate would have the power only to delay its own destruction. The House of Commons could overcome any resistance in the Senate by re-passing a resolution in favour of its abolition 180 days later.

[D] 2) What is the basis of your certainty that abolition of the Senate would have to be done by Section 41 instead of 38?  Nothing in s41 seems to me to preclude abolition of the Senate.  The one reference is just that provinces must keep as many House members as they have Senators.  If there was no Senate, this requirement is trivial, but always met.  That the government has sent this very question to the Supreme Court seems to at least imply the answer is not certain.

[BR] The question is: would an amendment of the constitution to abolish the Senate be an amendment in relation to any of the matters listed in s.41 of the Constitution Act, 1982? If so, then the amendment would need to be supported by resolutions passed in all 10 provincial legislatures. I agree that the "Senate floor" provision in s.41(b) would not be affected by Senate abolition: provinces would still be entitled to have at least as many MPs in the House as they had Senators "at the time this Part comes into force" [April 17, 1982]. I agree that an amendment abolishing the Senate would not be in relation to the office of the Queen or her representatives [s.41(a)], the use of English or French (even though neither could be used any more in the Senate!) [s.41(c)], or the Supreme Court of Canada [s.41(d)]. However, abolishing the Senate would necessitate an amendment to the amending procedures themselves [s.41(e)], as the approval of the Senate could no longer be required for amendments as it currently is by s.38, s.41, s.42, s.43 and s.44 (subject to being overridden by the House pursuant to s.47).

You might argue in response that we could abolish the Senate and leave the amending procedures themselves untouched. But this would render the amending procedures unusable because they would require the approval of a body that did not exist. Could we live with such a constitutional straitjacket as the price of Senate reform? You might reply by saying yes, since the Senate has only a suspensive veto (by virtue of s.47). The House could simply vote twice, separated by six months, and thereby override the Senate's rigor mortis. You might say the country can put up with a delay of six months for future constitutional amendments - it's just another form of sober second thought.

However, notice that s.47 does not allow the House to override the need for Parliament's approval pursuant to s.44. The constitution currently defines Parliament to consist of the Queen, the House and the Senate. Therefore, the abolition of the Senate would make it impossible to pass future amendments pursuant to s.44, unless Parliament is redefined to exclude the Senate. But that would involve an amendment to the amending procedures, which by virtue of s.41(e) requires the approval of all ten legislatures. You might argue that if we are willing to make s.44 unusable, by not amending it to remove the requirement of Senate approval, then the unanimity procedure need not be followed. But that would be a curious kind of Senate abolition, one that would allow the Senate to rule us from the grave by preventing future amendments to Parliament or the government of Canada.

For these reasons, I believe the abolition of the Senate cannot be accomplished without amendments to the amending procedures and thus, pursuant to s.41(e), Senate abolition would probably require the support of all ten legislatures and both Houses of Parliament (subject to the Senate being overriden by the House pursuant to s.47). I say "probably" because the Supreme Court of Canada has not yet interpreted the amending procedures in the 1982 constitution. Its opinion on this reference will break new ground in that regard. The amending procedures are complex and convoluted, leaving plenty of room for legal debate. Nobody should put forward their opinion as a "certainty", although the text and its underlying objectives can allow us to say that some interpretations are more likely than others.

[D] 3) Do section 41 amendments require unanimous passage in the various legislative bodies (i.e. must pass with all 308 MPs, 105 Senators voting yes) or just that all 10 provinces and the federal parliament must approve by simple majorities within each legislature?  Your sentiments in the article seem to imply all individual voting legislators must assent.  Yet that level of unanimity seems implausibly high in any democracy.

[BR] No, when we refer to s.41 as the "unanimity procedure", as constitutional lawyers frequently do, we are referring to its requirement of unanimity among federal and provincial legislatures, not to the unanimous support of the members of each legislature. Section 41 amendments come into force if all ten provincial legislatures and Parliament pass authorizing resolutions through a majority vote of the members present at the time of the vote.

I'm thrilled to get such a comprehensive answer. Questions 1 and 3 are really just clarifying points. The Hill piece makes it sound like "unanimity" doesn't just mean each legislative chamber approves, but each individual legislator.  Glad to also clarify the meaning of Section 47, which means the Senate is not required to approve of amendments concerning itself (or anything else, except for amendments under s44).

Answer 2 is the most important question though.  I find his reasoning convincing, except that I think the way he describes it, it is possible we could abolish the Senate as a section 38 (seven provinces with at least 50% of the population) amendment, and once that was done, follow it up with a section 41 amendment requiring consent of all 10 provinces and the House of Commons twice to fix s44.  That second amendment, would have a reasonable chance of passage since the Senate would already be gone.

Alternatively, it's possible we live without that amendment, and make do with s38 approval for things we might now want to pass under s44.  That entails a certain loss of constitutional flexibility, as there have already been two amendments passed under s44 since 1982.  One changed the formula for apportioning House seats, and the other granted Nunavut a Senate seat.  Arguably it would be good if amendments like that needed more approval than just Parliament itself.

Of course, the Supreme Court will rule on this, and maybe they'll find that you can't Amend the Constitution in such a way that some section you're not allowed to amend using the formula you're using would be rendered useless, inert or moot.  Maybe abolishing the Senate as a section 38 "seven-fifty" amendment just can't be done because it alters the effect of section 44 and that would be construed as an "amendment" even if the actual text of the section isn't being changed.  I guess we'll see, I'm a layman.

But if we are allowed to abolish the Senate as part of s38, and there is public will to do it, I would take my chances and accept the loss of s44 in exchange for ditching the Senate.  It's continued existence is an ongoing threat to the function of Canadian democracy, an unstable bomb that may go off any time in the form of deciding to exercise its theoretical powers.  If it has to be s41, we should still try.  If all that fails, and reform is the only option, we should ensure we set limits of the sort other bicameral systems usually have by limiting the Senate's powers over Supply bills, and creating provisions for the House of Commons to override it in some fashion at moments of great need.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Most Senates are Subordinate to Lower Houses

I can't claim to have reviewed every one of the 60 odd national governments with Senates, but in my review of a large number I find that limitations similar to what I outlined for Australia's Senate are the norm, not the exception.

Canadians probably have a skewed view based on our proximity and shared media with the US, but the US Senate as the most powerful legislative body is really exceptional (I know this is a debatable claim, I made the argument at length here, but in short form the special powers unique to the US Senate are better powers than the ones given to the House).  A few other countries (Brazil, Italy) have equal senates, but looking at France, Germany, Australia, the UK, Japan, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Spain you consistently find Senates that have significantly reduced powers as compared to the lower chambers of these legislatures.

We'd be fools not to learn from this.  The US Senate is derisively known as the "place good bills go to die" and Italy is infamous for "50 elections in 50 years" after World War Two.  Maybe it works well enough in Brazil, but even by having an upper chamber we are in the world democratic organizational minority and by empowering our Senate to be equal to our House in scope of powers, with no ability for override, we would be in a very exclusive club of unenviable systems.  It would be a radical experiment.

Canadian Senate Reformers Should Not Cite The Australian Senate

Advocates of Senate reform (particularly direct election of Canadian Senators) have taken to citing Australia's Senate as evidence that elected and democratically legitimate Senates are compatible with well run societies (here, here and here).  They should desist, unless they are prepared to advocate for an actual Australian model Senate, which is quite different from the one they are proposing for Canada.

Australia's Senate is Elected by Proportional Representation

This is almost certainly the most important difference.  Canadian Senate reformers are advocating Senators be elected by Province in the same manner we elect House members - first past the post.  How that would play out in multi-party Canada is unclear, though likely it would continue to allow a plurality support party to win a majority of Senate seats.  I fail to see how two Houses of Parliament elected by the same system improve Canadian democracy.

Australia's Senate has Limited Powers

Australia's Senate is not allowed to originate or (this is key) amend Supply bills.  This means the Government's budget bills (from the House of Commons) are take-it-or-leave-it propositions.  The US Senate is supposedly prevented from originating such bills, but with the power to amend them, this limitation proves essentially useless.  The US Senate, when it wants to pass such a bill, just takes any old House bill already passed that chamber, and "amends" it by stripping its contents and substituting a new bill.  Canada's Constitution has a US style provision and I expect it would be equally ineffectual without an Australian style limitation on amendment powers to money bills.

Australia's House has Powers to Override the Senate

For brevity's sake get the details here, but briefly the Prime Minister has some ability in extreme circumstances of the Senate blocking something, to force full elections of the entire Parliament and if that still doesn't get a Senate willing to pass whatever bill, the PM can initiate a joint sitting where House and Senate members get 1 vote each, and the much greater number of House members will probably cause the measure to prevail.  The first power (double dissolution) has been used six times already, and the joint sitting power was needed only once, to bring in Australia's system of universal health care during the 1970s.

The regular need for these override powers even given the extremity of causing an additional full national election campaign to do it should caution Senate reformers as to the general obstructionist nature of Senates that have the power to behave that way.  In a Canada that had the Senate our reformers are pushing, could national universal health care have come to be?

Still, even these limited powers and capacity for override did not prevent the Australian 1975 Constitutional Crisis where the Senate was blocking supply to the government, and the Governor-General decided he was therefore required to dismiss the Prime Minister (who still had confidence of the House) and force new elections.  A person on Twitter asked me if one crisis means their entire system is unworthy, and my answer is "maybe" - it depends how bad the crisis is, or could have been. That crisis was not only about the role of the Senate, but the unelected Governor-General dismissing a Prime Minister but we would be foolish not to observe that incident and ensure it could not happen in our system.

It would be an exaggeration to say Australia is some kind of failure.  It's a prosperous country and ahead of Canada in a number of developmental areas.  Yet it's clear that their Senate is nothing like the one reformers are pushing for Canada so we really can't draw much on their experience, and even then they have had significant troubles with their model.  I maintain my belief that the most sensible reform is abolition of the chamber, but if reform must be, I would vastly prefer the Australian model of a more democratically elected Senate, with limited legislative powers and which can be overridden at need to the model being pushed for Canada.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chrisopher Monckton, Climate Skeptic Hero

This post provides the sources of a series of claims I am making over Twitter.  My main points are two:

1) Christopher Monckton is the leading climate "skeptic" and is held in extremely high regard by climate skeptics.

2) Monckton is singularly unreliable, dishonest, deceitful, preposterous and possibly some kind of compulsive liar or outright sociopath.  If he were some kind of fringe figure in the climate skeptic movement, this might not matter, but given #1, it says a great deal about the credibility of the whole movement that they cannot seem to find anyone more credible and trustworthy to be their leading voice.

This started yesterday when a climate ostrich posted a link to "10 Killer Questions" that Monckton poses to what he calls "climate extremists."  I googled the title of the post and found:

Who is this person who so-called climate skeptics find so enthralling that so many of them repost his every utterance?  Here's the statements I make over twitter, and my sources:

I expect climate deniers would be inclined to reply with something about Al Gore, his big houses, plane flying or the money he makes from his green business interests.  Ok.  I have previously compared Gore and Monckton's relative credibility and even if you think Gore is an unworthy spokesperson for climate reality and action, he is nowhere near Monckton's league of duplicity and farce.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Minimum Wages Are Required

I really love the classic film of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, so made a point a couple years ago to read the book, which I also greatly enjoyed.  One of the things that really struck me was how the prevailing wages for rough physical work that the family encounters actually falls basically below the point of being able to even afford adequate caloric intake to maintain that level of effort over time.  In one sequence the whole family works the whole day picking fruit at some farm, and the wages they're paid don't even buy a big enough meal to feed them all to satisfaction.  The next day they find the wages are even being cut further.  People were working for less money than it costs just to survive.

Now, you can say it's just a book, but I see no reason to doubt that this happens in extreme economic conditions, and Steinbeck was basing his work on actual visits he made to the Hoovervilles and camps these migrant workers created (which were actually worse than he portrays in the book; people really were starving to death).

There's plenty of room for debate about where the minimum wage should be set, but even if it was true that the minimum wage "costs jobs" I wouldn't be persuaded against its necessity in the face of the above.  Desperate people will work for near anything, and if a job's "marginal utility" is such that it pays less than survival wages, the worker is better off if that job doesn't exist.  Fortunately the empirical evidence is that the Econ 101 theory which says minimum wages kill low wage jobs is just flat false.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Sensible Path: Abolish the Senate

Calls for reform represent a stealth effort to foist a radical new form of government on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

Aside from the cost (about $90 million per year) and the recent scandals about residency and private life criminal behaviour, the real threat the Senate poses is that it has (mostly) equal formal constitutional powers to the House of Commons.  The only thing that keeps them from acting like a co-equal chamber of our national legislature is that they know they lack public support and legitimacy to do so.  What if that changed?

That is what Harper's attempts to reform the Senate by ordinary legislation rather were intended to do.  He was trying to build a critical mass of quasi-elected Senators, who ran in provincially administered optional elections and then were appointed by Ottawa to the chamber.  They would feel they, individually, had democratic "mandates" to govern - legislate, block or amend House bills.  Once they started to do this, and had enough of them to do so, the public would probably object to this "unelected" chamber interfering in the elected House's business, and would likely demand full elections for the whole thing.  After that, Senate reform toward something like the "triple E" (elected, effective, "equal") model long pushed by western conservatives would be off and running.

Fortunately, Harper appears to have had second thoughts and may abandon the plan.  Very smart person Chantal Hebert (not snark) thinks abolition of the Senate may be near critical mass.  Here's hoping.

Why Not Reform The Senate?

Why should we abolish it rather than "reform" it?  Isn't reform the more mild solution and abolition is radical?  Actually, it is the reverse.  Reforming the senate in any way which empowers it to govern and legislate is actually far more radical than simply eradicating it.  Canada has governed for 145 years with the second chamber acting as a powerless rubber stamp that may as well have not existed.  Reforming it to create a second, potent, elected house of Parliament would be far more radical than simply formalizing the Senate's non-power by eliminating it.  Down the abolition route, we pretty much know the outcome since we have 145 years of not worrying what the Senate thinks about things.  Down the "reform" route we have no certainty about the outcome since it would be something entirely new to our mode of government.  That is unleashing a radical experiment on an unsuspecting public.

So reverse the onus:  Why reform the Senate?  If your problem with the Senate is a bunch of do-nothing, highly paid appointed party hacks and loyalists, than isn't the obvious answer to just get rid of them?  What is an "elected" and "effective" Senate supposed to accomplish, aside from providing a way to kick out Senators who cheat on expenses or commit personal crimes?  Abolishing would solve both problems without the major side-effects of creating a whole new chamber of powerful politicians.

When you push this way, what you find is that Senate reformers actually have a substantive agenda for government reform, one that has almost nothing to do with the widespread complaints and outrage at Senate misbehaviour.  They want a radically changed federal government, one which is more likely to govern the way they want, and less likely to do things they don't like.  This is about changing the nature of Canadian governance to favour right wing interests and ideology.  That is decidedly radical and should not be confused for the milquetoast term "reform."  A Triple-E Senate isn't a trivial change, it would be an entirely new system of government and one completely A-historical to our history and government evolution.

But, the House of Commons is Broken!

A common impetus for reforming the Senate is a litany of potential complaints about the actions of the House of Commons.  Again, if your problem is with the House than the obvious answer is to reform the House.  Whatever your problem with the House, why is adding 105 more elected politicians in the Senate supposed to fix that?  Reforming the House can take various forms, depending on the problem you may wish to solve, but if that is your complaint, attacking the problem directly seems to self-evidently the first thing to try.  Even better, reforming the House does not require radical experiments in wholly new forms of government.

An "Elected, Effective" Senate Ends Responsible Government

Going back in our history, a long battle was fought to bring responsible government to Canada, even before Confederation.  What does it mean?  The fundamental principle at stake is that the public should know who is responsible for the governing decisions affecting their lives and be able to punish or reward them electorally for it.  This underlies our whole system of government.  A Parliament is elected, the biggest party forms a government and we get to rate their actions good and bad.  Now throw in a separately elected Senate, which may or may not have the same party composition as the House, and whose members are not required to follow instructions from the Prime Minister.  They will block important government priorities, change other bills, and add in their own priorities for the House to consider.  They will horse-trade,  bluster and the end result will be policies that do not match what the sitting government intended to do or maybe even wanted.

In the US, this is often described as part of their "checks and balances" system of government.  No one source of power can take significant action without approval of one or more other sources of power.  It also means US voters can never be sure who to credit or blame for the actual policies enacted by Washington.  Anyone following US politics will still find debate over who to credit for balancing the US budget in the 1990s.   Was it Bill Clinton?  Or was it the majority Republican Congress?  Who knows?  Both had essential roles in it happening and we can't access alternative dimensions of reality where Dole wins the '96 election or Democrats retake Congress to address counterfactuals.  That's just one example and one where most observers agree something "good" happened.  Try to figure out who to blame for the repeal of the New Deal era Glass-Steagall act in 1999, or for the PATRIOT act or the recent debt-ceiling crises (multiple) and you'll see the drawbacks of checks and balances in a divided US government.

That system has certain merits (I do not favour it) but at least in their defence one can say their founders set about to create such a system.  Our model is not designed for this at all.  It would be some kind of horrendous accidental after-thought, stapled on ad-hoc.  We would not end up with a true "checks and balances" system but something like the worst of both worlds.

An "Equal" Senate would be Horrendously Unequal

An "equal" Senate means each province would have the same number of Senators.  Ontario has more people than British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island combined, yet those approximately 12 million people would have seven times the Senate representation that Ontario's nearly 13 million people would have under such a system.  This is preposterous.  This is the same absurd system the United States has where Wyoming's 500,000 or so people have the same two Senators that California's 37 million people have.

Yes, people in rural and remote regions deserve representation.  This they already have both in the House  and further Provinces have a number of guaranteed powers in the Constitution, including the necessity that at least 7 of them would approve of most types of constitutional reform (so say, Ontario and Quebec, with a majority of Canada's people can't change the Constitution alone).

A Triple-E Senate is a recipe for parochial NIMBYism where the will of the majority would be regularly stymied on just routine day-to-day governance, never mind major (and rare) constitutional reforms.

In the US this system is already a disaster (where the Senate is known as the "place good bills go to die") where there are 50 states and no one state comes near the proportion of the total population that Ontario or Quebec do for Canada.  California is slightly over 10% of the total population, and it is the most populous state.  In Canada this type of system would be far more egregiously unfair.

Sober Second Thought

The track record of upper chambers as places where wild and radical bills from the more democratic lower houses are halted is actually quite thin.  Proponents of such ideas should be challenged to provide examples of really stupid populist ideas that were stopped by upper chambers.  In the US, the Senate failed to stop the Authorization for force in Iraq, the PATRIOT act, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the bankruptcy reform bill, the FISA telecom retroactive immunity bill, the Bush tax cuts (two rounds) and the $700B bailout of the banks (TARP).  The US Senate did block all kinds of good and useful things like watering down aid to State and local governments in the Stimulus (leading to millions of police, firefighters and teachers being laid off), the cap-and-trade bill, the public option for Obama's health care reform (and nearly scuttled the whole bill), and in 2010 - over 290 bills that passed the House under Democratic control.  In the past, the Senate was infamous for blocking civil rights and voting rights legislation and even laws against lynching black people.

It's not just the US.  We can look at Australia which has an elected and powerful Senate.  If Australia's Senate worked like triple-E radicals want Canada's to work, it would never have gotten universal health care passed in the 70s.  Doing so required a special provision of the Australian Senate where a full "double dissolution" election of both bodies is called, and then (after the Senate still blocked the bill), the House is able to force a joint session of parliament where bills can be passed on majority vote (and the far greater number of House members means they can usually overwhelm Senate opposition).  Triple-E proponents suggest no such mechanism for Canada to by-pass a dead end Senate blocking the business of the nation.

The Australian Senate also partly caused Australia's infamous constitutional crisis when its Governor General preemptively dismissed the sitting Prime Minister despite his having the confidence of the House.  The Governor-General's reasoning was that the Prime Minister had been unable to get the budget passed by the Senate, which (he argued) meant that the government lacked "supply" (referring to money to run the actual government) and thus new elections were required. This was a very novel interpretation of Parliamentary unwritten constitutional duties of Governors-General and highly controversial among the population of the day.  But to this day the question is not fully resolved, and if a Canadian Senate was blocking supply to a sitting government, could a Canadian Governor-General do the same?  Or would we have something like the US in the 90s where the House Republicans under Speaker Gingrich blocked supply and forced a federal government shutdown (several, actually)?

Blocking Repeal of Bad Laws

The companion to the Senate's supposed ability to block "bad" laws is that it also blocks the repeal or amendment of bad laws.  Basically you can only believe the Senate will be "wise" in what laws it passes, blocks or amends if you believe Senators will be wiser than House members.  For elected Senators, I can't see why that would plausibly be so.

Around the World

The vast majority of governments do not have upper chambers.  One count finds 115 unicameral governments to 64 bicameral governments.  The list of countries without Senates includes such obvious governing disasters as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, New Zealand and South Korea.  Of the 64 that have Senates, it is worth note that many of them have what I call "crippled" Senates - that is, Senates which are not co-equal with the lower House.  Canada is obviously one such, since our Senate has no democratic legitimacy, the UK has formally hobbled the House of Lords, and in many cases (Japan, Germany, France, Australia) the constitution provides means for the House to somehow override the Senate with varying degrees of difficulty.

This is far from a comprehensive evidence review, but then, that onus should not be on me.  Those who want an active and elected Canadian Senate acting as co-equal to the House of Commons should have the onus to show the benefits this will bring, and the harms it will avoid.  Electing them to resolve their expense and residency failings is simply overkill.  You can't "reform" a body that has no current useful purpose without identifying what purpose it really should be serving and ensure your reforms actually give the group a reasonable shot to do that.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why Liberalism? Part 2

In part 1, I outlined a view of what liberalism is, and an understanding of what "ideology" is.  In part 2, let's look at some evidence for the views I'm promoting, in summary, the thesis that:
[Liberalism] does not start from a sacred writ that outlines all outcomes and presupposes all solutions.  It attempts to understand how real humans actually behave, and what motivates them and goes from there to find the best available policy options to bring about the desired outcomes in terms of widespread happiness and prosperity, of, as the title of this blog says, autonomy for all.
This piece looks at several issue cases where the liberal, libertarian and conservative dominant positions demonstrate the distinction I am describing.

Money and the Monetary System

The intro to part 1 covers this, but to re-iterate, the general right wing view on "money" is that it is something that should be holy and eternal, of fixed (or even hopefully) growing value and the supply limited by some natural law, like the gold supply.  This post is not the place to get into an extended discussion of why any attempt to make the monetary system work this way is doomed to fail, but I will summarize by saying the most important part:  It has been tried before and failed spectacularly and repeatedly.  The gold standard (or even gold and other precious metals themselves) were the monetary system well up to the early decades of the 20th Century pretty much everywhere.  Frequently gold standard advocates will claim that "fiat" currency is responsible for various economic catastrophes ignoring the myriad of crises, recessions and depressions that plagued the world while under the gold standard.  My favourite of this breed is to remember that the "Great" depression is named such, partly as a means to distinguish it from all the other depressions that had occurred within living memory of the early 1930s, most notably the Long Depression (1873-1879) which predated even the speciously often blamed Federal Reserve as cause for all economic ills.

An infamous moment occurred when Alan Greenspan once apologized to Milton Friedman on behalf of the US Federal Reserve for causing the Great Depression.  While anti-fed gold standard types may think to cheer this admission by a Fed Chair, Friedman's case against the Fed was that it did not create enough money when needed after the 1929 crash.  It stood pat and let the crisis develop.  For awhile, Friedman's view that monetary expansion via an arms length central bank can be employed to allay recessions was nominally accepted by right wing elites, it has never really been accepted by rank and file conservatives and libertarians who mostly want to abolish the Fed, and central banking generally.

The history of the 20th Century shows a progression of iterative steps away from the gold standard in response to the various problems it cause once those problems became acute.  Far from some sweeping liberal ideological statement of opposition to the gold standard issued by John Maynard Keynes from atop some mountain, a variety of hybrid experiments were attempted between the Great Depression, Bretton-Woods and Nixon's eventual full floating of the US dollar as a fully convertible  fiat currency legally mandated only to be usable in paying debts denoted in US dollars.

Right wing ideologues seeking to defend the gold standard or other forms of "hard money" policies often find themselves appealing to literal ancient history (like in Paul Krugman's debate with Ron Paul, with the latter citing Diocletian Rome as if we have anything like reliable records of economic conditions in that period) - this is because more recent economic history provides very little grist for their mills.

Liberalism does not "require" floating fiat currencies.  It does not dictate arms-length independent central banks as the arbiters of a nation's currency.  Instead, we are experimenting to find what works, iteratively and progressively in reaction to the evidence.

Markets and Capitalism Generally

The right wing view on markets amounts to their most salient and powerful infatuation with a simplistic, elegant theory that does not work out as intended when applied to real, living human societies.  There is an old joke about communism that goes "nice theory, wrong species" and this applies very much to the dominant right wing modes of thought about markets being perfect, self-correcting, rational and efficient.

A common right wing illusion is to assume that because liberals and other left wingers differ with their view on markets, that must mean we believe something close to the diametric opposite of them.   They want smaller government, so liberals must want "bigger" government as an end in itself.  They support deregulation so liberals must want endless arbitrary regulations. Hardly so.  Certainly there are such things as bona fide socialists, Marxists and anarchists who actively oppose capitalism and free markets.  Liberalism itself can even allow for these views (if one thinks the evidence supports them).  Yet liberals broadly do not oppose markets and capitalism to the degree that right wing ideologues support them.  Every small-l liberal party in the world, from the US Democrats, Canada's Liberals (and arguably, NDP in my broad definition of liberalism), Australia's Labor, Britain's Labour, and on down the list believe in employing market capitalism to some degree in pursuit of society's aims.  Every economy in the world is some mix of private and public spending, some balance between "socialism" and "capitalism."

Liberals support things like minimum wages and unions precisely because we recognize markets bring certain benefits but wish to limit the evident harms we empirically observed from the periods before such things existed.  There are some on the left who oppose such attempts to ameliorate the harms of capitalism precisely because they wish to see capitalism fail and be rejected by society and liberal harm reduction measures are contrary to that revolutionary goal.

I have written at length on the evolution of liberal thought on capitalism in my piece "One Liberalism Through the Ages" which details the creation of capitalism by liberals like Adam Smith, and the slow liberal realization that while capitalism was better than what it replaced (variations on mercantilism and feudalism) it still needed state intervention in various forms to achieve the real goals of liberalism.  Libertarians (many of whom call themselves "classic liberals" thinking this is some kind of insult to current liberals) have largely (or entirely in many cases) remained fixed on the ideas and form of capitalism liberals developed in the 19th century.  Conservatives too.  Liberalism looks at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and say "businesses should be required to keep fire exits, extinguishers, etc etc" - right wing thought says "rational actors look at an unsafe work place and find a job somewhere safe, consumers will choose not to buy from businesses that have horrific fires" and so forth.  Their answer to any workplace complaint from wages to safety to harassment is to quit and work "elsewhere" under the assumption that a good alternative exists.  It must, their theory dictates it.  If it somehow does not, the individual is always to blame for not having worked or studied hard enough or having picked the wrong employment skills to pursue (like the cliche and glib assumption often appearing in comment sections that college grads having trouble finding good jobs must have studied "useless" subjects like the arts or humanities).

Taken to their logical conclusion, the right wing view amounts to:  "If you don't succeed in our chosen economic system, that's your problem, and your suffering is no concern to anyone but you."  This is backwards.  The economic system should most broadly serve humanity's needs and wants and if large numbers of people find it impossible to succeed under the chosen system, the system should be changed.  To right wing ideologues, it is humans who should conform to the dictates of the system.

Again and again right wing thought applies capitalism first principles and contrives whatever specious and cherry picked evidence they need to keep face in debates in support of unregulated, minimal (and flat) tax capitalism.  A century and more of experience with the problems such policies cause have not deterred them, as every crisis somehow ends up being the fault of government interference, from the "federal reserve caused the Great Depression" theory to the ones that attribute the 2008 financial collapse to Fannie, Freddie or the Community Re-investment Act.


A social issue to change the tone, and one where libertarians side more closely with liberals, but where conservatives have the holy dogma:  Sex is properly for procreation, not pleasure.  Pleasure from sex is typically incidental, and sometimes even actively sinful (particularly for women).  At best, pleasurable sex may be enjoyed only between married couples and even then contraception is discouraged.  Thus we have a long litany of conservative favoured laws prohibiting forms of non-procreative sex, sex between same-sex couples, and even banning contraception.  Lately conservatives have taken to conflating contraception and abortion and claim that the most effective contraceptives (the pill, IUDs) and the ones that women have the most control over (not requiring consent of a male to employ) are abortifacients and thus morally abhorrent.

In reality, most people want to have sex for pleasure at least sometimes and usually quite often if they can arrange it with partners they find appealing.  They don't however wish to have children nearly as often as biology would dictate and are happy to employ contraceptives to avoid this.

Conservatives evidently prefer that women suffer the consequences of recreative sex in the form of undesired children (and possibly disease).  They expect people to conform to their views of how we should behave sexually and oppose efforts to reduce the risks associated with the behaviours we evidently prefer to engage in.  Liberalism does not mirror conservativism.  It does not seek to enforce, coerce or do more than mildly encourage people to engage in recreative sex.  Liberalism seeks to accept people as they are, and craft policies to support them in their desired modes of action with as little risk and harm as possible.

Libertarians tend to be closer to liberals with respect to adult consensual sex (though I would note at least the last 3 US Libertarian party presidential nominees have been personally anti-abortion, and libertarian hero Ron Paul believed in state restrictions for abortion) but the distinction with liberals can be seen more clearly when it comes to prostitution.  To libertarians, prostitution is permissible so long as the prostitute is there by choice.  The liberal view on prostitution is that there really isn't one, at least not a single dogmatic one.  Liberals see the empirical reality that very few women willingly choose a career in renting their bodies except by harsh economic necessity and thus have complex views from support of prohibition, to various regulated schemes such as what you see in Amsterdam or New Zealand.  Again, rather than dogma there is an effort to maximize autonomy and minimize evident harms like disease, abuse, slavery and pimps.

Climate Change

By now it should surprise no one that conservatives are the least likely to accept the need for concerted action to avoid a climate change catastrophe.  Yet libertarians are generally speaking just as vehemently opposed if not more so.  Why is this so?  The evidence is abundantly clear and grows more compelling day by day.

In part their denial is a part of their denial of problems with free reign market capitalism.  Markets are perfect and should price everything that needs pricing.  The solutions to climate change all require activist government intervention in markets in some form - whether a carbon tax, a regulatory cap and trade system, sheer flat out government imposed limits on industry emissions or even just massive subsidies for otherwise uneconomically viable green energy technologies.   All of these are anathema to right wing economic holy writ.  So the need for them must be a liberal contrivance to implement their desired redistributive and government growing schemes on an unwitting society.

Conservative and libertarian reasons for denial change somewhat.  Religious conservative denialists cite various bible verses and exhibit certitude that God simply wouldn't permit such a thing to happen to us.  Libertarians simply have faith that if there was a problem, markets would have priced it, and if there's a need for a solution, some for-profit technology will be developed in time anyway.  That the people of Easter Island really did run out of resources and thus die off without finding a solution or alternative means of supporting their civilization doesn't seem to worry them.  It won't happen to us.  It can't.  The dogma says it won't.

As for liberalism, acceptance of the need for action on the climate problem is near universal, but the favoured solutions are a subject of considerable debate.  Again, there is no holy writ on how to solve the climate crisis.  In Canada, we somehow ended up at one point with the Liberal party in favour of a carbon tax, and the NDP advocating Cap & Trade.  In other places, Cap & Trade tends to be the favoured approach of the more centrist pro-business liberals.  Still others believe both schemes unworkable and simply want government to engage in a kind of "Manhattan Project" to develop renewable energy technology to the point of being cheaper than carbon based energy sources.  It is true that liberal policies in response to the climate crisis still seek to maintain or broaden economic equality, but this is consistent with my arguments here.  Liberals also, do not broadly seek to "undo" capitalism and seek some kind of revolutionary alternative economic system which does not yield dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Here at last in the climate crisis we have right wing ideologues not just seeking to have humans conform to their views of how the world works, but frankly they wish to have the world itself so conform.  This is the ultimate danger of allowing right wing prescriptive and unchanging ideology to dictate human policy reaction to events.  Conservative intransigence on taxes, money or social issues lead to increased human misery, but these miseries end the moment the bad conservative policies are ended.  Humanity can rebound.  The climate crisis is a disaster that cannot be so easily undone.   It will not heal itself the moment we stop contributing to the problem, and adopt policies that react to the physical realities of the world we live in, rather than ignoring and denying them.

As Paul Krugman finished the post I started on with:
The bottom line is that we aren’t really having a rational argument here. Nor can we: rationality has a well-known liberal bias.

Why Liberalism?

In early January, Paul Krugman wrote something that actually cuts to the heart of perhaps the most important distinction between liberalism and other ideologies, particularly right wing ideologies like conservativism and libertarianism.  Discussing the idea of minting a platinum coin in order to circumvent the Republicans' ability cause a US debt default, Krugman writes:
For many people on the right, value is something handed down from on high It should be measured in terms of eternal standards, mainly gold; I have, for example, often seen people claiming that stocks are actually down, not up, over the past couple of generations because the Dow hasn’t kept up with the gold price, never mind what it buys in terms of the goods and services people actually consume. 
And given that the laws of value are basically divine, not human, any human meddling in the process is not just foolish but immoral. Printing money that isn’t tied to gold is a kind of theft, not to mention blasphemy. 
For people like me, on the other hand, the economy is a social system, created by and for people. Money is a social contrivance and convenience that makes this social system work better — and should be adjusted, both in quantity and in characteristics, whenever there is compelling evidence that this would lead to better outcomes. It often makes sense to put constraints on our actions, e.g. by pegging to another currency or granting the central bank a high degree of independence, but these are things done for operational convenience or to improve policy credibility, not moral commitments — and they are always up for reconsideration when circumstances change.
I submit that this pattern is not unique to the issue of monetary policy.  Krugman has hit upon a nearly ubiquitous theme that underlies the debate between ideological schools over the ages.  Whatever you call these sets of ideas (liberal, progressive, conservative, traditional etc.), and allowing for individuals who evade the norms while still realizing there are meaningful norms, you end up seeing that again and again, the ideologies of the right (though not solely, them, Marxism for example falls into this trap) start with a notion of what "should" be that is abstract and supposedly self-evidently correct, and then insist that policy and sometimes reality itself should conform to that ideal.

So, money should be permanent, fixed value, unchanging (or even growing in value over time) and never mind how the policies that come closest to meeting this ideal (gold standard) don't work very well for the real people and societies they're tried on, that's the ideal, and it should be adhered to whatever the costs.

Liberalism doesn't work this way.  It does not start from a sacred writ that outlines all outcomes and presupposes all solutions.  It attempts to understand how real humans actually behave, and what motivates them and goes from there to find the best available policy options to bring about the desired outcomes in terms of widespread happiness and prosperity, of, as the title of this blog says, autonomy for all.

First:  What is Ideology?

It's impossible to discuss ideology without first defining the thing.  People have a lot of notions about this, and I find most of them wrong.  But this is not the place to debate it.   For my purposes, ideology is simply your view of how the world works, and to some extent your desired organization for it, that best meets your goals for the world.  How do you decide whether tax cuts would be a good policy?  Or mandatory minimum sentences?  Or drug prohibition?  All this must be based on some view you have about how people think and act (either individually or in large groups) that tells you whether human responses to these policies will be desirable or detrimental to your pre-existing goals for societal organization.  If you think lowering taxes leads to increased economic activity and growth, and think "growth is good for society" than you are ideologically in favour of lowering taxes (absent other details like how much, and what government services might need to be cut and so forth).

Even if you think there is a hard, true "pragmatic" set of policies that "work" - you still need ideology to tell you what goals to have for those policies.  A hammer is good for driving nails, but without a plan for what to build, it does not itself build a barn or a doghouse.  Goals matter, and are intricately linked to ideology.  Two people agreeing a hammer is the best tool for building do not share "ideology" if one wishes to build a barn, and the other a doghouse.

Next:  What is Liberalism?

This is another major topic with many plausible perspectives.  Hopefully you need not wholly agree with my definition in order to follow the remainder of this essay.  I have previously borrowed the definition of liberalism supplied by political scientist Alan Wolfe, who supplies a definition I will summarize as "as many people as feasible should have as much autonomy as possible."  But I wish to extend this somewhat today, as that is merely a statement of goals and values - it doesn't specify how liberals approach this problem.  That is a vital and necessary part of what comprises a liberal.

In my last post at Open Left, I hit upon this other side of the issue.  I posit that what brought humanity out of the Dark Ages of ignorance, fear, witch burning and lethal leechcraft was what we now call "the scientific method" - the process by which those we call "scientists" examine evidence, posit explanations for phenomena, contrive repeatable experiments that could invalidate those hypotheses, and analyze the results, ready to modify their theories if the experiments provide a different result than the hypothesized outcome.  Science has no special name for this.  It is not called the "Davinci method" or the "Newton method" - there is no competing or alternative scientific method that tries to grow the field of human knowledge of nature in some alternative way.  It is simply the scientific method.  If you are not employing this method, you are simply not doing science, and anything you discover or learn is sheer happenstance and of dubious value until confirmed by someone using the scientific method.

Science does not claim to have a perfect understanding of anything.  It is always open to revision upon presentation of new evidence.  Even such things that are sometimes called "laws" (like thermodynamics, or gravity) are in fact merely highly regarded theories for which there is no current evidence providing any reason to doubt them.

Liberalism, in short, is that, but applied to ideology, as I wrote:
In the field of pursuing the ideal human society, liberalism is the science of pursuing human well being.  It combines the empiricism and rationalism of science with the goal of maximizing human happiness.  The process is iterative and the specific means change as well meaning ideas are found wanting, and as science improves our understanding of humans themselves and what it takes to make them happy.  There is no other school of thought that both seeks to improve the lot of all, and actually can do it.  The ultimate goal of liberalism is that we should not need the word "liberalism" because no one would need a special word to describe the self-evident way people determine solutions to societal problems.  That's what liberalism is, and why it must win or all humanity will fall back into ruin, scarcity, ignorance and fear.
That is the twofold definition of liberalism's means and ends I wish to employ and distinguish from the primary ideological schools of right wing thought.

This essay will be continued in a second post.

One Liberalism Through the Ages

This was originally published at Open Left, I am republishing it here as a starting point to further updates on these topics and themes. - D.

Last weekend Paul wrote:

Moreover, by the 1870s, British liberals had become quite aware that their previous understanding of economic freedom was a hollow joke, producing vast legions of downtrodden urban poor, and so they began seeking another way to think about freedom, closer to that which slaves have always understood-freedom as a gaining of power for those at the bottom, not to be dominated from above, but to be lifted up by collective support for one another: in short, the New Liberalism of Britain, which 60 years later arrived in America in the form of the New Deal. 

I've been meaning to write about this for some time, and now I promised Paul I would, so here's a first installment on the topic.  Understanding the transition liberals made from unfettered free market economics in the mid 1800s to the interventionist government model post New Deal is key to making sense of the ideological morass which humanity transitioned through in the past 400 years.  I know opinions differ on this subject, and many on the left see a meaningful distinction between progressivism and liberalism, or between classic liberalism and modern social liberalism.  I do not.  They're all liberals, even though there can be notable policy distinctions between various groups of liberals, there is still only one liberalism, and it is the same liberalism as began (or at least took form) with John Locke in the late 1600s.

This is a daunting topic.  When I first became politically aware in my late teens, and pondered what "liberal" and "conservative" meant beyond the trite caricature presented by the contemporary political parties or newspaper discourse, I discovered that no one of any academic merit had particularly good (or widely accepted) answers to this.  For example, I have written of how Conservatives cannot define "conservativism."  If better read and smarter people cannot reach concurrence, forgive my temerity in making a run at it too.  Ideology is at the core of what drives politics and any improvement of our understanding of the topic is worthwhile.  The confusion about the topic allows a lot of people who aren't liberals (like libertarians who call themselves "classic liberals") to be confused for them, and others who should be allies to create unnecessary distinctions and look at one another with distrust over what are differences not in core ethics, but technical mechanics.  It is strange that we all generally able to spot liberal and conservative ideas intuitively yet seemingly no one can can agree on what these things are.  We are left with too many definitions that rest on the specific policy preferences of the ideological groups at different points in history.  Just as modern conservatives who love free trade are not really different from past conservatives who loved tariffs and mercantilism, today's liberals who want limitations on trade are not a different species from their Corn Law repealing bretherin of 1846.

In this iteration of the project, I'm going to rely mostly on Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe, a liberal who studies questions of ideology.  It is more of a reliance on appeal to authority than I want to rest this on, but congealing the sea of philosophers and developments into a coherent story is more than I can pull off this week.

Ok, What is Liberalism then?

To begin to show that "classic" liberals are just liberals operating in a different socio-political environment, we need a definition that could plausible cover both groups.  Wolfe provides a really good one:  "As many people as possible should have as much say as is feasible over the direction their lives will take."

In a radio interview Wolfe once gave, he highlighted the concept of autonomy as vital to liberalism.  It is distinct (ironically considering the etymology of the word) from "liberty" (or "freedom").  I have never liked the word liberty.  Perhaps it is because those who extol it most often seem to be referring to the liberty of a predator to consume prey.  What of the liberty of the prey not to be eaten?  Liberty and freedom are negative concepts.  They imply merely the absence of formal restraint (usually by the state).  However autonomy is a richer and more complete concept.  It is akin to the distinction Martin Luther King Jr. once drew between peace that was merely the absence of violence, and peace which contained the presence of justice.  Thus it is not merely enough to remove the chains that bind humanity, if they are left destitute in the street to wander aimlessly and hungry.  Autonomy requires the capacity to pursue goals.  It is still individualistic, but allows for the real support all of us need from without to make any of those goals a reality.

A shorter definition from Wolfe's might be "As many people as possible should have as much autonomy as feasible."  Indeed, Wolfe has probably said as much, and likely uses the longer version as the word autonomy requires explanation.  Much more can be said about this, and I think there are even other valid (probably longer) definitions of liberalism possible, but this one satisfies my need.  For one thing it should be evident that conservatives cannot really claim to exist under this definition.  The long history of conservativism, as Phil Agre wrote in a famous piece, is one of hierarchy and inequality.  But what about libertarians?  How are they distinct from this?

What Liberalism is not

Well for one thing note that Wolfe's definition lacks any mention of an economic system.  Wolfe comments on the topic:

The idea that liberalism comes in two forms assumes that the most fundamental question facing mankind is how much government intervenes into the economy. To me, perhaps because so little of the means of production lies under my control, this is a remarkably uninteresting subject. I think of the whole question of governmental intervention as a matter of technique. Sometimes the market does pretty well and it pays to rely on it. Sometimes it runs into very rough patches and then you need government to regulate it and correct its course. No matters of deep philosophy or religious meaning are at stake when we discuss such matters. A society simply does what it has to do. 

Agree with that or not (I do), it is not surprising his definition does not require reference to economics.  In my own mental model of society, economics is the engine of the car.  Engines are obviously very important to the overall functioning of the car.  However, they are not the purpose of the car.  They are also able to vary significantly in theory.  So long as it can provide power to turn an axle, who cares how the engine does it?  In practice, car engines almost all work on the same principles, and the laws of physics limit the practicality of many alternative models.  So it seems with economics.  Capitalism may be the greatest economic system possible, or it may be the best we have tried so far, and others still untried will prove much better.  Liberalism can be agnostic on this topic.  If it employs capitalism, it will delve into the best way to tune and tweak that engine for maximum output, but it will remember that the engine is not the car, and what is good for the engine is not necessarily best for the car.

Wolfe's definition also does not make reference to the State.  It does not specify a big state, or a small one.  Virtually every definition of libertarianism or conservativism seems to rest upon some goal of smaller government and a minimized state.  In short, for Wolfe, the state should be as big or small as it needs to be to provide the most autonomy for the most people.  The economic system should be the one that does the same.

Let me provide a non-Wolfe source to bolster this claim, Francis Fukuyama, discussing the views of Adam Smith:

Smith is, however, no straightforward partisan of liberalism. He says that the prototypical bourgeois virtue of prudence earns only our "cold esteem"; his analysis, in the Wealth of Nations, of the deadening effects of the division of labor on the worker in the pin factory served as the basis for Marx's concept of alienation. For Smith, liberal commercial society is clearly second best, to be preferred only because the best regime is incapable of realization. A society in which virtue is placed front and center - a theocracy, for example - produces unexpected and counterproductive consequences, including hypocrisy and moral lassitude in the orthodox, and fanaticism and opposition in the heterodox. Smith preferred a "free market of religions," in which the need to attract followers promotes active belief, and the diversity of sects keeps fanaticism in check - something not unlike the actual condition of sectarian Protestantism in the United States. If religious belief, nonetheless, tends to erode over time, there are other sources of moral behavior. 

(Emphasis mine) For some the claim that Smith is a liberal is contentious, and certainly libertarians often see him as one of them, but here we see even Smith is actually not primarily concerned with economics, but morality.  He arrives at his economic conclusions by eliminating other options that do not bring the type of moral society he envisions.

Adding More History

Still, we are not yet ready to explain why contemporary libertarians fail to meet Wolfe's definition.  We return to Wolfe for a brief synopsis of the development from classic to social liberalism:

In the 18th century, legacies of feudalism and the rules of mercantilism created a situation in which free markets could both allow people greater control over their lives and at the same time spread that capacity to others. Smith, although claimed today by libertarians, was a liberal, indeed one of the great liberal thinkers, not because he made such a lasting contribution to economic theory but because he developed a moral philosophy respecting both freedom and equality. Under conditions of contemporary capitalism, by contrast, individual autonomy is threatened by poverty, economic instability, and concentrated corporate power. Using government to control economic fluctuations, as Keynes argued, gave society the capacity both to improve the ability of any one person to become more autonomous as well as to extend the same notion more broadly. Keynes, a member of the British Liberal Party, was never a socialist. He, like Smith, was a liberal because he too respected both freedom and equality. 

You have to consider Smith's vision of capitalism in contrast to what it displaced, the mercantilism and even legacy of feudalism which dominated life.  Capitalism was simply better than those in providing autonomy.  A feudal peasant is simply born into a caste from which he can almost certainly never escape.  The mercantilist worker may draw some sentimental happiness from the success of her nation in the zero-sum competition with other nations, but her lot does not really change whether or not her nation secures that choice colony in the New World.

Flash forward to a world in which feudalism has shrivelled to nearly naught, and mercantilism has begun to give way to capitalism.  Where are liberals?  They've won a major battle, but now must re-evaluate what they have really accomplished and where to go from there.

This is the slow march Paul describes at the start.  After all capitalism was new.  It hadn't been done before.  Smith and other liberals who followed him had high hopes, but the results did not pan out as well as desired.  Better than feudalism?  Sure.  Good enough?  No.

Now we're ready to arrive at our answer for the libertarians:  Yes, in many ways their policy preferences today map very well to the policies pushed by liberals like John Bright and Richard Cobden in the UK, Jefferson and Madison in the US or William Lyon MacKenzie in Canada.  The classic liberals.  However the difference is that those men did not have the extra 150 years of experience with the reality of capitalism.  Libertarians have stuck to a set of beliefs that liberals abandoned because they weren't serving the true goals of liberalism.  Rather than assume libertarian thinkers are unaware of this history, we must conclude that they either do not share the same goals as liberals, or lack the rational capacity to reach the correct conclusions about the empirical policy record.

While in regrettable individuals it is sometimes the latter reason, most often the difference is the rejection of autonomy by libertarians, and generally all forms of positive liberties.  The mere absence of enforced state monopolies and divinely empowered noble figures dominating life had not proved sufficient to create a society of general autonomy, and so liberals have looked to various ways through the State to provide it.  Libertarians have resisted these.  Liberty outweighs autonomy for them.

While that's defensible on many philosophical grounds, it is not what liberalism is about, even if it amounted once to what liberals of a certain era were about in specific policy terms. Libertarians today can worship markets and reject positive liberty if they want, but they're 150 years late to the classic liberal party.  It's a free country, they can call themselves what they want, but they're just revealing that they never understood what liberalism was really about to begin with when they employ the term.  Liberalism didn't betray its roots by embracing the welfare state, that was the natural response to the results of an early iteration of liberal policy real world experiment.

There is one liberalism that has pursued the same broad goals through different means.

In my next attempt at climbing this mountain, I will try to elaborate more on the specific progression of thought and events along that road for liberals in several nations.

A Casino Will Not Bring Mass Tourism to Toronto

To do the little I can do from my low-traffic blog to push back on a deeply stupid and frankly maliciously preposterous lie being pushed on the public, let's just apply a little common sense to the claim that a Toronto waterfront casino would lead to any significant levels of additional tourism to the city from outside the province.

There's only one place in the world I can name that anyone makes a point of visiting that is famous mostly (or solely) for gambling, and that's Las Vegas.  I don't mean that people from Ontario don't take bus trips to Niagara Falls or Casino Rama, but no one saves up to take a trip to these places as some kind of "you have to see it before you die" trip.  People into gambling no doubt look for opportunities to visit places with casinos, but if you're talking about driving tourism in numbers worth discussing you have to attract non-gamblers to come to your casino.  I'm not a gambler, and I've been to Vegas (once, and that was enough).  I actually didn't even gamble when I was there.  Of course I'm an anecdote, but the evidence from other cities not known for gambling that add a casino (like Montreal) backs this.  A casino is a regional big city attracts people who live a reasonable drive away, but no one visits Montreal who otherwise would not just because it has a casino.  I love Montreal and am happy to visit it when I get the chance, but until this casino debate hit Toronto, I wasn't even aware it had one.  I don't know anyone who has gone to Montreal for the casino.

 A small place like Rama, Ontario will of course benefit enormously from increased regionally local tourism to an attraction like a casino.  Toronto already has all kinds of things to draw people from across the GTA and southern Ontario to visit - major broadway productions, pro-sports teams, international music stars doing concerts, high end shopping, museums, art galleries and on and on.  We're a big city and I find it beyond difficult to believe we'd even notice the addition of a few more Ontarians visiting Toronto for the casino who otherwise don't come to the city for those other things.  In fact, there's lots of reason to think those other things will suffer as people who used to come for them, now redirect their leisure dollars to the casino instead of a play or concert.  Zero sum stuff.

There is one place I can think of that has attempted to make itself into another Vegas, and that's New Jersey's Atlantic City.  Multiple casinos, a beautiful boardwalk by the ocean, and yet, can anyone claim it has worked?  Again, I don't know anyone who's been to the place.  After all, if you're having a Stag and want to do the "big casino town" thing, why would you travel to 2nd place, when a flight to Vegas will be quite comparable?  

Enough.  I really shouldn't be even stooping to argue this as if it was a serious proposition.  Those making the claim that a casino (even some kind of "mega-casino") would drive real tourism have the onus on them to supply the proof.  Whatever arguments we're going to have about having a casino in Toronto (I oppose, pending some convincing proof that enabling more destructive gambling addictions has sufficient upside to be worth it) should be made on non-preposterous arguments that assume a modest regional tourism boost at best.  Maybe having a private developer rebuild Ontario Place or the Ex is "worth it" but that's where the debate should be.  Anyone pushing the big-tourism boost line should be disregarded as disingenuous or delusional.