Wednesday Night #1547

Written by  //  October 26, 2011  //  Antal (Tony) Deutsch, Guy Stanley, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1547

One feels like a hamster these days, eternally scrambling to reach the end of the news wheel (or reel) but never arriving at a conclusion. Occasionally there are seams indicating the putting to rest of one topic, but the wheel grinds mercilessly on with a sameness to much of what we devour in an (illusory?) attempt to be informed.

Before attacking the ultra-gloomy, we would first like to congratulate Hans Black and the wonderful McGill Chamber Orchestra for the delightful premiere concert in the new MMFA Salle Bourgie. We loved the ambiance of the beautifully restored and rededicated building, and as always, the performance was memorable (even if we were not enthused by the 25% Canadian content). Do not miss an opportunity to attend a concert there. The next MCO concert to be held there will be on March 26 2012.

We would also encourage you to venture to Verdun on Saturday afternoon, November 5 for the vernissage of Wayne Larsen‘s recent landscape paintings at the Galerie Nôta Bené.
The EU crisis drags on with occasional spats to enliven otherwise frustrating and tedious process. One of the rare chuckles comes from this priceless excerpt of a Merkel-Sarkozy press conference forwarded by Tony Deutsch

Less amusing is the news that Italy could be left without a government just as it tries to convince its European partners that it will get its ailing economy back on track.

Today, we learn that the meeting of the finance ministers of all 27 EU countries, which was to have taken place ahead of the EU leaders summit, has now been postponed. Forgive our naiveté, but what good is the summit if the finance ministers haven’t finalized agreements the leaders are expected to sign off on? [Update: see Peter Foster in FP of Oct. 25: The cancellation of a meeting of European finance ministers that was meant to precede the announcement of a final, final, final debt-crisis package on Wednesday confirms policymakers’ utter disarray and increasing desperation.]

Guy Stanley forwarded this excellent visual guide to the crisis we are waiting for the leaders and their bureaucrats to solve It’s All Connected: An Overview of the Euro Crisis

We have also enjoyed some good exchanges over Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay‘s most recent article [note there is now a page for selected writings of Dr. Tremblay where the comments are posted and encourage you to participate whenever you feel strongly about a topic].

Since last Thursday, we have all read and seen more than we ever wanted about Muammar Gadhafi’s death and the debate about how he died and whether or not he should have been killed (by whomever). Christopher Hitchens argues that Muammar Qaddafi should not have been killed, and his surviving son should be captured, reasoning that by failing to submit the Brother Leader and/or Seif to the tender mercies of the ICC, the world has undermined the tribunal’s authority, while at the same time losing the opportunity to gain badly-needed information. David Rieff explains in The Man Who Knew Too Much exactly why the foreign governments did not want to give Gadhafi a stage from which to trumpet the very unpretty story of their dealings with him. Last but not least, the Washington Post asks – and answers – Why does it matter how Gaddafi died? We would be remiss in not pointing to Wednesday Nighter Kyle Matthews‘ contribution to Foreign Policy’s roundtable: Libya is the beginning of the end for the world’s worst villains, in which he points out that Successfully applying R2P, especially the military component, has always been hindered by two general groups. The first are countries that have the power to stop atrocities but are fearful of getting bogged down in a quagmire — think of the United States circa 1994. The second are countries that block action, purposely, to protect narrow national interests — think of Russia and China’s recent double veto at the U.N. Security Council to protect the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, the population burden that our poor planet is expected to carry increases. The UN Population Division is set to announce that the world population has hit 7 billion people on Oct. 31. Demographers at the United Nations drill deep into census data, surveys, data from UNICEF vaccination campaigns and many other sources in order to arrive at their world population estimate — regarded as “the gold standard of population projection,” according to The Washington Post

Education is almost always mentioned in connection with population and offered as the principal solution to overpopulation. We would like to draw to your attention another aspect of education in developing nations. According to SciDevNet, a recent Word Bank report states that “Developing countries should only establish world-class research universities once they have a good tertiary education system in place” Link to the full report (394 pages). This appears to make eminent sense, but (we have not read the report), it would seem to therefore require a means of making those world-class research universities accessible to the best and brightest from developing nations. We would be interested in your thoughts.
Still under the heading of Education, but of the local variety, Tony Deutsch suggests the strike of the McGill non-academic workers is a topic that deserves airing and offers a précis in his comment on where you will also find a couple of less neutral reports on the situation.

Prompted by a reminder from the WSJ that this week marks the 25th anniversary of the so-called Big Bang, the sweeping deregulation of City practices carried out by Margaret Thatcher’s government, and given all of the solutions to economic woes, offered by everyone from the Tea Party, Republican candidates and more thoughtful individuals, we might suggest Regulation versus Deregulation as a suitable topic for debate. Of all things, the sad story of the exotic animals zoo in Ohio prompted this opinion piece which maintains that deregulation is responsible for everything from unsafe drugs, to the financial crisis. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives appears to agree – as early as February of this year, the CCPA referred to deregulation as disaster in the making , while today Bloomberg reports that European Central Bank Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said there was a consensus in Europe that deregulation of financial markets was excessive.

Guy Stanley has led off with his thoughts on the issue

The de-regulation debate I think is a about a rather technical subject that has somehow become unfortunately ideological, mainly in the US and UK. It seems to me the branch of law-making that most closely conforms to Montesquieu’s insight that social mores are the basis of laws. For instance, until recently most Swiss males had state of the art assault rifles in their closets owing to military service obligations but the number of gun-related deaths was quite low. It made little sense to impose truckers to make one trip loaded and the return trip empty, yet if you don’t match that de-regulation with a re-regulation of truckers’ hourly shift limits, you get over-tired or over drugged truck drivers causing accidents (one reason why Canadian truckers sometimes cause accidents in the US is that the hourly limits on Canadian drivers are less stringent, as I understand it.) One could go on.
So how are regulations actually made? Generally a combination of the balance of power of advocacy groups (industry v consumer) and such actual data on product or service performance as is available. So, for instance, Canada is so far successful at minimizing market penetration of caffeine-laden soft drinks for children compared to the US and tailoring the use of agricultural chemicals to Canadian climate conditions (i.e. lower dosages) than US lobby-based industry its would like. But what about, say, salt? The best we could do with this well-known grim reaper of middle aged and upward souls was a limited campaign of moral suasion. And there is generally far too much sugar in North American diets to be healthful. Why? Mainly because the regulators can’t prove to the food processors that they won’t lose billions as consumers by less of their products. In other words, really tough regs can amount to a “taking” under some definitions of “nationalization”.
That also raises the question of the actual strength of underlying legislation that permits relatively easy regulation through publication in the Gazette or in the US the federal register. In the US, so-called independent regulating agencies (IRAs) are controlled by congressional committee–hence the famous iron triangles between industry, agency and Congress: just “follow the $”. What about Canada? Similar process, but harder to track as the IRAs are still responsible to parliament through ministers. Just look at the evolution of the CRTC from an IRA that shaped telecom and cultural rules for years and now is regularly overruled by Cabinet if their decisions displease a minister after heavy lobbying by industry. The real problems are fundamental: changing mores, weak legislation, and data which is often less than conclusive. The upside (for people who actually care about this stuff apart from the special interest involved) is that much more of the process is visible now than in the old days. One example: Canadian underground mines are now generally safe whereas in the 1950s right through the 1980s they were more or less lethal. This is is stark contrast to the US where legislation is weak, rules are unenforced, and miners too often die.
The bottom line, however, lies as The Baron put in 1758: mores matter. Prudence is not as strong a public virtue in the US as in Canada. He would probably argue that it’s because our winters are far more severe for far more of the population.

As this issue affects all our daily lives, both personal and professional, in a much more tangible fashion than the more esoteric discussions of debt crises, we believe that it should promote some lively and informed opinions from others than the practitioners of the dismal science. What is good regulation? When and What is too much regulation? Is regulation of what you do good, while regulation of what I do bad?

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