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Leo Plumer

Hookah ban is part of the problem

  The Newfoundland Liberals could write the manual on how to be unpopular. After a series of fiscal offenses, they have now moved to ban hookah lounges  -- ubiquitous across the Middle East -- effective next year. Included as part of Bill 35, which extends current regulation on tobacco to include things like e-cigarettes and vaping, the "ban" is technically on the use of tobacco products in indoor public spaces. At Aladdin's on Water Street in St. John's, the substance being smoked is a variety of shisha blends, none of which, according to the owner, actually contain tobacco. Ah, says the government, it's public health we're ultimately worried about, and Shisha still contains carcinogens. Therefore, the reasoning goes, the government must protect the public. The absurdities immediately reveal themselves. The central objective of regulation pertaining to public health is supposed to be prevent harm to others resulting from our self-interested actions -- what economists call "negative externalities." This is why we have regulations on smoking indoors or around children. The story changes when the harm is private; exclusive to you. The reason we don't go around banning everything that might harm you is that the logical extension of this is ridiculous -- the state doesn't plan your diet for you, they don't force you to exercise daily. Nor should they, if we want a free society composed of responsible adults. Even if we were to accept this as a valid role for government, it is nearly always makes unfeasible policy: think about how the War on Drugs is going. Better to accept that people can make their own choices than accept a nanny state. Either way, the government is being entirely hypocritical. This is especially rich coming from a province that relies on -- nay, promotes -- its drinking culture… Read More

Please, don’t indulge the Authoritarians

    Leo Plumer is a graduate of McGill University, where he studied politics and economics. A native of St. John's, he is a founding member of the Newfoundland & Labrador Centre for Economic Freedom. Western societies are finally feeling globalization's inevitable disruptions, none so much as the working class. Coincidentally, an upsurge in reactionary, nationalist populism can be found in almost every developed democracy. As media elites fretfully piece together theories based on things like changing cultural norms or increased cross-border mobility to explain this phenomenon, one researcher at UMass Amherst has pointed to an attitudinal-psychological disposition called (capital A) "Authoritarianism." Its potential to usher in political (little A) authoritarianism may be the scariest thing about the movements we've been witnessing. Donald Trump is America's representative at the nationalist-populist table, sitting comfortably next to the likes of Hungary's Orbán and France's Le Pen. Like most things American, he is the brashest, loudest voice among them. What separates these characters from regular politicians is that they promise to simply get things done. They'll put the bad guys in their place, demand respect from weaklings, and make their country "great." They will achieve lots of things, because unlike the establishment, they have guts. This is not an appeal to conservatism, but to the Authoritarian disposition. Authoritarian voters can come from anywhere on the political spectrum - it's psychology, not ideology. What Authoritarians fundamentally value, though, is order, hierarchy, tradition, and (you guessed it) obedience to authority figures. They are suspicious of outsiders, insubordination, and rapid change. Authoritarian voters are being mobilized by real and perceived threats from globalization's seemingly uncontrollable forces; threats to their livelihoods, identity, community, and security.   [P]residents have frequently extended their power far beyond Constitutional limits, and this extension intensifies in times of crisis. Note that the… Read More

The Not-So-Scary Austerity Spectre

Ghoulish effigies of Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Finance Minister Carlos Leitao wielding bloodstained chainsaws were paraded through the streets of Montreal during a Halloween demonstration against "austerity" cuts proposed in the Parti Libéral du Québec's (PLQ) 2014-2015 budget. Activist groups, including students and public-sector workers organized to paint a grim picture of Quebec's future if the cuts were executed. Several months later, Quebec's economy is still functioning, and no blood is running through the streets. However, the protestors are back en masse. Hoping for a revitalization of 2012's Maple Spring protests, unions and student groups voted for strikes in the next several weeks, with massive protests having just begun. Much of the grievances come in cuts to education and the passage of controversial Bill 3 reforming public sector pensions, to the relative detriment of the workers. The PLQ has seen its approval ratings sharply dip after the reality of the budget hit the electorate. The opposition, ranging from Coalition Avenir Québec to their right and Québec Solidaire on the far left, has been taking advantage of the situation to volley criticism towards the Couillard government. Nonetheless, FM Leitao seems to be holding fast to his plan, emphasizing a stable investment environment, productivity growth and tax reform as the way to long-term fiscal solvency and a better economic situation. The PLQ has promised to balance the books for 2015-16 without raising taxes on Quebecers. Their plan has appeared to focus on cutting evenly across the board - spreading the pain around - while reducing spending growth over the next several quarters, including hiring freezes in almost all public sectors. Following their projections, growth-fuelled revenue should outpace spending growth, thus eliminating the deficit. Protestors demand an end or reduction in the cuts to social services, with various groups generally pushing for… Read More