Brian Lee Crowley

Globe and Mail columns

  • Think what you like of Kevin O’Leary—He is right to call for the restoration of Ottawa’s economic power April 3, 2017

    Writing in my fortnightly Globe column I make the case that commentators can harrumph all they want at Kevin O’Leary’s plan to discipline the provinces for damaging Canada’s national economic prospects. He is doing nothing the founders of Canada didn’t plan and allow for.  His rhetoric may be a little over the top, but he is not wrong to say that Ottawa has the tools to discipline provinces who act contrary to the national interest (including via withholding some transfers) and that they should be used when circumstances warrant.

  • How globalisation bowled over the taxman April 3, 2017

    As I wrote in my Globe column for the ROB, carbon taxes are all the rage, but they are not going to be the tax reform that will bring national tax systems into the 21st century. Governments and their traditional tax systems have become the latest bystanders sideswiped by the globalisation juggernaut, and the shift from corporate taxes to more objective tax bases like sales and consumption are going to be the response. In this context, people should stop ventilating and look more closely at the Republicans’ border adjustment tax. In my estimation it is a back-door way of introducing something like  a much needed national sales tax in the US.

  • Innovation-obsessed Ottawa tackling a problem that doesn’t exist April 3, 2017

    In the lead-up to the federal budget, Ottawa was desperately signalling its commitment to fostering innovation in Canada. As the bard might have said, indeed did say, how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. As I remind people in my Globe column for the ROB, there is nothing magic or special about innovation as an economic activity. Like all such activities, we make ourselves better off when we specialise in those we do well and let others do the same. In areas where we possess comparative advantage, we innovate just fine. In the others, why this mania to innovate at home as opposed to just doing what everybody else does: free ride on their innovations? After all we are one of the world’s wealthiest economies and the obsession with our “poor” innovation performance has for decades gone hand in glove with rising prosperity.

  • What explains labour’s falling share of income? Corporate concentration one answer April 3, 2017

    In my Globe column I argue that the share of national income going to workers is being squeezed in Canada and other G20 countries. An excessive concentration of market share in the hands of fewer and fewer companies – not greed or offshoring – may be one of the most important trends responsible for this change.

  • Think the conditions that led to Trump’s rise don’t exist here? Think again. April 3, 2017

    In my Globe column I argue that typical Canadian smug moral superiority has no place in our assessment of Donald Trump and the political phenomenon he represents. Canada is not immune to the economic dislocation and policy arrogance that propelled Trump to the presidency. If we forget about those whom free trade, balanced budgets and higher productivity are leaving behind important parts of our population will be vulnerable to Trump-like appeals.

  • Will robots steal the last job? January 24, 2017

    In the era of Donald Trump it has become commonplace to bemoan the disappearance of work and the fear seems widespread that robotics will replace virtually every kind of work. We won’t even drive ourselves anymore for Heaven’s sake! Machines will do it all.

    Or will they? It is a common fallacy that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and if machines do more of it there will be ever less of it left over for humans to do.

    But it is a fallacy no matter how hard some people believe it. The reason is that what creates jobs is human needs and desires and these are infinite. Moreover as we become wealthier (which automation allows us to do with no extra effort on the part of humans), we begin to think about satisfying those wants and desires that we had to set aside when we were too poor to afford them. There is a reason why it is wealthy societies, not poor ones, that go to the moon and the stars….

    Read more in what has been my most commented-on Globe column of 2017. OK, it was also my only one in 2017 (published 6th January) so far anyway. Just checking to see if you were reading closely!

  • Three myths I’d like to see the back of in 2017 January 24, 2017

    My editors at the Report on Business asked me to do a “what to expect in 2017” sort of column for my last one of 2016. Rather than dreary economic forecasting that you can get anywhere, I decided to write instead about the myths that we will hear about yet again in 2017 depsite the fact that they are, to use a current expression, “fake news”! They are:

    1. That we should get off fossil fuels or we are all doomed.
    2. That wealthy developed countries are the cause of the poverty of the developing world.
    3. That giant corporations run the world, dwarfing the size and power of national economies.

    Want to find out why all these myths are, um, myths? Well you’ll have to read the column, won’t you! Happy 2017!

  • Why the prime minister still doesn’t understand Ottawa’s role on pipelines January 24, 2017

    When in early december he announced his decision on several pipelines, approving two and vetoing another, Prime Minister Trudeau clearly thought he was showing how these decisions ought to be reached. Others, like the NEB, hold hearing and then make recommendations but the final decision should rest with the government. He couldn’t be more wrong. As I wrote in my December 9th, 2016 column for the Gobe’s ROB, his job is to be neither cheerleader (what he criticised Stephen Harper for) *nor* referee (the hat that Trudeau donned), but rather impartial rulemaker. Just as parliament makes laws and the hands them over the judges to apply, the government should be setting the tests pipelines must meet to be in the national interest and then handing it over to the NEB and environmental assessment agencies to hold the evidence-based proceedings that determine if those tests have been met. In the long run the last place politicians want to be is holding the bag on these decisions.

  • The Indo-Pacific Rim is where the action is for Canada January 24, 2017

    Talk to the Australians and they will tell you that the “Pacific Rim” is old hat. The action now is in the Indo-Pacific, in other words the littoral nations on the Pacific *and* the Indian Oceans. And indeed that is exactly how Canada should be thinking about its geo-strategic interests. Instead of thinking that China is the only game in town, we should be acutely aware of the dangers as well as the benefits of embracing the dragon and think about how to build up counterweights to Chinese power. The number one place to look should be the emerging Japan-India axis. Nothing could be more natural than for Canada to throw its lot in with such old friends who share so  many values and are looking themselves for friends and allies to counterbalance China’s rise. My analysis in the Globe and Mail on Nov. 25th, 2016.

  • Making lemonade out of Trump lemons November 11, 2016

    To hear the chattering classes tell it, the election of Donald Trump is the End of the World as We Have Known It and over the gate to the new world is inscribed Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. What balderdash. Life goes on and the Trump presidency, by making marginal changes to America’s behaviour and policies, will create both problems and opportunities for Canada. We should look at both in a calm clear-eyed fashion. Thus my Globe column (in the Report on Business’s Economy Lab feature) in the Remembrance Day edition focuses on three opportunities the Trump presidency offers: 1) reorienting wasteful “infrastructure” spending to thoughtful defence spending; 2) getting Keystone XL built and buying time to get our own pipeline approval process right; and 3) giving Ottawa political cover for a rethink on how to make our business taxation regime a competitive advantage rather than a drag on investment.


Brian Lee Crowley
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