Brian Lee Crowley

Globe and Mail columns

  • 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!

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  • 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!

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • The economic value of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada November 2, 2016

    In my last column for the ROB’s Economy Lab (in the G&M, 28 Oct.), I made the case for reconciliation with Indigenous people (FNs, Metis and Inuit) not just on grounds of fairness and justice, but in terms of the business case. The legal and bargaining powers of Aboriginal peoples in Canada are here to stay. The only question is whether we will make that power work within the framework of the rest of our institutions (e.g. the rule of law, reliable and predictable settlement of disputes, respect of contracts, etc.) or whether we will let it become an insurmountable obstacle to investment and development, particularly in the natural resource sector. Check out the column for my thoughts on how to make this work.

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  • Avoiding China’s infrastructure mistakes October 17, 2016

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes no bones about his admiration for China. He is also a great advocate of infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. In my latest column for the Globe I explore the intersection of these two ideas, for the real Great Wall of China is the massive wall of debt they have accumulated to build infrastructure that, in the vast majority of cases, has destroyed value, not created it. This makes China (along with Japan, another nation addicted to high-cost but low-value infrastructure) an object lesson in the limits of infrastructure spending. Sure you might get a little bump of activity around the construction, but if the infrastructure itself doesn’t improve the productivity of workers and businesses you get stuck with the debt but not the increased economic activity to pay for it.

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  • Innovation by any other name would smell as sweet October 4, 2016

    In my regular Globe (ROB) column that appeared on 30 Sept. I delight in pointing out the absurdities of most government “innovation” policies. Governments cannot create new ideas by fiat, so they really have two main strategies. One is to support institutions where innovation might occur (e.g. universities, institute of technology, NRC labs, etc.). The trouble with this strategy is that it is vulnerable to capture by politics and rapidly becomes watered down to a general transfer rather than anything genuinely linked to real innovation. The other approach is an incentives strategy that doesn’t attempt to pick winners but rather allows people who develop winners to capture a major share of the economic value created, through the tax system, protection of intellectual property, etc. There is lots in this latter agenda that remains undone, yet it is likely to be the approach that produces the most innovation.

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  • Don’t blame foreigners, but governments, for high house prices October 4, 2016

    Sean Speer and I released a paper through MLI on 29 Sept. making the case that the fingering of foreigners as the primary cause of rising house prices is a pure piece of theatrical misdirection. Rising prices in Vancouver and Toronto are a direct result of burgeoning opportunity in those cities (e.g. that is where all Canada’s recent net job creation has been) PLUS a decades long campaign to dry up the supply of new housing. Rising demand + stable supply = higher prices. We laid out the case in an op-ed that appeared in the ROB on the 29th.

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  • We owe the Chinese nothing on canola September 15, 2016

    The Chinese have manufactured a trade issue out of thin air over concern about Canadian canola in order to gain leverage on other issues (SOE investment in natural resources, anyone?). Far from acquiescing in their demands, or even making “concessions” to them, Ottawa should turn the tables on them, as I argued in my Globe column of Sept. 1st, 2016.

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Brian Lee Crowley