Brian Lee Crowley

Globe and Mail columns

  • America makes it hard to be friends, again October 31, 2014

    Nobody loves America as Canada does, but you know how the saying goes, to get a friend, be a friend. And in this week’s column for the Globe’s Economy Lab feature (in the ROB), I lay out the case why America is making it hard for its friends to support it in its push to negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership. Unless Congress agrees to limit its power unilaterally to rewrite any negotiated agreement, the 11 other parties at the TPP table won’t make their best offers. US bullying is not the solution. Trade Promotion Authority (whereby Congress agrees to vote any final deal up or down without amendment) is.

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  • Nokia’s lessons for Canada October 19, 2014

    In 2006 Nokia was making 40% of the smartphones in the world. Today it makes none, having sold its failing business to Microsoft. Nokia’s home country, Finland, has been reeling ever since and recently saw its credit downgraded by one major rating agency. In my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB, I dissect Nokia’s spectacular collapse and find some lessons for Canada. The main one is not to become complacent and start to think that what your company wants is more important than what your customers want. And the most obvious places where exactly that is happening are the industries (airlines, broadcasting, telecoms, dairy, taxis, etc., etc.) where companies shelter behind bureaucrats with rule books, protecting them from sharper competition from abroad, as well as from their own customers. That way decline lies….

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  • Scotland takes low road in secession vote September 19, 2014

    In my column this week for the Globe’s Economy Lab (in the ROB) I talk about the political, economic and moral consequences of secession votes under poorly designed rules as was the case in the Scottish vote yesterday. There are many reasons why the status quo is entitled to a presumption in its favour, and that presumption requires a high voting threshold to overcome.  Thus not only is a decision rule of 50% + 1 of voters actually undemocratic, it imposes many forms of cost on citizens through unnecessary uncertainty and encourages nationalist troublemakers to try repeatedly since the chances of success are relatively high under this ridiculously low threshold.

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  • The premiers don’t speak for Canada September 5, 2014

    In my latest column for the Globe’s ROB Economy Lab, I dissect the behaviour of the premiers as they demonstrated yet again, over the course of the summer, why we cannot expect them to speak up for the national interest. The issue is protecting the rights of economic citizenship of Canadians (otherwise known as “internal trade”). Read on to find out what the systemic reasons are the premiers will never be the ones who deliver free trade within Canada. It’s Ottawa’s job.

    By the way, If there is any question about what business, those ultimately responsible for job creation and exports think, the major Canadian business associations have banded together to publish a paper urging action.  Their vision is much more expansive than the premiers’, calling for all barriers to be ended and rules to be harmonized.   As Ailish Campbell, Vice President at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) has put it, “We want to see firms growing from Canada into global leaders. A common market to boost growth and jobs shouldn’t be in question.”

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  • Don’t get hung up on AIT numbers game August 7, 2014

    In my latest column for the Economy Lab feature of the Globe and Mail, I take issue with the journalists who think the only issue that matters with internal barriers to trade is the price tag we assign to them. The fact that any attempt to quantify their cost is subject to challenge becomes the story, whereas in reality it is a disingenuous distraction much beloved by apologists for the status quo (cf Baloney Meter!). We know four things for sure about internal trade barriers: they’re real, they cost us a lot, their damaging effects compound over time, and they violate our rights as Canadians. Isn’t that damning enough?

    If you want chapter and verse about the problem and the solutions, see the MLI paper I co-wrote with John Robson and Bob Knox, Citizen of One, Citizen of the Whole.

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  • Taking Keynes’s name in vain July 25, 2014

    A C.D. Howe paper recently called for Ottawa to keep borrowing and spending up to .5% of GDP rather than to balance the books as Finance Minister Oliver plans to do in the spring. This advice reminds me of Nobel Laureate (and great Keynes critic) F.A. Hayek’s dictum that his problem was not with Keynes, but the Keynesians. Find out why John Maynard and I would side with Hayek and against further “stimulus” spending in my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s Report on Business.

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  • Tackling the regulatory beast July 11, 2014

    In my latest column for the ROB’s Economy Lab feature (in the Globe), I regale readers with the story of what happened when a bureaucrat came into the cafĂ© my wife and I owned in Dartmouth, NS (The Queen of Cups Too) and demanded to know if we lived on the premises. That was the beginning of a regulatory nightmare that is all too typical of relations between business and citizens on the one hand and the regulatory state on the other. Read my prescription for whittling the regulatory state down to size.

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  • Labour shortages ahead, no matter what the “experts” say June 27, 2014

    In today’s column for the Economy Lab feature of the Globe and Mail‘s Report on Business, I report on my encounter with the massive complacency of the “expert chattering classes” when confronted with the evidence about the labour shortages Canada will face in a few short years. Yes, we will adjust, but skillful adjustment takes thought and foresight. It is amazing how much effort is required to make the inevitable happen!

    Those of you with (reasonably) long memories will remember I reviewed the data on all this extensively in my book Fearful Symmetry. Everything I foresaw there is coming to pass….

    I was also interviewed about this column by BNN. You can see the interview by clicking on the link.

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  • Time is not Canada’s friend on resource development June 19, 2014

    In my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB I make the case that, “It is opportunity’s evanescence that we Canadians too often ignore at our peril, thinking that we have world enough and time to hear every voice, weigh every objection and consider every alternative to pipelines, port construction and mine developments. Surely the rest of the world will wait while we nice, polite, considerate Canadians wring our hands and dither. Alas not.”

    Read the full text here.

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  • Internal trade: Ottawa has the power and duty to act May 30, 2014

    One of the things that has always struck me about Canada is that whatever powers the provinces have must be respected without question and if they exercise them everyone rushes to say that no one should interfere with their legitimate powers. But let Ottawa have the temerity to want to act in an area of its own clear jurisdiction, everyone rushes to say that no one should act precipitously, that the Canadian Way is consultation, that the provinces might be offended by Ottawa flexing its muscles, etc., etc., etc.

    I say rubbish. We really only created one new thing in 1867, and that was a national parliament and a national government with the power to create a nation out of the colonies and territories that had hitherto been spread across British North America. The Fathers of Confederation were explicit that one key objective was the creation of a single unified national economic space, the removal of barriers between provinces, to make, in George Brown’s phrase, “a citizen of one citizen of all.” To achieve this they gave Ottawa strong powers, including the Trade and Commerce power.

    We have been talking for years now about eliminating those barriers, barriers Canada was created to sweep away in 1867. It should be clear by now that asking the provinces to do it is a failed strategy. Indeed the only question to ask is why in God’s name we ever thought that provinces, who are in competition with each other for investment and jobs, would ever voluntarily relinquish the barriers they created to give them an advantage in that competition. It is time to let Ottawa be Ottawa, as the founders of Canada intended. Read all about it in my column for today’s ROB in the Globe. Then read MLI’s paper “Citizen of One, Citizen of All” for the full argument…

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Brian Lee Crowley