Brian Lee Crowley

Sean Speer and I tackle the role of marriage and family in social policy

In the struggle to gain insight into the causes of social ills like unemployment, poor educational performance, welfare dependency, inequality, social mobility and a host of other vital issues, almost  any and every explanation is considered worthy of study except one of the most important ones: the vital role that marriage and the family play. In this 11 May 2018 op-ed for the Sun newspapers Sean Speer and I set the record straight.

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Rebranding the minimum wage as a “living wage” triumph of marketing over reason

The latest marketing dodge by the Left is to start calling, not for higher minimum wages, but for a “living wage,” thereby cleverly evoking images of poor single mums struggling to feed themselves and their kids on low pay. No one should work for a wage they can’t live on is a pretty good battlecry. Except that there are lots of people, in fact the vast majority, who earn the minimum wage and don’t live on it at all. The bulk of minimum wage earners are secondary earners in families above the low-income cutoff (LICO). And how many single parents with dependents try to get by on a single minimum wage income? Just over 2% of all people earning the minimum wage.

In my Globe column for the ROB of April 1st, therefore, I try my own rebranding campaign for the minimum/living wage. Here are the three I thought best. To the extent it represents government forcing businesses to pay more for labour than the going price, it is a tax on jobs. To the extent it forces up prices  at providers of low-cost goods and services to the poor, it is higher prices. And finally to the extent that the minimum wage is actually the entry wage for young workers living at home looking for their first job, and therefore every hike in the minimum wage makes fewer such jobs available, it is a youth penalty.

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Guaranteed Annual Income: Wrong solution, wrong problem

In my never-ending campaign to épater les bourgeois (aka the commenters on the Globe’s comments page), my latest column takes aim at one of their favourite policy prescriptions: a guaranteed annual income for Canadians, delivered through the tax system (also called a “negative income tax”). Almost all the arguments advanced in favour of this alleged panacea are deeply flawed and take little account of incentives, human motivation or of the complexity of administering fairly or cheaply a system that will not be simple but rather devilishly complicated.

This column appeared in the 11 Dec. 2015 edition of the Globe’s ROB in their Economy Lab feature.

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China’s two-child policy no better than the old one-child one

Commentary in the West was largely silent or else vaguely supportive when China recently announced it was changing its deacdes-old “one-child policy” to a “two-child policy”. Allow me to be the exception. Whether the policy is one or two children is irrelevant. The fact that the Chinese state arrogates to itself the power to dictate such decisions to their citizens is quite unjustified for any rational policy reason (including “population control”) and is the pretext for an oppressive police state enforcement mechanism that has resulted in well-documented cases of the kidnapping of pregnant women and the forcible aborting of their unborn babies.  It is repugnant and we in the West should not abet it with our silence.

Read the argument in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen.

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Income splitting and tax fairness with a coda on flat taxes

Income splitting is often portrayed by its opponents as an inexplicable effort to give tax relief to the already wealthy at the expense of everyone else. I think that is an egregious mischaracterisation. The reason for income splitting is that it fixes a terrible unfairness in the tax system whereby similarly-situated (in terms of income) couples pay wildly varying amounts of income tax solely because of how the income is distributed between the spouses. This violates a basic principle of taxation that like should be treated alike. I explain the point in my latest piece for the Globe’s Economy Lab feature in the ROB.

As one of my correspondents pointed out in response to the column, it can be true that income splitting is a correct response to an injustice in the tax system, and yet not be the right thing to choose to do at this moment if you have a spare $2bn or so kicking around at budget time. I absolutely agree. Governing is about choosing and it is perfectly fair to criticise the Tories for having chosen this over the many other things they could have spent the money on. It is still important, however, to lay out the rational case for income splitting and evaluate the policy choice on its merits….

Also check out my Twitter feed for a discussion about why a flat tax would not resolve the issue of the interaction between individual taxation and household tax treatment that income splitting seeks to resolve.

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The premiers don’t speak for Canada

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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Speaking in Calgary on October 8th on the concept of “social licence”

Regular visitors to this site will know I am a vociferous critic of the concept of social licence. I’ll be in Calgary on Wednesday, October 8th to speak on a panel at a conference  sponsored by the Energy and Environment Programme of the Calgary School of Public Policy. The conference is  titled “Social License in the Regulatory Arena: A Useful Concept?”. I’ll be one of the panellists in the 3rd panel session titled “Who “Owns” or “Issues” Social License? Contact the School for more information.

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Text of my speech to the IMFC Family conference

On March 11 I was the keynote speaker at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada’s conference on family policy. I spoke about what we know today about the relationship between the health of the institution of the family and the transmission between the generations of values essential to democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Below is the text of that speech.

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Social change: Paul Wells say Fearful Symmetry shows the way

In this week’s Maclean’s magazine Paul Wells spends a lot of time discussing Fearful Symmetry and the social policy changes it portends:

“For next steps, many conservatives are turning to Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values, a new book by Brian Lee Crowley, an economist and founder of the new Macdonald – Laurier Institute.

Crowley does not regard himself as a social conservative. But many who do see themselves that way like what he’s saying. To caricature a complex argument, Crowley says the modern welfare state has overextended itself, is unsustainable, and causes more harm than good to institutions like the family. These trends will only get worse when an aging population sharply increases the cost of delivering most social programs. One size can no longer fit all. Social services will have to be narrowly aimed at those who need them most, and delivered only as long as recipients are willing to improve their behaviour by attending to their family, keeping or seeking a job, and so on.

Government is no good at any of that and, in the opinion of most, shouldn’t try. “It is precisely for this reason, in my view, that we have seen in both the United States and the United Kingdom a growing use of the private sector, including the not-for-profit and so-called faith-based charities, for the delivery of social services,” Crowley writes. “Such private agencies may be more demanding of their clientele and expect more in the way of improvements in behaviour.”

Crowley’s book was published last autumn. It seems to have been barely one step ahead of the news. This month’s Throne Speech contained a single line saying the government “will look to innovative charities and forward-thinking private-sector companies to partner on new approaches to many social challenges.” Such charities and companies were much in evidence at the Manning Centre conference. The changes Crowley anticipates are expected and embraced by social conservatives.

Meanwhile, the federal Liberals are still defending policies from five years ago, policies Harper has taken pains to ensure future federal governments won’t be able to afford, with his GST cuts and his massive cash transfers to the provinces. If the Liberals cannot begin to make a case for a return to larger, more activist — and more expensive — state-run social welfare, then Stephen Harper’s social conservative revolution will only accelerate.

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IMFC Family conference 2010 – audio clips

On March 11 I was the keynote speaker at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada’s conference on family policy. I spoke about what we know today about the relationship between the health of the institution of the family and the transmission between the generations of values essential to democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Below are some  audio clips from my talk.

Part 1

Part 2

Q & A

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Brian Lee Crowley