Brian Lee Crowley

Globe and Mail columns

  • All Japan all the time! April 3, 2015

    Thanks to the generosity of the Japanese government I have just returned from two weeks in the land of the rising sun. A fascinating visit that gave me a week’s briefings with government officials, think tanks, academics and others, plus a few moving days in Hiroshima and about 5 days in Kyoto, all during the time that cherry blssom season was slowly gathering way.

    I put some of my impressions in two columns published last week.

    In the first, written for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB, I wrote about my assessment of the chances of success of Abenomics. The summary: losing 250,000 people every year is a huge sheet anchor for the Japanese economy to drag along as the government tries to stimulate it into resurgence. And, well, Keynesianism on steroids is, after all, still just keynesianism, and its track record is dubious at the best of times.

    In the second, written for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia urban dailies, I struck a more positive note, delving into the arguments behind my conviction that Japan remains a better partner for Canada in Asia than China.


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  • Separated at birth: Ottawa budget, 1995; Quebec budget, 2015 March 6, 2015

    My latest musings for the Globe/ROB’s Economy Lab revolves around the context and significance of the year’s most important budget: Quebec’s. After years of failed attempts, the new Liberal government of Philippe Couillard will make another stab at fixing Quebec’s self-imposed economic decline by wrestling with the out-of-control growth of the Quebec state over the last 50 years. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but it is not at all clear that Couillard will be more successful than his predecessors. That very uncontrolled growth of the state has created a political climate in which a democratic mandate may not be enough to overcome the organised resistance to reform. In the column I draw parallels between the historical significance of Paul Martin’s 1995 budget and this one, 20 years later. Both aimed to fix the damage done by several generations’ worth of bribing Quebeckers to support federalism or sovereignty. Martin pulled it off, but his task was more manageable.

    Wish Couillard well. He’ll need it.

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  • Judicial activism and the culture of the law February 22, 2015

    The critics of judicial activism tend to focus on the Supreme Court (SCC) and its individual decisions. I think that’s a mistake. There are systemic forces at work undermining the commitment of the legal profession as a whole to the integrity of the law. Most powerful of these is the Charter and its grant of unaccountable power. In my latest column for Economy Lab in the Globe’s ROB, I lay out the case that the judiciary’s increasing abandonment of the law in favour of judge’s opinions about social and political issues is actually introducing increasing uncertainty into the meaning of the law, with potentially serious consequences.

    To my critics, I ask the following simple question: Do you think that it is easier or harder today than it was 20 or 30 years ago to assess a case’s chances of success before the courts? Every lawyer I ask says it is harder, meaning that the law is becoming a less certain guide to behaviour. As I argue in my column, this brings serious social and economic costs in its train.

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  • Mindful property rights February 10, 2015

    We all know that uncertainty is the great enemy of prosperity, but people often forget why that’s true. Uncertainty’s great cost is that most forms of investment require years to earn a return, and investors won’t invest where the risks of not earning that return are too great or the future is too hard to read. Thus it is that societies that find ways to reduce uncertainty to the greatest extent possible will enjoy a real advantage compared to others. One of the greatest institutions for the reduction of uncertainty is robust and enforceable property rights. If I know what is mine, and I know I can protect it from being stolen or expropriated, I am safer investing in improving that property’s productive potential.  All of this is true for property in ideas or concepts as much as it is in car plants and farms. Yet Canada performs poorly in the international intellectual property rankings, which means we are missing an opportunity to unlock investment in technology, biotech, entertainment, design, R&D, nanotechnology, telecoms and a host of other areas where intellectual property is the sine qua non of investment. Read all about it in my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s Report on Business.

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  • The oilsands and US energy security: a match made in heaven January 24, 2015

    One of President Obama’s recent themes in his criticism of the Keystone XL pipeline is the dismissive comment that it will transport “Canadian oil”, as if that were obviously a matter of total indifference to America and his own goal of energy independence. Nothing could be further freom the truth. As I argus in my latest column for the Globe’s Economy Lab feature (in the ROB), there are all kinds of reasons why Canada’s oilsands production is a valuable compelement to America’s fracking revolution.

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  • I hate to say I told you so, but… January 9, 2015

    Yes, there is something deeply unattractive about the scold who smugly wallows in others’ debacles because he warned that the worst might happen. On the other hand, sometimes the scold is right and disaster today should be a warning to stop self-destructive behaviour that is still continuing in spite of catastrophe. That is exactly the case in the resource-rich provinces’ (step forward Alberta and Newfoundland, with a few others not far behind) dependence on resource royalties to balance their budgets. Tanking oil and gas prices have revealed just how shaky their budgetary assumptions have been.

    Not only is dependence on such revenues ill -advised from a budgetary point of view (former Alta Treasurer Jim Dinning rightly notes “non-renewable natural resource revenues are non-reliable revenues”), it is deeply suspect from a moral point of view. Royalties are not income. They are the revenue from sales of an asset, and are therefore capital to be invested, not income to be spent, not least because the resources belong to generations yet unborn as well as the totday’s population. I lay out the argument in today’s column for the ROB’s Economy Lab feature in the Globe and Mail.

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  • Why Saskatchewan is the place to watch in Canada December 29, 2014

    Canadians are so used to the economic action being in places like BC and Alberta (and once upon a time in Ontario!) that they have missed the dark horse coming up the inside track: Saskatchewan. The province feels like Alberta did 35 years ago. If you want to find out what’s behind the province’s rise to prosperity, read my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB.

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  • What a dollar is worth matters as much as how many dollars you have December 12, 2014

    Lost in the angst about income inequality is the fundamental point that the poor’s purchasing power is increasing all the time. Innovation is the chief explanation, as I lay out in my latest column for the ROB’s Economy Lab feature in the Globe. I am one of those people who thinks that the gap between the most and the least well-off is far less interesting than whether we are improving the lot of people at the bottom. One of the most effective ways to do that is to increase their purchasing power, which private sector innovation does more effectively and effortlessly than increases in government transfers.

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  • Energy East: the good, the bad and the improbable November 29, 2014

    Energy East, TransCanada Pipeline’s proposal to bring Alberta crude to the east coast, has a lot to be said for it. Unfortunately, a lot of it is not true! Don’t get me wrong–this is a good proposal that deserves to succeed. It is just that many of its friends are selling it on the basis of improbable claims instead of the good solid business case behind it. Read my latest Globe column for the inside story.

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  • Tear down these walls! November 18, 2014

    This month we celebrate 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That world-shaking event occurred in part in response to Ronald Reagan’s calling out of Mikhail Gorbatchev: “Mr Gorbatchev, tear down this wall!”

    After nearly 150 years of Confederation, however, the walls that divide Canadians from one another, that prevent us from fully exercising our rights to exercise our trade or profession or carry on our businesses across provincial boundaries, are still very real. They cost us billions. Worse: the little bit of momentum that Industry Minister James Moore thought he descried just a scant few months ago has evaporated. Check out my latest Globe column to find out why and to learn what the solution is to continued provincial obstruction of full Canadian nationhood. Hint: provinces are the problem; Ottawa is the solution.

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Brian Lee Crowley
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