Brian Lee Crowley

Thinking, not emoting, about NAFTA

One of the big public policy issues Canada is wrestling with is whether, and on what conditions, NAFTA can be renewed. Unfortunately, the political class seems more intent on whipping up emotion around the topic than helping Canadians to come to grips with the real issues and how we might turn this mess to Canada’s advantage. In order to fill this gap, Sean Speer and I co-wrote three op-eds (and Frank Buckley joined us on the first one) hoping to illuminate for Canadians some of the stakes, the realistic options and where Canada’s interests truly lie in these negotiations. In retrospect I see that the summary of our argument is that the NAFTA negotiations are like any dispute in a long-term relationship, like a marriage. There are three lessons to be learned:

  1. Get to understand what the other person wants. It’s not all about you!
  2. Look inward to find where you might have contributed to envenoming the dispute. You might think all the fault lies elsewhere, but usually responsibility is shared.
  3. Before your roving eye draws you to another potential partner, be sure you really understand how much you have invested in your existing relationship and how hard it would be to replace.

Sean, Frank and I applied Lesson One in the Globe on 3 July 2018 in which the three of us laid out what the Trump administration wants and how their world view is an important break from many of the assumptions of recent decades. The fact that Trump may come up with the wrong answers to the questions that exercise him does not mean he is wrong to ask them. There is also a video version of this piece on the page.

Then Sean and I applied Lesson Two in a 6 July 2018 piece for Macleans’ magazine where we reviewed the many ways that Ottawa has antagonised the Trump administration while bringing no benefit to Canada. As the current occupant of the White House might have tweeted, “Sad!”

Finally, we applied Lesson Three in a 20 July 2018 Globe op-ed examining the idea that “diversifying” our trade, especially to China, will somehow offer some kind of realistic alternative to our deep economic entanglement with the US. Not bloody likely!

Why pursuing happiness makes many unhappy

It is fashionable in public policy circles to suggest that a chief object of such policy should be to promote “happiness” among the public and that we should therefore be less concerned with measures of economic growth than with measures of happiness in determining what policies to pursue.

Thus when Pierre Trudeau once mused that we should obsess less about GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and more about NSB (Net Socfial Benefit) he was lionised as a great philosopher

There may be some truth in this idea, but not all that much. In fact as I demonstrate in my column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia newspapers, happiness is a slippery concept that often means promoting the happiness of some immediately causes the unhappiness of others.

While GDP may have its flaws, at least it measures something objective, and there are few people who would argue that they would like less rather than more of whatever it is they want (whether parks, or environmental protection or toasters or airplanes or hospitals or public transit). GDP measures our production of the means that each of us needs to pursue our own vision of happiness, and that is perhaps the best we can do….

Brian Lee Crowley
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