Fixing the Vote

What Ottawa City Councillor Tim Tierney did is a matter of public record:

Last November, Ontario Provincial Police charged Tierney with corrupt practices under the Ontario Municipal Elections Act for trying to induce another candidate to drop out of the 2018 election.

according to OPP documents filed in court last year, Tierney called Schurter on his cell phone. Schurter put the call on speaker phone, and three people in the Elections Ottawa office alleged they heard the councillor offer to make a donation to a local food bank if Schurter withdrew his candidacy.

Now it’s not my place to presume guilt of innocence, especially given that the Crown has withdrawn the charges and agreed to a settlement with Tierney yesterday. But I’ve seen nothing beyond this prima facie evidence of a pretty strong case that could have been made.

And the reasons for dropping the case are transparently flaccid. It “would have been a ‘lengthy prosecution’ and that, if it had been successful, would have resulted in an expensive byelection.” Also, “the allegations of bribery were made public during the campaign, and noted the people of Beacon Hill-Cyville still re-elected Tierney by a massive majority.”

All that could well be true, but those aren’t the bases on which we decide whether to proceed with a prosecution. It’s like saying “sure, maybe he murdered the man, but it would cost a lot to find out, and the man would have died anyways.”

It’s not the sort of justice that would be meted out to you or me. But it’s the sort of justice the rich, powerful and connected have come to expect. It’s the sort of justice where we can overlook the allegations with a slap on the wrist if a full prosecution would be too inconvenient.

We’ve entered into an era now whether the foundations of democracy are under attack, where there are concerns of influence from external powers, where money is playing an increasingly oversized role, and where we are not even sure whether to trust the voting process itself.

We can’t simply allow a person to violate the rules and allow the results to stand if the win is big enough.

The result should have been overturned and a by-election held. I don’t care whether Tim Tierney agreed to pay two months’ salary. He shouldn’t have been entitled to it in the first place, as his own admission of wrongdoing shows.

This is a principle that should apply generally, shouldn’t it?

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Image: Ottawa Matters

 

 

The Greens and the NDP

The defection of 18 NDP candidates in New Brunswick to the Green Party raises once again the question that has been on my mind for a while, specifically, whether to align with the Greens rather than the NDP.

It could have been so different. Had the NDP not ousted Thomas Mulcair in 2016 as a result of the ill-conceived and tone-deaf LEAP Manifesto, he would have spent the last three years in the media holding to Trudeau to account, and would be viewed as a viable candidate for Prime Minister. And we would be having a very different conversation.

But he was ousted, and instead we got Jagmeet Singh who, on being chosen leader, immediately disappeared from view, leaving a dispute between the Alberta and B.C. NPD governments simmering, losing ground in Quebec, and never actually visiting New Brunswick at all.

By all accounts, the results in a few months in the general election could be historically bad. The party has yet to nominate anything close to a full slate of candidates, there’s mismanagement and mixed messaging in the campaign (“We’re in it for you”), and Jagmeet’s choice of issues to comment on seems… odd.

We have no idea where he stands on China, on relations with Trump, on a post-Brexit deal with Britain, on environment and pipelines and carbon pricing, on education… but we know he’s very proud of his brother, he’d like lower cell phone costs, and like every NDP candidate since ever, he supports pharmacare.

All this makes me take a closer look at the Greens. They have been running on a consistent message for a long time now, we know they will not compromise on environmental issues, and they seem progressive on other issues. They recognize, I think, that environmental issues are also social issues, and that fundamental Canadian rights like health care need to be protected.

So… good, right? But the Greens also have a long history of accommodating corporate interests. And their campaign slogan “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together.” is ambiguous to the point of distress. I agree with the subtext: “The real divide of the 21st Century is not left versus right, but insiders (the one percent) versus the rest of us.” The question is, are the Greens the party to deliver on that?

Through the election I’ll be watching both NDP news releases and Green news releases not so much for the content – the two parties often echo each other – but for the selection of issues to care about. What will the parties do specifically to wrest control from the super rich and return to traditional Canadian values of respect for the environment and for people?

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Pride

When I was younger the movement was called ‘Gay Pride’ and it was very much about making a political statement. These days it’s just called ‘Pride’ and is more inclusive than it was back in the day. That’s a good thing. And this weekend I was at the annual Pride parade, just as I have been many times previously.

Today, it should be a celebration of who we are. Not just gays and lesbians and trans and questioning and goths and bears and all the rest, but all of us. To me, at its heart, Pride is about celebrating a fundamental value in our society, that we can be whatever we want, love whomever we want, and express ourselves and our love freely and openly.

But there is, to be sure, an element of Pride that is very much about defending the rights of GLBTQ+ in our society, and very much about them asserting their right to be who they are. And that it is still necessary to make that statement saddens me.

And make no mistake, it is still necessary. There are societies outside Canada where homosexuality is frowned upon and there are places where it is actually illegal. And even inside Canada, there are people who in the name of one doctrine or another argue it should still be illegal, and that they should be denied the rights the rest of us take for granted such as, for example, the right to be married.

And there are some people in our society who are just mean and are happy to use this as much as anything as an excuse to beat someone up. Because that’s the inevitable result of intolerance and hate. You can say “love the sinner, hate the sin” but someone else will take your words as an excuse for bigoted violence.

None of that sits well with me. My support for GLBTQ+ rights is rooted in the very simple principle that we should leave people alone to live their lives as fully and completely as possible, and if that means getting married, or kissing in public, or whatever, then they should. It’s not something we should hide from the kids. It’s something to celebrate.

And what does not help is dredging up this whole debate all over again, as though we still think in Canada in this day and age that these are still rights that are open for discussion, that we could still turn back the clock and return to the dark days of legally sanctioned repression and discrimination.

That’s one reason why people were upset with the Liberals dredging up an old anti-gay speech by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. It’s not simply a question of whether or not Scheer was intolerant a decade ago, it’s that the Liberals are saying that they still want to have this debate with him. As though that would help anyone in this country other than the Liberals.

And that’s why some people were very rightly upset with today’s CBC call-in show again on the question of same-sex marriage. The show provoked the unsurprising response of someone calling in and arguing that these rights should be overturned. What good is served by that? Why not also a call-in on revoking the women’s right to vote? I’m sure this also has supporters out there somewhere. It doesn’t mean the question should be open for debate.

So I guess maybe I was fooling myself when I thought of Pride as mostly a celebration of who we are. I guess it’s still necessary to tell those in power and in the media that we have moved on from their narrow and binary interpretation of society. I guess it’s still necessary to tell them that they are not being helpful, and that they are, simply for their own purposes, hurting people.

Meanwhile, to all my friends in the GLBTQ+ community: peace and love.

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Handmaiden to Despots?

Responding to Heather Morrison, who writes,

As any movement grows and flourishes, decisions made will turn out to have unforeseen consequences. Achieving the goals of the movement requires critical reflection and occasional changes in policy and procedure.The purpose of this post is to point out that the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) appears to be inadvertently acting as a handmaiden to at least one despotic government, facilitating dissemination of works subject to censorship and rejecting open access journals that would be suitable venues for critics of the despotic government. There is no blame and no immediately obvious remedy, but solving a problem begins with acknowledging that a problem exists and inviting discussion of how to avoid and solve the problem. OA friends, please consider this such an invitation.

Sustaining the knowledge commons full post:

https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2019/08/14/doaj-handmaiden-to-despots-or-oa-we-need-to-talk/

This is an issue I have thought a lot about. My work takes me to various countries, some of which might be classified as despotic. I have worked with the governments of those countries, always from the perspective of advancing open access and free learning. The question I have asked myself is whether it is appropriate to work with them.

I have decided that it is, and for a very simple reason: any principled selection process would leave me with very few countries to work with, if any.

It is easy to point to a particular country and suggest that we should not work with that country. But if we apply the same principle that led us to that decision the we are left with a significant practical problem. And if we extend that principle to agents of the country, including companies that support that country, or customers of that country, or suppliers to that country, as we most surely should, then we are left with no countries in which to work.

And at a certain point, when a recommendation to boycott a given country is made, I find that I have to ask, why this country? What made the person select this country to address, as opposed to one of the many others engaged in the same practice?

I will most certainly concur with Heather Morrison that a problem exists. There are countries in the world that murder their own citizens, either extra-legally, or by some sort of state sanctioned capital punishment. There are many countries that interfere with the publication of academic materials on political grounds. There is definitely a problem, one of many problems plaguing our world today.

How to address this? It is easy to identify what we oppose and to work against it. But my experience is that, in the long term, if is much more effective to work for something. It is also a lot harder, which is maybe why we don’t see so much of it.

We need, globally, to build the structures and institutions that will address issues such as this. Support for entities such as the United Nations and the World Court will go a long way toward addressing oppressive regimes. It is essential to build international trade regulations that prioritize justice, human rights, and environment as much as they do the needs of global capital.

It is tempting to short-cut this process, to have (say) DOAJ stand on its own against countries that oppress their citizens. But this is not justice, nor can it be seen as any pretense of justice. Only by building the institutions that serve all people, on a global scale, will we be able to address the injustices that we, as individuals, seek to redress. Any other approach would be parochial and sectarian.

Meanwhile, as an individual, I stay firm and unwavering in my own commitment to individual autonomy, celebration of diversity, an open society, and collective governance. Change happens not by changing governments, but by changing people, and the only way to change people is to be an example of the change you want to see in them.

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Scheer’s Promise

Andrew Scheer has made a pledge – and put it in writing – to “maintain and increase” health care funding to the provinces if he’s elected Prime Minister.

He had to. We know what happens when Conservatives are elected to office in Canada. They undermine the fairness of the health care system, cutting funding and eliminating programs.

We in Ontario are fresh from seeing the most recent evidence of this trend. One of the first things Conservative Doug Ford did after being elected was to start cutting health care and social services.

We know that it doesn’t matter what Conservatives say while they’re on the campaign trail. They want to cut health care and other services, and they’ll find a reason to do it. That’s why Scheer underlined that he had put his pledge in writing.

Should we trust Scheer this time? Well, no.

Here’s why: even if he keeps his pledge there are many ways he can keep it while at the still time undermining public health care in Canada.

After all, that’s why Conservatives cut health care funding. It’s not that they hate sick people. It’s that they think our health care system should be privatized, so it can make as much money for their business friends as the health care system does in the U.S.

If we look at what another recently elected Conservative is doing, we see where the road leads. In Alberta, Jason Kenney is looking to cut public health care and add private services. He has given Ernst & Young $2 million to figure out how this is to be done.

Andrew Scheer can keep his pledge by throwing money at private companies in an ongoing effort to undermine public healthcare.

He can undermine the Canada Health Act (which requires that provinces spend transfer money on public healthcare and that bans practices such as extra-billing) without cutting a dime from Federal transfer payments.

Nothing in his letter suggests he won’t do this. Everything in the performance of Conservative governments past and present suggests that he will.

This is the plan. Cut public services and privatize them. Look at how Scheer wants to spend public money providing rebates to people who send their kids to private school.

Scheer’s promise is worth nothing, not even the paper it’s written on.

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de Adder

I was never a de Adder fan. The entire time we lived in New Brunswick we would complain about the wrongheaded and often stereotypical editorial cartoons published in Brunswick News. But, of course, it is an Irving-owned newspaper, so we couldn’t expect any better.

We finally cancelled our subscription to the Times & Transcript after they fired all their photographers. It was the one shining light in the paper, the only part of the editorial staff to win any national awards for journalism, and even though they were being paid a pittance they at least demonstrated a shred of credibility.

Michael de Adder was also an award-winner, with a 2002 National Newspaper Award and a 2006 Golden Spike Award award for the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. But he also had the misfortune to be, as he put it, working for “a foreign oil company with business ties to the United States.”

In the wake of the dismissal de Adder released a series of tweets in which he was very clear about what it meant to work for the Irving newspapers:

# When you work on the editorial pages at an Irving owned newspaper for 17 year, you learn how they operate. It’s not a front row seat, but it’s a third row seat. You definately get a clear picture of how they run a newspaper.

# Does it matter if I was fired over one Donald Trump cartoon when every Donald Trump cartoon I submitted in the past year was axed?

# It got to the point where I didn’t submit any Donald Trump cartoons for fear that I might be fired.

# And Donald Trump doesn’t even matter. It’s a distraction from the big picture.

# The Premier of New Brunswick Blaine Higgs is a former Irving Oil executive and any cartoon I drew that was slightly critical of him was systematically axed. You want to know why I was let go? I wanted to do my job as an editorial cartoonist, and they wanted me to do their job.

# With this said, I had been giving the NB newspapers what they want for several months. Trump wasn’t on my radar. I work for canadian newspapers so there’s no need to cover Trump 24/7. And Canadian politics is quite interesting right now.

# But in the past 2 weeks I drew 3 Trump cartoons. 2 went viral and the third went supernova and a day later I was let go. And not only let go, the cartoons they already had in the can were not used. Overnight it was like I never worked for the paper. Make your own conclusions.

The media in New Brunswick is not a free media. It is owned by, and speaks for, the Irvings. That’s has always been widely known but as time goes by – and as other forms of media finally make their way into the province – the depth of the misdirection and deception has become more and more apparent.

I support what John Miller says in Rabble: “I hope the federal government’s newly formed Journalism and Written Media Independent Panel of Experts — representing eight professional journalism associations and unions — will decide the Irving monopolies do not qualify as ‘professional journalism organizations.’ Such a step would make the Irving newspapers ineligible for the federal government’s $600-million assistance fund.”

I started this blog back in December because I wanted to have a place to speak out against “a general loss of moral leadership on the part of those very people who claim to be moral leaders, the politicians, by virtue of their offices, and their supporters, by virtue of their values and beliefs.”

I needed such a place because someone has to speak out, and because our corporate-owned press is not going to be that voice. New Brunswick is just an extreme case, just as Donald Trump is just an extreme case. But they are not exceptions. They are the rule. Corporate toadies will continue to be elected premiers of Canadian provinces, and the politics of corruption and hate will continue unabated even after Trump is gone.

As AE Marling says, “When newspapers are afraid to print art that speaks truth it’s up to the people to shout it from the rooftops.”

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P.S. one more note from de Adder:

# The hardest part in all of this,I have a mother with dimentia in NB who has a hard time remembering her family at times.But she knows her son draws cartoons. Part of her daily routine is to open the @TimesTranscript and see her son’s cartoon.A cartoon that won’t be there anymore.

 

New Brunswick

Responding to a LinkedIn post by Herb Emery.

I was one of those ‘pushed away’ by New Brunswick. I gave the province a good run, spending fifteen years in Moncton, but staying ultimately became untenable. I could write a book about it, but I’ll highlight a few factors:

– business and government practices that appeared to be corrupt, led by self-serving insiders

– the overbearing presence of a few large employers that constantly lobby for low business taxes and reduced services resulted in very high personal taxes and chronically inadequate services, and which meanwhile used their market position and leverage over government to stifle competition within the province

– a strong practice of favouring ‘native’ New Brunswickers — everything from preference in hiring practices, preferences in in-migration campaigns, funding, political association, etc. – had I ever lost my government position I had no real prospect of obtaining employment elsewhere in the province

To succeed, New Brunswick will have to welcome immigration, and to achieve a level of immigration such that new immigrants are not chased away from the lack of any real opportunity for growth or development in a New Brunswick context. It’s not about stimulating “sufficient opportunities through investment to keep young New Brunswickers here” – young people are *always* going to leave and explore the world – it’s about creating a fair, equitable and inclusive society based on quality of life and opportunities for growth. But this is exactly what the Powers that Be in New Brunswick opposed for the entire fifteen years I was in the province.

If I were in charge of New Brunswick I would take provincial control of immigration (following the example of Quebec) and make an effort to double the population in ten years by welcoming refugees and migrants from around the world, welcoming many thousands of Syrian refugees, the Rohinga in Burma, the people crossing the Mediterranean, the Central Amer4icans at the U.S. border.  I would make it the business of New Brunswick to help people around the world who have to home to find a home in New Brunswick, and I’d pay for it by the increased revenue from the federal government, from international agency support, and from the efforts of the resettled people.

Probably the only people opposed would be the self-same ‘native New Brunswicker’. This, though, should be the one and only political issue in New Brunswick today.

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Image: Heritage New Brunswick

Transit

This is yet again one of those posts that shouldn’t need to be written, yet apparently must be. It comes on the heels of debates in Ottawa about reducing or freezing transit fares because of the chaos surrounding the oft-delayed opening of light rail transit.

The argument, as usual, is that transit is an expense and that you have to charge money for it. Here’s mayor Jim Watson: everyone wants more buses and better service, but “We don’t get it by reducing the fare box (revenue) by $29 million. “It was absolutely one of the most ridiculous motions I’ve ever seen.”

Was it really that ridiculous? Transportation in the city is in a gridlock because Ottawa Transit cut back on staff and realigned routes before light rail open – and then light rail never opened. People find their routes delayed, or canceled, and are unable to make their trips. On top of all that, there have been several accidents recently, including one that killed and maimed a number of people.

We could spend the rest of this post talking about how transit in the city has been mismanaged, how it was unwise to gamble on a new type of train that has never been used anywhere else, about why Ottawa is staying with SNC Lavalin (previously discussed in these pages regarding allegations of corruption), and about shoddy construction practices.

But let’s talk about gridlock. The kind of traffic created when you try to squeeze too many cars into too few roads. The kind of traffic that has become the norm in Ottawa’s downtown and is a daily occurrence on is bridges and highways. The kind of gridlock the city is making a special effort to ease – albeit unsuccessfully.

Ottawa needs its roads, and it pays a lot for them. It’s hard to tell looking at the budget, because roads expenses are spread out all over the place, but the city spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on roads.

There’s $340 million for infrastructure renewal, including:

 

  • $49 million to resurface and upgrade roads
  • $42.7 million to upgrade rural infrastructure (ie., roads), including $12 million to repair and replace culverts in rural areas
  • $20.4 million to renew City bridges
  • $9 million for the pothole and minor asphalt base budget

There’s also a winter operations budget of $70.8 million to clear the network of roadways, sidewalks, pathways and parking lots. A good proportion of the $345 million police budget is devoted to traffic control. And an annual $192 million on transportation costs, and $331 million on ‘capital formation costs’. All together, it’s a significant chunk of the city’s $3.6 billion operating and 767 million capital budgets for 2019.

And none of this includes what the National Capital Commission, the provincial government, and the Federal government pays to support our roads infrastructure.

Compared to that, refunding $29 million to people who paid for a transit system that doesn’t work doesn’t seem extreme. Your monthly bus pass should work every day of the month; if you have to take taxis or Lyft to get to work because the buses aren’t running, you should be paying less for your pass.

Yes, it costs money to operate a transit system. Yes, you can raise some of that money by charging fares. But the more you spend on transit (mismanagement and corruption notwithstanding) and the less you charge in fares, the more you save in other areas.

Even more to the point, though, an efficient transit system confers reliability. People can travel to and from downtown without worrying that they’ll be trapped for two hours on Queen Street (or charge surge pricing by Uber). People can travel to major events without worrying about circling around and around looking for parking (this is why we take transit to every football game at TD Place). The city works.

And – needless to say – transit is green. Sure, it’s not perfect – it would be nice if all the buses were electric, for example. But buses and light rail produce a fraction of the pollutants produced by cars and trucks.

Finding $29 million to reduce transit fares would have sent the right message. It would have told riders that their concerns have been heard.  And that the city considers transit a priority, not just an expensive service it has to provide to poor people.

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The Media Subsidy

From Wikipedia: Psychological projection is a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.

For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.

The idea here is to determine eligibility for a $595-million bailout package for news media in Canada. The Liberals are setting up an arms-length committee to do this. Naturally, the Conservatives – who would have gerrymandered the process – are complaining.

There’s only one reason the Conservatives are accusing the Liberals of stacking the committee in order to influence the media: because that’s what they would do.

Indeed, this is a general trend characteristic of the right. They favour a generally unethical brand of politics. And they justify it by saying “well everybody is doing it.” Except: everybody is not doing it.

Take the election debates, for example, something also mentioned in this article. “No ability for consultation, just rammed that through,” they complained.

Yet instead of setting up an arms-length committee to manage the election debates, the Conservatives when they were in power manipulated the setting and format to benefit themselves.

The same with election spending. They are complaining about spending limits on political parties saying “we expect to see ministers flying around and making announcements and government advertising continuing at a time when political parties won’t.” Why do they say this? Because that’s what they did.

So let’s get back to the media subsidy committee. Even the Conservative complaint is an attempt to sway the outcome. The committee is composed of representatives from all sectors – business and industry, NGOs, and yes, the trade union representing news industry workers.

Naturally the Conservatives don’t want the panel to be balanced – they want only members who support their views.

This is a pattern we see with the Conservatives, and we see it over and over.

The Liberals have their weaknesses, to be sure. But then the Conservatives accuse them of favoritism and partisanship, this is projection, not fact.

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Tariffs

People have been generally supportive of the news that the aluminum and steel tariffs have been lifted and generally enthused about the pending ratification of the revamped NAFTA accord. I get that.

But commentators on CBC News went over the top today on the subject of tariffs. One person said, “if you support tariffs then you haven’t passed grade two.” Another said, “I can’t think of anything good to say about them, actually.”

I can think of one, right off the top: tariffs are a tax. They raise money for the public treasury. They thus make it possible to have public services and improve social welfare.

I’m sure the commentators weren’t thinking of that when they spoke about tariffs. They were most likely comparing tariffs only with other forms of taxation, such as income tax,  sales tax, user fees and subscriptions.

The general tenor of the opposition to tariffs is that they increase prices to consumers. But is this true? Not exactly.

First, consumers rarely pay directly for tariffs. Few consumers import or export goods. Tariffs raise prices only if they are passed on to the consumer by producers. Now it’s true that this usually happens. But not always.

The price consumers pay isn’t directly related to the cost of production. It is based on their willingness and ability to pay. And in a marketplace, typically prices are set to the highest rate that consumers are willing to pay. So you can’t simply raise prices – consumers will stop buying.

And that’s the real reason the commentators say there’s nothing good about tariffs. They may mean higher prices, but they mostly mean lower demand.

In fact, the whole idea of a tariff is to lower demand to the point where the consumer makes an alternative selection. Instead of buying imported pineapples they buy local pears. Instead of buying imported iPhones they buy domestic Blackberries. Overall, they purchase less, what what they do purchase has a higher price.

Tariffs, however, also have the unfortunate effect of plunging the economy into recession. Increased prices leads to inflation and higher interests rates, which makes it more difficult to buy goods and make investments. As well, the overall reduction in demand (both domestically, and from exports) results in increased layoffs and higher unemployment, which in turn depresses wages.

Tariffs point to the fact that our economy depends on maximum consumption and minimum price. And they point to hold these have over us: deviate from these, and you get recession.

However, these are also the causes of the greatest social ills. Maximum consumption is harmful. As Kalle Lasn says, productivity is killing the planet. And low prices also means low wages. And this has over the last 40 years led to increasing inequality between the rich and the poor. And – note well – a one-time increase in price wouldn’t matter if people were paid more, and received better social services.

No, the commentators oppose tariffs not because they hurt consumers, but because they hurt producers. They increase costs to producers, and reduce demand for their product, which means they need to become more efficient in order to compete.

(Ironically, the opponents of tariffs use the inverse argument, saying that lowering tariffs force local industry to increase productivity, because of lower costs from exports. This would be true – except that these lower costs are usually produced by lower wages, poor labour laws, less taxation, and environmental degradation.)

In fact, tariffs can act as a governor on the world trade engine. World trade without restraint leads to exploitation and ruin. Tariffs can act as a push-back against this: a way to ensure countries respect the environment, treat labour fairly, and provide adequate social services. In conjunction with other measures, tariffs can lead to a gradual equalization of economies, allowing countries to selectively develop and nurture local industries.

We’ve seen what happens when the global trade engine runs without restraint – it simply extracts value from everything and dumps it into the pockets of the rich. We need mechanisms to extract value from this global trade engine to support the welfare of everyone else, and to keep the engine from ruining economies and environments.

Tariffs aren’t the only tool. They should not be applied bluntly and without thought. Too much application of tariffs can be ruinous. And they make poor weapons of war. So there’s a lot to say against them.

But there are – contrary to the one-sided commentary I heard today – things that could be said in their favour as well.

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