Friday, February 25, 2005

No wonder Trudeau called them "nobodies"

Item: Parliament mulls warning labels on alcohol (ÞNeale)

This is admittedly an incredibly trivial thing to bring up right now, even in the sub-universe of Canadian politics. Our PM has openly ceded even more responsibility for our national defense to the USA. The Leader of the Opposition looks at a budget that increases program spending by 11.8% and says, "The major priorities in this budget are Conservative priorities."

Oops - wait! That was on Wednesday. On Thursday, he said, "..the budget does not reflect Conservative principles..". (Note: if you're tempted to reconcile these two statements, read the 2nd document in full, and note that the tone is exactly opposite what we heard all Wednesday afternoon and evening. It also states that they will not be voting in favour of the budget. I guess all the CPC MPs will be taking a little flex time on budget voting day.)

Anyhoo, back to the story I linked at the top:
[Ontario Liberal MP Paul] Szabo has been working for 10 years to get the labels, which would warn about the possible effects of alcohol such as impaired ability to drive, health issues and possible birth defects in pregnant women.

"If we could help save one life or someone from misery for their full life, this bill is worth going forward with," said Szabo, whose bill has already passed its second reading in the House of Commons.

Which of the following is sadder:

- Dude has been pushing this proposal for 10 years.

- Despite the fact that it's a "public interest" bill, it's so awful he hasn't gotten it passed in 10 years, even with his own party in power

- After 10 years, his best argument in favour is "if-we-could-help-save-one-life"

- He thinks that if the aim is to save 1+ lives with $15-20M/yr, this is a sensible way to accomplish this aim

- Even the public-interest non-profit "responsible alcohol consumption" promoters think it's a terrible idea

My God, the life of a government backbencher is empty. I know my response to this proposal:

Say No! to American-style booze labelling! ("I will look Mr. Dosanjh in the eye and I will say No," etc. etc. ad nauseam)

Non-budget-related CPC criticism

Evan Kirchhoff starts off with missile defense, and concludes with general thoughts on the notion (well-articulated by the Calgary Grit here) that the key for Harper is to blur the distinctions between him and the Liberals, rather than make the distinctions stunningly clear and loudly defended.
...I didn't realize that I too could be part of the growing power of the Tory movement simply by sitting here on my ass and not mentioning contentious Canadian political issues in public. ("Daddy, is that squirrel sleeping by the road?" "No, he's participating in the growing power of the Tory movement.")

Is it too late to take back my tacit endorsement of Stephen Harper and the NuCons? Wait -- is it too late to apologize for signing Rick Mercer's petition to have Stockwell Day change his name to "Doris"? Because I know Harper might have like 25 IQ points on that guy, but the fact that Day would move his arms in a life-demonstrating manner and occasionally emit audible words is now looking mighty sweet as an opposition-party attribute.

Regular readers of this site ought to be pretty clear about where I stand in this debate.

Addendum: You should read the whole thing; in fact you should be reading 101-280 every day. But in case you don't, the linked piece also contains this small mercy:
"Some" [sovereignty] really just means the aerial part, and I guess the underwater part has gotten a tad rolled back over the years, but even Canada's strongest detractors would have to admit that its effective sovereignty at sea level +/- 5 meters, within walking distance of a CF Base, remains extremely high.

Aaack.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Whaaat's..happening

Here's the most excited I've been in years about a movie that hasn't come out yet: Untitled Mike Judge Comedy (2005). The plot outline from IMDB:
Private Joe Bowers, the definition of "average American", is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program, set 1,000 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.

To be clear, it's not the story for which I'm psyched: I simply believe Mike Judge to be the finest comedy creator of the past 10-ish years. Unfortunately, there's two things that have conspired to deny him his much deserved recognition:
  1. King of the Hill being paired with The Simpsons for years
  2. That the popularity (and notoriety) of the early Beavis & Butthead shorts came thanks to MTV and teenaged boys
I happen to agree with most grownups that Beavis & Butthead was pretty stupid; this was compounded by the godawful videos they watched. That said, the movie "Beavis & Butthead Do America" was hilarious. By adding a plot and ditching the live music videos, B&B improved by orders of magnitude - and the humour was no more juvenile than two-thirds of the things on screen and TV today.

King of the Hill, now in its 9th season, is as good (or better) as it's ever been - for my money, it's the best half-hour on TV. All but the most evangelical (or newly-converted) Simpsons fans would have to concede that it has jumped the shark (precise accounts of when vary - I would argue that it face-planted on the whitecaps with Duncan the bad-ass horse and the weird underground jockeys).

Basically, King of the Hill, while being gut-bustingly funny at times, still has heart. I stopped "caring" about Homer Simpson over the past several years - the show's writers and producers seem to have dealt with the inevitable (and forgivable) creative fatigue by making everything a parody of the detachment of the irony of the sarcasm of etc. etc. etc. King of the Hill's characters are lovable, which is possibly the toughest thing for a comedy writer to do while keeping the thing funny. (Line of the season: conspirazoid neighbour Dale Gribble faces down a slothful bureaucracy on Hank's behalf with, "I have a 3-line phone and nothing at all to do with my time.")

And then there's Office Space. If you don't agree that this is the best movie about "work" ever, I will fight you. And that's no lie.* It's Dilbert's equal at taking the piss out of the cubicle environment, with what appears to be a fraction of the recognition.

It's my sincere hope that this new movie is a wild success. There's too many people who currently know Mike Judge as, "that guy who made those stupid cartoons on MTV that my little cousin imitated for six months and annoyed the living HELL OUT OF ME!". He deserves better.

Budget bleat

Occam's Carbuncle has some pithy analysis of the federal budget, from Tuesday! (based on leaks reported in Politics Watch). My favourite was probably this one:
Aboriginals - $150 million for learning programs and $100 million for housing.

Oh, and $50 million for the forensic audits.

Zing. I do take issue with his sarcastic appreciation of the tax cut. No Cut Too Small, that's my motto. I figure if I'm going to get cranky about small tax increases, I ought to be loudly appreciative of small decreases.

Anyway, my thoughts have turned to the Conservative Party, as is the custom, and what I would like them to be doing. Here's a hint, taken from John Robson at his new blog:
Have you considered the strategy of opposing the government while offering an alternative program? That would be the responsible thing to do because otherwise, if the Liberals, Tories, NDP and Bloc between them cook up a budget in many respects unsatisfactory to voters, we have no one to whom to turn for redress. We did not send all you "opposition" MPs to Parliament to collude with the government so we would be denied effective choice. How ever did you get the idea that we did?

Ahhh, Bistro. The sweet, sweet sensation of principles, logic, and practicality merging into a single position.

I understand that the CPC need not reflexively oppose everything that comes out of a Liberal mouth, and they don't want to fight an election yet. But they DO need to do their job as the Loyal Opposition, and they also need to stake out their ground on some wedge issues (gee, that sounds so darn "divisive", I feel icky). Supporting the budget represents some non-zero amount of approval for every spending plan in it, which undercuts, to some degree, future and ongoing opposition to said spending plans.

If only there was some nice motherhood issue that the CPC could take ownership of, and use it to beat the Liberals senseless... hmmmm... I've got it! How about motherhood! It should be obvious that if the CPC came out with one specific reason why they can't support the budget (despite being otherwise "pleased"), that reason would get a lot of attention. That's why this should be what Stephen Harper is saying this morning:

"There is a lot to be happy about with the new budget. I'm glad the Liberals listened to us and incorporated some tax relief, and it's good to see a plan to start rebuilding our military, even if it is pretty slim pickings in the near-term.

That said, the Conservative Party cannot support any budget which provides for the establishment of the Liberals' lunatic plan for a federal daycare system. There are a bevy of reasons to oppose this terrible, terrible plan, and they generally fall under two broad objections.

First, it's a massive government program, and the Liberals have proven themselves totally incompetent at making sure such programs achieve their intended objective.

Second and more importantly, if the Liberals wish to spend five billion dollars to help parents and children, what they should be doing is giving them the money. For some families, the money would help cover the costs of ongoing daycare for their children. For some parents, it would allow them to use daycare less, and spend more time with their own children. And for some families who already have a stay-at-home parent, it will allow them to provide more opportunites for their children.

Even if there were a magical guarantee that the federal daycare system would be the most efficient and effective program in the history of Canadian government, it is still a less appealing alternative than empowering parents to make their own decisions as to what is best for their children.

We will be opposing the new budget in Parliament. We are not keen on an immediate election, but if there needs to be one to let Canadians decide who knows best for their children - the Liberals or themselves - then so be it."

Isn't this a better course of action than, "We're pleased"? Readers are invited to comment on whether this sounds like a sensible speech, or the ravings of a right-wing pinhead, and whether this would catch the attention of the moderate Canadian voter.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

For shame

So the CBC fires balding rowing announcer Chris Cuthbert from his 20-year gig at the CBC, and they don't even have the common decency to punt Steve Armitage at the same time. I feel sick.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Contradictions and other nonsense

(UPDATE: Good stuff in the comments.)

It pains me slightly to do this to such an excellent blogger and kindred spirit. The Monger has written a rejoinder to my previous post on Capitalism & the NHL. I should probably thank him - he has managed to articulate almost every common fallacy cited as evidence in support of a salary cap.

As such, his post deserves a proper Fisking. (Sidebar: I propose that the Canadian term for this be a Bleeding, in honour of its national champion. I intend to repeat it until it becomes common usage.)

Point (1) of 2 is readily conceded - the CBA does define the rules under which the owners field their teams. Once the owners and players agree on something, so it will be.

The problem is Point (2), virtually in its entirety. Let's go through it in parts:
Because it is a competitive sports league, it seems as if (for example) the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators are in competition with one another. However, as far as the business is concerned, the entire NHL is one industry, which is in competition (for fan interest) with the NFL, Major League Baseball, and for that matter movies and television and musical entertainment.

Dubious. First let's ignore the near-invocation of the "pie" fallacy, where wealth is never created, just taken from somewhere else. I know The Monger doesn't believe this, so we'll just remind everyone else - there is not a fixed number of leisure dollars in North America.

More importantly, we have the common misconception that the Canucks and Senators are "in it together" when it comes to business. A large, large percentage of "NHL fans" are actually fans of a particular team, and an even greater percentage started out that way (generally the team in their area, sometimes "Dad's team"). This is a critical point: most of the growth of the NHL comes via its teams. Put a different way, the Canucks and Senators are selling to essentially distinguishable sets of potential customers, and the success of the Canucks in doing so is pretty much entirely separable from the success of the Senators.

A team's viability is almost entirely dependent on their ability to sell to their own market; moreover, the NHL's viability is almost entirely dependent on the ability of 30 teams to sell to their respective markets.

(This may also be an opportune time to point out that Major League Baseball is the only one of the four major team sports exempted from U.S. antitrust law. It's widely acknowledged now that even this exemption is an anachronism - it was granted in 1922 not because the SCOTUS considered MLB "one business", but because they ruled it wasn't a business at all.)
If the Canucks or the Senators sink under the waves because they are operating under unfavourable economic rules (e.g. other teams have payrolls twice as large), this hurts the whole industry.

First of all, the history of the NHL is rich with teams that have folded, moved, and merged. Today it's a $2B industry. It is not self-evident that if the Canucks went bankrupt it would damage the industry as a whole. (And note: since 1987, when the NFL started the salary cap, more NFL franchises have relocated than NHL franchises, 5-4).

Secondly, we have the statement that existing discrepancies in team payrolls are an example of "unfavourable economic rules". Since the whole root of this dispute is that there are no rules restricting total payroll, I'll assume he means "unfavourable market conditions", which by the way I don't accept either.

The third problem with this sentence is that the survival of the Canucks and Senators is threatened by payroll discrepancies. I realize I'm fighting both intuitive plausibility AND nearly 10 years of Canadian owner complaints here, but cripes, the evidence does not support this premise! In 2003-04, (at least) five of the six Canadian teams were profitable!

And I'm told I'm supposed to treat this like some kind of fluke, but:
  • Ottawa has made the playoffs for 8 consecutive years (and were recently purchased by a Mr. Steve Melnyk, presumably of his own free will)
  • Vancouver has made the playoffs for 4 consecutive years (and then let their GM go - gee, you mean the owner doesn't see this as flat-out overachieving?)

All that said, the biggest fallacy in The Monger's piece is trotted out here:
As a business, the Canucks and each of the 29 other teams are partners--perhaps the way that the marketing division and the research division of a large tech firm are partners, or maybe the way Radiology and the Emergency Department in a hospital are partners.

False. The underlying premise here is that, like the marketing & research divisions of a single company, the 30 NHL owners have identical financial interests. As much as the owners are trying to make us believe this right now, it is simply not true. Four off the top of my head:
  • An owner in a proven, traditional market (say the Leafs) may wish to make a certain decent operating profit every year.
  • An owner in a new market (say, Dallas) may not be concerned with year-to-year profits & losses, but wishes to sell the team for a large profit down the road, as he has created an NHL market where none was before.
  • Another owner (say Edmonton) may bring in lots of community leaders as partners, and wish to run the team as virtually non-profit, with all extra revenues being reinvested in the team, arena, or whatever.
  • Yet another owner may be unconcerned with the future selling price of his team, as he plans to bleed it dry in the meantime.
If the owners pooled their money, and converted ownership of their own franchise into partial ownership of all 30 teams, then the "large tech firm" analogy would be appropriate. The fact that they have no interest in doing so is evidence that, at least nominally, they want to be free to profit or loss based on their own decision-making.
If ABC Tech Firm decides, as an industry, that its marketing and research divisions should each share X% of the budget, we don't get our knickers in a twist about the free market, crying "each division should sink or swim on its own!" If the Radiology Department and the Emergency Department have to share a defined fraction of the budget, the Emerg docs don't whine that there's no free market, and that their department is managed better so they should get more cash. Well, actually, they do, but that's another story...

I suppose the fact that The Monger has debunked his own analogy by the end of this graf should suffice, but let's follow this through (and note, again, that a Firm is not an Industry). If ABC Tech Firm were structured like a pro sports league with a salary cap (say the NFL):
  • The value of X% and Y% of the budget assigned to Research (Hardware) and Research (Software) would never change, regardless of the relative accomplishments of the divisions.
  • Much of the ability of R-H to grow would be directly tied to the success (or lack thereof) R-S, in perpetuity.
  • ABC's Board of Directors could not fire the Head of R-S for consistently poor performance - they'd have to wait until he died, or got interested in something else. Oh, and even if the Head DID die, the Board might be forced to hire his wife, son, or daughter.
  • Talented employees of R-H would have to accept that their compensation would be limited, again in perpetuity, by the poor performance of R-S.
  • R-S would have little concern for its own talented employees, as competitors are prohibited from hiring them away at a better wage, even if they could do so profitably.
I can see why the Head of R-S would be satisfied with this arrangement. The only way the Board would be happy with this is if they worked for the Heads, rather than the other way around (hmm). For an employee of either division who is at all interested in maximizing their own compensation, it's a terrible arrangement. And lastly, for any third party with an interest in the performance of R-S, it's also terrible, as there exists neither any incentive for R-S to improve their performance, nor any reasonable prospect that this might change.
[...]

It is no more a constraint on the free market for the owners to "collude" in setting a salary cap than it is a constraint on the free market for the Board of Directors of IBM to set the budgets for each of its divisions.

Yes, it is. (I love the italic decisive!) IBM's board is running one business, i.e. there is only one relevant bottom line, and no shareholder's financial interest in tied solely to the performance of any particular IBM division. The NHL owners are running 30 businesses. If IBM and 29 other top tech firms colluded to cap salaries (in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement with a very large Computer Geeks' Union), the consequences would include large fines and jail time.
I am therefore a strong supporter of the salary cap, and an equally strong supporter of the free market. There's no contradiction.

Another italic decisive is tempting here. Dr. Monger would be free to state that he is, as I am, a strong supporter of the right of two or more parties to freely enter into a contract. This right, however, has never been in dispute here or anywhere else - indeed, if the NHL and the PA would just freakin' do so, I'd have nothing more to say.

The question here has always been the fairness and advisability of a salary cap, and if it's good for the league, owners, players, and fans. And since the market for players' services under a salary cap is not at all free, then there bloody well is a contradiction between support for a salary cap and support for free markets.

I would like to conclude (permanently, I hope) by revisiting the last part of the ABC Tech Firm analogy above - specifically, the part about interested third parties.

Your basic NHL fan in Canada has been conned by the owners, with the media's help, into thinking that under a salary cap, their team will be competing for the Stanley Cup every year (whereas all present success should be regarded as fortunate and/or fleeting).

I wonder how a fan of the Chicago Cubs feels about this assertion, or the Arizona Cardinals, or Cincinnati Bengals, or the L.A. Clippers, or the Chicago Blackhawks, or the Boston Bruins. These are all teams operating above the safety net of profitability, and they all enjoy good seasons about as often as you would predict with a random number generator, if that.

The unintended, but not unforeseeable, consequence of assured profitability is the entrenchment of disinterested, incompetent, and/or lazy owners. This tradeoff is only a positive one (arguably) for fans in the absolute worst markets, where the alternative might be their team moving away.

In sum, it continues to boggle my mind that Canadian NHL fans, having regularly witnessed the benefits of great ownership towards on-ice success, are so eagerly supporting a structure which promotes exactly the opposite.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Apropos of nothing...

News item: Vikings owner reaches agreement to sell team for $625M

Tale of the Tape:
1998 purchase price: $246M
Return on capital investment: 154%
Annualized: ~17%

Annual broadcast revenue: $84M (2004)
Annual ticket revenue: $61.63 x 10 x 64,000 = $39M
Annual player payroll: $57.4M (avg. 2000-2003)
Annual operating profit: approx. "considerable"

Reason for selling team: taxpayers won't build him a new stadium

Number of Vikings Super Bowl appearances since 1998: 0

Money quote: "McCombs said the Vikings couldn’t generate enough revenue in the 22-year-old Metrodome to compete. "

Throw it on the pile - just a little more evidence for NHL fans to ignore while calling the players greedy.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I suck at contests


Probably a little obvious, yes? Posted by Hello

Explanation here (ÞTreacher - NSFW); more entries here, here (NSFW), here, and here (very NSFW).

Capitalism & the NHL: A Primer

(Alert! This post is very long. I've tried to squash in everything I have to say about the NHL so I never have to revisit it again. Thanks for your patience.)

Tom Benjamin at Canucks Corner (ÞCosh) has become my go-to guy for news and comment on the NHL season that Wasn't. His consistent position is basically that the "economics of today's NHL" is, for probably 20 of the 30 franchises, a bad excuse, and the other 10 reside in problem markets - a problem that will not go away no matter what the new agreement provides.

Here he is observing that a few print columnists are finally starting to notice that the owners' Kool-Aid tastes a little funny:
Chris Stevenson, for example considers the cost and then opines:

"Consider the possible landscape if the NHL is ever capable of resurrecting itself from beneath the mound of dirt and ashes under which it has buried itself.

I'm not so sure now the status quo looks that bad. Some teams were making a lot of money and the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning, one a small and the other a non-traditional market, made it to the Stanley Cup final.

The teams that weren't making money probably will still struggle to do so in a post-lockout environment because their problems are market, rather than labour, related."

Gee whiz, do you think? Welcome to the dark side, Chris.

Here's the thing. Most of you reading this are ostensibly capitalists, and I am here to tell you that if you support the owners in this dispute, your bona fides are mud. There are basically three factors that enter into whether an NHL franchise is a viable business:
1) Quality of management (this would include the quality and success of the on-ice product)
2) Quality of the market (population, wealth, NHL tradition, "culture of hockey" e.g. minor & junior hockey, etc.)
3) The collective bargaining agreement between the teams and the NHLPA

Just about everyone, including full-time paid media, seem pathologically unable to distinguish between 1) and 2), but when you put this under a magnifying glass, you see the problems. To wit:
- 23 years ago, Colorado was such a lousy hockey market that their team moved to New Jersey. Now their team is one of the giants of the NHL, one that the other teams need economic protection from to compete with. Management or market?
- Dallas has absolutely no natural advantages over Miami as a hockey market. Yet, the Stars have won a Cup and been good for years now, whereas Florida is pegged as quite possibly a doomed franchise. Management or market? (Note also that the linked story says Dallas has "built enough of a niche to survive". Hmmm, why is that, I wonder - a genetic affinity for hockey in Texans?)
- Chicago and Boston - haven't won a Cup in 44 and 33 years respectively, yet both have longtime owners with no stated interest in selling. 27th and 22nd in the league in attendance last year, despite operating in Original Six sports-crazy markets. Management or market?

I also have a serious problem with the premise that 30 healthy franchises is viable - I don't even see it as desirable. A system where teams are profitable regardless of their competitive success necessarily results in owners like Bill Bidwill, Donald Sterling, and Harold Ballard. Any Leafs fans out there wistful for the days when the prospects for team improvement hinged on Harold Ballard's death?

Anyhoo, back to the CBA. Presently, the agreement includes "cost controls" which have accomplished the exact opposite of their intent. If you think the way to fix this is more cost controls, then I recommend you apply for a job with the federal government - you'll fit right in. It boggles the mind to see both sides make proposals and counter-proposals on how best to negate the laws of economics.

There exists an economic system where, in the absence of perverting regulations, labour is valued 100% accurately - every worker is paid what they're worth, and no employer is forced to pay money they don't have. It's called a free market. I think it behooves both sides to figure out a way to work with fundamental economic principles to find a solution, instead of dreaming up ways to defeat them. Three points:

1) Scarcity. When a commodity is scarce, the price goes up (arguments, anyone?). The traditional system of restricted free agency has made labour artificially scarce every offseason, and the dollar value of free agent contracts has skyrocketed over the past 10 years (note: even these increases have settled down in the past couple of years). The logical way to combat this is to increase the number of free agents, i.e. make all free agency unrestricted.

The conventional argument against this, that teams need to be able to re-sign their own players that they have developed, doesn't wash from a economic standpoint. The reward for good player development is having players whose performance is worth more than the contract they're playing under - if you're paying them "market value" they might as well be players that another team has developed.

It is nice to keep players from a continuity or fan loyalty standpoint, but there are other ways to encourage this (see below). The way it's done now, the costs far outweigh the benefits.

2) Arbitration. There is years of evidence now in baseball and hockey (and Alberta teaching, etc.) that arbitration increases overall wages - it does not act as a drag. Arbitration turns a bad (or independent) decision by one franchise into a benchmark that binds the other 29 teams. Pure and simple, it is a one-way upward ratchet on salaries. Again, the way to solve this is to eliminate it, and make players who previously would have been eligible for arbitration unrestricted free agents. What good is being able to keep your own goaltender for $4M/year, when you only have $3M to spend?

3) Redistributions. From first principles, a salary cap and revenue sharing are disincentives for growth. Restrictions on your freedom to keep and spend your own money discourages you from making it in the first place (know anyone who won't work overtime?).

It bears repeating loudly - the win-win solution to the NHL contract dispute is one where revenues increase and everyone makes lots of money, i.e. whatever arrangement is best for growth. There is certainly room for debate on this issue, however, there are economic models which have proven more succesful in encouraging growth than others. To take the two extremes, at the one end you have a rigid centrally-planned model where all revenues are taken in by the overseer and redistributed, and at the other end you have vigourous competition where the talented and motivated get richest, but pay some taxes to prop up the naturally disadvantaged, incompetent, and/or lazy.

I hope I don't have to spell out which of these is best for growth; dubbing them roughly the "Soviet" and "American" models should suffice. The "tax" system for NHL teams would have to be on player spending, not on revenues: this business of trying to figure out which teams are making how much from building rentals for concerts, and how much of that should go to NHL player salaries, is a fool's errand and waste of time. Teams spending above a certain threshold should be required to pay a tax - the severity of this tax could increase progressively.

The amount of this tax should be enough to assist the "less fortunate" teams, yet not so much that it completely discourages teams from spending enough to pay it, and correspondingly, finding new revenue streams to reinvest in their team. As well, teams could be given a "discount" on money spent re-signing their own players, which should discourage some player movement (e.g. 15% of the money would not count towards the luxury tax threshold).

So, the correct solution to this mess is:
- institute the 24% instant salary rollback the players have proposed (undoing a lot of the damage caused by the previous ineffective system)
- eliminate restricted free agency
- eliminate arbitration
- institute a luxury tax of whatever threshold, severity, and escalation the two sides can agree on

Let's do the Ben Franklin on this solution, and itemize the pluses and minuses. On the plus side:
  • optimum potential for overall NHL growth
  • rewards successful owners and punishes unsuccessful ones
  • provides "small markets" some benefit from big-spending "large markets"
  • uncouples teams from the bad decisions of other teams
  • instantly adds an average of $10M to the bottom line of every team

On the minus side:
  • may cause poorly managed teams in lousy markets to move or fold
  • may result in some increased player movement
  • means some teams will spend more on players than others (I don't think this is inherently a minus, per the 10,000 words above, but anyway...)

I hope you will agree that this scheme solves a lot more problems than it creates. If there are existing owners that would prefer a predictable revenue stream to entrepreneurship and attempting to manage a complicated business, I suggest they sell their teams and go buy some oil wells.

Last but not least! This post started with Tom Benjamin, so let me conclude it by pointing you to his brilliant parody. With apologies to South Park, it's Blame Goodenow!

And that's all I have to say about that - let's hope.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Love Letter?

To the good folks at The Fan 960, Calgary Sports Talk Radio:

Like everyone making the effort to email you, I am both sad and ticked that the NHL season looks dead. But what I resent most is the notion that this is happening for the sake of, among others, the Calgary Flames.

A 60-cent dollar and 7 years of lousy teams made it conventional wisdom that Calgary is some kind of weak sister in the NHL family. This is absolutely ridiculous. Toronto is the only hockey market with a greater base of wealth and fan interest - Calgary could compete in the NHL with absolutely no restrictions on salaries or player movement.

Imagine that Michael Feterik had not sold the Stamps; instead, he came out hard for a strict hard salary cap, saying that the CFL in Calgary is doomed if Toronto and Vancouver are allowed to outspend them.

You would be forgiven, I think, for laughing in his face. I can certainly imagine Joe Sports saying something like, "This is a great football town. Get someone in here who knows something about running a team and you'll be fine. And if you won't, sell it to someone who will."

Now compare Calgary's considerable enthusiasm for the Stamps to April and May on the Red Mile - that is obviously orders of magnitude larger. The Calgary Flames have absolutely no economic excuse for a lack of success. If Harley Hotchkiss and Ken King want to defend the lockout and obliteration of the season on behalf of Nashville and Atlanta, fine, but do not tell Calgary's hockey fans that this is for us. Balderdash.

Regards,

Matt in Lethbridge

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ken Dryden - a born Liberal

This story/plan/disaster-waiting-to-happen can not be flagged enough. They said it all, so without further comment, may I direct you to Bruce Gottfred and Kevin Jaeger, who are running out of hands trying to protect both their children and their wallets.

Frankly, between this and the Edmonton Police Service fooferaw, my will to "change the system from within" is waning. Fred is starting to sound more sensible:
...what is the wisest attitude toward the government?

That of a tick toward a cow.

Principled, Popular, and Right

(updated)

CPC supporters who have been reading the Montreal Gazette (or Inkless Wells) ought to be reacting with horror to the massive and soon-to-be missed opportunity that is Health Care Reform.

Wells has been noting the considerable growth of privately-delivered & privately-paid health care in the City of Montreal. Since my non-NFL-related prognostication has been fairly decent of late, allow me to make a prediction:

At some point prior to the next federal Election Day, the Liberals will come out in favour of these businesses. (Specifically, that they won't be discouraging them, the clinics are not in contravention of the Canada Health Act, and if people with the means want to spend their own money on private care, bully for them.)

Speaking as purely a hack here, this would be an unmitigated disaster for the Conservative Party. What do you do when your rivals, who ostensibly sit to your left, come out with a stance that is consistent with conservative & libertarian principles; is massively popular; and is "right" (i.e. both inevitable and descriptive of the existing situation)? The political alternatives range from awful to awful:

1) Be fully supportive. "I'm glad the Liberals have come to their senses and adopted our secret agenda."
2) Agree with the policy, but rant and rave about how the Liberals demagogued this very issue in the last election. "Once again, the Liberals have said one thing and done another - but we're glad they've adopted our secret agenda." We've seen how effective this approach is - it's not.
3) Oppose the position. "We disagree that Canadians should be permitted to spend their own money on something so critical as their health." Base - what base?

I hope this scenario makes it clear that the only sensible thing for the CPC to do is to come out, right now, in support of private parallel health care (call it two-tier if you will, I don't much care). Since this position is in fact principled, popular, and right, it should be incredibly easy to defend. Again, which of these statements is more likely to attract voters:

1) "Paul Martin says he's against private health care, but his own city is the national capital of private clinics! Why isn't he taking action? What a hypocrite!"
2) "A booming business in private health care is underway in Montreal, and I'm glad Paul Martin's words deploring these types of clinics are just words. These clinics are providing much-needed service to those citizens of Montreal who, for whatever reason, prefer not to use the public system. People own their own bodies - they don't belong to the Government of Canada. And as a bonus, these people are not consuming the limited resources of the public system."

This is so bloody obvious, I'm going to stop now. Regrettably, I don't expect the CPC to follow this advice. They are afraid of kicking up a dust storm of "American-style health" fears - a storm that would be blown away in a week by the stiff breeze of reality and common sense. I'll just close with the Wells quote that introduces the poll linked above:
Sorry if you belong to that half of the population which believes, according to this new Environics poll, that you should be able to buy timely access to health care. No federal party agrees with you.
Attention Stephen Harper: you really, really have to be first on this one.

UPDATE: Per Don Martin in today's National Post (ÞStaples), what's going on in Montreal goes beyond fair liberalization of the system, and an alternative - I guess I should have made sure I knew more details. As such, I would like to make my own position perfectly clear:

1) Legal private facilities totally outside the public insurance system: definitely cool. Free country, my body is my own, etc. etc.
2) Privately operated facilities serving the public insurance system: probably cool. Certainly worth some experiments - there's decades of evidence that profit-seeking corporations can provide services more efficiently than governments. If health care is the exception, I'd like to see that proven in practice.
3) Privately operated facilities working for both the public and private systems, and charging the public clients out-of-pocket: not so cool at all. This is a real problem area; see Andrew Coyne's archives, if they're up again.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

How to Revive an Abandoned Weblog

By Andrew Coyne.

Welcome back, blogfather. Version 3.0 looks very promising.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The In-Flight Cell-Phone Ban

The FCC is currently reviewing its ban on the use of cell phones during flights, but many passengers say they like the restriction. What do you think?
"Now the only thing left is to fill the cabin with ankle-deep brackish ice water, and air travel will be about perfect." - Toby Leiffert, Teacher
Zing!

Forgive me if I don't take Scott Reid's word for it

Is this possible?
Late on a Wednesday evening, a shocker that is sure to resonate across Official Ottawa, indeed, across the land. Bourque has learned that persons close to Prime Minister Paul Martin are looking for ways to put the kibosh on the long-running Gomery Adscam Inquiry.

In response, PMO hotstuff Scott Reid took great pains late into the evening to deny any inference that the PMO is interested in derailing Gomery, requesting "the opportunity to respond officially" to this report. He told Bourque any suggestion otherwise is "utter bullshit".

Is it possible that a judicial inquiry, struck to perform an investigation without regard for political or media whims, could be kiboshed because of political and media whims?

Naturally, the CPC response to this rumour will be an accusal of "cover-up", instead of the much more sensible, "detached" statement that the independent inquiry is independent, and should be left to do its job - good, bad, or expensively awful.

Developing, as they say...

"built on the grave of a dozen former jobs"

I'm not anti-union per se, and I certainly don't view 200-odd people losing their jobs as some sort of Haw-haw moment. But there are certain economic realities that are so unavoidable that they might as well be considered laws of nature.

Before you commend or excoriate Wal-Mart for anything, I implore you to read this essay by "liberal capitalist" Evan Kirchhoff. No excerpt can do it justice, but I realize that's the custom:
Which brings us, inevitably, to Wal-Mart. Feel free not to shop at Wal-Mart -- hell, pick a reason: the creepy good 'ol boy corporate culture, the renorming of their media products for an evangelical-Christian pocket universe, the apparent see-no-evil attitude towards abusive local managers -- but don't believe that you're striking a blow for working-class wages by doing so.

I insist you read the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Too clever by half, I think

Bob Tarantino has an excellent piece today about Gomery & fallacies, although he's probably overreached by accusing Paul Wells of confusing the relevant issues.

Charging a columnist (or blogger, for that matter) with ignoring anything is a dodgy proposition; there exists an infinite number of topics, and only a finite number of words a columnist can write. Writing a piece defending the effectiveness of the Chretien unity strategy (c/w sponsorship program), without addressing the cock-up (or criminal enterprise) that the sponsorship program became, is not a failure of either intellect or integrity - it just is what it is.

I myself won't be defending the strategy as a whole, but analysing the sagging of separatist fortunes from October 1995 to December 2003, I'd have an impossible time arguing that they tanked despite Chretien.

But back to Bob's piece, post-segue. He identifies essentially four questions, which the Liberals are indeed trying to intertwine:
1) Was the sponsorship program a good idea?
2) Does the Gomery inquiry cost too much?
3) Is Gomery biased?
4) Was the execution of the sponsorship program somewhere between a nasty mess and a criminal enterprise, where Liberals and their friends enriched party and corporate coffers with taxpayers' money?

The thing is, it takes a clever person like Bob to articulate that the answer to #4 is not at all related to the answers of #1/2/3, but just about anyone can recognize it.

And further to basic intuition: is there much of the public, when hearing Chretien, Pelletier, Kinsella, et al harp on Questions 1/2/3 - in the context of an inquiry struck to answer #4 - who dismiss the self-interest involved?

I doubt it, and I think that the old-Liberal triumphalism on display yesterday and today will be short-lived. The media, on balance, are thrilled at the moment because it fits in with their favoured narrative (at the moment), that being Equipe Martin is disappointing, incompetent, second-rate, etc. etc. (I guess you are caught up in this a bit, Wells). But this, too, shall pass.

Chretien's testimony achieved one thing that will endure; it will bolster claims of bias on his behalf after the no-doubt damning Gomery report is issued (mission accomplished, Warren). I think the media gets confused sometimes: they report on a political stunt, describe it as a stunt, and yet think it will make an impact on public opinion. Matt the reader is either impressed by a stunt he knows is a stunt, or he will forget that a stunt was described as a stunt in the lede and be impressed by M. Chretien's clever golf ball argument, i.e. Matt is either an idiot or an idiot.

Questions 1/2/3 are not irrelevant, by the way - it's just laughable to see them brought up in an attempt to discredit the inquiry.

- We probably need some debate on why public inquiries cost so much, and if they must, and how much is too much.

- I think plastering the maple leaf all over Quebec is both crass and unproductive, but J.C.'s point (noted by Wells) is well-taken; if it was useless, why was the PQ so chapped about it?

- Does "scamp" and "cheap" demonstrate problematic bias on Judge Gomery's part? Uh, I don't know how to address this exactly, except to suggest that if you want to accuse Gomery of bias, you might want to cite example statements that are not A) inoffensive to regular Canadians, let alone career politicians, and/or B) obviously true.

Cheers. And in Friday's papers, enjoy another round of pieces comparing Martin unfavourably to Chretien.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Loose ends

Both of yesterday's posts have been updated.

I also wanted to expand a bit on my point here:
Why does Stephen Harper continue to abandon making sense in favour of mock outrage?

If there was one piece of advice that I could drive through the apparently thick heads of CPC hacks, it would be this: the Canadian Liberal voter has discounted the fact that, sometimes, the Liberals say one thing and then do another. Get..over..it!

What you're doing is not working. (Admit it). There is a certain percentage of voters who believe (not unreasonably) that either "waste, mismanagement, and corruption" are inherent in government, or that your party would be no better. (At least 36.7%, at last count). That horse is dead, dead, dead - it's decomposing in the middle of the road, and the stink is starting to permeate your clothing.

100 more iterations of "the Liberals' position on _blank_ is hypocritical" will garner you roughly no votes next election. Stop making everything about them, and start making it about you. A vision, defended, etc.

I would like to propose a one-month trial period where every comment on a government proposal is restricted solely to the merits of said proposal. Put a moratorium on criticizing the Liberals' integrity, consistency, coherency, and everything else. If you want to open your mouth, it will be to say "our way is right, and here's why".

Personally, if I don't see any improvement soon, I'll be spoiling my ballot next time around, and agitating for Reform Party 2.0 - and I doubt I'm alone.

Analogy of the Week

But damn, is this ever a fine turn-of-phrase:
The point I was trying to make was that Eddy Groves is not an 'entrepreneur' in the sense that he developed a useful product or service, he just saw that the government was prepared to firehose money in a certain direction and he positioned himself to get a good soaking.
Indeed. No, wait. "Heh."

Amen

I doubt you'll read anything else this week that makes as much sense as this [link repaired]:
Far better for Harper, I think, would be to wipe the foam from the corner of his mouth, make his point about Martin's election scaremongering, and give the initiative the support it deserves.

Why does Stephen Harper continue to abandon making sense in favour of mock outrage?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Biggest gang in town, indeed

[Editor's note: this post has been reworked, for literacy mainly, after the soothing therapy of 8 hours sleep and several cups of coffee.]

Pardon my after-12-beer-consuming-French, but what The Fuck is wrong with the Edmonton Police Service? If you haven't already, please read Kerry Diotte's latest on being targeted for DUI because of an "anonymous tip", and of course not at all because Diotte has criticized the EPS in print.

I'm the forgiving type, but the Edmonton Police Chief needs to be fired. The fact that this could happen with multiple officers and levels of command indicates serious institutional rot; it's really much worse than if a handful of officers were caught pimping or running drugs.

Furthermore, every officer involved needs to be suspended for at least a week unpaid, as well as subjected to what should be the professional humiliation of explaining why they thought this sting was a reasonable idea.

Jardine has more; here's the Globe story.

Ron Maclean, call your agent

Maybe something good will come out of the NHL lockout after all.

The impending cancellation of the hockey season, combined with CBC being outbid tomorrow for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics broadcast rights, would provide an excellent impetus to disband CBC Sports permanently.

We can talk about the news and original programming another day; for the CBC to be competing against private broadcasters to host Olympic coverage is evidence in itself that CBC Sports is not "filling a void". And spare me the tears about amateur sports coverage. We have three 24-hour sports channels that need to fill airtime; if there is any demand whatsoever for amateur sports coverage, one or more of them will provide it. (And if there is no demand, I reject the premise that CBC Sports should be "meeting" it).

I have no real beef with the job CBC Sports does (Armitage notwithstanding). But much like the Beer Store, the fact that a government organ discharges a particular task reasonably well is not, in itself, an adequate reason for it to retain the task in perpetuity. And if you disagree, you'd better be prepared to concede the corresponding position - that poor performance is in itself a reason to privatize government tasks. I got yer can o' worms right here.

UPDATE: Bingo!

Also, per Nancy's correction in the comments, the Beer Store is not a government organ; it's a monopoly that exists at the pleasure of the government.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

once more, with Data

Lethbridge, AB
2001 metro area Population: 67,374
# of liquor/beer stores: 25 (source - Yellow Pages and own two eyes)
Residents per store: 2,695

Kingston, ON
2001 metro area Population: 146,838
# of liquor/beer stores: 7 (4 Beer Stores & 3 LCBO outlets)
Residents per store: 20,977

And speaking of data, if anyone is aware of any that might tend to demonstrate that the information noted above is a bad thing for Albertans, I'd love a pointer.

Finally, I don't want anyone to think I'm completely high on the Alberta Advantage. Our Health Minister, Iris Evans, is in the news what seems like every other day with a new plan that would benefit us all. (Here's a stunner for you: Global last night interviewed a fitness club owner on whether tax breaks for gym memberships is a good idea. He thinks it is!)

I sincerely regret to inform you that the words "make Albertans healthier" escaped Ms. Evans' lips last month, as in, "[it's my job to] make Albertans healthier"*. If we're all on the Road to Serfdom, it looks like we can make it there without another pit stop.

*I saw this on a Global TV news report, but can't find a link. Take my word for whatever you think it's worth.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Don't give up, don't give in

That is my message to the NHLPA today. I've posted a few times before on the NHL contract dispute, and I thought I was mostly done. But yesterday I spent 2 hours listening to sports radio in the car, and counted 14 consecutive calls or emails that supported the owners' side. Enough.

First of all, when the season is cancelled momentarily, the NHLPA ought to fire Bob Goodenow. Not because he's wrong, and not because he can't defend the PA's stance (obviously he can, and has to the players, or we would have seen many more of them breaking ranks). But he and his staff have failed miserably at winning support from the public.

I'm aware that the public isn't voting on this, and nobody has to like him as long as he gets the best deal for the players. But public opinion is so firmly behind the owners right now, it has obviously emboldened them, and that has hurt the PA members - and cost us fans the season.

And what a shame, because there are numerous questions Bob could pose himself, or plant in the media, that might make Mr. Average Fan question his/her biases. Like, say:

1) Why is it in the long term interest for the NHL to protect poorly-managed franchises in weak markets?

2) Under a hard salary cap system, NHL revenue growth would be initiated less by individual franchises and more by NHL management, and central groups/committees. Why would this be better for growth?

3) Out of the 30 NHL franchises, how many would be better off if their owner was Gary Bettman, and their management was replaced by senior NHL management?

4) Is there an accomplishment in the past 5 years that demonstrates that the NHL central management should be given extra responsibility managing and promoting the growth of the NHL?

5) Dallas and Miami are cities of roughly equal size in warm-weather football states. Why are the Stars a large-market team and the Panthers a small-market team?

6) Would the NHL be in a better state right now if the Stars had been managed over the past 10 years in the same way as the Panthers?

7) Do you care how much Julia Roberts gets paid to make a movie, or how much the ticket and snacks cost?

8) Which is more important to you: how rich Jerry Seinfeld is, or whether you are getting good value for your cable bill?

9) If you were responsible for determining what the maximum salary in the NHL should be, how would you defend your decision?

10) The NFL has no guaranteed contracts, no arbitration, and virtually no restricted free agency, so player movement between teams is pretty much unimpeded. Does this hurt support for the NFL and its franchises?

11) Fully half of the players in the NFL make the league minimum salary. Is this a positive or negative consequence of a hard salary cap?

12) The NBA has a not-quite-hard cap, (some veterans exceptions & a severe luxury tax for going over the cap), as well as a league maximum salary. Presently 32 players make $12M to $15M, while only 21 players make $8M to $12M. Half the league makes under $2M. Is this distribution of player salaries something to the NHL ought to imitate?

13) Who is most likely and able to respond to the needs and demands of fans in your city:
  • a) Gary Bettman
  • b) a committee composed of owners, GMs, coaches, and players from a variety of teams
  • c) the owner and management of the franchise in your city

14) What principle of justice is it that says NHL franchises should make money even if they're not successful on the ice?

15) Bill Bidwill (owner of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals) and Donald Sterling (owner of the NBA's L.A. Clippers) have made lots of money over the past 20 years despite fielding rotten teams nearly every year. Has this benefitted NFL/NBA players and fans?

16) The NFL has a short season, only 8 home games, plays at the same time every week, and is ideal for gambling, not to mention that people really like football. What % of the NFL's success do you think should be attributed to their hard salary cap?

17) Chicago and Detroit are cities of roughly equal size in huge Original Six hockey markets. Would the NHL be better off today if the Red Wings had been managed as "responsibly" as the Blackhawks over the past 10 years?

18) What evidence can you point to that demonstrates that the NHL would be more popular if there were fewer consistently excellent teams? Were the consecutive Habs, Islanders, and Oilers dynasties bad for the NHL?

19) Were the Flames lucky last year, meaning they won't repeat their success, or were they good, meaning that wise coaching and management can overcome differences in player budgets? This one's for Darryl Sutter: pick one, please.

20) Say the owners get the cost certainty they want. What is a fair rate of return on an investment with virtually no risk? Is there any reason why it should be significantly higher than my chequing account?

--------------------
There's 20 questions right there; I don't think any particular one of them is a loud Gotcha!, and I'm sure a supporter of the owners could dissect a couple of them and argue I'm missing the point, etc. - but the NHLPA has to try.

Fans are predisposed to support the owners, because we can't prove (or know intuitively) that they won't go out of business if they give in. Conversely, we all know that every player in the NHL could survive on half their present salary. And since we all want hockey to start again (and our own franchises to stay put), taking the owners' word for it is the path of least resistance.

I can't do it though. The players are 60% right, and the owners are 100% wrong. The idea that the Flames player budget might be dictated in part by the fact that people in Miami don't like hockey, or that Bill Wirtz doesn't care if the Hawks suck, is so ridiculous to me that I can't support any linkage proposal. Ted Saskin, Trevor Linden, and all the rest of you - stick to your guns.

P.S. I changed my mind - there is a question above that boils it all down, and it's #17. The correct answer is Hell No. How about #17A: based on their observed performance managing their respective brands, whose business model should be the freaking last one outlawed, not the first?
  • a) Mike Ilitch
  • b) Bill Wirtz
  • c) Gary Bettman

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Boozeblogging, cont.

Cosh has some updates on privatizating liquor retailing. I'd say great minds think alike, but I frankly think our position is so obviously the correct one that no one should be owed any particular respect for holding it.

As he notes, if your French is anything functional, go see Laurent's brief take. Among other points, he confronts a thesis put out in the original article by Greg Flanagan, assistant dean of the University of Lethbridge's Faculty of Management:
"We can only surmise that higher price equals lower consumption, lower consumption equals less problems," said Flanagan, who wrote a critical report on liquor privatization for the Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"And so the whole point of taxing liquor - because it's cheap to make - is to keep it artifically scarce by the tax and thereby having less people using it."

I have no problem with a management academic starting with the premise that higher price = lower consumption; if it's true of 99+% of consumer goods, it's probably true of booze. (That said, I think it behooves him to keep an open mind here - like cigarettes, the price v. consumption graph for booze is not the same as that of other goods).

But! I have a serious problem with a management academic working off the premise that lower consumption = less problems. Laurent puts it simply: "..la consommation d'alcool n'est pas nécessairement mauvaise." Per the caveat above, when a price cut increases demand at the margin, Dean Flanagan does not know who's buying more beer, and when the price goes up, he doesn't know who's switching to ginger ale (hint: quite possibly not that guy yelling at his girlfriend on the street).

Moreover, the verbiage Flanagan uses in the second quoted paragraph seriously damages his credibility [insert reference to temporary war-financing income tax here]. Keeping consumption down may have been the initial purpose of liquor taxes; now, it represents a side benefit, if anything. He lives in Alberta - what is he teaching his students? ("In 2001, there was a looming provincial budget crisis. Coincidentally, the government then determined that smokes and booze needed to be 'made scarcer' for the public good, and the tax revenue made up the gap, The (Happy) End.").

It's hard enough keeping the politicians and health bureaucrats out of my fridge. Please spare me a freaking economics professor trying to get in there too.

(Fun sidebar: here's Quebec's Bruce Gottfred on the selection offered by his province's private retail distribution network.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

George Bush makes strange bedfellows

Bob Tarantino, and now Jay Random, have picked apart Eric Margolis' latest "effort" in the Toronto Sun ("stuck forever to its Iraqi tarbaby", etc.). Jay's rant was so earnest that I was prompted to look into the Aldini archives.

I printed out a newspaper column in 2001, on the then-impending Kananaskis G8 summit, because I had never read a writer spew such venom at such a deserving target. I still have it, and even having spent the last 18 months reading rants of all shapes and sizes, it's still a doozy. Sample:
What the indulgent press calls `anti-globalism activists' is a core of extreme Marxists, anarchists, and street thugs, around which gravitates a nebulous galaxy of grubby students; assorted leftists; union militants; advocacy groups; and what my sharp-tongued mother calls `scum of the gutter.'

And:
Any `demonstrators' who show up equipped with helmets, masks, body armor, and iron bars should be arrested at sight and jailed for long terms. Looters and arsonists should be shot.

And:
But the totalitarian left didn't just disappear. Like an oil slick treated by dispersant chemicals, it dissolved into countless small blobs: `anti-racists;' militant leftwingers disguised as ecologists (ie the Sierra Club); feminists; sociologists; `children's' and `anti-poverty advocates;' many NGO (non-government organizations); Christian aid groups like Oxfam; anti-tobacco, anti-GMO and antigun crusaders, etc.etc.

And the concluding paragraph:
Topic number one for the next G-8 conference should be: how to rid our schools and universities of the infestation of marxist ideologists who seek to turn our children against democracy and free markets, the most successful, humane and beneficial political and economic system in history.

The writer of this screed is, of course, Eric Margolis - you can read the whole thing here. I'm not accusing him of anything; I'm sure he can reconcile this old piece with his latest. It is amusing to note who his new friends are, though.

Gunned down

I've reorganized the blogroll a bit, and added a few more sites:
  • Replaced The Shotgun with Political Staples. I should have linked Greg a long time ago; when I decided to stop visiting The Shotgun out of general frustration and scrolling fatigue, I determined that his stuff is all that I'd miss.
  • Added Greg at Sinister Thoughts. I neither endorse nor understand his worldview, but as noted recently by The Monger, he's mighty civil about it. In my comments, he raised actual objections, not made-up ones. Furthermore, he respects the man presently serving as Prime Minister about as much as I do, that being, uh, not so much.
  • Added Cosby Sweater. Harlem Spanish (nee Diogenes) is quite obviously a geek, but he writes some interesting stuff, and I'm happy to show Alberta bloggers some love.
  • Added David Janes. A good blogger, and I'm test-driving his reader software right now.
Welcome aboard, all.

I'm thirsty. I'm lazy. And! I'm not alone.

The issue of liquor privatization actually makes me laugh. Perhaps it speaks ill for the nature of federalism that, 11+ years after a wildly successful Alberta experiment in privatizing liquor retailing, no other province has followed suit.

It started with Damian Penny on Sunday. (Sidebar - I read the same article that day in the Lethbridge Herald - between that and his frequent complaints about Gwynne Dyer, I'm pretty sure that the Herald and the Corner Brook Post-Dispatch, or whatever it is, are the same papers with a different A1). His own citation doesn't quite include the part he refers to in his editorial comment, so here it is:
In Alberta, proponents and critics of the liquor changes have argued for years. And the proliferation of liquor stores leaves many unanswered questions. How much availability, convenience and lower prices are desirable when it comes to alcohol?

"When you drive through the inner city and see more and more liquor stores with later and later hours, I don't think that necessarily improves us as a society or a province," says Dan MacLennan, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the province's largest union.

Colby Cosh commended Damian's thesis, and got off a good rip:
There is a special whimsy in watching these people travel east to warn Ontarians--whose leaders are pondering the fate of the LCBO, or pretending to--that retail privatization somehow intensified the blight in Alberta's poor urban neighbourhoods. Watch out, Toronto! Don't turn into another Medicine Hat!

Whimsy, indeed. The phrase "proponents and critics of liquor changes have argued for years" is non-disprovable, and may even be true, assuming the authors can find four people who are still discussing it in 2005. But as a general characterization, it's garbage. The "debate" has been over for 10 years. Finding an Alberta booze consumer who regrets retail privatization is about as likely as finding someone who wishes the government telephone company still had a monopoly on long-distance service.

I'll lay off Dan MacLennan, as he is a good and sensible guy, and his remarks don't actually constitute an "argument".

Anyway, I think Cosh misses the mark here, or possibly gets it backwards:
"..the LCBO actually seems to do a fairly good job at imitating a private business in its retail policies (price aside) and service practices."

He's only right in the sense that you wouldn't walk out of a Beer Store, having made your purchase, thinking that the government manages the transaction terribly (like, say, a provincial DMV). But for starters, most beer in Alberta is not cheaper than the rest of the country - this is probably the worst argument than privatization enthusiasts elsewhere can advance. It's exceedingly difficult to make apples-to-apples price comparisons between the provinces; taxes, government wholesaling, and other regulations conspire to make price a rather perverted reflection of the retailing model's efficiency.

The best argument for privatization, from a consumer's perspective, is in this hilariously poignant post at Tart Cider:
Call me spoiled, but I have had it up to here with the 1.8 km round trip to my nearest Beer Store. Don't even get me started on the 3.4 km round trip to my nearest LCBO, whose selection seems geared mostly towards upwardly mobile winos. (Do we really need two sizes of Baby Duck?)

Well, call me spoiled, too. Story time: on January 13th here, the weather was frigid and the roads were atrocious. Unfortunately, I was out of sustenance. My favoured liquor/beer store (which, by the way, offers me reward points, redeemable for more delicious alcohol in times of restricted cash flow) is about 3 minutes from home (and on the right side of the road - when I'm going the other direction, I stop at the store on the opposite side of the street at the same intersection). Due to road conditions, the trip to this store would have been at least 10 minutes round and possibly dangerous. The kids needed a bath and I like my body in one piece - what to do? Aha! I'll go to that other store in my decrepit neighbourhood strip mall!

Normally it's a one-minute drive; I had to take it really slow, so it took me 5 whole minutes to get there and home again, sixer in hand. There was of course no line. There's never a line. This is also the store I hit when I run out in the backyard, but have already had a few. (Note to Dr. Garry Aslanyan: isn't my 3-minute walk the safest possible outcome in this scenario? Selley alludes to this: people driving around looking for beer are not near as patient and determined as people driving around looking for more beer).

My circumstances are not unique; if you live in an urban area in Alberta, there is a liquor store within a 10-minute walk of your doorstep. This is only a bad thing if you see alcohol as inherently evil, and that only government can retail it safely, unlike smokes, guns, prescription narcotics, explosives, etc. etc. etc.

Private liquor retailing has done for Alberta consumers what ATMs have done for people with bank accounts - made their lives a hell of a lot more convenient, with no observable downside. I can't believe that "the public interest" in this issue is still being debated.

UPDATE: More & continued, here.