Friday, August 30, 2013

The Roots of STEM

There's an increasing amount of chatter amongst the chattering classes about how universities are spitting out too many Arts graduates and not enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates.  The chatter has picked up as a study by CIBC confirmed what Arts graduates already understand: a BA gets you very little in the workplace.  Maclean's has a piece today arguing that students should be more aware before they go into university about what their degree will get them.

There's one important factor that has been ignored in all of the discussion that I've read: arts programs pay for STEM programs.  STEM programs are expensive.  They require the maintenance of expensive labs which have to be kept up to the highest standard to remain current.  On the other hand, Arts courses are cheap.  One prof a few TA's and some PowerPoint slides can take care of a 500 student Intro Sociology lecture.  Sure that course may not be the most useful thing in the workplace but it's of huge importance to the university who can clear hundreds of thousands of dollars on the course. While STEM students will generally pay more than Arts majors, the difference doesn't pay for all the high priced equipment they use.  The way universities keep STEM tuition down is by having a large majority of their students in Arts.  That's why the easiest programs to get into are usually Arts programs.  An extra Arts student doesn't put a huge strain on university resources. For programs that cost more, universities try to be more selective with the candidates they admit.  They can only admit so many students because they only have so much laboratory space. 

We can sit on the sidelines and chastise universities for not giving the economy the workers it needs but as long as university economics remain as is, there's no incentive for the universities to change.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Policy Delusion

A lot of ink has been spilled recently about Justin Trudeau's lack of concrete policy positions.  The complaint, mostly from Conservatives and his leadership opponents, would appear to be an honest concern about not knowing enough about Mr. Trudeau before we entrust him with the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.  The not so subtle inference is that Mr. Trudeau is all sizzle and no steak.  If we only knew, the critics seem to say, exactly what his spending projections are for Ministry of Agriculture in fiscal 2016-2017, then we could reasonably evaluate his ability to be Prime Minister.  My example is perhaps absurd but asking a leadership candidate what his precise policy would be more than two years before he could even theoretically be in position to make any such decisions is equally absurd.  I would hope that any leadership candidate's position's would evolve in the light of changing circumstances.  History is littered with the wreckage of politicians who have over-promised early in their political careers.

You would think the Liberal Party would be particularly sensitive to bringing out policy too quickly.  Stephane Dion used the warm weather of December 2006 to ride a green wave into the OLO, when the number on the thermometer became less important than the losses in the TSX, Dion's green initiative looked like a job-killing monstrosity, deaf to the concerns of average Canadians (Note: I said looked like, green folks; I'm not writing about the validity of his plan, only the politics).  Jean Chretien nearly lost the 1997 election after his early promise to eliminate the GST became impossible in light of the huge deficit facing the country.  In Ontario, Dalton McGuinty lost almost all of his initial honeymoon to the health tax.  Saying I will do X no matter what is bad politics and frankly, poor leadership.  It's easy for pundits to disparage Mr. Trudeau for a lack of specifics but at the end of the day, his values, all that soft mushy stuff will tell us more about what he would actually do if elected two years from now than any concrete policy positions dreamed up in the midst of a leadership race. If it seems like a front runner being risk averse, it is but it also makes a lot more sense than people seem to credit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Less Hope, More Change?

A lot of ink has been spilled over the past few weeks describing President Obama's new approach in Washington.  His second inaugural address was certainly less conciliatory than the President we saw cave to Republicans repeatedly in the first term.  I think what we see is the Obama team coming to grips with the reality of American, and frankly, most politics. There are very few leaders that can work effectively across party lines by being seen as giving in to their opponents.  When Presidents and other leaders work well with others it is generally because the leaders on the other side are seen as coming to them.  President Clinton's success in the 2nd term of his presidency came after he broke the back of Newt Gingrich's Congress over the government shutdown.  President Bush worked with Ted Kennedy on No Child Left Behind because Kennedy bought into the test first, right-wing approach Bush made famous in Texas. What I think Obama learned after having to scale back the stimulus and health care reform and being boxed into a corner on the debt ceiling, is that offering to move to the centre doesn't work politically.  Politicians, like sharks, can smell blood when a President blinks first.  They'll keep pushing for more and more.

The new approach seen on the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling and now in the inaugural address is one that is far more confrontational.  Gone is the Illinois state-senator willing to reach across party lines.  The new Obama is going to stand on principle and win or lose on those grounds.  The results so far have been promising.  Republicans caved on the fiscal cliff saying that they would use their leverage on the debt ceiling.  Now they've abandoned the debt ceiling and say they're going to use the sequester and budget as their point of leverage.  Most retreating armies won't admit that they're in full retreat.  To my knowledge President Obama has never even come close to vetoing a bill.  The Democratic controlled Senate helps with that.  However, the threat of the veto, was barely used in his first term.  Now, he seems keen to let the Republicans hang themselves.  If they do something too dangerous, he can always block it with a veto or other executive action.  It may be more cynical, but on issues like immigration and tax reform, the less conciliatory more aggressive Obama may actually have more success than his first term doppelganger.

In the long run, the inaugural address signaled Obama's faith that his electoral victory is a long-term game plan.  He believes that by running to the left on things like gay marriage, gun control and immigration he can give the Democratic party a much stronger base for future elections.  Marco Rubio may be a key figure on immigration reform when it happens but it will be the President and his party who will get the lion's share of the credit in 2016.  The electoral coalition that Obama built will be tested in 2016, if he can deliver for his base in his second term, the odds of a third consecutive Democratic victory for the first time since FDR and Harry Truman becomes a lot more likely.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Employment v. Unemployment

If you haven't already noticed, I'm a bit of a numbers geek, so I love looking at Statistics Canada when it comes out.  One of the more interesting monthly reports is of course the Labour Force Survey that comes out on the first Friday of each month.  The more I read through the tables, the more I'm convinced that we use the wrong number to describe the health of the job market.  The unemployment rate which is the headline grabbing number is kind of a silly number.  It's taken as a percentage of the labour force and this means it only counts people who are considered to be "actively looking for work."  What is really important for a society isn't so much how many people are "actively looking for work" but how many people are actually working.  The Employment Rate also called the Employment-Population Ratio (by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US for example), tells you what percentage of the working-age population is actually working.  After all, it is the people working that pay the taxes.  The more people working the more easily governments can provide services to those who aren't working and the fewer people who may have to rely on government assistance.

December provides a particularly good example of this when you compare Canada's job market to the one south of the border.  Even allowing for slightly different methodologies, the unemployment rate really fails to illustrate the difference between the two economies.  The American unemployment rate is 7.8% and the Canadian unemployment rate 7.1%.  That alone would give you the idea that the two job markets are pretty similar.  The employment rate for Canada in December was 62.1% or 61.7% depending on whether or not you adjust for seasonal differences.  In the US the Employment Rate was 58.6%.  All of a sudden you can see that the 0.7% gap in the unemployment rate is hiding the real story.  Even with the unemployment rate dropping over the last couple of years, the employment rate in the US hasn't really come off of recession lows.  Take a look at the chart below:
Employment Rate at Year End

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Canada 62.7 63.2 62.7 61.1 61.4 61.4 61.7
US 63.4 62.7 61 58.3 58.3 58.6 58.6
Data retrieved from Statistics Canada and the Bureau for Labor Statistics for Canada and US respectively

As you can see, Canada never really suffered the job losses that the US did, and has recovered much closer to pre-recession highs.  The unemployment rate just doesn't show this kind of weakness.  The reason is pretty simple: people dropped out of the job market.  Part of this is demographic.  However, demographics should be impacting Canada and the US relatively evenly.  After all, we both had baby booms after World War II and we both still actively allow immigrants into our countries in large amounts.  Birth rates are also fairly comparable.  So while we may ascribe part of the decline to demographics, most of the decline is purely economics.  This is shown in greater detail when you look at the provincial breakdowns:

Employment Rate for December 2012
Newfoundland and Labrador 54.2
Prince Edward Island 59.5
Nova Scotia 57.4
New Brunswick 55.3
Quebec 60.0
Ontario 61.5
Manitoba 65.6
Saskatchewan 66.0
Alberta 69.4
British Columbia 60.1

As you can see, there's a huge gap between top and bottom.  Job markets that are going full tilt like Alberta can have an employment rate of almost 70% even with the demographic pressures at play.  That's why I don't buy a demographic argument for the steep decline in the US.  I think this is a much more revealing picture of the state of the North American job market than the Unemployment Rate you'll read about elsewhere.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Prediction Time

For posterity, my state-by-state predictions for Tuesday night:

Alabama (9 EV):  The deep south never warmed up to Barack Obama.  It will enthusiastically support Mitt Romney on Tuesday.
Romney 9, Obama 0

Alaska (3 EV): Out of the spotlight after a crazy 2008 where Sarah Palin was only part of three ring circus, Alaska remains firmly Republican.
Romney 12, Obama 0

Arizona (11 EV):  There's a demographic case for Arizona being competitive in the near future.  Obama may have been able to make that happen in a stronger economy.  As it is, Romney wins comfortably.
Romney 23, Obama 0

Arkansas (6 EV):  Bill Clinton has been a huge part of Obama's late push.  He isn't spending a lot of effort on his home state of Arkansas which hasn't supported a Democrat for President since he left office.  No change here.
Romney 29, Obama 0

California (55 EV):  California has produced two Republican presidents in the last 50 years.   The polls close at 11 PM EST in California, Obama will be declared the winner there at 11:01 PM EST.
Obama 55, Romney 29

Colorado (9 EV):  Generally speaking I think the Obama ground game is going to be a huge positive for him.  The early voting in Colorado tells me that the Evangelical churches and the rest of the Romney ground forces are equal to the task.  The polls call it a toss up and we might not actually knows who wins on Tuesday but I'm giving it to Romney.
Obama 55, Romney 38

Connecticut (7 EV):  Connecticut is the first of the Sandy effected states on this list.  Barring a major poll problem, Obama wins here easily.
Obama 62, Romney 38

Delaware (3 EV):  Corporations have most of the legal rights of people.  Voting isn't among them.  Mitt Romney wishes they could so that all his corporate friends could make Delaware competitive.  Biden's state stays blue.
Obama 65, Romney 38

District of Columbia (3 EV):  The District may be central to American politics but it's also the left edge of American Politics.  Obama by some ridiculous number.
Obama 68, Romney 38

Florida (29 EV): This will be close, but then again Florida usually is.  I don't really know why I think Romney is going to win there.  I just do. Rubio's brought some of the Cubans who voted for Obama back into the Republican fold?  Jeb Bush needs to deliver to set up 2016?  The economy is horrible?  Pick a reason.
Obama 68, Romney 67

Georgia (16 EV):  Georgia may be coming into the political centre but not in this election.
Romney 83, Obama 68

Hawaii (4 EV):  Hawaii like three things politically: Democrats, incumbents and their native son, Barack Obama.  Oh also for some reason, Spam.  Although I'm not sure that's political.
Romney 83, Obama 72

Idaho (4 EV): An excuse to talk about the Mormon vote! Idaho's usually insanely large Republican majority will be made stronger by having a Mormon candidate on the ballot.
Romney 87, Obama 72

Illinois (20 EV):  There's less excitement in Chicago this year but they still love Obama.
Obama 92, Romney 87

Indiana (11 EV):  The strangest thing politically about 2008 was Obama carrying Indiana.  No repeat this year.
Romney 98, Obama 92

Iowa (6 EV):  The Hawkeye state isn't the most obvious of states to support Obama.  It's largely white and rural with no city larger than Des Moines.  Still it will continue its support of the President.
Romney 98, Obama 98

Kansas (6 EV):  Former Governor and current Obama cabinet member Kathleen Sibelius may be an unfortunate political casualty of Obamacare which is too bad because she has all of the political talent to become President.  Maybe if she's the Democratic nominee in four years Kansas is competitive.  Until then there's still something the matter with Kansas.
Romney 104, Obama 98

Kentucky (8 EV): The Democrats seemed to be on the verge of something in Kentucky when they almost knocked off Mitch McConnell.  Since then Kentucky elected Rand Paul to the senate.
Romney 112, Obama 98

Louisiana (8 EV):  Louisiana may be the first state in American history to have its political culture changed by a storm.  The African-American population never really came back in full and Louisiana is now slightly further to the political right.
Romney 120, Obama 98

Maine (4 EV): You will hear for about the first two hours of Tuesday night about the fact that Maine splits its electoral votes and the 1st Congressional District is competitive. Then around 9:00 or 9:30 all 4 electoral votes will go to Obama.  You heard it here first.
Romney 120, Obama 102

Maryland (10 EV):  The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs this year.  It was a huge shock.  There's no huge shock here on Tuesday night politically: Obama by a wide margin.
Romney 120, Obama 112

Massachusetts (11 EV):  Everyone made a huge deal about Al Gore losing Tennessee in 2000.  No one is talking about how badly Romney is losing his home state this year.  Down ballot, a great microcosm of the political debate in the United States is happening between Tea Party darling Sen. Scott Brown and liberal darling Elizabeth Warren.  It may also decide the balance in the Senate.
Obama 123, Romney 120

Michigan (16 EV): Can't anyone just be from one state anymore?  Seriously though, I think the Obama campaign get the African-American vote out in Detroit and if they do that they win.  Plus, you have to be of a certain age to remember the days of George Romney in Michigan.
Obama 139, Romney 120

Minnesota (10 EV): There are whispers in Minnesota that Michelle Bachmann may be in trouble.  Late outside money coming in to her re-election campaign. That's probably more intriguing than how this state votes for President.  It will be closer than '08 but still comfortable for Obama.
Obama 149, Romney 120

Mississippi (6 EV):  There are fewer states more conservative than Mississippi.  Expect a Romney landslide.
Obama 149, Romney 126

Missouri (10 EV):  I'm not really sure why Missouri stopped being a bell-weather and started voting reliably Republican.  I do know that Obama lost narrowly here in '08 with a stronger wind at his back.  Romney wins.  Missouri may prove to be a disappointment for the GOP if Todd Aikin fails to unseat Claire McCaskill.  Take comfort Mr. Aikin, if you lose on Tuesday it's just part of God's plan.
Obama 149, Romney 136

Montana (3 EV):  There's this sneaky Democratic streak to Montana.  It's not sneaky enough to give Obama a win here though. If you want a deep dark horse for 2016 look at Gov Brian Schweitzer (D).
Obama 149, Romney 139

Nebraska (5 EV): Nebraska was so aghast about giving an electoral vote to Barack Obama 4 years ago, they tried to amend the rules.  As far as I can tell, they didn't actually manage to do that.  Or at least CNN doesn't think they did.  Omaha won't give Obama anything this time out.
Obama 149, Romney 144

Nevada (6 EV): The early turnout in Nevada has been excellent for the Democrats.  Huge turnout in Clark and Washoe county where the Democrats need the votes to come in.  Early voting has completely changed American presidential politics but no one talks about it.  70% of the vote in Nevada is already in and people still talk about it like it's completely up for grabs.
Obama 155, Romney 144

New Hampshire (4 EV):  There's a political philosophy argument that makes a ton of sense about Romney being a perfect fit politically in New Hampshire.  Unfortunately for Romney elections aren't just about political philosophy.
Obama 159, Romney 144

New Jersey (14 EV):  All of America's (and the world's) hearts are with the people of New Jersey and New York.  All of New Jersey's electoral votes are with Barack Obama.
Obama 173, Romney 144

New Mexico (5 EV):  New Mexico is the canary in the coal mine for the Republican party and Hispanics.  Unfortunately for the future of the GOP, the canary's been dead for a few years now and nobody seems to notice.
Obama 178, Romney 144

New York (29 EV): Staten Island is traditionally a Republican bastion in Democratic New York.  If the devastation depresses turnout there, expect a larger margin for Obama statewide.
Obama 207, Romney 144

North Carolina (15 EV):  Call it a huge hunch.  The late polls seem to be trending the President's way.  The early vote is up from 2008 levels.  Picking Colorado and Florida for Romney and North Carolina for Obama may make some statisticians heads explode but that's what I keep thinking so I'm going with it.  I'm probably dead wrong.
Obama 222, Romney 144

North Dakota (3 EV): North Dakota probably upset about the NHL lockout.  They're also not thrilled with the President.  Obama might beat Bettman here, not Romney.
Obama 222, Romney 147

Ohio (18 EV):  I know the Governor is guaranteeing victory for Romney.  The governor is wrong.  Too many votes already cast in Cleveland and Columbus for Romney to pull this out.
Obama 240, Romney 147

Oklahoma (7 EV): Remember when I said Mississippi was the most conservative state in the union?  Here's the number 1 contender.
Obama 240, Romney 154

Oregon (7 EV): Oregonians are focused on whether or not the Oregon Ducks can finally get to a National Championship football game. They know their state is voting for Obama.
Obama 247, Romney 154

Pennsylvania (20 EV): I think the late push by Romney into Pennsylvania will be remembered as the moment the Romney campaign realized they'd lost.  Too little, too late here.  Obama holds on.
Obama 267, Romney 154

Rhode Island (4 EV):  Tiny Rhode Island pushes Obama past 270 and into a 2nd term on this alphabetical list.  It will be called very early on election night.
Obama 271, Romney 154

South Carolina (9 EV): South Carolina will vote Democratic when Strom Thurmond come back from the dead and tells them to.
Obama 271, Romney 163

South Dakota (3 EV):  Is it me or would all 4 presidents on Mt. Rushmore vote for Obama?  I know Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were Republicans but I can't see them voting for the current incarnation of the GOP.  South Dakotans will vote happily for Mitt Romney.
Obama 271, Romney 166

Tennessee (11 EV):  The Volunteer state is surprisingly cold to Obama's ideas of public service.
Obama 271, Romney 177

Texas (38 EV): I firmly believe that within the next 20 years the Democrats will carry Texas in a Presidential election.  Maybe then Republicans will realize that they have to do outreach to Latinos.
Obama 271, Romney 215

Utah (6 EV):  It really is significant that a Mormon is the Republican candidate for President of the United States.  The largely Mormon people of Utah will enthusiastically endorse him.
Obama 271, Romney 221

Vermont (3 EV): There are Romney ads talking about Obama as a socialist.  Vermont actually elected a socialist to the Senate.
Obama 274, Romney 221

Virginia (13 EV): There were some big pre-storm early voting returns in Northern Virginia.  Early voting isn't as important in Virginia but it does tell me that the Democratic party is hard at work on the ground.  There's a tight senate race here too so turnout should be high.  I'm giving the edge to Obama.
Obama 287, Romney 221

Washington (12 EV):  The pacific northwest may be the most politically ignored part of the country this year.  At least people go to fundraisers in California, New York and Texas.  Washington is being ignored because it will vote for Obama and do so by a decent margin.
Obama 299, Romney 221

West Virgina (5 EV): Obama never did figure out coal country. No matter.
Obama 299, Romney 226

Wisconsin (10 EV): To Paul Ryan's credit, he made Wisconsin somewhat competitive.  To his discredit, Romney's gong to lose Wisconsin.
Obama 309, Romney 226

Wyoming (3 EV): Dick Cheney apparently doesn't need to be on the ballot for Wyoming to go overwhelmingly Republican.  Huh.  I guess Bush didn't pick him for his charm.
Obama 309, Romney 229

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Canada: Where The World Learns

I'm absolutely thrilled to see the government of Canada moving on the issue of opening Canadian universities and colleges to the world.  I mean what a novel idea.  I mean it's not like I was talking about this 18 months ago or anything.  Seriously though, this is the kind of thinking we need to be seeing out of our government.  I'm not afraid to give a government, even a Conservative one, its due when they do something right.  Now, we just need them to follow through.  Hey, Liberals, do what opposition parties are supposed to do: hold their feet to the fire and make sure they follow through.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

For Less Than A Dollar a Day...

Don't worry.  I'm not trying to sell you insurance.  I'm trying to sell you on Karen Stintz's super-awesome new transit plan.  Yes for just $180 a year or $15 a month, Toronto could actually have a transit system worthy of the name.  Okay, I'd like more subways because no one ever gets on the subway and thinks, "Damn, wish this was an LRV!"  I also don't get the Scarborough subway that doesn't go through Scarborough Town Centre but rather just a little east of it.  But there's no point in quibbling with minor details.  There are new subways on this map including a very necessary downtown relief line and the extension of the Sheppard Abortion Subway out to Downsview.  There's also the re-insertion of the very necessary Lakeshore LRT and the extension of the Yonge line up to Steeles.  A whole lot of good. For 360 easy payments of $14.99, you too could have a transit system that works.  Ms. Stintz, I know you keep saying you aren't running for Mayor, but this is one hell of a platform.
All views expressed in this blog are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of any organization, regardless of the author's involvement in any organizations.

All comments are the views of the individual writer. The administrator reserves the right to remove commentary which is offensive.

The author is not responsible for nor does he support any of the advertisements displayed on the page