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Harry Rakowski: Freedom requires the courage to defend what we hold dear

Commentary

John Kennedy’s book Profiles In Courage published in 1956 described the brave actions of eight US Senators willing to pay the political price for integrity.

As an admirer of Kennedy, I was disappointed to learn that the book was probably ghost written by future Kennedy biographer Ted Sorensen without credit. While that fact didn’t diminish its significance, it made Kennedy’s receipt of the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957 less deserving. While the courage of the eight Senators Kennedy documented may be less impressive judged by today’s standards, the concept of courageously defending morality and integrity remain crucial today.

A John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award was established in 1989 to recognize a public official who demonstrated the type of courage exemplified in Kennedy’s book. The award is made by a bipartisan committee and is administered by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

There was no award made in the dark year of 2020, however the 2021 recipient is Senator Mitt Romney “for his consistent and courageous defence of democracy.” He risked his career and his standing with fellow Republicans to vigorously speak out about the lies of a “stolen election” and to vote to impeach President Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Representative Liz Cheney has taken a similar stand to speak the truth and has paid the price by being stripped of her leadership in the Republican Party.

Kennedy believed that “compromise need not mean cowardice” as long as it served a higher purpose. A number of his “courageous” senators took compromising positions on slavery for the greater good of preserving the union of the country, something we would consider unacceptable by today’s standards. Can we accept that courage in politics and in life today still may require compromise but not acquiescence to inappropriate decisions?

While both Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney courageously spoke the truth to lies, they were still harshly criticized by the left for having traditional Republican values of smaller government and fiscal restraint. Mitch McConnell had the courage to admit the U.S. election wasn’t stolen but not enough courage to ensure that Trump couldn’t run again. His courage and that of many others who initially criticized the role that Trump played in stirring the insurrection had an early expiry date.

More and more, decisions about the future health of our country are made with the goal of winning votes rather than doing what is best. Self interest trumps national interest. It is acceptable to lie as long as you don’t get caught. If you do then there is always someone to push under the bus to take the blame. In politics you have to protect the king.

Today’s most courageous politician is Alexei Navalny, a strident critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Winston Churchill said that “courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Courage involves being able to admit making a mistake, as Ontario Premier Doug Ford did about authorizing excessive police enforcement of potential lockdown restrictions that infringed on personal freedom.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can readily apologize for historic mistakes but not so easily for his own. While we struggle to identify courageous Canadian or American politicians, there are world figures that have shown what true courage really is.

Nelson Mandela during his Rivonia treason trial said in his statement to the Judge: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” He was not sentenced to death, but rather was imprisoned for 27 years, always maintaining his dignity. After his release he led his country without bitterness to a remarkably peaceful end to Apartheid. He said that, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Today’s most courageous politician is Alexei Navalny, a strident anti-corruption activist, who has been a vocal critic of the powerful Russian elite and of the riches accumulated by President Vladimir Putin. As a result he was poisoned with Novichok, a military grade, highly toxic nerve agent from which he narrowly escaped death after prolonged treatment in Germany. Despite huge risks, he bravely returned to Russia to face baseless charges and imprisonment in order to continue to fight for the truth.

Russia and China control their populations through fear and repression. Freedom of expression risks imprisonment and “re-education.” When Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the U.S. he had a debate with President Kennedy about how both countries allowed freedom of expression. Kennedy said that anyone in Washington could stand at the steps of the Capitol and proclaim that Kennedy is an idiot. Khrushchev gleefully said things were exactly the same in Russia. Anyone could stand at the steps of the Kremlin and also proclaim that Kennedy is an idiot.

We need politicians who can uphold democratic principles and vigorously oppose foreign threats to our way of life. Individually, every Canadian needs to show the courage to stand up to restrictions on our freedom of speech and to preserve our ability to hold opinions not always in the mainstream. Opposing the restrictions to freedom of choice in Bill C-10 is such an opportunity.

Today more than ever each of us must understand the gift we have to live in a democracy that values freedom of thought, expression and movement. It can only be preserved if we maintain the courage to speak out against those at home and abroad who would curtail those freedoms.

As Thomas Jefferson said “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We must remain vigilant and vigorously defend our freedoms at all costs.

Chris Spoke: Don’t overthink it. The solution to our housing problem is to build more

Commentary

Housing in our major cities is becoming increasingly unaffordable. I think we all know this by now.

Most people recognize that this is due to supply constraints that limit the amount of new housing being completed every year to house new people. That is, the price elasticity of supply (or responsiveness of supply to rising prices) is too low.

The CMHC studied this exact metric in a large 2018 research report on the drivers of home price growth in Canada’s five largest metropolitan areas between 2010 and 2016, and estimated that housing starts in Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton rise one percent to two percent for every one percent increase in home prices. In Toronto and Vancouver however, housing starts only grow by 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, Toronto and Vancouver are leading the pack in terms of our housing affordability crisis.

Most people also recognize that the most meaningful of these supply constraints take the form of land-use rules that set large parts of our cities aside as being effectively out of bounds for new housing development. These rules are informed by a not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment that pits incumbent homeowners against newcomers, whether they’re young people or immigrant families.

As former CMHC President and CEO Evan Sidall puts it, succinctly, “homeowner NIMBYism makes affordability worse.”

But “most people” isn’t “all people.”

Some people reject this simple explanation to a simple (if serious) problem and think that new housing supply will not and can not improve the situation. They think this because, as they put it, the real problem is that housing has become “financialized.”

“Homeowner NIMBYism makes affordability worse.”

In 2019, a Toronto City Councillor wrote about this for Spacing magazine.

“That’s financialization and it has nothing to do with the simple supply and demand curves taught in high school. It makes housing more expensive. It increases the concentration of wealth. It is an insanely risky way to run the biggest economic sector in the world.”

This word, financialization, has gained traction among some progressive politicians and activists who recognize that housing affordability has become a problem but who reject the efficacy of supply side solutions, that is, of land use liberalization and increased development activity.

So, what does it mean? I understand financialization to mean three things.

First, the increased legibility of housing by global capital markets.

Thanks in large part to the internet, the housing market has become more efficient as information asymmetries have eroded. It’s now much easier for an analyst in New York City, London, or Hong Kong to get a good understanding of distant housing markets and allocate capital accordingly.

Second, the process by which housing in major cities has become attractive as a store of value, due in large part to its predictable scarcity.

Housing in most major North American cities is predictably scarce because a series of land use and other rules have made it hard to build. These are the supply constraints I mentioned above. As a consequence, housing values in these cities typically increase at a higher rate than inflation. This makes housing attractive as a store of value.

Finally, an inflating money supply that contributes to and exacerbates the increased demand brought about by both of the points above.

To restate the point, these are all demand-side factors impacting housing prices and affordability. They do directly have to do with the simple supply and demand curves taught in high school.

Which is not to say that financialization couldn’t be a problem, or that we shouldn’t explore relevant solutions. Predictable scarcity for instance could become predictable abundance given — you guessed it — land use liberalization and increased development activity.

Author’s note: Hub contributor Ginny Roth and I will be discussing the topic of housing affordability with GMU economist Bryan Caplan on June 7th at 7:45 PM EST. Register at blueforum.ca with promo code HUB for free access.