In this episode of Hub Dialogues, host Sean Speer is joined by Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne to talk about liberalism, representative democracy, and his own musical tastes.
Transcripts of our podcast episodes are not fully edited for grammar or spelling.
SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues, I’m your host Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. Today’s episode marks number 100, since we launched this podcast in early January. I’m honoured to be joined by Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne, who was our first guest and remains one of our most popular. I’m grateful to speak to him today about some big picture topics including liberalism, representative democracy, and his musical tastes.
Andrew, thank you once again for joining us at Hub Dialogues.
ANDREW COYNE: My pleasure, Sean, it’s good to be with you.
SEAN SPEER: I want to start with some questions about your recent column regarding the relationship between elected and non-elected officials in our system of governance. You write: “it is an elementary principle of democracy that the people we elect to run things should not in fact run things.” The basic idea here is that elected officials should set the overarching goals and objectives, and experts and careerists should carry out implementation. You even make the case that regular government departments should run more similar to Crown corporations in this regard.
Let me ask: how do you see elected officials holding arm’s length entities and their leadership accountable under this framework? Is it mainly through their boards of directors or appointment renewals or some other mechanism? How, in other words, do we ensure that it doesn’t devolve into a technocracy?
ANDREW COYNE: Yeah, I think there’s two points of entry: one at the front-end and one at the back-end. So, at the front-end the way it works, for example, at the Bank of Canada is you set a contract, you strike an agreement, and you set out in the agreement, and it would certainly be incumbent upon the minister as the elected official, to strike a hard bargain, to set high expectations, to have very detailed benchmarks of the performance of expectations in that regard, and together with, one presumes, penalties and rewards depending on whether you meet or don’t meet the benchmarks. So, this question of accountability and holding people to account in that regard crops up in any number of different situations. It’s not unique at all to the relationship between the minister and the department or Crown Corporation or what have you.
So, there’s that sort of thing at the front-end, and that’s important. And then yeah, if they don’t meet the benchmarks and they don’t meet the expectations, or if something goes wildly wrong, then there are back-end accountability mechanisms, and they would include dismissal for cause and these kinds of things. So, it’s a legitimate issue. I just don’t think it’s a terribly unusual issue. This is something that comes up in any type of situation. There’s always trade-offs. So, the trade-off in the situation we have now where ministers all too often meddle in matters that really aren’t their affair is we get very politicized decision-making, we get roads and bridges being built to nowhere because, you know, there’s pork-barreling rewards for it, etc.
So, there’s always going to be benefits and costs to any system you choose. But my hunch is that this type of arrangement is a better trade-off than what we’re used to with ministers. What was it in Chrétien’s time? One of his ministers referred to “My Crown,” the Crown corporations were like it is his property. I don’t think we ever want to go back there.
SEAN SPEER: A related issue, Andrew, to this conversation is the tendency on the part of governments to pass legislation using strict caucus discipline to effectively pull lawmaking powers out of the legislature and into cabinet. The worst example of this in recent years is the Harper government granting itself the ability to set the annual federal borrowing authority through Governor in Council. The Trudeau government rightly reversed this decision though it has done similar things, including as part of its climate agenda.
How should we think about this example and the broader problem in the context of your point about the relationship between elected and non-elected officials? How, in other words, do you reconcile your case for the so-called “deep state“ with your consistent and principled defence of Parliament? Isn’t there something of a zero-sum relationship here?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, two things. I guess, first of all the terms of the contract are themselves going to be the types of things that ministers are going be held accountable for. So, either while they’re being negotiated or afterwards when, if something goes wrong, ministers will quite rightly be called to account or should be called to account to Parliament for the results. So, if they didn’t strike a good deal, if they didn’t foresee how their approach might be gained by unscrupulous executives or what have you, and there are examples that crop up from time to time with that kind of thing, then they should be called on the carpet for it.
The other thing, of course, is the only way you’re going to bring in these kinds of reforms or should is by act of Parliament. So, I wouldn’t want to see a government doing this by order in council. I’m not sure they could constitutionally, but certainly, these kinds of reforms are the kinds of things that you’d want to have pretty sweeping debate of the kind that we’re having right now to look for any hidden pitfalls. So, I’m not saying I’ve got, you know, this all worked out and every “i” dotted and “T” crossed. It’s just a general way of looking at it. But, absolutely, this should be by act of Parliament and Parliament should be accountable.
But once you’ve got clear roles for ministers, then I think you also have more accountable ministers. When ministers have 59 different things they’re supposed to be accountable for, they wind up not being accountable for any of them. But if it’s very clear that the cabinet is supposed to be a policy-setting body, then policy becomes the focus of the concerns. And that’s the kind of thing that Parliament is good at, frankly, is what are the broad terms by which we want to be governed. When it starts getting into, “you didn’t build a road through Cape Breton, and my constituents are mad,” then it just becomes it just becomes an absolute Festivus, an airing of grievances.
SEAN SPEER: Let’s make the conversation a bit more concrete for our listeners. Pierre Poilievre has committed to firing Tiff Macklem if he becomes prime minister on the grounds that the bank governor has failed to deliver on the Bank of Canada’s inflation target. You and others have been critical that Poilievre’s politicization of the Bank of Canada threatens its independence.
I instinctively agree with you, but it leads to interesting questions about how to ensure that arm’s length entities don’t effectively go rogue. In your view what, if any, accountability should there be for Macklem and the Bank of Canada for rising inflation?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, it’s a complicated historical situation. Under the current terms, the minister of finance has the power, if he so chooses, to issue a directive to the Bank of Canada to say, “We want you to pursue a different policy than the one you’re doing.” So, we don’t actually have absolute ironclad legislated independence at the bank. What we have is precedent and consequences that flow from precedent. Because what’s also part of the understanding is if the Bank of Canada governor doesn’t agree with the directive, he or she resigns, and when a Bank of Canada governor resigns, it is and is supposed to be a big deal. And in fact, it’s such a big deal that most governments wouldn’t want to go near that.
Poilievre doesn’t actually have the power to fire the Bank of Canada governor, per se, unless he wants to pass legislation, saying that the position shall be vacant, as I understand it, you know, unless it’s dismissal for cause, but that’s a much different thing. So, he’s a bit off base in that regard. But also, there is no unique failing here of the Bank of Canada. Central banks around the world have wrestled with this extraordinary and unique situation coming out of the pandemic, where you had an initial supply shock that metastasized and spread a bit and encountered, I would say, I think central banks were too slow to withdraw the stimulus as they encountered this. So, there’s a lot of easy second guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking that you can do about that.
But the notion that Poilievre puts out that they should simply not have bought government bonds in the depths of the pandemic lockdown, when the economy was basically shut down, and where every government around the world was going to market in massive amounts at the same time. If you’re worried about where interest rates are at now, the interest rates would have absolutely gone to the moon in that situation.
So, I don’t think the initial decision to help to finance — again, a decision that central banks around the world made — either for the government to go into deficit in those extraordinary situations, and I think my credentials as both an inflation and a deficit hawk are in order, but I don’t think it was wrong to go into deficit at that time in that situation, and I don’t think it was wrong in that situation for the central banks to be engaged in quantitative easing. I think you can fault them, to some extent, for being too slow to withdraw, as I say, after this initial supply shock that they had nothing to do with came into effect. Is that a firing offence? I don’t think so. If so, then we got to fire all the central bank governors around the world. It doesn’t seem to me to be a legitimate exercise of authority, and I don’t think frankly, I don’t think it’s about that.
I think this is about what he needs. He wants a head on a pike. There’s a vast conspiracy theory around central banks in general, and he is not been shy about tapping into all kinds of conspiracy theories including the World Economic Forum. So, one of them is, and he’s not been shy about talking about this, is central banks want to bring in central bank-issued digital currencies, so they can monitor everyone’s movements, and the police state, the New World Order, etc, etc, etc. So, I frankly think part of this is tapping into this generalized fear and distrust of central banks, as opposed to any legitimate concern about monetary policy. You must remember, Poilievre’s guru when it comes to monetary policy is a guy on YouTube who thinks central banking is a form of slavery. So, I don’t frankly think he’s done a lot of deep thinking about this.
And you can see this, for example, when people say, not just him, “History teaches us that more money always means higher inflation.” History does teach us that in the long term when other things are equal. So, the quantitative Theory of Money, yes, is a legitimate part of the economic canon, but it got all kinds of caveats built into it having to do with the stability of the demand for money function, etc. So, it’s in fact not true that great increases in the money supply always and everywhere lead to short-term increases in inflation. That’s actually not true, demonstrably not true. Japan has been pumping the money supply for 20 years, and they couldn’t even get out of deflation.
So, I’m pleased that there’s somebody in elected office who’s worried about inflation. That’s good. Usually, it’s usually politicians are too blasé about inflation and they want to gun the money supply, you know, come what may. But politicization of the bank is politicization of the bank, and even if he’s doing it from a hard money perspective, I just don’t trust that it wouldn’t turn into a soft money perspective if that also served his political interests.
SEAN SPEER: On a separate but related note, I’m curious what you think about Mark Carney’s recent comments that policymakers shouldn’t “shelter from the storm, you make the weather.” To what extent is that kind of policymaking hubris a threat to the governance model that you espouse in the column? In other words, Andrew, how much is your vision predicated on experts, including judges for that matter, having a degree of epistemological modesty and temperamental moderation?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, I certainly favour that, and there is a long and honourable tradition in conservatism that is skeptical of over-weaning intellectual confidence of people thinking they can plan an economy, for example. So, skepticism of intellectual hubris is absolutely an order. My worry — I hope this isn’t off topic — but my worry is that where conservatism seems to have gone in recent times, it’s just hostility to these experts in knowledge and expertise, as if they’re always wrong, and should be dismissed not in spite of their expertise, but because of it. So, that’s my sort of overarching point.
To be frank with you, I’m not sure I quite understand Carney’s statement. Can you be more explicit about what context he was using and what he meant?
SEAN SPEER: He was he was talking about the idea that policymakers shouldn’t basically accept certain economic, and in this particular case, environmental underlying facts. That they ought to have a higher level of ambition and see a role for public policy to, in effect, engineer different economic, or in this case, environmental outcomes.
ANDREW COYNE: I think this comes under the category of things that it could be true in some circumstances and not in others, and judgement consists in knowing which is which. It’s like the old thing about, do you trust your gut? Well, yeah, you should trust your gut sometimes, and then sometimes you shouldn’t trust your gut. People have gotten into problems for not trusting their gut, and George W. Bush famously got in trouble for trusting his gut too much. So, ultimately, in all these questions, we’re condemned to judgement. This is something I’ve become more and more interested in and come to believe is, we’re always looking for bright line rules. And I come from a tradition of that, and I don’t want to dismiss it.
Rules have a real role to play in making policy. But rules can only get us so far, and there’s always going to be situations that call for us just to kind of exercise judgement and pattern recognition, and this is when the historical experience and these kinds of things come into play. So yes, I can imagine there’ll be situations in which it would be folly simply to take the policy landscape as given and just sort of inertly react to it and where there’s a role for agency and for upsetting the applecart and changing the landscape and reacting that way. But knowing when that situation is will take a great deal of judgement and caution. And the precautionary principle would perhaps suggest not rushing into that assumption without a lot of evidence to back you up. So yeah, I would certainly favour caution and favour, as a default position, not doing what that suggests.
SEAN SPEER: Incidentally, Andrew, I’ll come back to the subject of George Bush near the end of our conversation. But for now I want to shift to the topic of liberalism for which you are among the country’s leading voices. Yet, notwithstanding your deep commitments to liberalism and pluralism, I’ve been struck that you’ve mostly stayed away from the rise of identity politics, and so-called “wokeism,” which in broad terms reflects a tendency to diminish the individual in favor of group definitions according to certain immutable characteristics, including race, gender, sexuality, etc. Do you agree that you’ve tended to stay away from those issues? And, if so, why?
ANDREW COYNE: I wouldn’t put it quite as hard and fast as that. I have written about those issues but you’re probably right that I haven’t written about them as much as a lot of other people have. It’s a complicated question. There’s a lot of things going on there. First of all, the whole issue around identity politics is multifaceted. It is complicated, it involves a number of different issues simultaneously, some of which are valid concerns, some of which aren’t. There’s an enormous capacity, therefore, because of that, and because it concerns people’s identities, which they’re very concerned about, and it goes to the core of who they are, there’s a great capacity for misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
I think quite rightly, you want to approach that carefully if you do. On top of that, there are, as I mentioned, a great number of other people writing about it, and anytime, as a columnist, you approach any issue, you have to come to saying, “Well, what can I bring to the party? What can I actually add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said?” And there’s a mixture of people writing about it, there’s people who are writing about it, I think very carefully and well and nuanced and separating the valid concerns from the invalid. And I think an example of that would be Cathy Young, for example, an American writer, who I think is very good at navigating between the excesses on either side.
But there’s a lot of other people, don’t necessarily need to mention, who I think are writing about it very simplistically, and which brings me to my next point, which is, this is a genuine time for reflection and should be. That I think post-Me Too and post-George Floyd, I think a lot of people of my age, my background, gender, etc. had a little bit of a wake-up, that maybe we hadn’t fully understood how widespread and how debilitating these issues were, of racism and sexism. And that doesn’t mean you have to sign-on to every proposed solution. I do think it means you have to listen pretty carefully and show that you’ve listened carefully and that you understand fully the concerns and the complaints that people are bringing before you weigh in with either dismissing them or saying, “Well yeah, but here’s the better solution.”
So frankly, for me personally, it’s also been a bit of a time of reflection, trying to not to just shoot from the hip on this but listen carefully and try and figure out what things do I think I should take on board and what things I don’t. And I’m not always convinced that conservatives are doing that. Some are but in some cases, they just come off, whether they intend it or not, whether it’s fair or not, they come off like they just haven’t quite listened enough. On a subject like this, I think you kind of have to pay your dues, earn your standing on such an emotional topic that is so personal to people. You kind of have to do your homework.
SEAN SPEER: On the subject of liberalism, one of my favorite columns of yours is from last July on the case for civic nationalism. How would you define civic nationalism in the Canadian context? And what aspects of Canadian civic identity would be sufficiently distinct and unifying so as to serve as a connective tissue of a shared sense of citizenship?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, that’s a very large question, but let me attempt it. First of all, I wouldn’t necessarily define it myself, but I think one of the aspects of civic nationalism, it has to be that it’s something that has broad public buy-in, that it’s based on shared understandings. It’s not some novelist in southern Ontario defining it for the rest of the country. And a lot of identity-based nationalism, of which Canadian nationalism was historically a species, it was an attempt to kind of create an ersatz Canadian ethnicity, frankly. There was a Canadian type, there were Canadian psyches, we were, by nature, inclined towards public enterprise, for example, was a broadly-shared theory among Canadian nationalists. And, you know, it didn’t work, and it was frankly not rooted in anything real.
So, civic nationalism seems to me is about what are we trying to do together? What’s the purpose of our nation-state? What are the things that we stand for? What are we trying to achieve together? That seems to me a very appropriate type of nationalism for a new world, polyethnic, multilingual country. It’s not going to be about blood and soil, and even if that phrase didn’t have all sorts of terrible connotations to it, it just wouldn’t work here.
So, to your second part of your question, I think it’s more about what’s unifying and what’s distinct. It doesn’t have to be distinct. The things that we decide are going to be part of our mission and our purpose are probably going to be broadly-shared with the other liberal democratic nations, particularly the United States, and that’s okay. We can be, we can strive to be the best exemplars of these shared universal ideas. We can try to be the most democratic country, the most committed to free speech country, the most committed to equality country. It doesn’t matter if they’re the same or not. What matters is, are they ours in the sense that we believe in them? And I think there are certain ways, in my opinion, there are certain principles of citizenship that are more inclined to be unifying than others.
I think the Charter of Rights is an inherently unifying document. We might have arguments about its particular application, but the basic insight that a nation of equal citizens, and I think all the polling data to me suggests it’s worked in that regard. Quebeckers are among the most committed people to the Charter, once you get past flags and extraneous issues and get to the the actual core of it, Quebec believes most in the Charter than any other Canadians.
So, I don’t think difference, I think that was the classical Canadian nationalist thing, “let’s talk about how different we are from the Americans and we’ll root our nationalism in that,” which is a pretty arid thing to begin with, you know, let’s just be different for difference sake. And it has, in all kinds of ways, just distorted our debates about various policies that “we couldn’t do x or y even if it was a good idea, because it might make us more like the Americans.” You know, and I always used to say to people, “if the Americans ever bring in public health care, I hope that doesn’t mean we have to get rid of it to show how different we are,” you know? So, maybe I’ll just close on this on the Medicare example, to illustrate the difference in the approaches.
I don’t want to have Medicare because it makes me Canadian. I want to be Canadian, I want to have this great national political experiment called Canada so we can do things like Medicare, so we can make our contribution to international statecraft, so that we can project as individuals, we can project our view of the world more powerfully through this nation-state than we could as some splinter group of a hundred different entities. So, that’s, broadly-speaking what I mean by Canadian civic nationalism.
SEAN SPEER: In the domain of global affairs and geopolitics, there has been something of a ratcheting back from the universalist ambitions of post-9/11 neoconservatives to the utilitarian calculations of the so-called realists. My reading of you is that well, you concede the neoconservatives may have overreached in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re even more critical of the current moment’s empty realism. What do the realists get wrong? And how should we think about the relationship between interests and values in foreign policy?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, the realists I think, first of all, it is a remarkably amoral position to be able to look at the Ukraine-Russia situation and just casually say, “Well, you know, what Ukrainians have to understand is X, Y and Z.” It’s a very easy thing to do if you’re not actually in Ukraine fighting for your life. It generally seems to devolve into that peculiarly narrow-definition of national interest. It is remarkable how often that definition devolves into “Well, let’s not make a fuss if Russia demands X or Y.” It seems to be a rationalization for not actually standing up for yourself and standing up for your friends and standing up for important principles. So, it winds up assuming all kinds of fantastic things about what actually moves people and determines relations between states.
So, then to call it realism I’ve always found to be a remarkable misnomer. It’s so dry and arid as to be detached from anything real in my opinion. So yes, were the neoconservatives guilty of hubris in thinking they could install a democracy in countries that had never had any experience of it? That’s probably true. I will say, we always need to say, from what historical vantage point are we observing this phenomena? You know, the Zhou Enlai line about, you know, what is the consequence of the French Revolution? It’s too soon to tell. You know, 200 years from now, we may look back and say, Afghanistan and Iraq, the beginnings of their arrival as democratic nation-states was sown in the chaos and turmoil of these seemingly failed experiments. I don’t know. I’m not trying to claim that, but I do think while we’re talking about the hubris that we should be careful about saying, well, whatever the observation we’re making at this exact moment in time is going to be the how things are going to work out forever and ever.
But that being said, we’ve probably learned that our abilities to, even with the best of intentions, to put our stamp on the world, our democratic stamp, are more limited than we thought. But if we’re talking about should we defend a democratic state, a country that already is a democracy, from being invaded and annexed and extinguished by a dictatorship run by a gangster? I just think it’s obtuse to be looking for excuses not to answer that question in the affirmative.
SEAN SPEER: To return to domestic issues, how do you think demographic-induced tightness in the labour market will affect our political economy? Do you anticipate that we’ll see major investments in technology and a much needed boost to labor productivity?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, this is the hopeful scenario. So, you know, a lot of us have been concerned for a long time about the aging of the population, where we’re moving towards a society unlike anything we’ve ever seen and we’re practically there. Where we’re going to have 25 percent or more of the population over the age of 65, and larger and larger share of that over the age of 70, or 80, or 90, or 100. And, so first of all, all the costs that go with that in terms of healthcare, but secondly, that there’s going to be relatively fewer people of what’s traditionally considered as working age, and that therefore, we’re going to have real constraint on labour supply. And if not actual shortages, certainly slower growth, slower growth in potential capacity.
There have been several things that have been put forward that might help us out of that bind, such as higher immigration. I’m all in favor of, but the numbers aren’t going to, that’s not going to cure anything. Having people work longer, that’s all to the good, but that’s not going do it. The only thing that’s going to do it is if we get much higher productivity growth, that’s the only way we’re going to be able to afford to pay for all these old people and their healthcare.
The worry has been we’ve had very, very low productivity growth in Canada relative to other countries, and there’s no sign as yet that that’s really improving. But one of the things that might fill in the mix, that your question suggests is what’s really fueled growth for Canada in the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years is not been productivity growth, needless to say. It’s been a mixture of high commodity prices, at least fitfully, and high workforce growth, labor force growth. We had the fastest labor force growth, I believe, in any of the democracies over the last 50 years.
So, in crude terms, what that meant was when a company needed to expand, rather than adding more machinery or more plants and equipment, they just took on more workers. If there’s no workers around, if there’s a shortage of workers, it may be that this problem will be to some extent self-correcting, that companies will start adding equipment and plants rather than taking on workers. But I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it because I don’t think that relative abundance of labour has been the only contributor to our poor productivity growth. But to the extent that that’s been an issue, it may somewhat fix itself for the reasons that you stated, that basically companies are going to have to invest in machinery equipment, and we’re going to have to therefore raise productivity of their workers.
SEAN SPEER: What about the prospects of remote work? The technologist Marc Andreessen is bullish that we’re going to see a decoupling of where people live and work, and that the consequences will be profound, including, but not limited to, a return of intergenerational living arrangements. What’s your view, Andrew? Is remote work durable? Do you think it’s overrated or underrated as an economic and social development?
ANDREW COYNE: The shorter answer is I don’t know and neither does Marc Andreessen. I’m a little bit on the skeptical side of that, maybe just temperamentally. But, you know, not too long ago, people were saying, “We’re not going to shake hands ever again.” That doesn’t seem to have been the case because we’re shaking hands again. So, there will probably be some long-term impact, but I’d be wary of being too hyperbolic about it.
People like to congregate in groups, they like to do so for social reasons, they like to do so for work reasons. My impression is there was a lot of early explanations during the pandemic of “Hey, this is actually more productive to have people at home.” And my admittedly imprecise impression is there’s been a lot of rethinking of that since, and companies are desperate to get people back into the office. So propinquity, you know, the benefits of being able to just to kind of lean over to someone and say, “Hey, why don’t we try it this way?” It’s hard to imagine that that’s going to just be completely for naught.
And so, therefore, I think there will probably be, for the most part, a return to the office, but it will probably be more varied than that, and there will probably be more flexibility built into it. So, it will be somewhere in between. And to the extent that caters to people’s needs for a better work-life balance, that’s great. And to the extent it means they have to make offices more humane places to attract people back, that’s also to the good. But I just doubt it will be quite as revolutionary as he’s suggesting. But if he’s right, then I’ll have to eat crow.
SEAN SPEER: One of your answers from our previous conversation about your eclectic worldview generated a lot of reaction from Hub listeners. You called yourself “a conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist.” As someone with such a unique amalgam of political preferences and an equal opportunity critic of politicians of all stripes, are there any politicians in recent decades in Canada or elsewhere who, in your view, Andrew, broadly reflected your personal preferences?
ANDREW COYNE: Well, I should preface this by saying I don’t actually think my views are that idiosyncratic. I mean, if you look at most of my views, that would be absolute straight down the line, mainstream macroeconomic, microeconomic thinking. It’s just I actually take it seriously. You know, the things that are commonplace in economics are oftentimes, or in the past, certainly, were absolutely alien to the political world. Free trade, you know, I’m old enough to remember, free trade used to be this exotic idea that only some crackpot would actually propose in quote, unquote, “the real world.” And yet here we are: it’s now pretty much mainstream gospel.
So, with all that being said, I don’t know if I have anybody that I could say, right down the line, I think is the bee’s knees. But generally speaking, there were in the past certainly more conservative democrats, like a Bill Bradley, for example, who I thought was pretty sensible and had an interesting, you know, mix. And generally speaking, what I favour is a mixture of free markets and a redistribution of state. So, use the market for solving allocational problems and use the state for solving distributional problems, and don’t try to mix the two together, because that’s when we get into trouble when we try to solve distributional questions by messing around with prices and wages that aren’t designed for that. You know, that kind of thing. So, a Bill Bradley on the Democrat side, or a bleeding heart conservative, as he called him, like Jack Kemp, was kind of in the zone.
There were some very interesting people in the Thatcher government and the associated intellectual movements in the 1980s. People tend to look at Thatcher as kind of one dimension, but it was actually quite an impressive intellectual movement. And there were strands within that of what were called “distributionists”, who were very interesting. And it came out in things like the sale of council houses, they were very interested in spreading capital ownership, which at the time was very narrowly held in Britain, and probably still not as widely held as in Canada, I’m not sure. But it was certainly a very strong ambition of theirs is to get more people to own wealth, which is not traditionally associated with a right of center government.
So, there were people within that group and similarly, the people who kind of learned the lessons of Thatcherism on the center-left, the social democrats, a David Owen, for example, could be quite bracing. They made no bones about what they were, they absolutely got it in terms of free markets and sound finance, but they had a more ambitious role for the state in terms of social justice and these kinds of things.
Which by the way, I’ll just add is people look at Scandinavia, and they think of it as just, “Oh, it’s just this cradle of socialism, etc.” And certainly, it has a much larger state than I’d be comfortable with. But it also has very low corporate tax rates, and is hyper committed to free trade and competitiveness, because they’re small countries that have to export for a living. And so, they actually have quite very competitive wealth-generating societies, which is why they’re able to afford these very, very expansive welfare states.
SEAN SPEER: Final question, Andrew. I asked about what I perceived as your eclectic political views. Let me ask about your eclectic tastes in music. You use a platform to listen to music that seems to enable you to post the songs that you’re listening to on Twitter. And I’ve noticed that you listened to a wide range of music, including many musicians and songs that I’ve never heard of. Where does your interest in music come from? And what’s your most common and obscure recommendations for Hub listeners?
ANDREW COYNE: Oh, God. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I got into music actually relatively late, because I didn’t like a lot of the music on the radio when I was a teenager but I had older brothers and sisters who were very into bands in the 1960s. So, I developed from the cradle, I guess, a liking of the 60s rock and 60s soul, and then there were all these bands that kind of came along in succeeding generations who were coming out of that same tradition and we’re trying to recapture that kind of sense of fun and melody and dance-ability, etc.
So, the bands and the groups I like generally, has a strong melody, you know, a good beat, you can dance to it. And, well, recommendations. Let me think. This doesn’t really fit but a group I find quite hypnotic is called The Clientele. All their songs sound the same, but they all sound great. It’s just kind of trippy, kind of hazy, but very melodic and very easy to get lost in.
SEAN SPEER: Well, we’ll take it. Andrew Coyne, thank you so much for joining us for our first and now our 100th episode of Hub Dialogues.
ANDREW COYNE: Thanks, Sean, had a great time.