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Chris Spoke: To Mars and beyond: Conservatives must embrace an abundance agenda

Commentary

My wife thinks it’s a bit weird that I never cry. But recently, I came pretty close.

It was while watching the final scene of Apple TV+’s For All Mankind season two finale.

The series begins in 1969 and depicts an alternate history where the space race never ends, and both America and the Soviet Union keep pushing the technological frontier to get to the moon and beyond. It’s fantastic.

In that final scene of the second season, you take the perspective of a camera flying across the Martian surface, slowly descending, and finally pausing at ground level. Two human feet in space boots step into frame. A date appears: 1995.

Still image from For All Mankind. Credit: Apple TV+

It’s tragic.

That could have been us! But it isn’t. In fact, we (humans) haven’t even been back to the moon since 1972. There is no lunar base, there are no spaceships capable of taking us to Mars, and there certainly isn’t anyone on Mars now. It’s 2022.

Again, tragic.

I want the future to be radically more awesome than the present.

And not just in terms of space exploration. I want the stuff of utopian science fiction, including radically extended healthy lifespans, energy too cheap to meter, and of course, flying cars.

Which brings me to my politics.

We don’t have flying cars. We don’t have energy too cheap to meter (just the opposite: high and rising). Life expectancies have been increasing in poor countries as they develop but we’re all now kind of converging and plateauing in the late 70s. And we don’t have humans on Mars.

Why not? And what can we do to accelerate the advent of those things, never mind those more basic and pressing concerns like abundant and affordable urban housing?

My conservatism is largely centered on a rich and growing body of thought concerning the causes and remedies to our Great Stagnation.

To describe it well, I’ll have to pull from four important essays that were written just over the last two years.

The first is Tyler Cowen’s post on State Capacity Libertarianism.What libertarianism has become and will become — State Capacity Libertarianism https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/01/what-libertarianism-has-become-and-will-become-state-capacity-libertarianism.html In it, he defines an emerging ideological movement that pairs the liberty maximizing priorities of libertarians with a recognition that a strong and competent state is necessary to do those things that it is either best positioned to do, or that a sufficiently large majority of people think it is best positioned to do.

For example, while more libertarianism is probably the right prescription for our high and rising cost of urban housing—namely, through deregulation—a highly capable state is undoubtedly needed to address our bad and worsening urban traffic congestion. Think: subway infrastructure that is delivered rapidly and cost-effectively, dynamic congestion pricing that is implemented efficiently, and that sort of thing.

The second essay is Peter Thiel’s “Back to the Future”.Back to the Future https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/03/back-to-the-future It’s a review of Ross Douthat’s book, The Decadent Society.

In it, he describes Western cultural, technological, and economic stagnation over the last fifty years.

“Over the last two generations, the only truly radical change has taken place in the devices we use for communication and entertainment, so that a single one of the nineteenth century’s great inventions [running water] still looms larger in our everyday existence than most of what we think of as technological breakthroughs.”

The third essay is Marc Andreesen’s “It’s Time To Build”.It’s Time To Build https://a16z.com/2020/04/18/its-time-to-build/ As in Peter Thiel’s essay, he describes the absence of technological progress across many domains. As in Tyler Cowen’s, he emphasizes the need for a strong and competent state as a complement to strong and competent market actors.

He frames it all as a rallying cry for builders.

“Our nation and our civilization were built on production, on building. Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, forms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.”

The fourth essay is Derek Thompson’s “A Simple Plan to Solve All of America’s Problems”.A Simple Plan to Solve All of America’s Problems https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/01/scarcity-crisis-college-housing-health-care/621221/

It takes all of the above and distills it down to a common sense, supply-side abundance agenda. On health care: make it easier to build more hospitals, train more doctors, and have foreign doctors accepted as immigrants. On housing: make it easier to build more housing. On transportation: make it easier to build more subway lines and stations and other infrastructure. On energy and climate change: make it easier to build more nuclear and geothermal and solar.

You get the theme, which ties back neatly to the other three pieces. We haven’t done enough of any of that. We need a strong and competent state that can streamline approval processes and deregulate where required to enable builders to build.

This is how we get to a future that looks more like the Jetsons than it does the Breakfast Club with smartphones.

It’s how we deliver rapidly rising standards of living for all, and it’s how we get to Mars and beyond.

Yaël Ossowski and David Clement: Canada’s shaky rules on cryptocurrencies have their root in Ontario

Commentary

The notoriously volatile cryptocurrency market has seen more downs than ups, lately. But for Canadians curious about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency — which, notwithstanding the crash of earlier this year is now once again a $1 trillion global asset class — buying and selling any of these digital assets will hinge on where you live.

Quebecers or British Columbians will have an easier time, while Ontario residents will find their choices limited. Exchanges like Binance have learned the hard way, publicly battling with the Ontario Securities Commission over whether they can serve Ontario users.

Though Binance is registered through Canada’s FINTRAC as a money service business, it must comply with Ontario’s securities rules before it can legally accept users in Ontario. That has left millions of Ontarians blocked from Binance and other platforms.

Plenty of Canadians complain about Quebec’s unique status on other matters of regulation, but Ontario is the outlier when it comes to securities.

Canada’s decentralized system gives each province autonomy in the regulation of securities and investor protection. The two most important, due to population, are the Ontario Securities Commission and Quebec’s Autorité des marchés financiers. 

However, Quebec has an advantage as a signatory to a 2004 memorandum of understanding between securities regulators that acts as a “passport” to allow licenses to be accepted in other provinces. Every province and territory has accepted this passport system and works to foster more integrated rules across the country. All except Ontario.

Though the Ontario regulator is fairly busy, it has so far avoided joining hands with other provinces.

In 2020, Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella organization of other provinces’ securities regulators, chastised Ontario for not including the passport rule in their highly-praised taskforce to modernize capital markets.

These piecemeal licenses and exemptions, as well as the lack of any significant cryptocurrency rules at the federal level, mean Canadians who want to use these services are forced to adopt creative —if not technically illegal — methods of bypassing restrictions.

Using the second-largest global crypto exchange FTX, for example, is out of bounds. But if you fire up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and set it to a U.S. IP address, you can easily log in, provide some information, and get to trading.

While FTX is registered with the federal government through FINTRAC, it still does not have the license necessary to offer its services to residents in Ontario. Recent acquisitions by FTX and other firms may change that, but only if the OSC accepts the new license. 

Considering dozens of other shady offshore crypto exchanges are all too happy to accept Canadians without following financial regulations or disclosures, this system is obviously broken and full of risk. Without smart rules, entrepreneurs and consumers have no other options, setting them up for a world of pain.

Dozens of liquidations and so-called “rug pulls” are cascading in the current bear market, putting millions of Canadian investments at risk. This includes Quebec’s major pension fund, which participated in a $400 million round in Celsius Network, a crypto lending and staking platform close to bankruptcy and default.

We already know that Canada, while a wealthy and free country, does not have interprovincial free trade, as we’re all too reminded in political campaigns and frequent cases before the Supreme Court. It’s no different with cryptocurrency rules.

While we await the unlocking of provincial trade barriers, there is something we can do to provide better clarity and security for Canadians who want in on the crypto economy.

Considering the billions of dollars from both institutions and Canadian investors at risk in the cryptocurrency space, it is true that there is currently no clear regulatory oversight or remedies apart from those we would traditionally apply to banking institutions. 

The current Capital Adequacy Requirements for banks in Canada can range up to 8 percent depending on the institution and holdings, usually owing to a level of risk exposure. This is a convoluted and complicated formula and keeps the number of banks in Canada quite low when compared to other industrialized and financialized countries.

While it may seem attractive to automatically lump cryptocurrency projects and protocols into Canadian banking rules and requirements, we recognize that virtual currencies are different than traditional investments and thus should also have their own set of rules. 

Disclosures, protections against fraud, and legal certainty, however, are key principles that would prove very beneficial to Canadian crypto consumers, as we have proposed elsewhere. But what can be done today?

First, Ontario should sign the memorandum to adopt the passport rule and other securities rules, like all other Canadian provinces. Second, if Ontario refuses to budge and there’s no appetite for a federal securities regulator, Canada should at least pass a law granting reciprocity of provincial securities licenses. Third, and most importantly, Ottawa should embrace smart cryptocurrency regulations that promote innovation, competition, and legally allow Canadians to buy and trade cryptocurrencies if they choose.

There are many advantages to being Canadian. We have a robust economy with plenty of opportunities that help raise our standard of living to punch above our weight. We must ensure that our rules reflect that, no matter our postal code and provincial flag. It’s time for our political leaders to follow through.