Smart Picks -- Health Care Courage, Canada's Other Challenges, The Chinese Bull

The political courage of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi in driving the health care debate to its legislative conclusion in the face of unrelenting opposition (Republicans; insurance companies; self-serving media) and Shakespearean-like bad luck (the death the Ted Kennedy and election of Scott Brown) will be required in Canada to end Canadian health care exceptionalism. In the end, whatever you may think of the tone of the debate, there was a debate. Canada needs to do the same.

Interesting and important articles about Canadian Aboriginal alternatives, unequal representation, and creating a two tier public service. Also the great bull in the China shop, China.

The importance of reining in the cost of health care in the United States is captured by this chart which underlines the exceptionally higher spending per person in the United States. The chart also shows that lack of a relationship between life expectancy and spending. The reason has little to do with health care spending, it is cultural and social as the murder rate in America is much higher than other OECD countries. Japan by contrast has a better diet and is less prone to murder.

Health Care Expenses vs Life Expectancy

A reminder of the difficulty of the President's journey.

The day after Democrats lost Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts in January, Barack Obama gave a near disastrous interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. In it Mr Obama wondered aloud whether the best response to the political earthquake in Massachusetts would be to shrink the controversial Democratic healthcare bill down to a few core elements “on which we can all agree”.

Now to Canada. Stop gap measures to keep a health system working as it becomes less suited to the purpose. Is there a politician willing to share in the courage shown by the Democrats?

The health-reform legislation now moving toward law in the United States, and the divisive political debate surrounding it, contain a profound lesson for Canada.

An aging population, new technology, the American contrast, and competing needs. No excellent future without health care reform.

Canadians love to disparage America's privately funded health care, just as conservative Americans love to slag Canada's public system.

American exceptionalism in health care in terms of coverage and cost was the target of the reform passed by the Democrats.

Barack Obama’s health reforms will help narrow the gulf between the exceptionalism of the US healthcare system and its counterparts elsewhere in the developed world, while maintaining significant differences.

And it matters for other things too. The world did not need a lame-duck President only 15 months into a 48 month term.

President Barack Obama has leapt out of his political sick-bed, ripped out his feeding tubes and is ready to dance a jig around the Oval office. The Congressional approval of healthcare reform has reinvigorated the Obama presidency in a way that has implications not just for Americans, but for the world.

The absurdity and danger of trying to define Canadian Aboriginal people. Some hope for new thinking.

Who gets to decide who’s a real Indian? Should it be the federal government, with its complex, constantly changing rules about racial purity? Or should it be natives themselves?

Let them own land!

Canada's first nations are potentially wealthy landlords, with land reserves totalling nearly three million hectares. Dozens of reserves are near major cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal, as well as rapidly growing smaller towns such as Kamloops, Kelowna and Courtenay-Comox. This land base represents an economic asset that could make a major contribution to raising first nations' standard of living.


Canada's excellent future is surely in doubt when the votes of citizens are so unequal.

The votes that Canadians cast in federal elections are more unequal than at any time in the country's history. The House of Commons is more unrepresentative than other federations in the developed world.

Stockwell Day is right not to strip away pension rights that public servants have bargained for. He is equally right to make the case that the government can offer different -- probably lower -- benefits for new employees.

Stockwell Day has opened the door to a two-tier pension system for civil servants, saying he won’t go after the benefits of “existing” federal employees.

Mark your calendar. On April 15 the US Treasury will issue a semi-annual currency report, mandated by law since 1988 and originally designed to scare Japan, in which China may be deemed to be manipulating its currency. George Magnus, one of the world's leading economists, on the risks that this may hold for Chinese-US relations, and what we really need to know about the Chinese economy. Yes Virginia, the laws of economics and social policy apply to China too.

The friction between Washington and Beijing over exchange rates is about to get a lot worse.

Takahashi Ito economist from the University of Tokyo (yes, my alma mater) on the China property bubble.

The Chinese official statistics say that the average rise in property prices was 10.7 per cent in February.

Lists of rich people tend to confirm bubbles. Lots of Chinese billionaires.

In the latest Forbes list of the world's richest people, mainland China shows up as home to 64 billionaires, the highest number outside the United States. The speed of this wealth shift is surprising even to Peter Bisson, chair of McKinsey & Co.'s knowledge committee and leader of the multinational consulting firm's global forces study.

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Twin Virtues: Inequality of Outcomes & Equality of Opportunity©

Twin Virtues

Ultimately, the most successful societies find the balance between the twin virtues of inequality of outcomes and equality of opportunity.

The new politics must marry the twin virtues of unequal outcomes and equality of opportunity.

When too few get too much everybody loses.

Feminism is about women living their lives on their own terms, marshalling the resources of the society to make that possible, and men embracing this as vital to a successful society and their own liberation.

Can it be that striving for equality of opportunity however imperfect the process not only benefits the individual but also creates benefits for the society that are unintended but wonderful?

Economics must be a 'moral enterprise' as much as politics claims to be. Economic outcomes need to be framed in terms of right and wrong not just efficiency if only because these often align in surprising ways that are good for society and the economy.

My vision of Canada is that any Canadian child from a family of limited circumstance can expect to have a chance at lifetime of unlimited opportunities.

Free trade is a wonderful thing. Time and time again economists have proven that free trade creates enormous wealth for each country 'on the whole'. Historians have shown that free trade is usually associated with rising political, social and cultural liberty. The perennial problem is that free trade always creates tremendous disruption for thousands even millions of individuals often concentrated in one geography, and where the state is idle, not investing in best in class instruments of social justice, free trade can be a permanent ticket out of the middle class, down, not up.

Tax policy should be founded on the principle of generating steady tax revenues sufficient to maximise environmentally sustainable economic growth in order to fund fair government.

Public policy should be designed to decrease inequality before the law and increase equality of opportunity.

Capitalism is not the problem; the problem is what we do with capitalism.

Content is always more difficult to argue than conspiracy.

Let the state regulate and the market operate (most things).

Welfare strategies are best designed as a hand up, not as a hand out.

Political debate should not be fact free fighting.

Explanation lasts longer than eloquence.

Always favour empowerment over dependency.

The most enduring public figures are embraced for the causes they fought for and not the concept of themselves they hoped others would remember them by.

Find your voice and don't be the echo of somebody else.

It is possible to operate on two different levels: the practical, cautious and conservative; and the realm of ideas, open, free, and radical.