My Reason Interview
By David Henderson
Peter Suderman of Reason interviewed me last week in connection with a short article I did on how Canadian politicians Jean Chretien and Paul Martin turned around the federal budget from persistent deficits to persistent surpluses (until the latest recession.) After the e-mail interview, I learned that he would use only pieces of it and so here’s the whole thing. I’ve edited slightly for grammar and clarity.
In responding to his request for an interview, I answered:
You’re the lucky guy who married the world’s tallest female blogger, right? Congratulations. With all I read about it–how many weddings result in someone being fired?–I feel as if I had been there. 🙂
Peter replied that he is, indeed, that guy, and went on to his questions.
PS: How old are you (you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to)?
PS: You live in CA, correct?
PS: What city?
DRH: Pacific Grove.
PS: Tell me about your work and education history.
DRH: It’s in the bio. But in case it doesn’t come across, I was a math major and I took a year off in 1970-71 to educate myself in graduate-level economics, spending about 4 hours a day reading back issues of the Journal of Law and Economics. That’s how I discovered public choice and a lot of other things. I wrote fan letters (with content) to Gary Becker, Jim Buchanan, and the late H. Gregg Lewis and got pleasant thought-out answers from all three. I wrote a critical letter to Paul Samuelson and got a semi-pleasant answer.
PS: Quirks, highlights, anything above the fold.
DRH: See above.
PS: Your piece is about cutting government in Canada. But would you say that Canada has limited or small government in any way that matters?
DRH: I would not. Its government is still too big, there is less official respect for freedom of speech there than here–look at the mauling of Ann Coulter, for instance, and the liquor laws are a joke.
PS: Compared to the U.S., how would you characterize the Canadian approach to government–especially in terms of how they think about size-of-government issues?
DRH: They were up against the wall, depending, as they did, on foreign creditors. They tend to muddle through and,had the crisis not existed in 1995, they would probably not have taken such action.
PS: Does the U.S. deserve its reputation as a bastion of small government?
DRH: No. Some towns do, but not the U.S. in general.
PS: Do you think most citizens and politicians are serious about limiting government’s reach in the U.S.?
DRH: They’re serious at some margin; but the scary thing is how far the margin has shifted. Remember what Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party told reporters about why he wouldn’t run again for President in 1956. He said that the Republican Party had accepted virtually the whole of his 1932 platform. The way respect for property rights matters so little in the ground zero mosque case is frightening. I used to be able to use, only about 15 years ago, the idea of government regulation of fat content of food as a reductio ad absurdum in arguing against regulations on smoking. I no longer can. And it’s outrageous that Bush and Congress trashed our freedom to travel by air, one of the most important freedoms we have.
PS: Outside of government, what’s the best thing that Canada has that the U.S. doesn’t?
DRH: My cottage. But more seriously, I think there’s more of an innocence that Canadians have. I like some aspects of this. Also, Canadians don’t tend to have the view that most Americans do that if something outrageous happens almost anywhere in the world, their government has the right to intervene. One of the weirdest things I noticed when I moved here to go to graduate school at UCLA in 1972 was that, even though the anti-Vietnam-war movement was at its peak, there was no principled objection by almost anyone to having the U.S. government intervene. This came home to me in the fall of 1973 when Nixon gave Israel’s government a huge subsidy and most of the anti-VN war people I had gotten to know had no objection.
Related to this, you don’t see many people going around saying “God bless Canada.” I loved the “God Bless America” stuff when I first moved here, but now that I’ve been here 38 years, I’ve come to believe that it means “God make an exception for America.”
PS: What do you like best about living in the U.S. vs living in Canada?
DRH: There are a few tangibles and a lot of intangibles.
Start with the tangibles: I can buy liquor at Safeway and it’s way less taxed than in Canada. I can get a doctor’s appointment relatively quickly and, if there’s something wrong that requires a specialist, I can get to that specialist more quickly. Also, related to this, a friend of mine from Canada who’s a fellow American got lymphoma a few years ago and, with the limited treatments they have in Canada, he likely would have died. His insurance paid for his high-tech treatments here and he’s thriving.
Also, the incredible wealth that’s everywhere around us. It’s pretty incredible in Canada, too, but less so.
The main intangible: Americans are more willing, on average, to ask for what they want. I was brought up, and I wasn’t alone, being taught to deny my wants.
Further thought after the interview: I would also add that in judging Canada, I have to continually remind myself that Canada is so much wealthier than when I lived there and that, because I was financially on my own from age 16 on, I was in the lowest quintile in Canada. I sometimes felt frustrated at the things others had that I couldn’t afford. Well, I could afford any individual one of them, but not many of them. So, for example, I didn’t have a car; I couldn’t easily afford to go skiing, even in western Manitoba, etc. I think if I lived in Canada now, I would enjoy it much more than when I lived there then. I would also add that my last few years in Canada were colored by my mother’s death in 1969 and my brother’s suicide in 1970.
Update: A friend pointed out that he didn’t understand the reference to someone being fired after Peter Suderman’s marriage to Megan McArdle. The person I was referring to is David Weigel.