Quotulatiousness

November 18, 2017

The two biggest problems holding back widespread adoption of electric cars

Filed under: Economics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer explains why the current crop of electric vehicles are still only niche players, despite lots of overblown media hype and over-generous government subsidies:

There are two problems with electric vehicles. Neither are unsolvable in the long-term, but neither are probably going to get solved in the next 5 years.

  1. Energy Density. 15 gallons of gasoline weighs 90 pounds and takes up 2 cubic feet. This will carry a 40 mpg car 600 miles. The Tesla Model S 85kwh battery pack weighs 1200 pounds and will carry the car 265 miles (from this article the cells themselves occupy about 4 cubic feet if packed perfectly but in this video the whole pack looks much larger). We can see that even with what Musk claims is twice the energy density of other batteries, the Tesla gets 0.22 miles per pound of fuel/battery while the regular car can get 6.7. That is a difference in energy density of 30x. Some of this is compensated for by heavy and bulky things the electric car does not need (e.g. coolant system) but it is still a major problem in car design.
  2. Charge Time. In my mind this is perhaps the single barrier that could, if solved, make electric cars ubiquitous. people complain about electric car range, but really EV range is not that much shorter than the range of traditional cars on a tank of gas. The problem is that it is MUCH faster to refill a tank of gas than it is to refill a battery with a full charge. Traditionally it takes all night to charge an electric car, but 2 minutes at the pump to “charge” a gasoline engine. The fastest current charging claim is Tesla’s, which claims that the supercharger sites they have built on many US interstate routes sites will charge 170 miles of range in 30 minutes, or 5.7 miles per minute. A traditional car (the same one used in point 1) can add 600 miles of range in 2 minutes, or 300 miles per minute, or 52 times faster than the electric car. This is the real reason EV range is an issue for folks.

October 31, 2017

How Sugar Subsidies Ruin Halloween

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 30 Oct 2017

This Halloween while you’re getting pudgy from candy, crony capitalists are getting rich off of sugar subsidies. The system is rigged through price controls, subsidies, and tariffs, all designed to protect the sugar industry from competition – and basic math. In the latest “Mostly Weekly” Andrew Heaton tears into the Willy Wonkas gaming the system, and shows why an open market can more than handle your sugar craving.

September 20, 2017

QotD: Government meddling stifles innovation in energy

Filed under: Government, Quotations, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is unfortunately the case that government meddling on a global scale has massively distorted energy markets through pervasive subsidies, mandates, and price controls. The result is retarded innovation in the technologies of energy generation. A big first step toward renovating our energy supply systems would be to eliminate those impediments to understanding the real comparative benefits and costs of the production and use of energy. Ultimately, the better and far more effective way to ameliorate and avert future climate change is to mobilize human ingenuity through market processes to drive down the costs of no-carbon energy sources. Despite the constraints on innovation caused by government interference, notable advances in no-carbon energy generation technologies have already been made, ranging from innovative nuclear reactor designs to more efficient and cheaper solar panels. New technologies and wealth produced by human creativity will spark a vast environmental renewal in this century.

Ronald Bailey, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century, 2015.

August 27, 2017

Stop Subsidizing Sports!

Filed under: Economics, Education, Government, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 25 Aug 2017

Let’s talk about “sports”—that thing where we gather around to watch a muscular stranger put a regulation-size ball in a specific location.

Why are taxpayers forced to pony up cash for athletic ventures that don’t benefit them? Franchise owners routinely extort massive stadium subsidies through threats of relocation and fake promises of economic revitalization. Universities jack up student rates to subsidize athletic programs that should be self-sustaining. And the Olympics is economically devastating to every municipality foolish enough to get suckered by one of the oldest scams around.

Mostly Weekly host Andrew Heaton explores the sports phenomenon and why we should quit throwing other people’s money at it.

Links, past episodes, and more at https://reason.com/reasontv/2017/08/25/stop-subsidizing-sports

Script by Sarah Siskind with writing assistant from Andrew Heaton and David Fried.
Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

August 4, 2017

The recent machine gun purchase is a great example of how broken our defence procurement system

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

About a week ago, the Department of National Defence announced they were purchasing some new machine guns for the Canadian Army. The new weapon is an improved version of the C6 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) currently in service. The Ottawa Citizen gave the basic information on the deal in this article:

Canadian C6 GPMG. (DND photo)

The Canadian government will purchase 1148 new C6A1 FLEX General Purpose Machine Guns from Colt Canada, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Wednesday.

The current C6 machine guns were procured over 30 years ago. Some have been removed from service due to wear and tear and others are reaching the end of their service life, according to the Canadian military.

The new C6A1 FLEX (flexible) is designed to be carried by soldiers or attached to vehicles such as the new Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle. The new machine gun will feature a durable polymer butt stock instead of the current wooden style, according to the Canadian Forces. Additionally, soldiers will be able to attach pointing devices and optical sighting systems to the new weapon to help increase their operational effectiveness.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast:

On the face of it this is a good news story. The C6, a 7.62-mm is a fully-automatic, air-cooled, gas- and spring-operated medium machine gun that is well liked by the troops of the many western nations which use some version of this weapon. Based on the Fabrique Nationale (FN) MAG it has been used by more than 80 countries, and is made under licence in several countries, most notably the USA where it is known as the M240. It is many ways the standard machine gun, used by all our allies.

A closer look suggests that this announcement reveals everything that is wrong with Canadian defence procurement.

For our $32.1 million we get 1148 new C6A1 machine guns (with cleaning and repair kits, spare parts and carrying slings), 13 jobs which it seems reasonable to assume are for the length of the contract, i.e. two years, and a production line including engineering validation and certifications. Or perhaps more accurately, Colt Canada gets a production line at the Colt Canada plant.

Even if we accept that the implied a cost of nearly $28,000 per weapon should be informed by the fact that about one-quarter of the contract cost goes toward setting up a production line it still means that each weapon is costing almost $21,000 each.

The price of the equivalent US weapon, the M240, is somewhere between $6,600 US and $9,200 US depending on which model is being purchased. This means that, at current exchange rates, if we were to purchase the weapons from FN’s U.S.plant they would cost us about $10,000 each, in Canadian dollars. This in turn suggests that we would save at least $12,628,000. If you assume that in this case we don’t have to buy Colt Canada a new production line it works out to a savings of almost $20 million dollars.

This is the real cost of those 13 jobs for 2 years, over $750,000 for each job per year.

One would think that jobs that cost taxpayers $750,000 per year would raise questions.

Questions like; do we need to make our own machine guns, especially when we consider that they are almost universally available from a number of our allies and that we have the proven ability to maintain them ourselves?

So, it’s not just that we can’t buy ships or fighter aircraft at a competitive price — because our politicians are addicted to using military spending for partisan purposes — we can’t even buy a slight variant on a bog-standard infantry support weapon without paying through the nose.

H/T to MILNEWS.ca for the link (perhaps we should consider changing that standard section heading from “What’s Canada Buying?” to “What’s Canada subsidizing in the form of procurement?” or “What’s Canada being robbed blind over now?”)

August 3, 2017

Words & Numbers: Is UBI Better Than Welfare?

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 2 Aug 2017

A viewer recently asked us what Words & Numbers thought of Universal Basic Income.

Antony Davies likes the idea of it, provided it’s done well, but doesn’t think it could ever possibly be done well. But what about a theoretical UBI? If we could actually figure out how to implement that well, would that work? And why wouldn’t that work in the real world? This week on Words and Numbers, Antony and James R. Harrigan tackle the issue that’s getting a lot of attention in Silicon Valley.

July 31, 2017

Patents, Prizes, and Subsidies

Published on 17 May 2016

Growth on the cutting edge is all about the creation of new ideas.

So, we want institutions that incentivize such creation. How do we do this? The answer is somewhat tricky.

The first goal for good ideas is for them to spread as freely as possible. The further the reach, the greater the gains. The problem is, if just anyone can use ideas, then why would we ever pay for them? And without the right incentives, why would innovators create new ideas at all?

Imagine yourself as the creator of a new drug. Typically, it costs about a billion dollars to do this, not counting the time and effort needed to get the drug FDA-approved.

Now, if there were no protections in place, then theoretically, once the formula’s known, everyone could just copy the make-up of your new drug. See, the thing about pharmaceuticals is, once the formula’s known, production is relatively cheap. Given that, let’s assume imitations start flooding the market.

Predictably, the price of your new drug will plummet.

Once prices hit rock-bottom, you’ll have no way to recoup the $1 billion you spent on R&D.

Given that kind of result, we reckon you probably won’t want to develop more good ideas.

The US founding fathers anticipated this problem. Knowing that innovators needed incentives to have good ideas, the founders wrote a protection mechanism into the Constitution.

They gave Congress the ability to grant exclusive rights to inventors — rights to use and sell their inventions, for a limited period of time. This exclusive right, is what we call a patent. Patents grant inventors a temporary monopoly over the use and sale of their intellectual property.

Now, as nice as this is, patents are a thorny subject.

For one, how long should patents last? Also, how much innovation is considered enough to merit a patent grant? Not to mention, are patents the only way to reward good ideas?

The answer is no.

There are two more incentive options here: prizes, and subsidies.

Let’s start with subsidies. University and research subsidies are particularly effective in the basic sciences. Since innovations in this space are rather abstract, subsidies incentivize research without requiring the applications of the research to be explicitly named. The problem is, when we’re incentivizing just research, then researchers might pick directions that are interesting, but not particularly useful.

This is why the third incentive option — prizes — exists.

Prizes reward the output of solving a certain problem. Another plus, is that prizes leave solutions unspecified. They provide a problem to work on, but give quite a lot of leeway as to how the problem is solved.

Now, knowing the complexity inherent in patents, you might think that prizes and subsidies are good enough alternatives. But none of these incentives for ideas, are inherently better than any of the others. Patents, prizes, and subsidies all involve their own tradeoffs and questions.

For example, who decides what gets subsidized? Who decides which goals merit a prize?

It’s hard to determine what mix of institutions, will best incentivize the production of good ideas. Patents, prizes, and subsidies all navigate these conflicting goals, in their own way.

And yes, all this talk of incentives and conflicting goals and tradeoffs might be like walking a tightrope. But, it’s a tightrope we can’t opt out of. Certainly not if we want the economy to keep growing.

In our next release, you’ll watch a TED talk from a certain economist that elaborates further on ideas. And then, we’ll wrap up this course segment with the Idea Equation. Stay tuned!

July 30, 2017

It’s time to eliminate the ethanol fuel mandate (and all those corporate welfare subsidies)

Paul Driessen explains why now might be the best time to get rid of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) which requires a proportion of ethanol be incorporated/blended into almost all petroleum fuels in the US (Canada has similar requirements):

The laws require that refiners blend steadily increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline, and expect the private sector to produce growing amounts of “cellulosic” biofuel, “biomass-based diesel” and “advanced” biofuels. Except for corn ethanol, the production expectations have mostly turned out to be fantasies. The justifications for renewable fuels were scary exaggerations then, and are absurd now.

Let’s begin with claims made to justify this RFS extravaganza in the first place. It would reduce pollution, we were told. But cars are already 95% cleaner than their 1970 predecessors, so there are no real benefits.

The USA was depleting its petroleum reserves, and the RFS would reduce oil imports from unstable, unfriendly nations. But the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) revolution has given the United States at least a century of new reserves. America now exports more oil and refined products than it imports, and US foreign oil consumption is now the lowest since 1970.

Renewable fuels would help prevent dangerous manmade climate change, we were also told. This assumes climate is driven by manmade carbon dioxide – and not by changes in solar heat output, cosmic rays, ocean currents and other powerful natural forces that brought ice ages, little ice ages, warm periods, droughts and floods. It assumes biofuels don’t emit CO2, or at least not as much as gasoline; in reality, over their full life cycle, they emit at least as much, if not more, of this plant-fertilizing molecule.

[…]

A little over 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol were produced in 2016 – but only 143 billion gallons of gasoline were sold. That means using all the ethanol would require blends above 10% (E10 gasoline) – which is why Big Ethanol is lobbying hard for government mandates (or at least permission) for more E15 (15% ethanol) gasoline blends and pumps. Refiners refer to the current situation as the “blend wall.”

But E15 damages engines and fuel systems in older cars and motorcycles, as well as small engines for boats and garden equipment, and using E15 voids their warranties. You can already find E15 pumps, but finding zero-ethanol, pure-gasoline pumps is a tall order. Moreover, to produce ethanol, the United States is already devoting 40% of its corn crop, grown on nearly 40 million acres – along with billions of gallons of water to irrigate corn fields, plus huge amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels.

Much of the leftover “mash” from ethanol distillation is sold as animal feed. However, the RFS program still enriches a relatively few corn farmers, while raising costs for beef, pork, poultry and fish farmers, and for poor, minority, working class and African families. Ethanol also gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline, so cars cannot go as far on a tank of E10 and go even shorter distances with E15.

The problem with getting rid of targeted subsidy programs is that the benefits are highly concentrated while the costs are widely dispersed. As a whole, the North American economies would benefit greatly from eliminating the RFS mandates, lowering overall fuel costs, improving international food availability, and reducing or eliminating crony capitalist benefits to “Big Ethanol”, but most individuals’ gains would be small — too small to gain much active support — and the current beneficiaries would have vast incentives to fight to the death to keep those subsidies flowing.

June 22, 2017

The Netflix tax is dead (again) – “This thing was a turkey, and Trudeau was right to wring its neck.”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Chris Selley rejoices in the demise of the so-called “Netflix tax” proposal, but also pours scorn on yet another proposal to prop up Canadian print media organizations:

Justin Trudeau wasted little time last week rubbishing the Heritage Committee’s so-called “Netflix tax,” and no wonder. If you’re determined to raid people’s wallets to fund journalism they’d rather not pay for and Can-con programming they’d rather not watch, you’re far better off doing it shadily than with a shiny new tax on something people love. The sound bytes winging around in the idea’s favour were, in a word, pathetic: “it’s not a new tax, but an expanded levy!”; “we already tax cable, why not Internet?”; “we already subsidize magazines, why not newspapers?”

Good God, why any of it? This thing was a turkey, and Trudeau was right to wring its neck.

Newspaper publishers and union bosses remain undaunted in pursuit of unearned public funds, however. “Canada’s newspaper industry unites to advocate for Canadian Journalism Fund,” proclaimed a headline at News Media Canada, the publishers’ lobby group. They’re savvy enough to propose tying subsidies to employed journalists’ salaries — 35 per cent to a maximum of $30,000 per head — rather than just cutting cheques. That might fend off Executive Bonus Rage, but it won’t fend off sticker shock: the suggested eventual cost is a whopping $350 million a year.

As a taxpayer I would much rather subsidize Canada’s journalists than Canada’s legacy media companies — but I would sure as hell rather subsidize neither. The more beholden to government a country’s journalists, the less free its press. Magazine writers in this country know their publications get a top-up from Ottawa in the form of the Canadian Periodical Fund. That’s not ideal. But under News Media Canada’s proposal, we would know our jobs literally depended on government largesse. I’ll take a hard pass on that.

Publishers’ and union bosses’ claims of unanimous support notwithstanding, many unionized journalists, and many of your non-unionized friends here at the National Post, hate the idea. It risks narrowing Canada’s already remarkably narrow spectrum of acceptable ideas and arguments. It risks — no, guarantees — alienating the very consumers we need to attract. In the case of some legacy media outlets it would simply extend the runway for business models that everyone knows will never fly again. In any event, the sums being bandied about wouldn’t solve the crisis as a whole unless the solution was permanent and ever-greater government dependency. I’m amazed to see how many journalists, including some very nearly pensionable ones, support the idea.

June 17, 2017

“Probably the best example of our carny-barker economy is Tesla”

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Z-Man on the post-modern business models used by Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla:

The key for Amazon making it all these years was to keep people focused on everything but their financials. This is not an exception. Faceberg will never have earnings to justify its share price. In fact, it will never have user rates to justify its ad revenue. It’s not unreasonable to think that everything about the business is fraudulent. That should trigger large scale audits and investigations into its business practices, but Facebook is on the side of angels in the cultural revolution, so its all good.

Probably the best example of our carny-barker economy is Tesla. To his credit, Musk has built a real factory that builds real cars. No one is going to say the Tesla is a work of art or even a practical car, but it is a car and the technology is impressive. The trouble is the company does not exist to make cars. It operates as a tax sink, where government subsidies flow into it and some portion of those subsidies turn into payments to the principles in the form of stock repurchases, debt service and compensation.

This only works if people think the venture will either one day turn a profit or the technology that it creates will result in something good down the road. To that end, Musk is regularly out doing his Lyle Lanley act, making all the beautiful people feel righteous by backing his ventures. He’s also telling Wall Street that he will soon be making and selling enough cars to turn a healthy profit, even without massive tax subsidies. The trouble is, that’s probably never happening, at least not with current management.

June 16, 2017

Canada’s oldest wind farm shutting down but “if there is an incentive, we’d jump all over that”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The owner of the oldest operating wind farm in Alberta is desperately hoping for a big government subsidy to replace the old wind turbines at their Cowley Ridge facility:

The oldest commercial wind power facility in Canada has been shut down and faces demolition after 23 years of transforming brisk southern Alberta breezes into electricity — and its owner says building a replacement depends on the next moves of the provincial NDP government.

TransAlta Corp. said Tuesday the blades on 57 turbines at its Cowley Ridge facility near Pincher Creek have already been halted and the towers are to be toppled and recycled for scrap metal this spring. The company inherited the now-obsolete facility, built between 1993 and 1994, as part of its $1.6-billion hostile takeover of Calgary-based Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. in 2009.

“TransAlta is very interested in repowering this site. Unfortunately, right now, it’s not economically feasible,” Wayne Oliver, operations supervisor for TransAlta’s wind operations in Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod, said in an interview.

“We’re anxiously waiting to see what incentives might come from our new government. . . . Alberta is an open market and the wholesale price when it’s windy is quite low, so there’s just not the return on investment in today’s situation. So, if there is an incentive, we’d jump all over that.”

In February, TransAlta president and chief executive Dawn Farrell said the company’s plans to invest in hydroelectric, wind, solar and natural gas cogeneration facilities in Alberta were on hold until the details of the province’s climate-change plans are known.

June 8, 2017

Words & Numbers: Earning Profits is Your Social Responsibility

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 7 Jun 2017

“We tend to demonize people who make money – how dare they have more than us? But that negative reaction forgets the voluntary role we play in profit-making every day. This week in Words and Numbers, Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan discuss just how good it is to earn a profit, and the vital difference between that and forcing money from people.”

May 29, 2017

Who the heck is Andrew Scheer?

I admit, I wasn’t really paying attention to the federal Conservative leadership race … I’d blithely assumed that Mad Max would win … so I didn’t pay much attention to the other candidates (other than my local MP, who was eliminated on the 12th ballot). So who is this new guy? Tom Flanagan thinks he’s the Tory version of our current “sunny ways” Prime Minister, god help us:

Andrew Scheer is the new Conservative leader, beating Maxime Bernier by the narrowest of margins, 51 per cent to 49 per cent. Mr. Bernier campaigned on an adventurous platform of economic libertarianism, including an end to supply management and corporate subsidies, and new approaches to equalization and to health-care funding. Mr. Scheer, in contrast, stressed continuity with past party policy. He positioned himself as the consensus candidate, the leading second or third choice.

Mr. Scheer is 38 years old, young for a political leader but not impossibly so. (Joe Clark became leader of the Progressive Conservatives at 37 and went on to beat Pierre Trudeau in the next election.) Though young, Mr. Scheer already has a lot of political experience. He has represented Regina-Qu’Appelle for 13 years and won five consecutive elections in his riding. He has also been Speaker of the House of Commons and House Leader of the Conservative Party under Rona Ambrose.

Mr. Scheer’s political roots are in Reform and the Canadian Alliance, but he followed Stephen Harper in abandoning the sorts of libertarian policies still favoured by Maxime Bernier. As leader, Mr. Scheer will continue to pursue Mr. Harper’s goals of lower taxes, balanced budgets, and closer cooperation with Canada’s international allies – things that all Conservatives agree on. Like Brad Wall, premier of his home province of Saskatchewan, he is vociferously opposed to the Liberals’ carbon tax and has promised to repeal it, though that may prove difficult to accomplish if and when he finally comes to office.

Oh, goody! He still supports market-distorting supply management and crony capitalist subsidies for “friends of the PM”. I’m sure he’ll fit in just fine in Ottawa — they’ll make room for him at the trough. Yay!

May 20, 2017

On board The Canadian

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Toronto Star‘s Jennifer Bain takes a trip on VIA Rail’s premier passenger train from Toronto to Vancouver:

VIA dome observation car, 2007. Photo by Savannah Grandfather (Wikimedia)

ABOARD THE CANADIAN-That first overnight on the train was a gloriously sleepless blur disrupted by clickety clacks, rumbles, grinding squeals and ding, ding dings. Alone in F-130 in the Château Cadillac car on a Murphy bed pulled down from the wall to fill the room, I stared mesmerized through an extra-large window into the dark depths of northern Ontario and thought deeply Canadian thoughts.

Happy 150th birthday, Canada. This year cries out for a celebratory road trip. I use the term road loosely. A train track will do just fine. Let someone else drive. For four nights on the Canadian, Via Rail Canada’s iconic train from Toronto to Vancouver, I relaxed and watched boreal forest become prairie and then mountains.

Somewhere north of Sudbury that first morning, I threw on clothes and tiptoed down the narrow hall, hands outstretched to brace for sways and lurches, through the Château Dollard sleeping car to the end of the train.

The Laurentide Park car is tricked out with a downstairs lounge and upstairs domed seating area. The DIY tea and coffee station became my watering hole.

Routes of The Canadian: the original 1955 route is in red (on CPR trackage) and the current route is in blue (mainly on CN tracks). VIA took over operation of The Canadian in 1978 and changed to the current route in 1990.

You are in your own world on the Canadian, but not necessarily alone. Work on the lost art of small talk in the dining car when you’re seated with strangers. Play a board game with fellow passengers since there’s no Wi-Fi and often no cell service.

This 4,466-kilometre journey is a throwback to simpler times.

Jason Shron — a train nut from Thornhill that I met through Box — has done the Canadian upwards of 40 times and found “there’s a tendency for people on the train to spill their guts to strangers,” especially if they’re on divorce tours, which can become awkward the next day. “There’s a certain magic to that,” he admitted. He was taking his three kids to Winnipeg to meet his wife and other family for Passover.

Shron owns Canada’s largest model train company, built a section of a full-size Via car in his basement, is restoring two train cars and is writing a book about Via for its 40th anniversary next year. The Crown corporation “doesn’t celebrate its own history and doesn’t celebrate its own people” nearly enough, he lamented, and so he’s “like this one-man Via fan club.”

Make that two. Shron and Box love trains for different reasons — the actual machines and the art of train travel — but they are anomalies. Too many Canadians have never been on a train, much less slept on one.

Trains are not a part of our modern lives or lexicon, so my learning curve is steep. Passenger trains don’t have cabooses, conductors are obsolete and drivers are called engineers. Freight trains have priority in Canada when there’s one line, so passenger trains like the Canadian have to wait on the siding, causing delays.

There are economy-class seats that you sleep upright in, and banks of seats that convert into upper and lower “berths” at night with just a curtain for privacy. There are private rooms, some with a toilet that gets covered when the bed comes out, and a shared shower down the hall. I was lucky enough to experience “Prestige class” in a room with an L-shaped couch, Murphy bed and private en-suite washroom, with access to a trio of concierges, reserved seating at the front of the dome car, meals, booze and all the Earl Grey I could drink.

Part of the reason “many Canadians have never been on a train” is that there are a lot fewer trains running today than in years past: when VIA took over most intercity passenger service, it rationalized a lot of the routes (but not enough to become profitable, hence the federal government’s ongoing subsidies to VIA). Even with those subsidies, passenger trains aren’t a bargain for the average traveller, and usually compare poorly to bus or air travel in both cost and frequency. Most of VIA’s trains lose money, as this table from 2014 shows:

So, how expensive is the trip that Ms. Bain took? I went to the VIA website to find out. Booking a trip from Toronto (in my case, Oshawa) to Vancouver on The Canadian to leave today (Saturday) would cost an eye-watering $9,684.10 per person in Prestige class (including a $500 service fee, but not including HST [Harmonized Sales Tax] of $1,114.10). There are cheaper fares — booking in advance, not taking the Prestige class ticket, other available sales, etc. — but a quick Google search shows return flights in the $600 range (but I could save $226 off that if I booked for tomorrow instead of today).

For a potted history of The Canadian there’s a useful Wikipedia page.

May 18, 2017

If you subsidize art, you’ll get more [bad] art

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I missed this when it got posted initially … Theodore Dalrymple on an Irish government initiative to actually audit the art they’re busy subsidizing:

Like most governments these days, the Irish government is a patron of the arts. The problem is that most governments know as much about the arts as I know about how to select camels for a camel race.

Naturally, therefore, governments rely on advisers to advise them on artistic matters, in effect delegating to them the disbursement of funds. Here the problem is that the art world is now so corrupt morally, intellectually, and aesthetically that the advice it gives is more likely to resemble Mr. Madoff’s advice to investors than Lord Duveen’s to Henry Clay Frick. There has always been bad art, of course, but rarely has it been so heavily subsidized; and when we see work of which we are inclined to ask, “But is it art?” we should perhaps be asking instead, “Is it government-funded?”

The Irish Arts Council, however, recently came up with a novel, even transgressive idea (“transgressive” is the highest term of praise in current art criticism, incidentally), namely that the artists they subsidize should show some sign of artistic endeavor. It is true that the council’s choice of word, audit, was an unfortunate one, as if artists were accountants having their accuracy checked; and the eminent Irish writer Colm Toibin said that the council’s terminology — for example, “working artists engaged in productive practice” — had a North Korean ring about it; an exaggeration, no doubt, given that the North Korean regime subjects its artists to something more severe than mere audit, but one knows what he means. These days it is increasingly difficult to distinguish, stylistically, between an official circular and a page from The Selected Works of Kim Il-sung. (The only one of those communist leaders worth reading, by the way, is Enver Hoxha, who had a wonderful natural gift for poisonous invective and insult. As by the end of his life he had fallen out with everyone, he also had a lot of practice at it; his principle was never to speak well of the dead, especially if he had killed them himself.)

But Mr. Toibin was exercised about the very idea of demanding of artists that they actually produce something in return for the money they receive. After all, many a great artist in the past has had a fallow patch in his life, sometimes lasting decades; you can’t just go to an artist and insist that he be inspired, any more than a photographer can insist that his subjects be natural in front of the lens. His logic appears to be:

Great artists a and b had fallow patches

Artist c is having a shallow patch

Therefore artist c is great and indefinitely worth subsidy

Now, I’m not against patronage as such; sometimes I even wish I had had a patron who had relieved me of the necessity to earn my daily bread (and jam). Then, surely, I would have written an imperishable masterpiece; I would have had time for le mot juste instead of having to make do with the le mot approximatif that mere journalism, as against literature, requires. But the government doesn’t have the taste or discrimination to act as patron. It can’t even choose its advisers well.

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