Retrouver la raison

M’inscrivant dans la mouvance du rationalisme 2.0 promu par Joseph et du renouveau du réalisme philosophique, je viens de faire paraître Retrouver la raison, un recueil d’essais de philosophie publique. Un extrait de l’introduction a été publié dans Le Devoir et, dans le contexte du débat au sein du Parti Québécois sur la laïcité, La Presse a publié des passages du chapitre 31.

Le livre a fait l’objet d’une riche discussion entre Francine Pelletier, Pierre-Luc Brisson et Marie-Louise Arsenault à Plus on est de fous, plus on lit ! Francine Pelletier s’est depuis entre autres appuyé sur le livre dans une chronique lucide et courageuse sur le multiculturalisme et l’interculturalisme au Québec. Le temps où la simple attribution de l’étiquette « multiculturaliste » était suffisante pour disqualifier un adversaire est peut-être révolu.

Louis Cornellier a publié un compte-rendu critique dans Le Devoir. Sa critique, généreuse, s’appuie sur une lecture sérieuse du livre.… Continue reading

The anxiety of influence

Several years ago, in Filthy Lucre (or Economics without Illusions) I provided the following assessment of the book Freakonomics:

Levitt and Dubner repeatedly draw an invidious contrast between “morality” – described as “the way we would like the world to be” – and “economics” – the study of how the world actually is. The message is pretty clear. Morality is for girls. Economics is for tough guys, who are able to stare the world in the eye and come to terms with the way things are. It’s for those who are able to look at a homeless man and notice only his expensive headphones. To imagine that morality counts for anything, in the real world, is to succumb to wishful thinking. The economist is wise to the game. He knows that people are all in it for themselves. Machiavelli put it best, when he observed that “in general,” people are “ungrateful and fickle, dissemblers, avoiders of danger, and greedy of gain.”

When push comes to shove, these unflattering assumptions about human motivation are about the only thing that make Levitt’s work count as “economics.” After all, most of it is plain-vanilla statistical analysis, of the sort done by social scientists in a variety of disciplines.

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Donner prize nomination

Enlightenment 2.0 has been short-listed for the Donner Prize, which recognizes the best work of public policy in Canada every year. Very different crowd here than the Shaughneesy Cohen prize. The other three books on the short-list are:

Unfortunately I won’t have time to read and review them all this time — results are announced on Wednesday. I get free copies though, so I’m looking forward to plunging in. I am particularly interested in Michael Trebilcock’s — I admire his book The Limits of Freedom of Contract very much, and I often recommend it to students/colleagues (as an exemplar of how one can adopt a broadly “economic” perspective on the world, and yet remain fundamentally humane in one’s orientation).… Continue reading

Response to Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok from Marginal Revolution recently posted a very generous notice of Enlightenment 2.0 as well as a long review at The New Rambler (under the heading “Does Capitalism Make Us Stupid?”) I’ve been an avid reader and fan of Marginal Revolution for over a decade now, so this was very exciting for me. The review also raises a number of interesting issues, which I thought I might take a moment to comment on.

I’ll start somewhat in reverse order, because Tabarrok’s most significant criticisms arise towards the end of his review. There he makes the observation that the final section of my book is the weakest – that’s the part where I try to propose some “solutions” to all of the gigantic problems that I’ve spent the previous 300 pages diagnosing. Many people have pointed out that these chapters – specifically, the last two – seem to lack conviction, and that the positive proposals I make are all small beer, manifestly not up to the task of solving the enormous problems that I previously identified.… Continue reading

Shaughnessy Cohen prize

As some of you have heard, I wound up winning the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for Political Writing last night in Ottawa. Which was exciting!

And no, I won’t be reviewing my own book here. You see though why I wanted to get my reviews/reaction pieces on the other books done before the announcement was made — whether I won or lost, it would have seemed weird to write about them afterwards.

For those who are looking for a review of Enlightenment 2.0, I would recommend this one by Ivor Tossell — on the grounds that there was nothing in it that I disagreed with (and the criticisms were I thought spot on). When that review came out, I laughed at the line “Reading Enlightenment 2.0 feels a bit like arriving in a professor’s lecture in the third week of a course, and being left to piece together what we missed,” because in fact the original first chapter of the book was cut out during the editorial process.… Continue reading

In due cake

Today is the one-year anniversary of the creation of this blog. 49,374 visitors and 156,981 pageviews later, I would like to mark the occasion in two ways.

First, I thought I might provide a list of our top five most popular posts of the year, ranked by number of readers:

  1. Joseph Heath: Thoughts on Rob Ford, vol. 2 (6,223)
  2. Joseph Heath: Why people hate economics, in one lesson (4,570)
  3. Daniel Weinstock: On Israel, Gaza and double standards (3,138)
  4. Jocelyn Maclure: Le multiculturalism, un despotisme? réplique à Mathieu Bock-Côté (3,108)
  5. Joseph Heath: Abject economic illiteracy at the Globe and Mail (2,126)

You see why journalists are all missing Rob Ford?

Overall I have no idea if this is good traffic or not, I’ve never had a blog before. But I’ll take it!

Second I’d like to acknowledge the contribution of a few people who work behind the scenes: Timothy Walker (from timeanddesire) for the initial site and logo design, and Jeremy Davis for regular comment moderation and technical troubleshooting.… Continue reading

Best political writing of 2014

My book Enlightenment 2.0 was recently short-listed for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing (here), so I’ll be dusting off my tux and heading to Ottawa for the “Politics and the Pen” gala next month. And since I have some time to kill between now and then, I thought I would read the other finalists. They are the following:


Graham Steele, What I Learned about Politics: Inside the Rise–and Collapse–of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government

Chantal Hébert with Jean Lapierre, The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was

John Ralston Saul, The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power and Influence

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate


Two of them I already owned but had not read past the first chapter of, two of them I actually had not heard of. All are very different in substance and style. So thought I would try to put together some quick reviews as well, in the next few weeks — have to be quick though, so as to avoid being accused to being a sore loser!… Continue reading