High frequency talker

"High frequency talker: Author of ‘Flash Boys’ has succeeded in demonizing an innovation that saves investors $9-billion a year"

Jeff MacIntosh, Special to Financial Post | April 14, 2014 7:51 PM ET

If high frequency traders are such bandits, why have so many gone out of business?

Michael Lewis’ book, “Flash Boys” – an ostensible indictment of high frequency traders (HFT) – has transformed Mr. Lewis into the undisputed heavyweight champion of the international talk show circuit. Media personalities around the world, including Canada’s own CBC, have been falling all over themselves to give Mr. Lewis a platform to carve up HFT in public. And, by-and-large, they have been uncritically swallowing his alarmist message that financial markets are “rigged.”

What a shame.

Perhaps the most important datum in this story is that alarmism sells. If Mr. Lewis had written a well-documented, impassioned defence of high frequency trading based on solid empirical evidence, his book would likely be well reviewed, sell a few thousand copies, and then quickly be forgotten. But who needs facts when you can get rich peddling soggy half-truths?

Access to Pharmaceutical Data, Not Data Secrecy, is an Essential Component of Human Rights

Recent media reports rightly point to Canada’s abysmal record when it comes to transparency of pharmaceutical data; this notwithstanding numerous calls and recommendations for urgent action, including in a 2012 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Report. A recent announcement by Health Canada that it was publishing a ‘summary report’ of data about the controversial acne pill Diane-35 (6 months after it announced it would do so) does little to reassure that we are really catching up with other countries.

Getting women on corporate boards: Canada's middling approach just might work

Getting women on corporate boards: Canada's middling approach just might work

By Anita Anand

Published in the Globe and Mail on February 21, 2014

Board diversity is a hot topic in corporate Canada. With various European countries passing mandatory quota legislation to increase the number of women on boards and our federal and provincial governments calling for a balanced gender complement, regulators have faced increasing pressure to take a close look at the issue.

But recent evidence suggests that Canadian companies are already responding by voluntarily making changes around the boardroom table. Executive search firm Spencer Stuart has released a study indicating that Canadian companies may be surpassing their American counterparts in women’s representation on boards.

In 2011, the two countries were neck and neck, with 17 per cent women directors on the boards of Canada’s 100 largest companies and comparable U.S. firms. In 2013, Canadian companies were up to 20 per cent, while the U.S. percentage remained unchanged.

Poker Players Get Fair Deal

Winning poker players face a tough decision every April—to report or not to report. If they choose not to report their poker winnings as income, they may be on the wrong side of the tax law. If they are found to be professional poker players, they will face interest and penalties in addition to the tax they would otherwise have had to pay on their net winnings. Moreover, they may forever face a higher risk of unpleasant tax audits from the CRA. On the other hand, if they report their poker winnings as income, the CRA will be happy for them to pay tax on their winnings. But by volunteering to pay, they may regard themselves as patsies. The taxation of gambling winnings is a grey area in tax law, and no self-respecting poker player wants to be a patsy.

With a recent judgment by the Federal Court in Radonjic, tax matters are now a little more certain, predictable and fair for winning poker players. Of course, Canadian gamblers have long known that generally their losses are not deductible and gains are not included in income. The grey area surrounds an idea that the courts have also embraced, which is that professional gamblers are taxable on winnings. The courts have yet to find that a poker player is a taxable professional, leaving winning players in the confounding dilemma of deciding whether to report or not to report. This is where the recent Federal Court decision in Radonjic (2013) comes in to clarify matters.

Why cut innovation? Flaherty wrong to slash key research tax credit

The following first appeared in the Financial Post, 5 July 2012, p. FP11

For real estate, it's location, location, location. For national prosperity, it's innovation, innovation, innovation. Unfortunately, Canada still sets up shop in the low-rent district. We do lots of great R&D, which then sits on the shelf and collects dust.

The recent federal budget recognizes the problem and makes generous commitments for the support of innovation commercialization. There may be a fly in the ointment, however. The government plans to shift money out of the Scientific Research and Experimental Design tax credit (SR&ED - pronounced "shred" by aficionados) and into "direct" assistance, such as government-administered grants. This has the potential for harming rather than helping commercialization efforts.

A mini-bubble in bio-energy stocks?

Jeffrey MacIntosh, Financial Post · Nov. 2, 2011 | Last Updated: Nov. 2, 2011 3:08 AM ET

Medieval alchemists laboured like Trojans to turn lead into gold. More recently, the drive for energy security and low-carbon footprint fuels has produced a new generation of bio-alchemists. These modern-day Merlins spend their midnight hours seeking to turn biomass, or better still, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water, into "drop in" fuels that will power our planes, trains and automobiles with little or no modifications to either engines or infrastructure. A very Brave New World, indeed.

There are too many variations on these technologies to come close to an exhaustive enumeration in a short compass. However, what we're talking about is mostly designer strains of algae, yeast and bacteria (including e. coli). These Frankenbugs have attracted a sultan's ransom of government, venture capital, corporate and public funding. Promoters and underwriters routinely dangle the lure of a trillion-dollar energy market before mesmerized investors. But is there really an algal bloom in our collective energy future? Or a looming vapourware bust, reprising the bubble disasters of a decade ago?

Rocky start for post-Access Copyright era? Not quite

First published on Prof. Katz's blog on January 21, 2013

rocky mountainsThe Varsity last Monday published a story with the headline "Post-Access Copyright era off to a rocky start", and the sub-headline "Professors confused, frustrated by new copyright rules". Great headlines, for sure, but in reality, that's probably an exaggeration. My impression, which I have confirmed with colleagues in the UofT library system and the Faculty Association, is that so far the transition to the post-Access Copyright era has actually been even smoother than expected.

According to the Varsity,

The End of Canada Post Home Delivery - The Math Just Doesn't Add Up


Jeffrey G. MacIntosh, Special to Financial Post | January 20, 2014 7:30 PM ET

 Freeing up the market for postal delivery will allow innovative-minded competitors to try out various business models

Canada Post is on slippery footing in its proposal to end home delivery for the surviving Canadian households whose denizens can still pop their heads out the door and pluck the mail from their handy-dandy mailboxes.

Ending home delivery imposes a time penalty on each and every person who will now have to traipse to a community “super-box” to pick up their mail.  With home delivery, we are free to engage in wage-generating activities. Or we might choose, in the quaint language of economics, to “consume” our leisure time in the million and one ways in which people enjoy their non-working hours. Either way, a good estimate of the value of the time that will be lost should home delivery end is the wage of the average Canadian worker. When the dollar cost of the aggregate time poised on the brink of annihilation is toted up, the figures are truly staggering.

Beyond Refusal to Deal: A Cross-Atlantic View of Copyright, Competition, and Innovation Policies

Conventional wisdom holds that the European Union has opted to apply its competition law to the exercise of intellectual property rights to a much greater extent than has the United States. In a new article, published in Vol. 79(1) of the Antitrust Law Journal, Paul-Erik Veel and I argue that, at least in the context of copyright protection, this conventional wisdom is false.

While European antitrust regulation of refusal to license one's intellectual property does seem much more robust and activist than U.S. antitrust regulation of similar conduct, focusing solely on one narrow aspect of antitrust doctrine—the treatment of a unilateral refusal to deal—tells less than half the story.

Markingson Case: University of Minnesota sets up Inquiry, but will it be independent? And what will it do?

In a previous post of October 25, I reported about the Markingson case and a letter we wrote with 6 health law, bioethics and medical scholars to the University of Minnesota Senate, which was co-signed by 175 colleagues from various North-American and international institutions. We requested that the university set up an Independent Committee of Inquiry into the death of Dan Markingson, a psychiatric patient who committed suicide while enrolled in a clinical trial at the University’s Fairview Hospital.  The case raises, as discussed in the previous post, serious concerns about the protection of very vulnerable patients in psychiatric industry-sponsored clinical trials.

Several things happened since this October 25 posting. There are positive developments, including a Senate vote in favour of an Independent Inquiry, but also concerns about what will happen next, which has motivated us to write last week a follow-up letter to the Senate.  

The Senate's Vote for an Independent Inquiry