Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb

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In their new book, Tax is Not a Four Letter Word (Wilfred Laurier University Press), father-son pair Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb seek to bring some much needed clarity to the tax argument in Canada by getting to the heart of what taxes are for and what citizens expect in return for them. Dating the current public thinking on taxation to neo-liberal economic policies from the early 1980s, they want to start a new conversation about whether Canadian politicians will stand up to political pressure in order to enact tax laws that meet the needs and wants of the country’s citizens.

In this instalment of The WAR Series (Writers As Readers), the authors share which books most influenced them during the writing of Tax is Not a Four Letter Word — but expect much more than economic texts on this list!

Alex and Jordan will launch Tax is Not a Four Letter Word in Toronto on Tuesday, November 5. They'll be joined by three of the book's CCPA contributors: CCPA Advisory Board Chair Jim Stanford, CCPA Research Associate Hugh Mackenzie and CCPA Ontario Director Trish Hennessy. Visit our Events page for details.

The WAR Series, with Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb

Four books that shaped us and our writing/editing of Tax is Not a Four-Letter Word: A New Take on Taxes in Canada:

Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism (Harper Collins Canada), by Joseph Heath

Joseph Heath, philosopher, ethicist, University of Toronto professor, has given us a very smart book that should be required reading for policy makers and, for that matter, for the rest of us trying to make our way through competing economic arguments. Heath makes economics accessible to non-economists — and he does so with wonderful prose, rigorous analysis and a generous spirit, and in the process explodes the myths on both left and right that too often substitute for real debate. His chapters on when public organization is more efficient than private enterprise and on the importance of taxes crash through the nonsense that seems to prevail on these issues. I wonder, now that we see more fully the enduring consequences of the financial meltdown, whether he would bring even more edge to his critique of contemporary capitalism. —AH

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (FSG Adult), by Michael J. Sandel

Michael Sandel, the American philosopher — that is, another non-economist — has also given us a take on contemporary capitalism. His worry: the commodification of, well, just about everything. He argues that by giving the so-called free market such preeminence, we have moved from a market economy to a market society where just about everything has a price. This is a world, says Sandel, where inequality is rampant and it matters more than ever — because money greases all wheels. Sandel is a nice complement to Heath because he explicitly tries to resurrect the notion of the public good as something more than just an aggregation of individual interests. Taken together these two book ask the big questions — what do we mean by the good life and what role should politics and government play. —AH

Bright Lights, Big City (Random House of Canada), by Jay McInerney

It would not be unreasonable for you to expect that a book about cocaine, sexual misadventure and the shallow pursuit of pleasure has nothing at all to do with our volume of collected essays on the Canadian tax conversation. Not unreasonable, but wrong. Jay McInerney’s hilarious debut novel follows a young magazine editor as he self-destructively fumbles his way through a few New York City nights in the 1980s. In one scene, the protagonist and a date discuss the impossibility of transcending one’s own consciousness to imagine what it’s like to be another person. “The only shoes we can ever wear are our own,” says the hapless protagonist, whose redemption depends on achieving empathy against the odds. The novel was written in the early days of Reaganomics and its take on the considerable temptations of selfishness and the advantages of rising above are relevant as ever as we struggle to find a new way. —JH

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (Little, Brown, and Company), by David Foster Wallace

In this 2008 Kenyon College commencement speech (later printed as a small book), the late American novelist argues in his typically funny, disarmingly casual, philosopher-rigorous way that the new graduates ought to exploit the great privilege of a college education: the freedom to reject the self-absorption and unkindness that can grow out of the drudgery of everyday life — to choose in every instance a more generous orientation to the world. He insists throughout the speech that his is not a moral position, that he’s arguing only for thinking well, but when he concludes that the greatest freedom involves “being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day,” he hints at his argument’s soft moral underbelly. Broadcast this speech at every graduation, and before long taxes might not be such a tough sell. —JH

Alex Himelfarb is the director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs and the Centre for Global Challenges at York University. A federal public servant for 28 years before his retirement in 2009, he served as Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet for three prime ministers, as Canada's Ambassador to Italy, as Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage and in senior positions in numerous ministries and agencies. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and holds several domestic and international honours, including an Honourary Doctor of Law from Memorial University. He has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of Canadian society.

Jordan Himelfarb is an opinion editor at The Toronto Star. Previously he was editor of The Mark and Arts and Ideas editor of This Magazine. His writing has appeared in many of Canada's foremost newspapers and magazines. He is also co-editor of the music website Said the Gramophone, one of Time magazine's top blogs of 2009.

For more information about Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word and to purchase your copy, please visit the Wilfred Laurier University Press website.

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