Numbers Without Meaning

January 13, 2012

Just after yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting lunch break, itself coming only 30 minutes after the 45 minute recess Mayor Ford hastily called when he became overwhelmed at the series of motions being put forth by his handpicked wrecking crew – Hey! Come on, guys! Didn’t we have this all worked out on Wednesday?! — Councillor David Shiner took to the overhead for a hand-doodled presentation.  He claimed it was scratched out on paper because he’s a technological Luddite. That’s another way of saying, yeah, this is going to be completely slapdash but in no way does that mean it should be seen as ill-thought out or anything.

What the councillor proceeded to show was that since amalgamation, the city has increased its spending on libraries and public transit quite substantially. A whole lot, in fact. I couldn’t quite make out the numbers (neither could Councillor Shiner at times) but I think he suggested the TTC’s received a 103% boost in funding since the late 90s.

There was no motion to go with it, nothing substantive at all. Councillor Shiner just wanted everyone who was watching to know that the city’s libraries and the TTC were doing just fine, thank you very much. A cut here or there, a little off the top and sides wasn’t going to make a lick a difference in the long run because, you know, we’d all be dead. The important thing for everyone to realize especially those clamouring to save library hours or to stave off reduced bus service way out in the middle of nowhere Scarborough was the city was still forking over a really big number of dollars for both books and buses. Really big numbers.

Really. Big. Numbers.

Got it?

What was missing from the councillor’s pitch, aside from any semblance of late-20th/early-21st technology, was context. It was just a set of numbers presented in the void of an administration trying to present itself as all reasonable, responsible, commonsensical and not in the least bit reactionary, radical, heartless. That’s a lot of money we’re spending, folks. They’ll barely even notice 5, 6, 7, 10% less.

No talk of how increased funding has both spurred and been caused by a record ridership on the TTC. Until we get fully automatic, multi-person jetpacks and drone driven propulsion tubes firing us en masse up and down Yonge Street, the more transit gets used, the more people we need to operate the heavy machinery. Ditto libraries. The more demand for their services and materials, the higher the costs.

That’s all a good thing. At least it is for those who think public transit and libraries provide a net societal benefit. Reducing service in either (especially while increasing the costs for using them) tends to dampen demand and who would possible want that? Only reactionary, radical, heartless ideologues and there’s none of those in these here parts. We are all reasonable and responsible, we are.

And as any reasonable and responsible person does when faced with such daunting, really big numbers, they cower, curl up into a foetal position and try not to understand or explain them at all. Almost as if it’s incomprehensible that a government, regardless of size or how many people it serves, should be dealing with numbers that big. A fiscal ideology, let’s call it, allowing for little understanding or conviction that those holding the public purse strings are capable of making sound financial decisions that benefit the most number of people.

Thus, big always equals bad. Never mind population growth. Never mind aging infrastructure. Never mind any mitigating circumstance that would wholly justify or warrant increased expenditure needs. It’s totally beside the point. If you believe that small governments are better, there’s absolutely no reason for their budgets to ever get this big.

At least, I think that’s what Councillor Shiner and his cave dwelling scrawlings was trying to tell us.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


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