Boozy Arguments

Listening to Ontario’s (PINO) Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, talk to Matt Galloway this morning on the CBC, sayingnothingI was struck by a certain sense of grim fascination along with a shared growing frustration the Metro Morning host displayed with his guest’s non-answer answers.

We’ve heard it all before, the conservative prescription for economic prosperity. Attack the public sector. Sell off any and all government assets not nailed down. Lower taxes. Always lower taxes.

We’ve been hearing it for over 30 years now. It varies little. Different actors spouting the same lines.

Rein in spending. Balance the books. Pay down the debt.

Never is there talk of the need for revenue outside of growing the economy, growing the tax base. For conservatives, the government should not be in the business of increasing revenue. A fiver in the taxpayers’ pockets is always without exception better spent than by the government. texaschainsawmassacreThis is an article of faith that needs no evidentiary back up. Enlightened consumerism. Rational self-interest.

So why not unload the LCBO as Mr. Hudak floated this week? Should the government really be in the business of selling alcohol when there are hospital waiting lists to shorten and children to be educated? As if those things are all entirely mutually exclusive.

But what about the billion or two the LCBO generates for provincial coffers, Galloway asks the leader of the opposition. Money that goes into helping with health care and education costs. How do you replace that source of revenue for the sake of a one-time sale?

Back tracking commenced, Mr. Hudak chuckles uncomfortably and mouths some words that essentially say that he may be crazy but he’s not that crazy… something, something. He’s not going to do anything that would make the situation worse, silly. boozeaislesIt’s just, the government shouldn’t be ‘opening up fancy new LCBO stores’ and ‘investing scarce tax dollars in great lighting, nice floors and fancy shelves’?

Now here’s what gets me with this line of thinking, and it’s the same reasoning these people throw around with their concept of the private sector building us subways. I’m hazarding a guess here but I’m pretty sure it’s not LCBO employees splitting their time selling me a box of wine with redesigning and remodelling the stores. The LCBO decides it needs a new store or to renovate an old one, who does it? The private sector.

Now, we can talk about proper tendering of contracts and deals or whatever but that’s another matter. To suggest, as Mr. Hudak does, that putting public money – i.e tax dollars – into public infrastructure like transit or retail LCBO outlets is only a drain on our finances simply ignores the other side of the economic equation. It creates jobs. The government can create jobs which, you know how this goes, puts money into peoples’ pockets blah, blah, blah.

And arguably, investing in LCBO stores contributes more directly to the province’s bottom line than does public transit. No, I’m not saying booze is more important than transit. prohibitionI’m just suggesting there’s no real compelling argument at an economic level for selling off the LCBO.

So proponents of privatization always fall back onto choice. We should be able to buy the booze of our choice where we want, when we want. End stop. Anything less is nanny statism at its worst.

This is the one argument that never fails to provoke divisions among even the most politically cohesive group. Friends and acquaintances shake their head at my quaint attachment to our quaint ways of selling liquor. Yes, I know it is the legacy of a more severe, prudish time. Of course, I’d like to see more liberalized laws especially in terms of where one can consume alcohol. There are improvements that can be made.

But, and I suggested this earlier in the week on Twitter, if you ever find yourself at any time of the day on any day of the week without any booze in the house? You’ve simply not been trying hard enough. I’ll spare you the tales of back-in-my-days woe except to say that alcohol shopping was not a particularly uplifting retail experience. It was talk of privatization by the Mike Harris government (and if he couldn’t make a business case for selling the LCBO, what’s changed now?) that really seemed to shake things up and make liquor and beer stores more consumer friendly.

I hear talk of certain shangra-las, free of want, where alcohol flows bounteously, cheaply. Alberta. West Virginia (!?!) Places where one can saunter up to a counter anywhere and demand to be sold the bottle of their choice. drunkardAn I.P.A made from the fresh streams of Pontifidale, kind sir. I want it. And I want it now.

Now, no booze shirker am I, but such places seem almost mythical to me. Yes, I have encountered lovely little boutique liquor stores with a nice assortment of what I’m looking for. I’ve also purchased a six pack or two at corner store where the clerk sits behind a wall of bullet proof glass. For a while back in the 90s, I even prided myself with a 40 oz plastic bottle bearing only the word ‘Vodka’ on its plain white label with blue stripes that a bought at a supermarket called Ralph’s.

My point is, I don’t feel particularly hard done by when it comes to getting my booze on here in Ontario. Until somebody can show me how privatization will make things better for everyone, colour me skeptical. Remember, we’re not talking about some benign widget that we’re fitting into a theoretical economic model. Alcohol is a shatterer of lives in many ways that ultimately takes a toll on any government’s bottom line.

Arguing personal choice smacks of empty retail politics, frankly, that over-emphasizes individual rights over the common good.

bibulously submitted by Cityslikr

Selling The Crown Jewels

What’s with our politicians lately and their hell bent determination to sell off the proverbial farm? Is it something in the water (publicly owned, for now) they’re drinking? First, mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi made divesting the city of Toronto Hydro a major plank in his campaign platform. His main rival, George Smitherman, has slowly come round to a similar way of thinking.

Now the provincial government has been pondering aloud thoughts of unloading such assets as Hydro One, OLG and the LCBO. While putting nothing on the table in the immediate future, the government has hired a couple investment banks including — wait for it, wait for it — Goldman Sachs to assess the worth of a proposed super Crown corporation, bits of which could be sold off to private hands in an attempt to “monetize public assets” and “unleash” an economic jolt to the economy. Colour me unimpressed because I smell a big steaming pile of panic in this approach.

Didn’t we just undergo about 18 months or so of near economic calamity followed by a present recovery that is robust only in its anemia? All but the most hardcore Milton Friedmaniacs should have no trouble with governments carrying a debt load as result of keeping the economy and vulnerable citizens afloat during such harsh economic times. And frankly, why anybody would be listening to anyone touting Milton Friedman tinged views after their healthy contribution to the recent financial fiasco is beyond me. The acolytes of Milton Friedman should still be silent with embarrassment.

Maybe if I could find a single unqualified example of a government being well served by a one time sale of a public asset, I’d be more open to the concept. Proponents hail the leasing last February of Chicago parking meters for the $1.2 billion dollars it netted the city. Yet within a month, problems arose with price hikes, bad maintenance and no public accountability (read all about at and for the next 75 years, the money paid for parking at meters in Chicago will go directly into private hands instead of the public purse.

And this is cited as an example of a good deal by pro-privateers. Let’s not even bring up our provincial government’s 99 year “lease” agreement of the 407 toll road back in 1999. For me, a public sale of assets inevitably amounts to nothing short of a public fleecing.

I’m no economist but the selling of public assets just doesn’t make in any sense. If an asset is worth something and by that I mean it generates revenue, why sell it? If an asset doesn’t generate revenue, who wants to buy it? And if the asset in question is a public utility? Well that’s a non-starter. Society cannot be well served by placing public utilities into private hands.

Yet here we are once more with a government in power, facing a looming election and an ugly looking bottom line. Short term thinking holds sway. Hawk the public wares, pay down the debt and declare your fiscal prudence. Pay no attention to the revenue stream that ceases to flow into government coffers. The next time a crisis arises (and in the boom and bust economy we embrace, there will always be another crisis), we’ll just auction off another asset. That is, of course, if there’s anything left to sell.

But just for a moment, how be we try thinking outside the privatization box? What about instead of selling off, say, the LCBO for a single cash grab that we’ll never have access to again, we impose a twenty-five cent tax on every bottle of intoxicant purchased and dedicate it solely to lowering the debt? Drink Down the Deficit®™©, we’ll call it. When things are back under control, we rescind the tax?

Fuck that. If things are so dire that we’re actually contemplating the sheer stupidity of selling off money making enterprises, levy a buck a bottle at the LCOB and two bucks a square at the Beer Store. Yes, it’s regressive and we’re piling the debt load onto the backs of those who can least afford it but if we’re being truthful about the matter, we’re doing the same thing by selling off cash cow Crown corporations. It just simply delays the inevitable.

As an imbibing enthusiast, I will happily pay more for the privilege of the tipple knowing that the money is going toward deficit reduction rather than into the pockets of the vultures who are greedily circling the body politic. In fact, I will consider it my patriotic duty to up my consumption of alcoholic beverages and do my part in slaying the deficit dragon. Let us raise multiple glasses to the health of the commonweal.

Chin, chin.

soberly submitted by Cityslikr