On The Road To Metropolis

June 14, 2011

Mission Accomplished.

In less than two generations, conservative “thinkers” and politicians have succeeded in their undertaking of denigrating and vilifying the notion of government as a force for good. It can’t help, only hinder. The best form of governance is less governance. As St. Ronnie intoned (and everybody say it along with me), government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.

So it is that we have arrived at a spot in history where the eminence grise of Canadian conservative thought, Preston Manning (which should say a lot about the sad sack state of conservative thought), is able to boast that Canadians are not looking to governments for grand visions or designs for society. “Managerial Conservatism” is now the buzzword we should all rally around. Competence replacing edifying or lofty in the expectations we now look for in our elected representatives.It’s all about lowering the bar which makes it more palatable when the likes of George W. Bush, Stephen Harper and Rob Ford assume the mantle of office. Governments can’t do anything positive for us, so why elect anyone who claims they can? It’s a virus that has fully infected non-conservative parties and politicians as well. Dumb down their rhetoric. Eliminate any thoughts of grand visions or designs they might have. We don’t want leaders. We want managers. Bad managers are even preferred to those wanting to impose their dreamy dreams upon us.

With the advent of managers business think invariably displaces political discourse. It’s all about finding efficiencies, value for dollars, bangs for you bucks. We become taxpayers rather than citizens. Customers, clients and stakeholders. In fact, it’s much worse. We’re little more than widgets to the minds of manager/politicians. (Oh, where has our veneration for warrior-poets gone?)

Witness the insidious creep of some icky, sci-fi/Scientology sounding Lean Six Sigma into our public sphere. Down in the States, it’s claiming the brains of various GOP presidential candidates. Lean Six Sigma is already in practice even closer to home in Erie County, New York where County Executive Chris Collins has credited the system with aiding him in slashing jobs. Our very own budget chief, Michael Del Grande, also seems to be brushing up on his knowledge base as he expensed two books on the subject earlier this year.

While I don’t expect our modern political leaders to be well versed in their Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Tocqueville, it distresses me that they might be filling their hearts and minds with such soulless ideas as these:

  • Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.
  • Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets (cost reduction or profit increase).
  • The term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with manufacturing, specifically terms associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes.
  • In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.
  • Like its predecessors, Six Sigma doctrine asserts that:
  • Continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results (i.e., reduce process variation) are of vital importance to business success.

It’s all about things and processes not people. Perfectly acceptable if you’re talking about manufacturing products but how does it align with governing society? It feels like we’re on the road to Metropolis. All of us replaceable parts, judged and viewed not by our merits or character but by our lack of defects. If our elected leaders are endeavouring to be nothing more than our managers, doesn’t that make us simply staff or the hired help?

If a country or a city no longer aspires to grand visions or designs, what’s there left to do? The answer that immediately springs to my mind is: lead lives of quiet desperation. That may be what managers want from their employees but it hardly seems like something leaders should have us aspire to. And that certainly shouldn’t be the quality we’re looking for in our leaders.

desperately submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Budgetary Voodoo

June 13, 2011

I just want to add on to a post Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto wrote last week called ‘Lame Budge Analogies’. It’s one I highly recommend everyone take a look at as it deals with budgetary decisions and the argument fiscal conservatives like to use that really doesn’t hold up in the light of day. ‘Governments need to run their finances like a household’, we’re told and the first time I remember hearing it was from a cheque book waving Preston Manning back in the early days of the Reform Party.In addition to all the logical fallacies of the argument Mr. Elliott points out, I’d also suggest that government shouldn’t really be run as a household because governments are nothing like households in one very important way. Individual households are, in the end, terminal economic units. They must earn, save and invest with the knowledge that the bulk of the revenue they generate is finite. At some point of time as they age, money coming in will decrease to the point where (if lucky) the last part of their lives they will be living off the money and assets they’ve been able to save and invest. It’s a fairly basic bell curve arc.

Governmental institutions, on the other hand, are more enduring for the most part. Stable democracies like ours don’t have to plan for their old age and retirement. So their fiscal approach is vastly different from those of individual households. Revenues and spending fluctuate, of course, depending on the economic environment but governments, unlike households, continue to maintain an ability to generate income perpetually. So their finances shouldn’t be viewed on a bell curve where one day, sometime in the future, their ability to generate revenue disappears.That is not to say our governments should go around spending more and more money, going deep into debt, with the expectation that the good times will never end. It’s just that they can (and should) take a longer view than we as individuals need to have. Think more along the lines of geological versus human timelines. Government will continue to exist after all of us have performed our mortal jig. To think that it should follow the same economic rules that we do is cute in its human self-importance but ultimately short-sighted and wrong-headed.

Operating under such a narrow conceit also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of government assuming, of course, it’s arrived at genuinely if more than a little misguidedly. I can’t help thinking, however, that because it’s a concept utilized mainly by right wing ideologues intent on shrinking the role of government in our lives, it’s little more than a ruse. A ‘lame budget analogy’ as Matt Elliott called it that is so appealing in its apparent common sense that it’s used to hijack a more honest discussion we need to be having. Not surprising really as the last thing our modern conservatives really want at this point is an honest discussion.

submitted by Cityslikr


Kill The Meme

January 21, 2011

Overhearing a conversation beside me… well alright, eavesdropping on a conversation beside me between a couple guys I didn’t know, one who represents some sort of Blah Blah Taxation Coalition, translation: a group who hates paying taxes… follow me here on a semi-related tangent and one more ellipitical deficiency… I want to start a group, a coalition called something like The We’re Faring Pretty Well Taxpayers Coalition and we’d advocate not necessarily for increased taxes but we’d also not summarily dismiss them as nothing less than the work of the devil himself. The WFPWTC (note: need zazzier acronym) would put out press releases and do the media circuit, arguing that for the amount of money we hand over to our governments, we get a fair bit back in return. We’d point out the many jurisdictions with much higher rates of taxation, like say, Scandinavia, that consistently best us in standard of living indices. We’d hire darling Margaret Watson of the Canadian Pensioners’ Concern who’ll say things like, We can’t get what we won’t pay for and sometimes we are our brother’s keeper with that slight Scottish burr of hers. Don’t old people say the darndest things?

Back in the real world where it’s perfectly unnatural not to loathe taxes with a passion, the guy from Grrr! I Hate Taxation Coalition states matter-of-factly and as if it’s as plain on the nose on his face and not in the least bit simple-minded, that governments just have to operate like a household. You don’t spend more than you earn, do you? Well, leaving aside the notion that if you own a house and carry a mortgage, you probably very well do spend more than you earn. It’s all about manageable debt, and we can have that conversation whether this city’s carrying a manageable debt load.

But can we cease and desist with this empty talking point about governments being just like households or businesses? It’s tired. It’s old. The first time I remember hearing it is back in the early-90s from a cheque book waving Preston Manning and his nascent Reform Party. It’s brain-dead sloganeering that leads to destructive policies brought in under the banner of Common Sense.

Governments are not just like households.

Unless of course your household spends, oh I dunno, a third or so of its annual operating budget (your household does have an official annual operating budget, yes?) on emergency services. While it’s true, I do hand over an inordinate amount of money to my wireless, internet and cable provider, a quick tally of the bills reveals it to be nowhere near a third of the household budget on such must needs. How about feeding, sheltering and basically caring for the less fortunate? Your household spend 20% of its budget on that? Jesus Christ demanded a whole lot more from us to help out the poor. I’m not even a believer and I’m a bit ashamed of not meeting his target. Transportation costs? You spend another 20% of your budget moving family, friends, neighbours and complete strangers back and forth around town?

You see what I’m getting at here? Governments are nothing like households; nor should they be expected to run like for-profit businesses either. That’s just a cheap, lazy concept. A useful canard tossed around by those who hate government in general and taxes specifically. Disagreeable sociopaths if I don’t care about being diplomatic. It’s too weak to carry even a long conversation. Yet somehow we’ve allowed an entire ideology to be propped up onto it to the detriment of many and benefit for the precious few.

So let’s just stop catering to such barren rhetoric and start having a rational discussion on the kind of society we want to live in.

annoyedly submitted by Cityslikr


The 5.6% Dissolution

June 12, 2010

Pondering Toronto’s 2010 mayoral campaign so far, which is something I do with fair regularity given the subject matter on this particular site, I am often left scratching my head as to the approaches and tactics of various candidates. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Who are they trying to reach with that particular line of reasoning or this mode of attack? Is George Smitherman actually gay or is all his talk of having a husband merely a beard to mask the fact the man doesn’t possess a progressive bone in his body?

My latest bafflement arises via deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. Reading through an interview he did earlier this month with blogTO, I was struck by the answer he gave to their question, Why didn’t you do more about these transportation problems as deputy mayor? Councillor Pantalone’s response? In 2008 [the Fraser Institute] analyzed the Province’s tax situation situation and found that out of all the taxes paid in Ontario –put together in one basket, municipal, provincial, and federal — municipalities only got 5.6 percent…

Huh.

Now, I had no luck in locating the analysis Pantalone was referencing but will shoulder all the blame for that as I started breaking out into hives spending that kind of time on the Fraser Institute website. Preston Manning says this, Mike Harris says that. (A Simpson shudder and intense itching begins all over upper torso.) But taking Joe at his word, I began to wonder why he wasn’t making more hay with this point.

Why wasn’t he channeling voter frustration and outrage at the fact that the city is being severely short-changed by both senior levels of government and forced to annually negotiate dire fiscal straits due to massive imbalances in both governance and revenue structures? As a councillor for almost 3 decades now and having worked with all sides of the political spectrum, Joe Pantalone had arrived at this late juncture in his career finally and reluctantly convinced that Toronto (and every other municipality in Ontario) was being knee-capped by Queen’s Park and until true, unconditional reform was undertaken, nothing was going to change that. No amount of fiddling with numbers, privatization or selling of public assets could alter that reality.

Sure, his opponents would go down the beaten path of telling Joe we need to get our house in order before going to the province with cap in hand, begging for bailouts. They already have, haven’t they, Rocco Rossi. But played right, those kinds of statements could be effectively turned against those using them, showing them to be know-nothings, out of touch with the facts. Or worse still, enablers of a dysfunctional governance structure where too much power and money go to those with the least amount of accountability.

Because one doesn’t need the 5.6% analysis from the Fraser Institute to know that there is a systemic unfairness at the core of our political system. Where one level of government has complete and utter control over another with little recourse or redress on offer. Evidence abounds that this arrangement, which goes back to the birth of this nation in the middle of the 19th-century, is beneficial purely uni-directionally. Municipalities bear the brunt of provincial and federal neglect and mismanagement. Until we can get ourselves out from under the weight of that, there is little to be done to fix our current predicament. Anyone who tries telling you different is either uninformed or lying. Maybe both.

And Joe Pantalone should tell them so. He should tell us that. He should point out that in every city budget, Toronto is forced to spend more on provincially mandated programs than it receives in money from the province. That’s the deficit spending at the centre of our present money woes. It’s not out of control spending at City Hall that is responsible for higher property taxes, increased user fees, underfunded public transit and infrastructure projects. No matter how loudly and often Pantalone’s mayoral rivals spew forth that nonsense. No. This city’s increased expenditures are going directly into the gaping maw of Queen’s Park. Not only are our provincial taxes going to feed that beast but so is a chunk of the taxes we’re supposed to be paying to the city for the services they continue to deliver to us.

That’s what Joe Pantalone should be saying every time he opens his mouth or one of his opponents open theirs.

But maybe Joe’s been at it for too long. He’s too much of the consummate insider and can no longer see the forest for the trees. For now, he’s content to simply counterpunch, rope-a-dope in the hopes that the right of centre contingent around him exhausts itself, flailing as it is at the populist figments of their collective imaginations. He is not the warrior we’re looking for to wage the real battle ahead that needs to be waged.

resignatedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat