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


The Day Conservatism Died

April 19, 2011

Does anyone know the exact date when conservatism ceased operations as a productive, positive contributor to society? At what point of time in its supposed illustrious history did it stop offering up ideas and solutions that consisted of more complex notions than could fit perfectly on a placard, bumper sticker or that a two year-old could remember and recite? Was it a sudden jolt like a meteor strike that made the post-Enlightenment air toxic to the more progressives in their movement or did they just gradually rid themselves of reason, rational thought and a belief in the common good?

Was the last true conservative of the Burkian mold in the plane with Buddy Holly that fateful night in February 1959?

We know traditional political conservatism has been under attack in the U.S. since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. It was put on the endangered list under Richard Nixon and the last species spotted during the Reagan Revolution. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents’ conservatism went extinct when George W. Bush move into the Oval Office in January 2001.

But here in Canada, conservatism survived a little longer, dying a slower death. Perhaps it was fatally infected with the 1988 Free Trade Deal and our closer integration with the United States. The ‘neo’ in neo-conservatism began to rub off on us. With the rise of western alienation, the Reform Party and Alberta with its U.S. style conservatism as an oil producing, economic force. The progressive in the Progressive Conservative leaked away, lapped up by the Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberals, eager to bolster their right flank.

Ontario dipped its toe into the new conservative waters when it embraced Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution in the mid-90s, rejecting and ultimately putting a bullet in the head of the red Toryism that had ruled the land for over 40 years until 1985. After 8 years, the province return to its traditional progressive conservative roots when it elected Liberal Dalton McGuinty. The actual Progressive Conservative now exists in name only.

Unlike their neo-conservative soul mates at the federal level who, with the PC-Canadian Alliance/Reform Party amalgamation, jettisoned any last vestige of progressive thought or policy. Finally, it’s Morning in Canada. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Science is bad. Peacekeeping is for pussies. In-depth gathering of data in order to more thoroughly define and guide public policy is an invasion of privacy and must be eliminated. An added bonus if you’re planning to build more prisons and get tougher on crime in the face of evidence pointing to dropping rates of criminal behaviour.

Statistics and facts be damned when we’ve got naked ideology to propel us forward back to the 17-century!

It wasn’t too long ago that kind of political thinking would’ve relegated you to the fringes. Yet now the Conservatives are within serious striking distance of securing a majority victory, able to count on a third of the electorate for steadfast support for what can only be described as an antediluvian outlook. Hell, in the so-called liberal hotbed of Toronto, nearly 50% of the voters rallied behind Rob Ford – the poster child for narrow-minded, anti-government, pithy slogans as policy platforms politicians — as their choice for mayor last fall. We are now in the process of witnessing up close and personal just much how respect we taxpayers should expect from neo-conservative politicians.

Which, judging by the craziness going on to the south of us at the hands of the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement, should be next to nil. The thing is, when conservatives abandoned their core principle as stated by Glen Worthington, “…the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society”, the day traditional conservatism died, all bets were off. Neo-conservatives bear no responsibility to anyone aside from themselves. What’s good for them as individuals is good for society. End stop. Edmund Burke and the like deposed by Ayn Rand. Ask not what your country can do for you because it’s going to do fuck all. And certainly don’t ask what you can do for your country as, well, that would just be an imposition, an impingement of my individual freedom and liberty.

And those of us not sharing that particularly libertarian worldview have much blame to shoulder for the current conservative-less situation. By accepting any tenets of the faith, from its creeping anti-governmentalism to the bogus trickle-down economic theory, we lent it credibility and gave it traction. We helped make the lunatic acceptable and now find ourselves having to defend against what is essentially an alternate reality where up is down, black is white and tax cuts generate increased revenue for the public purse.

An alternate reality where the likes of Ezra Levant are considered worthy of having a spot on television to discuss politics. Yes, as a matter of fact, he did compare the CBC to a North Korean state run broadcast. With a straight face!

Watching what I could stomach of yesterday’s launch of Sun TV, two words immediately sprung to mind: cable access. Back when honest to god conservatism was still alive and well, that’s where crackpots like Mr. Levant et al would’ve been relegated if they wanted to air their fetid, malignant views out in public. Or a soapbox in the corner of a park.While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how it is traditional conservatism died, I think we can officially call time of death. It was April 18th 2011, 4:30pm EDT.

sympathetically 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