The Canadian Independent

ObamaBush ruining the economy: Saturday morning link roundup

Posted in America by dave on April 3, 2010

12.7 trillion dollar debt
1.4 trillion dollar deficit

Underemployment rose in March (Last month) to 20.3%

Unemployment is 9.7%

Social Security is now paying out more in benefits than it takes in on payroll taxes

Baby Boomers are beginning to retire

Medicare is becoming insolvent

Businesses have been hurt by Obama’s health care bill and it’s costing them billions and hurting employees

Advertisements

Dalton’s hidden bureaucrats: When people in private society do this – they go to prison

Posted in Ontario, Politics, Role of Government, The Public Sector by dave on April 2, 2010

The Ontario government is hiding what it pays bureaucrats, and breaking its own guidelines, by using crown corporations to pay their salaries so they don’t show on the books:

The Liberal government is on the defensive for continuing to channel salaries for top-earning civil servants through hospitals and other institutions where they are not employed.

Despite a promise from Premier Dalton McGuinty last October that “we’re going to change it,” salaries such as the $511,971 paid to former deputy health minister Ron Sapsford were still listed through hospitals in the government’s annual four-volume “sunshine list” made public Thursday.

The list reveals the earnings of public employees making more than $100,000 annually.

As first revealed by the Star last October, the government has been hiding the salaries of some high-rolling bureaucrats to avoid public scrutiny and skirt civil service pay guidelines, such as the maximum of $220,150 recommended for deputy ministers.

When private companies hide their finances from investors and the public, the industry regulators shut them down and imprison their CEOs. When the government hides their finances, finances confiscated unwillingly from the public, through shady accounting practices the politicians just say “Oh, it won’t happen again!” and continue on business as usual, as the media has moved to the next issue of the day.

If we’re going to believe that there are certain moral principles that everyone has to obey, why are those moral principles abandoned when applied to government?

Solving the problem of political representation – but only in one dimension

Posted in Elections, Politics, Role of Government by dave on April 2, 2010

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has given Ontario two surprise gifts – 18 additional members of Parliament and an admission that the province was badly treated in previous attempts to overhaul the Commons.

Many of the new MPs will likely be in the GTA, particularly in the suburbs, where Conservatives have been keen to form a strong base in Ontario.

In legislation unveiled on Thursday by Steven Fletcher, Minister of State of Democratic Reform, Ontario was given 18 additional seats – nearly double the 10 that were offered the last time the federal government tried to adjust representation in the Commons.

“Canadians living in Ontario were saying they were being treated differently than Canadians in other faster-growing provinces,” Fletcher said. “We reflected on that and it turns out that there was a case to be made.”

British Columbia has been given seven new seats and Alberta five additional MPs, in further recognition of the need for the fastest-growing provinces to be better served in Parliament.

That’s a gain of 30 seats overall in the Commons, bringing the total up to 338 MPs.

This is a smart move. The idea is to make our political system more representative of the people in Canada, and having some provinces which have a higher number of people per representative than others skews the political balance in the favor of those provinces which are “over-represented” in the House of Commons. Adding MPs to those areas where the population has been growing is one way to deal with this problem.

It helps to deal with the problem of lack of representation of Canadian opinion in the government that we have in society today. However, it doesn’t solve it, and only helps it in one dimension.

With our first-past-the-post electoral system, we can still have governments which hold 70% of the seats in parliament, while only receiving 40% of the votes at election time. This gives  parties a nearly-dictatorial control over Canadian policy, even though they certainly don’t have the support of the population to justify that kind of control. (Think the Chretien era.) Moving to a proportional representation system would help to resolve this issue. Ah! But what about regional representation? Isn’t that important? You could solve that by just having a mixed system, 50% of the seats decided in ridings and 50% from a list.

Whats for dinner?

However, even if we had proportional representation, and everyone’s vote went to elect who they wanted, we still have a basic problem. Politics is a game of competing menus. What do I mean by this? Well at election time, each major parties presents a menu of policy changes they’d like to make. So one party will announce a national daycare program, tax cuts and more money for universities. Another party will announce more funding to healthcare, tax cuts maybe in another area, and more money for the military.

The result is that we choose between 3-4 competing menus, crafted by party insiders, and this is supposed to be representative of what the Canadian people want. And most of the time, once the parties are in office and election time is over, they do many things that weren’t on the menu, simply because the party at that point thinks its appropriate. For instance, proroguing parliament to avoid questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees.

The reality is that politics isn’t representative, its a comfortable paper construct to justify the way our system works, but its not real.

The ethics of regulation: a cost-benefit aggression approach

Posted in Fuzzy Philosophical or Moral Issues by dave on April 2, 2010

[Editor: I wrote this piece a few years ago, my views have changed somewhat but it is worthy for a repost.]

Government is involved in every aspect of Canadian life. It is involved in regulating what we eat, who we do business with, who we do and do not associate with, who we can become intimate with, what kind of car we can drive, just to name a few examples. Do we have the freedom of association in Canada, and what does that mean? Do we have freedom of religion in Canada, and what does that mean? What is the case for these regulations? And how should we evaluate their effectiveness? The purpose of this paper is to construct a philosophical framework for the evaluation of the ethicacy of government actions, particularly regulation, and to apply that framework to some current Canadian issues.

First we should begin by defining regulation. A regulation is a legal restriction promulgated by government authority. It is a law that says that you can’t do something, or it is a law that says that if you do something, you will incur a punishment. A regulation can be as simple as a fine for disposing of lawn trimmings in the wrong manner, or as complicated as an international carbon trading market enforced by international intergovernmental cooperation. One source defined regulation as:

    “A rule or order prescribed for management or government; prescription; a regulating principle; a governing direction; precept; law; as, the regulations of a society or a school.” [1]

A regulation seeks to create an incentive structure. It seeks to create negative incentives to keep individuals from pursuing actions that the regulators don’t want them to do. You are fined for disposing of your lawn trimmings in the wrong way because the regulator presumably does not want you to dispose of your lawn trimmings that way. In the case of the carbon trading market, you are fined or rewarded based on your level of carbon dioxide output as a nation because the goal of the regulator is to decrease carbon dioxide output. These fines create negative (or in the case of the carbon trading market potentially positive) incentives to act one way and not another way. A regulation is an incentive whose goal is change the behavior of people.

Who sets these regulations is an important question. Regulation can be created at many different levels. The local level government may pass and enforce the fine for the lawn trimming. The national government may pass and enforce the fines and rewards for the carbon trading market. A provincial or regional government may pass and enforce laws on speeding on the highways. International bodies like the World Trade Organization may pass and enforce standards on trade. The key fundamental similarity between these groups is that they are in positions of authority over individuals. Your local government can enforce the laws they have created because they have authority, or power, over you to compel you to comply. Same with the national and provincial governments. Why international organizations often fail, is because they do not have the power to compel nations to comply. They may have legal authority, or theoretical authority over a nation like the United States or China, but they have no actual authority, because they have no power over them to make them comply.

This really is the central issue of this paper, the ability to compel compliance of individuals to regulation. This is the fundamental mechanism upon which all regulation operates. Regulation as a tool of government operates on the principle of coercion and force. Coercion can be defined as “force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.” [2] Regulation, and really all government action, uses coercion and force as a mechanism in the enforcement of its actions. A government that passed laws and regulations and had no enforcement mechanism in order to ensure those laws and regulations were passed would not be an effective government. In order to ensure that regulations and followed, the government has to enforce those regulations, and the mechanism that government uses to enforce those regulations is force or coercion. If an individual were to dispose of her lawn trimmings the wrong way, she is punished by the fine. The fine serves to coerce her into disposing of her lawn trimmings in the way that the regulators want her to. If she was a rebellious minded individual, or believed the lawn trimming regulation was unjust she could ignore the fine. However, there again we see when individuals ignore fines in our society, more coercion is used to obtain compliance. The local government may cut off her water or hydro. The local government may increase the size of the fine. If she continues to ignore fines, the end result is the confiscation of her property or her imprisonment. If she actively resists either of these consequences, she is met with force on the behalf of the regulators. The enforcement of regulation in our society is based on the coercion of use of force, and it has to be, otherwise there would be no incentive to follow regulations.

We don’t accept coercion or the use of force from other actors in our society. We don’t accept the use of coercion or force from private individuals against other private individuals, or by groups of private individuals who have formed businesses. We consider it unethical when someone uses force against someone else for arbitrary reasons. We consider it unethical when someone coerces another into something she would rather not do for arbitrary reasons.  We understand that when people coerce each other, or use violence or force against one another, for no good reason or for arbitrary reasons, that it is unethical. The initiation of force against another person is immoral if it can’t be rationally justified. The use of coercion against another person is immoral if it can’t be rationally justified. If government uses coercion or force against people, we must as a matter of logical and ethical consistency, consider that action immoral if it can’t be rationally justified.

Here one might ask if every mechanism within our society is based on the coercion or force principle. Are we just grasping at straws in this exercise, suggesting that government is worse when everyone coerces uses violence? The answer is simply, no, we aren’t, and there are mechanisms and systems in our society that don’t rely on coercion or force as their central operating principle. The mechanism of the free marketplace is based on the voluntary cooperation of individuals for perceived self-benefit. The free and operating market, through a free price system, coordinates the efforts of billions of individuals, voluntarily, to provide goods and services for society. Most people believe that the free marketplace is based on competition as its central operating principle, however while competition is important, voluntary cooperation is the central mechanism within a free market. This principle can best be described with an example, take a steak in Toronto as an elementary example of the voluntary cooperation mechanism. Why does the steak get to Toronto, and what is the principle behind it. The steak isn’t in Toronto because any bureaucrat at a central office ordered it. The steak isn’t in Toronto because people have used coercion and force to get it there. The steak isn’t even in Toronto because people are kind hearted and love the people of Toronto. The steak is in Toronto because of thousands of independent individuals cooperating with one another, often unknowingly, to bring it to Toronto. These people include ranchers, truckers, packers, butchers, retailers, wholesalers and thousands of different people in hundreds of different occupations. The rancher raises his beef because he can make money doing it. The trucker ships the beef because he gets paid to do it. The butcher cuts the beef because there is a demand and a price associated with the beef and she can do well for herself. The packer packs the beef because there is a demand for it, and he has been hired to do so. The retailer and wholesalers sell the beef because they can do well for themselves in doing it. All of these people are chasing profit. All of these people are acting independently, but all of them are also cooperating with one another at each step of the process to bring a steak to Toronto.[3] This is an example of a mechanism which is very subtle, and sometimes hard to see, but the fundamental basis of our economy. This is the voluntary association mechanism.

So far we have established that regulation operates on the basis of coercion and force, we have established that the use of coercion and force within our society on an arbitrary basis is considered immoral, and we have established that there are alternatives to the force and coercion mechanism already operating within our society. If we accept that these established principles are indeed true, then we must conclude that regulation for spurious reasons is immoral.

Obviously our society needs to have regulation. This author and few others are arguing for anarchy (Even the Anarchists don’t really want anarchy). So what is the justification for these regulations, what is the case that makes them justified and not arbitrary or spurious?

[Editor: I’ve read some excellent Anarchocapitalist pieces by Murray Rothbard since then.]

One principle that is brought up often as the justification for regulations and policies is the idea of approve of the majority. It has been argued that the existence of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as a public entity is justified simply because a majority of Canadians support it or don’t want to see it abolished. This is a fine and democratic principle, however it is also a particularly immoral principle. We don’t accept in other cases the rule of the majority as being a justifying factor for regulations, and we shouldn’t in this case. Take the Jim Crow laws in the American south. They were supported by healthy majorities in the states that had them. However, the laws were unjustified and immoral, even though majorities supported said laws. Majority approval of a regulation does not make the regulation justified, it may however make it politically convenient to pass. The CBC isn’t justified as a policy or regulation simply because a majority approves of the CBC, there must be other reasons for the CBC to be justified or else it isn’t justified at all, and should be abolished.

The real justification for the use of force and coercion is when the costs of government non-action, in terms of force and coercion, far exceed the costs of government action. This sounds confusing, but it is very simple. An obvious example would be the government prohibition of murder. Laws against murder are based on coercion and force, because the law says that if you murder someone else, we’re going to take you by force and lock you away against your will. However, it is reasonable to argue that the laws against murders, even though the employ the use of force and coercion, prevent a larger evil in the form of a murder. We must accept some small evils in order to prevent the big evils from occurring, and that’s the logical basis for regulation.

If the ethical basis for force and coercion is the prevention of larger evils, then there is an intimate connection between the efficacy of a policy and the ethicacy of that same policy. Can a regulation be ethical if it’s not effective? And how should we evaluate the effectiveness of that regulation? If we are operating on the assumption that in order for a regulation to be ethical, it must stop a larger evil, and the regulation fails to stop that larger evil, then how can the regulation be ethical? If the only basis for the ethicacy of a regulation is the cessation of a larger evil, and the regulation fails in that goal, then there is no ethical basis for the regulation, and that regulation is therefore immoral. In order to evaluate the efficacy of a regulation, we must cut past the intentions, we must put aside “feelings” and demagoguery, and focus only on the results of that regulation, and if the results of that regulation do not match the high minded intentions of that policy, it must therefore be immoral because it is not effective, and be abolished.

We have established the principles involved in whether or not a regulation is ethical. If a regulation is not effective, it is not ethical. If a regulation does not prevent a greater evil than the evil the regulation causes, it is not ethical. Unethical policies by government should be abolished. This is a very theoretical proposition, so how can we apply it to some contemporary issues in Canada? This paper will briefly apply this philosophical rubric to three contemporary issues in Canada: Gay Marriage in Canada, Marijuana Prohibition, and David Miller’s Proposed Hand Gun ban.

The gay marriage issue is one that clearly does not pass the litmus test for an ethical policy. The Canadian government used to define marriage as being between only one man and one woman, and barred other arrangements from receiving the benefits of marriage. The government did not recognize the voluntary associations of other individuals. What was the basis for this policy? There was no basis for this view other than arbitrary tradition. Is there any big evil that was prevented by disallowing certain people from associating? Were there any positives to the policy? The simple answer is no. The reason that governments were lobbied to keep homosexuals from marrying was the belief that if homosexuals were allowed to marry, it would break down the social fabric of the society and damage the institution of marriage. There is no real evidence for this view. Take Denmark as a perfect example, they legalized same-sex marriage in 1989. For many years before then, marriage and non-marital childbirth rates soared, and the trend did not accelerate after 1989. In fact, the trend slowed, and the marriage rate increased and the divorce rate decreased. [4] That’s not necessarily because of same-sex marriage, however it is evidence that same-sex marriage did not accelerate the trend of the “break down” of the “family.”

It may have been convenient for a long time for politicians to disallow homosexual people from voluntarily associating and calling it a marriage, because public opinion was against the idea. A majority of Canadians may have disagreed with allowing same-sex marriage. However, a majority approving or disapproving of a policy is not what makes the policy ethical. What makes a policy ethical are real, rational arguments based on evidence that show that such a policy prevents a greater social ill from occurring. In the case of same-sex marriage, there is no such evidence. If the goal of keeping same-sex marriage illegal for many years in Canada was to prevent the breakdown of the family, then such a policy failed, and since it was not effective it could not have been ethical. We should celebrate its passing on.

Canada still has prohibition on marijuana. This is an example of a policy where real force and coercion is used to enforce it all the time. People go to prison for possessing marijuana, and people are fined heavily for smoking marijuana. Presumably we have created this incentive structure surrounding marijuana because we want to keep people from smoking marijuana. The regulators think it’s a dangerous drug and think we shouldn’t use it. If we closely evaluate this policy, we can see that it’s not ethical either.

There are two sets of problems with the policy, the first is that it is inconsistent with other regulations and laws on our books. Is marijuana a dangerous drug? Is it more dangerous than alcohol or other legal drugs? According to a 2007 student in The Lancet, it is not:

“Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was ecstasy.” [5]

If we have a policy which allows for the legal use of a drug which is far more dangerous than an illegal one, that is an inconsistent and arbitrary policy. Such a policy would suggest that the bias against marijuana one is based on arbitrary feelings or social mores surrounding the drug, not real scientific evidence. It is likely marijuana is prohibited because a majority of people feel that it should be, not because it is really dangerous. In order to make the law consistent, either alcohol should be banned or marijuana should be legalized.

The second sets of problems with the policy surround the effects of the prohibition itself. Canada, and its neighbor the United States have been practicing prohibition of one sort or another for well over 100 years. The most shocking case of prohibition was the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 20s. The prohibition didn’t work, people consumed alcohol anyways and organized crime moved into the sale and distribution of liquor instead of regular businesspeople. The policy created more unintended evils than allowing the substance to be legal. According to a Fraser Institute study, 23% of Canadians have used marijuana at one point in their life [6], and 7.5% of Canadians report that they use it regularly. [7] On the issue of organized crime, the Fraser Institute’s Study commented:

    Consequently, the broader social question becomes less whether or not we approve or disapprove of local production, but rather who shall enjoy the spoils. As it stands now, growers and distributors pay some of the costs and reap all of the benefits of the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry while the non-marijuana-smoking taxpayer sees only costs. Alcohol prohibition in the US expanded organized crime in North America. Removing alcohol prohibition generated many problems, but none like those afflicting society in the days of Al Capone and his ilk.” [8]

Marijuana prohibition in Canada doesn’t work. It is an arbitrary law which is inconsistent in principle with our other statutes. It gives profits from the marijuana industry to organized crime rather than businesspeople. We cannot say with certainty that the policy has created less marijuana use, or that repealing the policy would create more marijuana use, however the problems the policy have created outweigh the costs of having marijuana legalized. The policy is employing force and coercion to keep individuals from smoking marijuana without a great deal of efficacy, and thereby should be abolished as being unethical.

Toronto’s Mayor David Miller wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on March 25th of 2008:

    Handguns have become more than just a violent threat to the safety and security of Canadians. These deadly weapons have scarred our neighbourhoods with the loss of too many lives and increasingly endanger the health and vitality of proud communities across Canada. It is time to banish handguns from our nation.” [9]

Mayor Miller has a prominent figure in a growing movement of Canadians to ban handguns in Canada. They believe passionately that banning handguns will lead to less shooting in Canada. They want to impose a regulation through government making sure legal citizens can’t own handguns, a regulation that works on the force and coercion mechanism. Canadians might face heavy fines or jail time for owning a handgun if they got their way. Unfortunately for Mayor Miller and his friends, the evidence is that banning handguns hasn’t led to less crime where it’s occurred, and the actual evidence is that there is no correlation between the amount of firearms within a society and the crime within that society. In the United Kingdom they banned handguns in 1997. In the 2 years that followed, the use of handguns in crime rose by 40%. [10] The Coalition for Gun Control in Canada has shown that 75% of handguns used in crime in Toronto are smuggled, they are not obtained legally or stolen from legal owners. [11] Since the late 80s, the U.S. has been moving to looser gun laws, and crime has not increased, its decreased. Between 1987 when Florida started the liberalizing trend and 2005, the homicide rate in the United States has fallen 32.53%, from 8.3 murders per 100,000 people, to 5.6 murders per 100,000 people. [12] Don B. Kates of the Independent Institute observed:

“In 1973, the American firearm stock totalled 122 million, the handgun stock was 36.9 million, and the homicide rate was 9.4 per 100,000 people. At the end of 1992, twenty years later, the firearm stock had risen to 221.9 million, the handgun stock had risen to 77.6 million, but the homicide rate was 8.5–or 9.5 percent lower than it had been in 1973. The percentage of murders committed with firearms decreased as well. In 1973, 68.5 percent of murders were committed with guns. Fifteen years later, after Americans had purchased almost as many new firearms as they had in the preceding seventy-three years, 62.8 percent of homicides were committed with guns..” [13]

There is no relationship, correlative or causal between the amount of firearms and firearm crime. There is no data to suggest that banning handguns will decrease crime. If the goal is to decrease shootings and crime, like Mayor Miller suggests it is, then banning handguns is not the way. Such a policy, given the evidence, would not decrease the number of shootings in Toronto. It would be coercion and force with no positive effects, solving no larger evils, and such a policy would be immoral and should not be passed.

We have all kinds of regulations in our lives. We have regulations that tell us where to get healthcare, what to eat, what not to eat, what kind of car to drive, what we can do with our own bodies, what kinds of property we can and can’t own, who we can and can’t associate with. Without a rational way to evaluate these regulations, without rational ways to argue about whether or not these policies are successful, we will be doomed to follow a road, a road of arbitrary rule by majorities based on feelings and whims, not facts and evidence. A road to serfdom.

Endnotes:

[1] “Regulation”, Accurate & Reliable Dictionary, 2008. http://ardictionary.com/Regulation/3164.

[2] “Coercion”, Dictionary.com, 2008.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/coercion.

[3] Read, Leonard and Friedman, Milton. “I, Pencil”, Foundation for Economic Education, 2006. http://www.fee.org/pdf/books/I,%20Pencil%202006.pdf

[4] Eskridge, William and Spedale, Darren. “Who’s Afraid of Gay Marriage?”, ABC News, June 2, 2006. http://abcnews.go.com/US/Story?id=2034478&page=1

[5] “Alcohol, tobacco worse than pot, ecstasy: study”, AP, March 23, 2007. http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/03/23/alcohol-tobacco.html

[6] Easton, Stephen T. “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia”, Fraser Institute, June 1st, 2004. http://www.fraserinstitute.org/commerce.web/publication_details.aspx?pubID=2974

[7] Easton, Stephen T. “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia”, Fraser Institute, June 1st, 2004. http://www.fraserinstitute.org/commerce.web/publication_details.aspx?pubID=2974

[8] Easton, Stephen T. “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia”, Fraser Institute, June 1st, 2004. http://www.fraserinstitute.org/commerce.web/publication_details.aspx?pubID=2974

[9] Miller, David. “Letter to the Prime Minister”, March 25, 2008. http://www.toronto.ca/handgunban/index.htm

[10] “Handgun crime ‘up’ despite ban”, BBC News, July 16, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1440764.stm

[11] Cukier, Wendy D. “Toward a Fact-Based Strategy to Reduce Gun Violence”, Coalition for Gun Control, January 1st, 2004. http://www.guncontrol.ca/Content/New/Toward_a_Fact-Based.pdf

[12] “Crime in the United States 2005”, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sept. 2006. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/data/table_01.html

[13] Snyder, Jeffery R. “Fighting Back: Crime, Self-Defense, and the Right to Carry a Handgun”, CATO Institute, Oct. 22, 1997. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-284.html

Bibliography:

Friedman, Milton. “Capitalism and Freedom”, 1962.

Friedman, Milton and Rose, “Free to Choose”, 1979.

Hayek, Friedrich. “The Road to Serfdom”, 1945.

Smith, Adam. “The Wealth of Nations”, March 9, 1776.

Rand, Ayn. “For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand”, Decemeber 1, 1963.

Rand, Ayn. “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”, July 15, 1986.

Mises, Ludwig von. “Planned Chaos”, July 1981.

Snyder, Jeffery R. “Fighting Back: Crime, Self-Defense, and the Right to Carry a Handgun”, CATO Institute, Oct. 22, 1997. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-284.html

Easton, Stephen T. “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia”, Fraser Institute, June 1st, 2004. http://www.fraserinstitute.org/commerce.web/publication_details.aspx?pubID=2974

The issue of ten percenters continues

Posted in Politics, Role of Government by dave on April 2, 2010

Parliamentarians can no longer send free partisan mail-outs into their opponents’ ridings or use as many free envelopes as they wish.

The moves were approved Monday by the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, which was responding to complaints that MPs are wasting taxpayers’ funds for partisan purposes.

In a long-standing tradition, MPs can use public funds to send mail-outs to 10 per cent of the residences in their riding whenever they want. However, MPs recently started using the tool to send massive amounts of partisan mail into their opponents’ ridings.

Some people are talking about this as though its a major victory. It really is a non-victory, because they can still send massive amounts of partisan mail in their own district as public expense. And it does nothing else to deal with the rest of the problems and pitfalls of public funding to political parties.

Heres a thought. Lets make political parties responsible for mailing flyers with partisan material on them, on their own dime. Whatever they can raise through voluntary means and want to spend on printing and mailing, fine. No different than a store sending out catalogues. However, the subsidy of this kind of activity is really inappropriate when you consider that the money was taken away from Canadian people, against their will, who would otherwise spend it on their home, family, friends or in commerce. And now its used to say that Michael Ignatieff is a great big bore (which he is), or Stephen Harper sucks the blood of young children for sustenance.

I really think this is indicative of a larger problem about the way government views itself in 2010. The government is supposedly just the political arm of society, reflecting our wants and needs through the democratic process and responding to them admirably. The reality is that a small group of politicians play political games with their own set of arbitrary rules at our expense, and not to our benefit.

Ignatieff: Wrong on deficit reduction, wrong on economic policy

Posted in Politics, Role of Government, The Economy by dave on April 2, 2010

I was watching Ignatieff give a 20 minute interview with Strombo on The Hour [Relevant portion starts at 15:20], and when it came to economic policy Iggy said a few peculiar things that I don’t think make a lot of sense.

First George asks if Ignatieff would raise the GST back to 7% to try to reduce the deficit. Ignatieff says no. Good, new taxes aren’t necessary. When asked how he would tackle the deficit, Ignatieff said that he would prevent the further scheduled cuts to the corporate tax rate, freezing it at the level it is now. He claims that this would recoup 5 billion that would have not been collected had the taxes been lowered next year.

However, the deficit is 54 billion. So after he cancels the tax cut, next year it will be 49 billion if spending remains the same. Not much of a deficit reduction plan, its kind of like Harper’s: make minor policy changes, and wait.

A real deficit reduction plan would cap spending in services which the government believes are “essential,” and to bring in across the board cuts to departments over a 2-3 year time period. 5% per year for 3 years would take care of the deficit, and tighten the belt. Of course, much more of that could go, but things need to be taken one step at a time.

Oh, but now we learn that Ignatieff isn’t going to use the total 5 billion for deficit reduction. He is going to use a portion of it towards learning, training and education. Why?

Well, according to Ignatieff a major economic crisis is coming. He explains how many people will be retiring from the work force, over a million, which is true. He also tells us that in the future there is going to be not only a labor shortage due to all of these people retiring but an unemployment problem because there won’t be enough trained people to take over the jobs of the people retiring.

On the surface this should seem like a serious problem, but its not. Why? Simple, because prices coordinate the pattern of production in a society over time. What the hell does that mean? Think about it like this: Boomers are retiring from trades professions, like contractors, farmers, roofers, and the like. This means there will be fewer trades people working. If just as many people demand the services of trades people, this means there will be more bids per tradesperson. This increased competition for his services, will increase the price he can charge and the profits he will reap from hsi service.

Other individuals in society, seeing that these are now lucrative and profitable professions will move, by their own motivation, towards trades schools and getting into those industries to earn money. Think about the IT and computer repair industry in the 90s. Suddenly home desktop PCs were everywhere, and people were having problems with them. There were few skilled professionals who could deal with the demand, and in the beginning these people were very well compensated. Many colleges and universities, within a few years time, created specialized programs to teach people how to do these jobs. The DeVry institute comes to mind. Then, people drawn by the promise of a good income, moved into this area. So what happened? Demand was eventually filled, and the prices (profitability) of those professions dropped in proportion to more people working in it. Society had its computers fixed, because of individuals seeing an opportunity and moving to fill it for their own self-gain.

Ignatieff’s problem is the exact same. To commit government spending to try to solve a problem which isn’t a problem in the first place, is just waste.

Tagged with: , , ,

BC Environment Minister’s Cat sets fire to self during Earth Hour; hilarity ensues

Posted in Humor, Politics, The Environment by dave on April 1, 2010

Bookmark and Share

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, March 30 (UPI) — A cat belonging to the British Columbia minister of the environment set itself on fire with a candle during the weekend observance of Earth Hour.

Barry Penner and his wife Daris were having a candlelit dinner in Vancouver Saturday when their 5-year-old cat named Ranger brushed against a flame, the Vancouver Sun reported.

Hahaha, what a ridiculous turn of events.

UK: 66 y/o Woman forced to wear ankle bracelet for selling goldfish to 14 year old

Posted in Fuzzy Philosophical or Moral Issues, Politics, Role of Government, UK by dave on April 1, 2010

Another egregious case of British decline into a heavily-managed society:

SALE, England, March 30 (UPI) — A 66-year-old British woman was fined and ordered to wear an ankle monitor as punishment for selling a goldfish to a 14-year-old.

Joan Higgins, 66, owner of Majors Pet Shop in Sale, England, was fined $1,506, ordered to wear an ankle monitor and given a seven-week curfew as punishment for selling a goldfish to a 14-year-old boy sent into the store by police on a test buy, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.

A 2006 law prohibits the sale of live fish to children under the age of 16.

I think this is an important case because it really speaks to a whole range of other larger and more important questions. Its a good case of the government going way overboard to enforce a law which really shouldn’t be a law to begin with.

And this shouldn’t be a law. I can’t imagine what the reasoning behind a law which prohibits the sale of live fish to people under the age of 16, but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. From my point of view, one of the essential ingredients to a tolerant and prosperous society is acknowledging that individuals should have the right to make arrangements and exchanges with other people on terms that they set out between them. Freedom of exchange, in other words. And I think to infringe upon this freedom you should need a really strong case, such as the case for prohibiting minors from purchasing alcohol. I don’t think there is any case for banning 14 year olds from buying goldfish, and as such the restriction of freedom of exchange here is totally inappropriate.

Spurious laws like these divert police resources away from solving real crimes and protecting people, to trying to manage the voluntary transactions of private people who aren’t hurting anybody. For every officer investigating violations of these kinds of laws, laws which do nothing but to try to manage the affairs of otherwise law abiding private citizens, there is one less officer that COULD be investigating murderers, rapists, thieves and other criminals. Real criminals. Selling a goldfish to a 14 year old doesn’t count.

The penalties in this case are also ridiculous. They fined her $1506, gave her 7 weeks of “curfew”, and have forced her to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so they can monitor her whereabouts. All this because she sold a goldfish to a 14 year old boy. When the penalties for crime don’t fit the crime, the rule of law is diminished because people trust the authorities less and avoid the official channels when they have a problem. When governments write laws which stand in the way of the general will of the society, the rule of law is undermined because people simply break the law, and the level of respect for all laws of the state in the society is diminished.

The Anatomy of the State

So what should the standard for government involvement be? Well in my mind its a simple ethical proposition. The proper job of the government is to act in defense of our rights. To prevent others from violating them, and adjudicating disputes between private individuals. People’s rights are violated when another person initiates violence, or the threat of violence, against their person or property. People have the right to defend themselves and their rights from being violated. The only legitimate job of government is to protect people rights violations as an extension of this principle.

Alright, why? Well, I’m sure most people would agree that the initiation of violence against an otherwise innocent person is wrong. Threatening violence to gain the compliance of an otherwise innocent person is wrong too. Coercion. The issue here is: All functions of the government rely necessarily on the threat of violence, or violence itself to operate. So, when the government acts beyond its only function, protecting people from rights violations, it is no longer acting defensively. It is acting aggressively, violating peoples individual rights and becoming the very same as the criminals and rights violators that the government is set up to protect us from in the first place.

Guergis letter writers business as usual, made public

Posted in Blogs & Bloggers, Politics by dave on April 1, 2010

This story broke a few days ago, but I think its important because it really is business as usual for partisan politics here in Canada.

OTTAWA— Embattled junior Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis says she had no idea her office assistant has been sending pro-Guergis letters to local newspapers posing as a regular voter.

Guergis, already under fire for an airport security tantrum last month in Charlottetown, says her riding assistant has agreed the letter campaign was inappropriate and has apologized.

The assistant used her married name, rather than the maiden name she uses in her professional life, to send letters defending Guergis to newspapers in her Simcoe-Grey riding northwest of Toronto — without any hint that they came from a Guergis employee.

The practice of parties having supportive letters sent to local papers and even national papers isn’t new at all, and Guergis is not the only “culprit” of this. Generally the way it works is the EDA (Electoral District Association) board members for each party will ghost write letters or atleast set up templates of talking points for supporters to send to local papers. These talking points are often sent out from the political arm of the party in the first place, generally in a weekly or daily email. Occasionally these talking points get leaked out to the media.

Guergis’ sin isn’t that shes doing something thats fundamentally different than what other mainstream political parties in Canada do. Her sin is that she got caught for it, adding another scandal to a a growing list of troubles shes having.

Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party, as well as Jack Layton are calling for her resignation from her position of Minister of State for the Status of Women. Seems to me the more important question is why should such a position exist in the first place?

Quick, Ban the sumo suit, its “racist”

Posted in Fuzzy Philosophical or Moral Issues, Politics by dave on April 1, 2010

Dear AMS members and members of the Queen’s community,
We are writing in regards to an event that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday March 30th, organized and run by a group in the AMS. This event was planned to have students don padded suits, coloured and designed to resemble Japanese sumo wrestlers. The Facebook event created to advertise this event, entitled “SUMO Showdown,” included a picture of two cartoon Japanese wrestlers grappling.

We recognize racism as the systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities.

Regrettably, those of us who were aware of the event did not critically consider the racist meaning behind it. Asking students to wear these suits and partake in the activity appropriates an aspect of Japanese culture. This is wrong because it turns a racial identity into a costume; the process of putting-on and taking-off a racial identity is problematic because it dehumanizes those who share that identity and fails to capture the deeply imbedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced. The event also devalues an ancient and respected Japanese sport, which is rich in history and cultural tradition.

Student unions and student politics are dominated by minor issues made into major issues. The whole undergraduate world is a bubble of its own substance filled with activists with their own pet issues. Ethnic studies and “anti-racism” is one of them.

However these students get the analysis wrong. Look at their own definition of racism:

We recognize racism as the systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities.

The key word here is ‘systemic oppression.’ Oppression in a real sense is the violation of a person’s rights, the initiation of coercion or violence against a person or their property by another person. If someone says something mean about me, this isn’t necessarily a violation of my rights. If someone says something mean about my race or my occupation or gender, this isn’t a violation of my rights either. These things aren’t nice, but there are a lot of things that aren’t nice that aren’t a violation of my rights, and therefore are not oppression.

College kids dressing up in sumo suits, a caricature of a Japanese sport, isn’t oppression, its just fun.

Tagged with: , ,