Monday, May 31, 2010

Israel and Palestine

Today Israel attacked a convoy of peace activists headed to Gaza. These ships were carrying the usual array of peace protesters including a Nobel laureate and a Holocaust survivor.
Israel has blockaded the ports of Gaza for some years now. All aid must pass through their hands before it heads to the Palestinians. A reasonable procedure if you don’t want the people you are fighting with to restock their weapons supply. Also a good strategy if you are trying to bring a reluctant party to the table. A table where presumably you want to come to some lasting terms on a lasting peace. It occurs that this method comes with draw backs. The people you are trying to bring to the negotiating table are usually unaffected by privation and so undeterred. The general population which has less real power to effect a change of mind among their leadership suffers the most. Incidentally they are often left with the option of supporting either the people who have precipitated the blockade or those running it. Bad choices all around but predictable. What get is a stalemate, one that seems to help both sides. Israel gets a intractable opponent that will never seek peace so Israel never has to make a peace it doesn’t like and certain Palestinian parties get a perpetual threat that helps them maintain power without ever having to deliver anything resembling a future to their people.
So what we get is an Israeli attack in international waters on unarmed vessels carrying relief supplies to Gaza. Reports have 4 injured Israeli’s and 10 to 16 dead activists. The usual accusations are made Israel killed unarmed protesters or Israeli soldiers were protecting themselves from violent attack by the blockade runners. I image that both sides will lie about what happened. I expect that the side that did the most damage is inclined to lie the most.
What I see the most clearly is that the interests of Israel and that of my country Canada have parted ways in most places. Keep in mind that when I speak of “interests” I am confined to my on view on this. I can assure any one reading this post that Canada is divided on this the Israel/Palestine issue. Divided along all the usual fault lines political , social ethnic ,religious. It is an issue that has too many hangers on.
It is in Canada’s interest to be pursuing in everyway possible an equitable peace between the warring sides. That is what good countries do, promote peace. Before anyone says but it’s complicated I’ll stipulate that peace between Israel and Palestine is and will be a complicated process and more blood will be split before a concluding chapter is written.
I see the grindstone strategy being employed by both sides continuing for sometime. I believe that each side thinks the other will break. Is that how you begin set upon the road to peace , by first breaking your enemy? Not if you want it to last.
It is clear that the aggrieved parties have other interests at stake than just peace. If people want to stop fighting they find away, just like they find excuses to keep the violence going.
That is the why I write of diverging interests. Canada should not care who has Jerusalem other than that it’s allocation be equitable. Canada should not care about settlements other than the rule of law be applied. Canada should care only that civil and human rights are enshrined in any deal signed and that the parties keep their word. When Canada speaks on the issue of Palestinians it must be a voice for reason. It can not ignore the reality but in acknowledging situation must be prepared to help move that reality in another direction. It is not in Canada’s interest to support without equivocation either Palestine or Israel. We are not directly affected by the rockets and bombs that are routinely traded by these warring parties. But we are affected by terrorists that draw power from this conflict. By ending the violence in creating an equitable peace, Canada’s interests are being served. By allowing the fighting to continue we are placing others countries interests ahead of our own. I can assure you that neither the Palestinians nor Israelis spend much time thinking how to promote our interests.
As long as these two so similar peoples refuse to look past their on noses for a solution, we have to help them. The way we help them is by refusing to take sides, refusing to accept that one party is more aggrieved than the other. I know that this can’t be easy but it’s the only way I see that a bridge towards peace can be built. Let everyone acknowledge that harm has been done and let everyone understand that it should not be a barrier to peace.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What you Think you are getting.

Once in a while you encounter people that want to limit government. They invoke times when we were more self reliant, when the government “didn’t wipe our asses for us “. I think few people are interested in that kind of intrusion. When government engages in activities that restrict unreasonably the rights of the individual citizen, to the point of harm with no recognizable good in return, then we can act to limit such overreach.
For many, harm is discerned in terms of personal benefit/loss and often with an economic component. I pay CPP. That is my contribution to the pensions of Canadians who have reached the age of retirement. Before I get to draw a dime of pension I will have worked 47 years. The CPP helps to support the people that built the Canada I now enjoy. Can I use the money myself? Sure could. But I do understand that old people living in poverty is an ugly thing. CPP doesn’t provide a huge sum, people should still try to save for their old age, but it helps. Everyone giving a little to support those in need, hardly government overreach.
If you ever get to meet a small government conservative/libertarian ask them what services they don’t want? The list is long: food and drug safety, labour regulations, product safety, environmental regulation, building codes, judicial system road building and maintenance water quality. There are thousands of things the government runs outright or regulates on our behalf that we could not afford to do or have to power to do by our selves. A libertarian/conservative response might be to privatize it. “Business does everything better than government” this is the unquestioned mantra of this group. Add to this notion the belief that people can and should take care of them selves leaves protection of property as the only role for Government to play. Again I state that citizens should do as much for themselves that they can. Life is better when you work and contribute, but all things are not equal and sometimes you need help.
So I think we come to the point where liberals diverge from small government crowd. It is clear that this group doesn’t need the services provided by Liberal Democratic governments or they don’t think they do. If I am a person of means, I pay a substantial amount of taxes, unless I have worked the tax code to reduce that amount. In terms of direct contribution to government and expected return through programs the wealthy are a net loss. They don’t require big programs like CPP, EI and income substitute programs, subsidized education and medical services. They have the means to acquire the same services better tailored to meet their needs. So if a person of wealth doesn’t like supporting big government and the higher taxes that result I can understand if disagreeing strongly. It would take a separate post to describe the indirect benefits that accrue to persons of means just by living in a modern liberal democracy.
What I find myself less able to understand is how citizens of limited means can decry taxation and declare the evils big government. On purely economic grounds the person of moderate means gets more directly from government then they pay out in contribution. It is like insurance. Many people contribute keeping costs low and you always have fewer claiming benefits than paying in. The risk is spread out so everyone can gain access. This especially true of income replacement or supplement programs.
I think that citizens of limited means oppose government not on economic grounds but because of some other factor(s), issues of a religious, cultural and social nature. They support the positions that harm them economically in return for the promise of government legislation favouring their particular positions. It is a jumble of things. If you support a ban on abortion that is more government intrusion not less, same with those against gay marriage. Anti gun control involves less government and decreased public safety, a bad trade. In Canada social conservative voters have failed to achieve meaningful legislative success while their fiscal conservative brothers have done much better.
What we need from government is an easy to read accounting of how our money is spent. People need to see the ledger and see the benefits that are provided by Government and show the costs to us in the absence of such programs. Information like that will take away much of the force of the small government argument.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Principles and Dead Weight

Principles and Dead Principles and Dead Weight. Recently Rand Paul has made headlines with statements concerning the 1964 civil rights act. The united states passed sweeping rights legislation in 1964, including a right to public accommodation. This meant that private businesses could not refuse service based on factors like race. Me. Paul is a republican/libertarian. Libertarians have a dim view of government and prefer it to be as small as possible. They oppose government interference in the private affairs of the citizen, that includes how you run your own business. So quite in keeping with his well known support of libertarian ideals opposes the accommodations section of the civil rights act. He hates racism but supports the individuals right to be racist in their business practices.
This is an example of when theory fails in practise. It fails only because our society has chosen to value equality above certain forms of liberty. It fails because in the real world, economic factors that libertarians believe would cause an eventual end this form of discrimination, do not in fact work. Cultural and social conventions created over time inform people on how to act. If they tell you that race or religion matter and it is OK to discriminate then racism becomes a collective act. Where oddly enough the pressure exerted is against the liberty of persons to not discriminate. The idea that racism is bad for business so will be it's own downfall is misleading. If you operate a business in a town where discrimination is accepted your operations would suffer if you didn't discriminate. Economic penalties would arise only if the individual acts against the social and cultural norm.
This preoccupation that conservatives and especially libertarians have that our world is largely self regulating and if left alone would become the best of possible worlds is bankrupt. Worse still is the belief that free market economics can lead the way. People act in accordance with social and cultural norms. These norms are supported by political institutions. It is only by removing political support for dicsrimination through legislation that change can occur.
Sometimes ideology fails in practise. Though failure largely depends on what kind of outcome you favour.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Quality of Choice

Conservatives like to talk about Choice and Personal Responsibility. It is invoked as an argument against Government intervention in our lives. Intervention is the word conservatives use in describing what governments do, word choice is important because it helps frame the idea. Liberals will employ neutral words like regulation or oversight. These words imply something more akin to guardianship as opposed to oppression.
People make decisions everyday and should not be protected from bad choices or prevented from profiting from good ones. Any government policy or program that limits risks is one that enfeebles the citizen. Why save money if you employment insurance is available. EI benefits discourage job seeking, why work if the government sends you a check for doing nothing. Welfare falls into the same category as does old age pension, government provided medical care. This can, if you are of a libertarian mind extend to regulation of the labour, corporations, the environment, in effect, any interaction between citizens. By removing risk for either the citizen or corporate body we discourage choice and personal responsibility creating disadvantage in our society rather than alleviating it.
You may have noticed the theme being played out here, money. It is all about the money. Who has it who needs it. We pay taxes to support income replacement programs, regulatory bodies and public insurance. The people that pay the most in taxes are also the same people that rely the least on such programs. It is reasonable then for these citizens, in the view of self interest, to be against this kind of government spending. It is also fair to say that the more money you have the better protected you are from the repercussions of bad choices and the easier it is to assume personal responsibility. Though i think if a survey were taken it would conclude that the rich and poor seek to avoid responsibility in equal measure.
This goes towards the notion of quality of choice. The conservative does not acknowledge the difference in choice available to each citizen or does not think the difference is their job to ameliorate. A person born rich has greater opportunity for success than someone born poor, that is life. Life is the filter that separates the worthy from the unworthy, everyone rises or sinks to the level ordained by nature or God, depending on your weltansicht. This is a core conservative value, everyone has the freedom and liberty to make a life for themselves. Again we must acknowledge two things, such a system will ensure that those in authority will remain there and only the very best, define that as economically successful, will gain traction and rise in station.
This had been circumstances governing most societies throughout history. Though from a historical perspective, military prowess and economic success were integrated in a way that exist now in nations without functional democracies.. War was the way a person won or maintained authority. You gained wealth through governing and maintained authority by the application of riches and force. The advent of Representative government saw less internal violence, war was prosecuted for mostly political gain rather than plunder. Again I must point out that while governments did not actually engaged in direct plunder, they did secure regions in order that their citizens might exploit the resources therein for economic benefits. The difference is their but how different is debatable.
A fair person who is also conservative most admit that the theme of Choice and personal responsibility serves a limited few. While the idea is hard to argue against, people should make good choices and man up when they make mistakes, it is an argument that ignores reality and they know it. Until we can guarantee approximate quality of choice by reducing unnecessary impediments to success, the concept of personal responsibility and choice will trap citizens rather than setting them free to rise or fall on their own merits

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Right vs Wrong

In nature what happens is often what is right. Larger bodies draw smaller masses to themselves, water freezes at zero Celsius and becomes ice and energy in a given system declines order turns towards chaos. You will never get a panel with mathematicians arguing both sides of the 1+1=2 equation because there is only one answer. Scientists will debate outcomes of experiments and conclusions, but not the physics and math which describes the natural world. Facts are facts. Nature exists as a single system with a set of given and immutable laws. You may not like it but if you disagree with what is known and can't prove otherwise with legitimate experiment then too bad you are wrong. That is the world of math and science.
So our world is governed by natural laws that are unalterable, but our society by man made laws which can't claim such distinction. In short, men make mistakes and so such laws as men make are subject to error. In the past they worked around this problem. The Laws that were promulgated and enforced by kings/priests were seen as divine. They were either directly handed to man from God(s) or inspired  by Him/Them. The perfect or in some cases just vastly superior God(s) gave us law that were to be considered on par with natural laws or at least better than man could come up with and so should not be questioned. In joining the Law to the superior we avoid any notion of error that the involvement of man may suggest.
Let us add to the confusion, every human society creates its' own laws or adopts them from the outside to meet their needs. This creates multiple systems with both unique and generic laws adapted to need. These perfect Laws would come into conflict throughout our history. Successful nations passed their cultures forward to the present laws included. What is a better mark of perfection than success.
The science of evolution indicates that species success is dependent on it's ability out compete other within a given environment. The better adapted to your niche the greater your chances of survival. That is science again. An outcome derived from natural law.
As God(s)declined as the guarantor of law, we turned to science as an explanation for what is right and what was wrong. We applied scientific method as an arbiter of right and wrong and that was a mistake. Science requires a single system with universal laws. In the face of multiple systems what we ended up with were not laws that were best, just the laws that happen to attached to the most successful society. It is fair to say that good laws lead to more successful nations, but we can argue what it means to succeed. Is superiority measured in economics,war perhaps justice?
This brings us to into the realm of ideology. Our society is a melange of competing thought systems. Each system has unique and overlapping "natural laws" governing their processes. While traits are shared by those systems closest to each other, ideologies are still closed off. Each thought system has to obey the basic rules that govern them. It is why a Conservative will oppose big government but accept a large military. These two ideas are not inconsistent, a conservative accepts that you need a large military in order to protect property, in the form of the nation, which is a legitimate responsibility of Government. A liberal typically supports larger government. A liberal supports affirmative action but is opposed to racial discrimination, seemingly opposite positions. This support is predicated on the principle that government has a duty to aid its' citizen by ensuring access to opportunity. The conservative and liberal come from different places though it is accepted that they aim towards the same end, a better nation and more prosperous citizens. They just don't agree on the same route. They both have a claim to "right" and are, within their respective thought systems.
It should be noted that social/economic standing , race/ethnicity and general experience will dictate your ideological leaning. A person of wealth can't be faulted for supporting a position that secures their fortune anymore that an immigrant might be decried for looking to a party that supports their interests.
Right and wrong breaks down into individual interests, not usually on the big questions of theft or killing, though some cultures have different approaches. You won't find a conservative and a liberal differing on the issue of whether murder is ok or not. They will differ however in the response. That is often how ideology works. It is how we address issues of the day that set us apart.
It is then impossible to assign a right and a wrong because we are dealing with different systems with unique rules and perspective. Anyone proclaiming the "rightness" of their position should be required to do so in an expansive way, because it is not enough to assert a position without showing your the work. If you are trying to show higher lower taxes are the root to prosperity you have to prove it. So when comparing between two exclusive systems you do need a ruler. I use the notion of general good when deciding whether to support a position or not. Again we will face a problem of what yardstick is used to measure fitness. In the end we are stuck with the only reliable measure of judgement, voting. Reliable because we get a decision  though of course not necessarily the right one.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Religious Right and the PMO

Recently we have received warning of a rise in the influence of the religious right over the PMO. The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada by journalist Marci McDonald details a growing association bewtween social and religous conservatives and the Prime minister. An article in the Toronto Star provides an overview of this new controversy. What we appear to have is a growth in numbes and influence of the religious right. I won't argue that we don't have more groups advacating against the freedomn of women to choose, the advancement of gay rights, subtle attempts to restrict freedom of expression through tax credits, unquestioned support for Israel and quite a few other issue that seem to draw the ire of the social conservatives. They are here and represent a constituency. They are vocal and and engaged. What i don't see is the enevitable take over by these groups. I see a ceiling on their influence and it is rather low. Two thirds of Canadians vote centre left. This is not proof against influence, political parties on the centre left will have religious membership, but it appears to be of a different variety than one finds in the religious right. The religion has figured differently history in Canada and we have a decidedly low tolerance for mixing of the religious and politcal.
It has been suggested that the PM is onboard with this new Canadian religious right. I have seen nothing in Mr. Harpers history that leads to this conclusion. He is more publically religious than past Prime Ministers but a far cry from his conterparts in America. The PM sees the religious right a voting block to exploit but as many articles have highlighted he has done little to adavance the causes of the soacial conservatives. Many point out that The conservatives have been prevented from implementing his full adgenda because of minority governments. Maybe, but we can't judge a man on what he has done yet and still be fair. I believe the PM will move us to right on fiscally conservative issues. I just find it difficult to accept that he will follow that shift on social issues as well. I am not nieve. But whether conservatives like to admit it or not Canada is a liberal nation. I can't concieve of what chain of events would be required to drag us towards social consevatism. It doesn't mean it can't happen but in the doing, would render my Canada unrecognizable.
As citizens we need to be vigilant. Our right were hard earned over many centuries but can be lost quickly. Our job is not to stop the voices of those we oppose but to argue with them in the public space. People must be allowed thier version of the truth but not their version of the facts. We don't need to fear free expression, we need to fear secrecy. So let these groups do in public space all the activism they want, if you disagree oppose them in that same venue.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Calling for Wind and Rain Saturday

Yes rain and a chill wind today, a little April in May. Last night at around 8:30 pm the power went out. It was a good thing I had settle in for a night of baseball by radio. I have cheap cable, that means no Toronto Blue Jays. It is fine as I would rather listen to the game on radio any way. The radio just seems built for it, same goes for hockey too.
So with no power I lit a candle to push back the dark took out my portable radio and enjoyed a slowed down Friday evening. The game was a good one Jays won in the 12 inning on a three run home run, my team might not go all the way this year but at times I feel I'm looking at a future winner.
It is amazing when the power goes out. Take a looked around the house at all the stuff that stops working. Our society is centred around power it is hard to imagine what life would be like if your under 80 and never lived in rural Canada. I am not going to wax nostalgic about how better life was back before electricity, because it wasn't, for most people anyway. But it is scary how unprepared most of us would be if power was lost for any length of time. We have built a civilization that is so dependent on thousands of things going right all the time with fewer backup systems in place, for the just in case scenario, than we probably should have.
It is too bad that we can't manage a way to integrate the best parts of the "slow world" into our "fast world". Yet. I do think we can solve the worst of our problems. I'm just not sure about how long that will take.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Future of the Written Word

The St.Catharines Library is now offering Audio and E-Books. You just log in browse the selection and grab your books. I am going to give it a try today. The starting selection of audio books is small. I expect that the number will increase handily as more people find out about the service and have the required equipment to utilize this new service.
I am picking the book on King Tut’s death. You need to DL the software before you can check the book out for your PC/MAC or mobile. The set up , is computer assisted so installation is easy. The Ipod/Phone app is probably the quickest since these apps run themselves. If you do DL the book onto your PC like I did the transfer to a mobile device does take a little while. I am using an IPOD touch, so I can’t speak to the experience of other devices.
The book is checked out in the same manner as hard copies. The lending period is 7/14 days and at the end of the loan the book self deletes. I am waiting to see that happen. I can expect that for E-Books the time consumed by DL or Transfer to mobile is shorter. The IPAD will be well suited for this new era in book borrowing. The size of the screen on a hand held does not lend itself to easy or enjoyable reading.
That is the nuts and bolts of the setup now comes the grumpiness. I recognize the convenience of being able to carry a dozen books on one device or of listening to books as opposed to reading. Most of the cultures that ever existed have being oral. Even after the invention of the moveable type printing press people still gathered to listen because literacy and affordable mass production of books were still far into the future. I just can’t help feeling that rather than E-Books being just an option they will end up supplanting the art of reading.
Reading is more that it seems. Reading is not a passive act. It engages your mind, forces you to think about the subject being discussed whether it is non-fiction or fantasy. In fact a person can’t help interacting with a book much the same way you might with a professor in a lecture hall, learning and at the same time questioning.
The other draw backs fall into between the benign and the potentially disastrous. A book never runs out of power. The audio/eBook revolution depends on the proximity of power and a high tech infrastructure. I certainly will be happy when they have solar powered version of a reader but that won’t solve the problem fully. Well made books can and have lasted centuries, data storage devices are not as hardy, data corruption is going to happen. This is not a problem as long as we have a Tech society. No I’m not about to launch into end of the world scenarios, but any disruption or change of tech represents a potential loss of information. Will for instance anybody bother to repeat the Herculean task of transfer books from out of date media to newer forms? The Gutenberg Project is now engaged in transferring the books from paper to electronic media. Will some one do a similar feat in the next century?
I guess my chief reason for hesitation is both a comfort and a vanity. I read to relax as well as to learn. On the couch with music in the back ground. The feel of the book. The way a page looks as opposed to a screen. These I imagine I can get used too. The vanity of a well stocked book case. This perhaps is a bit snobbish but a book case is an accomplishment, a life’s work and I don’t know how an audio/eBook can replace that guilty joy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Inalienable Rights?

On Saturday in New York city a bomb was discovered in Time Square. By good fortune, the bomb did not go off. It has been describes as a poorly made device, of propane tanks fire works and fertilizer. An amazing 52 hours later the man the police suspect to be the bomber was in custody. His name is Faisal Shahzad he is an American citizen originally from Pakistan. When he was arrested he was given his Miranda warnings. The conservatives were angered by this. The theme of the complaint ran like this “if you read him his rights you can’t interrogate him properly”. By “interrogate properly” we can surmise they mean abusive and coercive treatment. This same call to withhold Miranda was made in the case of the underpants bomber, for the same reason. If he isn’t read his rights you can do stuff to him that is normally forbidden.
The difference here is a big one, Shahzad is an American citizen while Abdulmutallab was from Nigeria. The constitution does not contain a Miranda provision , but supreme court up held its constitutionality, so it’s the law. The Constitution provides that citizen and non-citizen face the same standard of treatment with regards to criminal procedure. This is a good thing. The power of the State after all doesn’t diminish just because you are from somewhere else.
The fact that conservatives are asking that rights be withheld for a little while, just long enough to extract the necessary information, tells me they most not understand the what rights are. The Miranda warning is the legal expression of a moral/ethical position. What the Miranda warning is shielding the suspect from abuse of power. The man in custody is facing the full weight and power of the State. It is acknowledged that in circumstances like this abuse is likely and in a nation of Laws protection from this potential abuse is necessary in the interests of justice. The notion of justice is important.
Those angling for temporarily withholding Miranda are telling us that this notion of justice is not impaired as long as the abuse comes before the legal protection. This is a fiction cemented in the belief that the Law is only procedure and underpinned by nothing. You can’t violate a right until it is possessed. This argument defies logic. Miranda like most rights are the distilled product of need. Rights are the answer to the question of how do we ensure Justice, equality and guarantee freedom. Rights delineated in constitutions the world over do not exist because someone recorded them in writing and declared them Law. The right to free speech, association , freedom of religion…. , existed before, some as conventions deeply embedded in our society. Constitutions were the formal written expression of something that already existed, but now had legal force. No longer could the agents of the state apply or deny rights as they wished.
The conservatives in their fear, in their zeal want to do just that. They seem to want to return to those days when whim dictated justice. No state should ever be asked to destroy itself in order to remain pure of principle. Until that time approaches we must remain dedicated not only to the process but of the moral and ethical underpinnings of the Law.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Small Things

Family, friends and health are commonly cited as being important to a good life and I can’t disagree. After acknowledging those great and necessary things, what of the small pleasures that put smiles on our faces. When you get up in the morning and step into the shower this is undeniably a small pleasure. I do not know who invented the shower but he/she have my thanks. The utility of this device astounds, it provides pain relief. You can have a warm shower on a cold day, a cold shower after a long run. Following the morning theme we come to shaving, in two parts the act and the tools. I can say that shaving is worth the five minutes it takes to accomplish. What you get in return for the effort is a smooth clean look. It is not by accident that on male makeover segments that the first thing they do is shave the face hair. I have a sneaking suspicion that the exfoliation resulting from this exercise keeps a man looking younger. It is to the razor that I direct my praise. Specifically the first shave with the new blade. That first stroke with a fresh blade is close to perfect. The new blade slides over the features of your face without hesitation. You suffer no pulling, cutting or any of the ills effects of a dull blade. As you know each successive use dulls imperceptibly the edge of the razor, making each shave less a pleasure and more a burden.
There is a fresh cup of coffee in the morning taken on the porch. Like wise a beer late in the day from the same vantages point. A relaxing moment before the start of the day and at its end.
The list of small pleasures and tiny victories is long from the ending of a good book or a bad day. Getting to the top of a hill ,a victory and taking in the view ,a small pleasure.
Our lives are made up of these seemingly trivial but altogether indispensable acts and actions. Between the large events that mark the moments of change are the small things that link the whole together. Could you imagine a life where every decision you made or action you took were of material importance. We are far luckier than our ancestors. Lucky that our every move does not mean life or death. Lucky that we have space in our existence for things that but a smile on our faces

Monday, May 3, 2010

What is in Your Interest?

What do you get if everything is framed in the context of self interest? You get a world framed by the individual. What is good for me is best. Adam smith required that any transaction must be motivated by self interest. You don’t engage in a trade either a goods or service unless you have two willing participants. Further to that, the system is self regulating. A cheat would soon lose his trade, while an honourable dealer would have more business than he could handle. This is the foundation of the free market. The willingness to engage another for the benefit of both. That is self interest. There is no implied moral quality to this transaction. What matters is that the seller and the buyer get what they want, the drug user and the drug supplier or the car salesman and the car buyer. These are both examples of self interests and a satisfactory transaction, what opprobrium we may level against the drug transaction is of a moral quality separate from the economic value. This point is necessary to understand because the self interest of the economic transaction has found its way into everyday speech.
The rallying cry of the conservative adopted by the liberals of late and still resisted in part by the socialist, “ tax cuts for everyone”. Taxes are the heart of the Liberal Democratic state. I refrain from the use of the word “welfare state” because of the pejorative nature that word has taken on in the last 30 years. The welfare state or the fare you well state is not about handing money to the lazy poor (or lazy rich, trust me it happens too and costs more) it is/was about removing obstacles that arise from economic disparity, social position or prejudice. Through effective taxation we transfer wealth from those who have it to those who have less. Yes I admit it money is taken from the Rich, I am not interested in pretending otherwise. It is not however primarily a money transaction, the poor do not line up for cash “office of money handouts”. Taxes turn into programs that help to mitigate permanent or temporary disadvantages.
Those people that have through talent, luck and effort ,found financial freedom pay more because they have more. It is not a penalty on the successful or as some characterise it “theft”. It is the bill you pay for living in a country, Canada, where it is possible to acquire such wealth and live without fear of any manner of calamity. Taxes help to keep Canada a great place to be rich and livable if your poor, thrown in is the opportunity to find success.
Tim Hudak the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario is a tax cutter. He wants to be Premier and he pursues this idea of over taxation. Now the liberal government has thrown money away on such things a E health, a good idea, but a simple failure in oversight resulted in 100’s of millions of dollars wasted. Your tax dollars. Mr. Hudak wants us to believe that because of some waste, government just can’t be trusted with your tax dollars. Rolled into this is the idea that we need more business not more government . The conservative are talking self interest here. Money is better in your pocket than in the governments coffers. Tax cuts quite honestly favour the wealthy over the poor. The wealthy pay more in tax than the poor do and will get more back. The wealthy benefit from far fewer services than the poor do, so once again they “lose”. This profit and loss equation never considers the benefits of living in a stable property rights respecting democracy the cost of which is priceless. You can be rich in a dictator ship of course, but I doubt anyone sleeps soundly.
In terms of interest, the conservative says a little money in your pocket is worth more to you than the services you get but never think of as coming out of your taxes. The truth is that we don’t pay too much in tax, we are however, unsure of what are taxes buy for us. We do need more oversight and better more effective taxation and spending. The tax well is not bottomless. I favour much greater scrutiny of government spending. Mr. Hudak has suggested a web site that would publish some types of government spending, citizens will be able to look at how the money is spent. This idea has many drawbacks. This is not a check on spending . The information is several months behind, what you get to see is how money is spent . How do citizens determine whether the money spent was worth it? I doubt there will be room for context. I am sure it will turn out like the “Sunshine Law” that published the names of public servants who made over 100 thousand dollars. This site has become a source of yearly outrage directed at public servants who make lots of money an exception is usually made for police and fireman who earn it. I think that creating an independent budget office answerable to Ontario legislature would be a better choice. I do not mean an auditor because that is after the fact. What I am thinking is an office that costs out program an over sees real-time spending. It would be a very powerful entity and would need to be non-partisan and be independent of government. I do not know how or even if it is possible to create such an office but it would be a solution to many problems.
So in terms of interests an individual must discern between immediate self gratification, the “money in your pocket now “ and longer term self interests stable funding for programs that benefit your future success. Think before you Vote, but by all means Vote.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Always Read Before Signing

A short post a sort of addendum on the government or business post. If you follow this Globe and Mail link it takes you to an article dealing with that soon to be, if not all ready, ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In short BP was accepting applications from citizens in town of Venice for possible work. The work offered was not disclosed but accompanying the applications were waivers that if signed would relinquish the right to sue BP for damages that may be incurred due to the spill.
I think that any fair minded person would have to consider that to be shoddy move. To those in the business of proactive risk management I'm guessing that you might think otherwise? Management is required to put their corporations interests ahead of yours. It is not personal it's just business. That is why we have governments. Their job is to look after the interests of society as a whole.