The OPHTMM Problem

The OPHTMM problem is hands down the hardest problem that the humanity has faced during its entire history.

I can say this very confidently, because no other problem can boast so much labour and resources spent on solving it, or indeed so many human lives sacrificed in the process – and still remain as elusive as ever.

OPHTMM stands, of course, for Other People Have Too Much Money.

Countless number of coups, revolutions, or simply elections have been fought and won, as well as lost, under the pretence of solving this problem. Numerous laws and decrees enacted. And as far as we can tell, the solution is not in sight.

So it’s probably a waste of time trying to convince people that this problem exists today – it should be already obvious to everyone . Heck, nowadays it’s the worst it’s ever been!

When we’re told that other people have too much money, or have it too good in any other way, we agree wholeheartedly and completely. We require very little proof, and do not try to challenge the notion. Not so if we’re told the situation is the other way around: we will fight any such silliness tooth and nail, demanding more and more proofs and not agreeing to anything.

If you want to sell a political program to the public, tell them it will soak the rich. Don’t bother with the poor – who cares if they are better off or not. As long as the rich are worse off, we’re OK.

It is easy to blame this on the simple human envy – and I’m sure that envy has at least some part in this. But it is unlikely to be everything. There is probably a combination of feelings and emotions that combine together to create such powerful drive – despite anything that reason might suggest.

Take, for example, our ever-present need to belong to a certain group. There always need to be “us” and “them”. And needless to say, we’d like to be on the winning team. We cannot join the rich, because, well, in all likelihood we are not them. So, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence.

We are also very optimistic beings: we are driven by hope. We’d like to hope things will become better, and our hope never dies. If, heaven forbid, an oncologist tells us we have a terminal cancer, and a homeopath promises to sell us a cure, we reach for the wallet – even if we hold a medical degree. Likewise, someone only needs to drop us a hint that our lives can be improved by “taking from the rich” – and we run to vote for them. And in some cases – fight for them, too.

All this, of course, is not to say that other people do not have too much money. They may very well do. But whether they do or do not, we would always, always think that they do. So do they?

Maybe they do, but the obvious quackery that is sometimes offered to us as a “solution” makes this claim much less credible. Into this category would fall any and all suggestions to rebuild our entire society so that there is no longer rich or poor. Invariably of course, we are told that everyone will be rich. And no less invariably, everyone ends up poor – given that they survive the transformation. The wisdom of these solutions is perfectly illustrated by xkcd, using the Chess game as an example. Human society is much more complex than that, and any attempt to change or engineer it looks equally silly.

Much smaller-scale silliness is going on every day in the various legislative bodies that we elect. There, little by little, our representatives forge the framework that revolutionaries tried to put in place in a single transformative action. The “ratchet effect” runs wild: once another step towards Socialism is taken, it can never be reversed. But each of these steps is invariably based on one single premise: Other People Have Too Much Money! So naturally, we’ll have to do something about it.

So here is a modest suggestion: why wouldn’t we, instead of trying to solve the OPHTMM problem – real or not, try to solve another one: the IHTLM, or “I Have Too Little Money”? Maybe if each of us tried to make their private lives better within the existing framework, our collective lives would become better too?

Just a thought.

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Ridiculous promises of “job creation” rule Toronto and Ontario elections.

The motif of job creation is back in the public debate, and this time it’s playing especially loud. Both Toronto and Ontario elections feature all sides talking about jobs, as if these were be-all and end-all of the economy.

“Vote for me”, the argument goes, “and I will create [big number here] jobs!”.

I don’t know if people are actually swallowing that, but politicians are definitely acting as if they were. Even Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory (who used to be a Conservative) no longer talks about the need to fix our Gardiner Expressway – instead he talks about creating jobs. Oh and while we’re at it, we’ll also do something about Gardiner. But why bother with that latter part? We can hire twice as many people to also dig a huge hole in the ground, and then fill it back in. Sure, we won’t get a nice new infrastructure, but hey, that was a secondary goal to begin with.

The cold hard truth is that you cannot create jobs with public money – no matter what you do. The public money comes from taxes – and that is withdrawing capital from other places.

Taxes on poor people mean they will have less money to spend on their basic needs and whatever simple luxuries they could otherwise afford. Taxes on middle class mean they will buy less gadgets, eat less at restaurants and send their kids to less summer activities. Taxes on the rich mean they will buy less boats and expensive cars, and also invest less in stocks and bonds. Taxes on corporations mean they will invest less in their business and hire less workers. And so on, and so forth.

Money is never created out of thin air (even if you print it). Money is only a representation of resources we have, and moving it from one place to another only diverts those resources.

So the workers that end up working on fixing the Gardiner will be smiling to the cameras and thanking the candidate that gave them work. But we will never hear about those that were dismissed – or even just not hired – due to the fact that the money that was supposed to pay them was instead collected by the tax man.

Some authors will try to convince us that the private market “refuses to invest“, and this is why the money needs to be taken out of their shaking hands, and given to the government that will do the right thing and “create jobs”. This claim is not true. A number of studies have shown that the mythical “pile of cash” that the companies are supposedly sitting on, either does not exist, or is a reasonable hedge against realistic risks.

To be sure, private job creation also diverts resources from other uses. But that is the main function of the free market – to discriminate between a large number of potential uses of a resource, and divert it towards the most urgent (and therefore highest-paying) one. For example, currently the jobs in Alberta’s oil patch pay very well, and that is a signal that that employment of resources is the most desirable. What can the government bring as the evidence that fixing the Gardiner (and also digging and filling in a large hole next to it) is the most urgent use of our resources? Granted, Gardiner right now is an eyesore, but so is all the unextracted oil sitting in the ground with nobody taking it out and selling – environmental concerns notwithstanding.

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak offers a rare bit of sanity in this entire yelling match. Sure, he is also talking about his “million job plan”: I guess you cannot hope to win an election today without promising jobs. But at least he is not suggesting to create these jobs with public money, talking about lowering business taxes and reducing regulation instead. That’s a relief, though the real benefit of this would be all the extra products these new jobs will actually produce, and lower prices due to lower cost of production. I guess it will be a while until a politician will be able to pitch that, and still hope to be elected.

So what about the Gardiner? Sure, it needs to be fixed. Just don’t try to spin it as good news. (“Good news Dad! I just broke a window in the living room, so now you have a job for the entire weekend!”) It’s a bad news – so give it to us as such. Say – “unfortunately, if I get elected, I will have no choice but to spend money on fixing the Gardiner”.

And then the sanity will be restored.

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The Beer Store Publishes a Ridiculous Study of Possible Liquor Privatization Effects

The Beer Store has published a study of potential effects of privatizing alcohol sales in Ontario. The results are not surprising: it will bring nothing except gloom and doom. The study has been vetted by an economist Greg Flanagan, who confirmed that the conclusions are reasonable, and Ontario should indeed stick with its public system.

The study brings a number of consequences of such privatization:

  1. Prices will rise
  2. Government revenues will fall
  3. Selection will be reduced
  4. Alcohol will be more available to minors

Flanagan writes: “The public, and public policy makers, are well served with this type of fact-based informative research showing the reality of the trade-offs inherent in policy decisions regarding any restructuring of the retailing of beverage alcohol”.

First of all, let’s do away with credentials here. Economics is not like physics. For any opinion in economic policy, it is entirely possible to find a decorated scholar (up to and including a Nobel prize laureate) that will confirm your ideas as true and fact-based. The ideas can range from outright Marxist to extreme Anarcho-Capitalist – they all have a following of highly distinguished intellectuals.

Therefore, the value of Flanagan’s endorsement is pretty much negligible to say the least – no disrespect intended.

At the same time, we should leave aside the obvious objection that Beer Store is not, and cannot be an impartial side of the argument: it will be affected to the utmost degree should the policy changes be implemented. Such objection would amount to questioning the motivation without addressing the merits – so we can leave this to the various comment boards which are already full of messages to that effect.

But we do not need to appeal to ulterior motives. The arguments that the study brings are simply hilarious. Let’s start with those that claim that the prices will rise while selection will be reduced. Here they are, verbatim from page 24 of the report:

  1. more points of sale;
  2. increased distribution costs as liquor must be delivered to many more outlets;
  3. higher per unit selling costs as total liquor sales volume is spread over more selling outlets resulting in less volume sold per store;
  4. the requirement to fund new retailer margins; and
  5. higher marketing costs for liquor manufacturers and agents as hundreds of independent retailers must be contacted to get listings and retail shelf space

But wait a second! Are you sure we are talking about liquor? Nothing about these arguments is liquor-specific – they might as well apply to, say, alkaline AAA batteries that are commonly sold in corner stores. We must create a public distribution network for batteries at once! Consumers will have more choice (you’d be surprised how many types there are) and lower prices. Pretty much any consumer product sold in a convenience store will benefit from a public distribution if you listen to the Beer Store economists.

And why stop at convenience stores? We have too many car dealerships, too! We could bring the price of vehicles in Canada down by nationalizing and regulating car distribution – let’s get right on it!

But on a serious note, these arguments completely disregard the fact that alcohol could also be carried by larger outlets like Costco, No Frills,  and, who else, the Beer Store and LCBO. Because nothing says these networks could not keep functioning under an unregulated, market-based system. If they can deliver lower prices than convenience stores under monopoly rules (which is probably true) – they can keep selling under free market as well.

The prices in convenience stores are generally higher than in larger outlets precisely because of that – convenience. If you do not want to drive to Costco, you shop at your corner store. If you want cheaper products, you drive. It’s as simple as that.

Did the Beer Store researches include the costs incurred by consumers who have to drive larger distances to the nearest LCBO or Beer Store? Did they factor in a cost of lost business due to limited hours of government-regulated outlets? A time spent behind the wheel instead of with families and friends (and beer)? All these need to be offset against higher prices at convenient locations.

Then it gets better.

The government revenue, claims the report, will go down!

I cannot think of a better answer to that, than a resounding “so what?”. Because again, this can be said of any other industry in this country. You want to bring up government revenues? Let’s nationalize other distributions as well – oil, manufacturing, food, clothing – government revenues will skyrocket! If it is OK for the government to get its revenue from operating a business than we shouldn’t stop at LCBO – we can keep marching on all the way until we reach a fully Socialist state.

The only reason governments do not venture into business is that they have historically done a worse job than a free market. The past century has plenty of examples of that, beginning with drastically different state of affairs on both sides of the Berlin wall. So yes, government revenue will go down. And no, it’s not a bad thing. Consumers might be better off after all, as this revenue will go elsewhere instead.

As a side note, proponents of liquor privatization should also stop touting the exercise as revenue-neutral. The question of revenue is irrelevant to the topic; the only question is do we want the government to be in this business or not.

And finally, claims the report, government liquor stores are inherently better than private ones in refusing alcohol sale to minors.

This is especially interesting, since just a few pages earlier the report was trumpeting the fact that private stores are mostly small ones, while government stores are mostly large. If that is not an admission that we are comparing apples to oranges, then I don’t know what is. If we want a fair comparison, let’s compare small corner stores with small LCBO stores – like gas stations with LCBO license – and see if results are any different. And then compare large private stores with large government ones. Admittedly, it will be hard to find a jurisdiction where both kinds exist and are equivalent in size and environment.

On a separate note, if we are not happy with how convenience stores enforce age regulations, then the first thing we should do – before we even get into all this alcohol talk – is stop letting them sell tobacco. But we let them keep the cigarettes on the shelves, so this tells us that the situation is somehow acceptable. However, this is not an argument for alcohol privatization, as it can be countered that we don’t want to be making a bad situation worse.

The real problem with the “responsible sale” argument is that it promotes guillotine as a cure for dandruff. Yes, convenience stores may do a lousy job enforcing age regulations, denying service to minors and requiring IDs from everyone else. Who says there are no simpler solutions to this? Maybe just more enforcement or stiffer penalties would fix it, or at least bring to acceptable levels? Or another idea: in some states down south they ID everyone and enter the number in the system – so you cannot make the sale without an ID (and that includes everyone, even if they’re 70). Not saying that any of these solutions is the right one for Ontario, but it just doesn’t make any sense that having any issue with alcohol sales enforcement should lead straight to government monopoly.

We can go on and on, but these points are probably enough. If the above does not convince you that liquor sales should be privatized and deregulated in Ontario, then at the very least this should demonstrate that the debate will not be settled by marketing papers disguised as economic studies from the Beer Store economic gurus.

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The Rich Get Richer – And That’s a Good Thing

We are constantly told that the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. In fact, this phrase has been resurfacing here and there for the last 200 years. Surely, it has been mentioned more frequently in the last few decades, but then again, everything has been mentioned more frequently in the last few decades. On the aggregate, we just publish more things nowdays.

But here we are again, with the same storm in a teacup – the Oxfam came up with the next shocker: the 85 richest people, it claims, are “as wealthy” as the poorest half of the world, all together. In the original report, Oxfam was complaining about increased influence and control of the rich. However, the “85 vs half” factoid was grabbed by the media and made into the main issue – and this is what this post will concentrate on.

There are two problems with that fact. The first one is that it is wrong.

It is easy to see why. Take one of the richest people in the world – Warren Buffett. Could you tell that he is rich by looking at him? He lives in a house he bought for $31,500 in 1957; owns no yachts or expensive automobiles; goes to work every day even though he is 83 as of this writing. There is nothing in what Buffett is doing that would help you identify him as “rich”.

The wealth that Buffett “owns” is mostly shares in different corporations. These corporations are companies that produce stuff that every one of us, rich and poor, consumes. Buffett has holdings in American Express, Costco, DISH, DirecTV, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Visa, and many, many others. In a way, this portfolio represents where Buffett exercises control, but is pretty much useless as a measure of wealth inequality.

As far as wealth inequality goes, we have to look at spending, not at net worth. And as the spending goes, the poorest half, or even tenth, will beat the richest people of the world hands down – mega-yachts and all. So the claim that this net worth disparity is somehow reflective of wealth inequality is simply wrong.

Control-wise, it is absolutely right, the rich control the means of production. But rather than thinking how we can take that control “away from the rich” and “give it to the poor”, we should channel our energy into creating an environment where becoming rich is only possible by showing good judgement and insight – the very qualities we need in people whom we entrust with the control of our most important industries. This will assure that the most important decisions are made by most capable people – who are generously rewarded for that. I freely admit that we may not be quite there, but that is a different issue.

The second problem with the “85 vs half” fact is that growing disparity in net worth between the rich and the poor is actually a good thing. As our economy grows, we build more and more capital. We build more factories, more machines, more technology, extract more raw materials. As our quality of life increases, there is more we produce. There are more factors of production – there is more for the rich to own.

As there is more stuff to go around, people who have less of it, can get more. People who already have more of it, can get more still. So when the rich get richer, we should all be happy: this means our economy is growing.

The poor get richer as well: the poor today are way better off than the poor 50 years ago; and those are better off than the poor 100 years ago. But the poor live paycheck to paycheck, and do not accumulate significant net worth – by their very definition. When the poor start accumulating net worth, they cease being poor and drop out of the statistics. Therefore, even as their purchasing capacity increases, the net worth stays low, and this is where this “disparity” can be seen.

So let’s not let the envy define our politics. Envy is a bad thing, and it clouds reason. There’s always someone richer than you. We should think about how we become rich ourselves, rather than how we take things away from people who have more than we do.


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Mainstream Economics and Flying Unicorns: part 2

In the previous post we looked at a way to construct a common sense test: given an economic claim, we can try to see if this claim corresponds to our everyday experience.

We are not satisfied with scholastic, logical-sounding explanations such as “my spending is your income, therefore spending is good” – they may very well be true, but it is also possible to overlook some additional relevant piece of data. For example, it could be “my spending is your income, BUT …..” – and whatever follows the “but” may turn the entire conclusion upside-down.

We start with the claim that consumer spending is good for economy. The claim that spending is bad for the individual, but good for the whole has long been recognized as counter-intuitive. It is known as the “paradox of thrift“. Some point as far back as “The Fable of the Bees” (1714), but a real use in economic context does not really start before John M. Keynes in the beginning of twentieth century.

In simple words, we are taught from the childhood that savings and frugality are generally good. One who spends all the time will soon be ruined, but if you constrain your spending and save, you will grow prosperous. This is very intuitive and clear to us. However, mainstream economics teaches quite the opposite: when everyone starts saving, the economy experiences a crisis, therefore, saving is bad, and we must boost consumer spending so our economy can thrive. Then the economists go one step further and say that if consumers refuse to spend, the government must take their money away (as taxes or budget deficits) and spend it for them. Beyond “my spending is your income” explanation, a “fallacy of composition” is offered as an attempt to make our intuitions sound wrong a-priori. The rule says that “what’s right for the part is not necessarily right for the whole”. That would be true were we talking about rights and wrongs. But in our case, “what’s intuitive for the part may or may not be intuitive for the whole, depending on the case” – sounds like a more suitable rule.

Next claim on our list – accommodative monetary policy – is no less surprising, except it didn’t get its own fancy-sounding paradox name. What it tells us is that we can print colourful pieces of paper (or, “drop money from helicopters”) and magically end up more prosperous than before. It doesn’t make any intuitive sense – money itself does not create goods from nothing, regardless how much of it you print. Again, we are offered a very logical-sounding explanation, pointing to concepts such as liquidity trap. That explanation may be true, but it doesn’t settle the cognitive dissonance of the original proposition – cannot we be missing something?

The claim on immigration is particularly surprising. Imagine this: a man speaks to an immigration officer at the border crossing of a (western) country of your choice. The officer asks him: “what is the purpose of your visit to our country?” The man replies: “I’m coming here to find work. I am an experienced builder, and am going to build houses for your people”. “You cannot do that!” – exclaims the officer – “how dare you come here and tell me you’d be building houses for my fellow countrymen! Return to your own country at once!” – and the conversation is over. Again, a perfectly reasonable explanation: the man at the border will “take a job” that “belongs” to another builder in that country, and we must “protect our jobs” from foreigners taking them. But… cannot we be missing anything? Doesn’t this feel somehow a good thing when people line up at our borders to build houses for us?

And by the way, that unfortunate foreign worker would also be a consumer of his own, and of other people’s goods and services, creating that prized consumer spending we’re so bent on increasing – but that argument is somehow lost on job protection zealots.

And finally, the last claim is a total killer. We must have an advantageous trade balance, it says – we should export as much as possible, and import as little as possible. That way we will have all the jobs that are needed to produce the goods, and the rest of the world will have none! We will be working, and they will not! We will build goods for them, and they will consume them! A clear win for us! Or is it? On a personal level, when I’m working and someone else doesn’t, when I produce stuff and someone else consumes it, I’d see it as a clear disadvantage for myself. Why can’t I be idle and consume the stuff they produce instead? That would seem a much better proposition. The “official” explanation probably goes back to historical Mercantilism, but right now most of it is centred around the same idea of “protecting our jobs”.

Of course, none of the critiques above is a proof that these claims are false, or even slightly wrong. I only try to show how counter-intuitive they are. They could very well be right – our intuitions have been shown spectacularly wrong before. But before we accept a counter-intuitive claim, a proof must be offered that is sufficiently convincing for us to accept something that our basic life experience says is wrong.

So the next step will be to examine the proofs that are offered by mainstream economics to these counter-intuitive claims, and see if any of that qualifies as “extraordinary proof” that we are looking for.

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Mainstream Economics and Flying Unicorns: part 1

It is a well known phrase popularized by Carl Sagan: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence. As puts it, if Alice tries to convince Bob she went to a movie last night, a ticket stub will perfectly do. If however, she claims she flew on a unicorn, an officially-looking receipt will hardly be sufficient. (We might add here that if her being at a movie last night were her alibi in a murder case, a ticket stub may not have been sufficient either, but we digress).

This approach certainly holds true in modern science. A great example is Quantum physics: the claims it makes are extraordinary to the point that Albert Einstein refused to believe them initially. However, extraordinary evidence was indeed provided: ability to predict results of experiments with amazing precision, plus a theorem to show that no other explanation is possible.

Mainstream economics puts forth a number of claims, backed by evidence. However, some of these claims could be considered quite extraordinary, while some of the evidence on par with a movie ticket stub.

Let’s list some of the claims that are made, and then try to show how extraordinary they are, and what they are substantiated with:

  • Declining spending is harmful to the economy. If a recession hits, government must step up spending to keep the economy going.
  • Accommodative monetary policy (a.k.a. money printing) can be used to create economic growth.
  • People should be prevented from coming to our country to work, because they will take our jobs for themselves. Only if the job cannot be locally filled, should we agree to bring in a foreign worker or an immigrant.
  • We should try to export as much goods as possible, and import as little goods as possible. This will let us have more jobs and prosperity.

There are more claims of this kind, but let’s limit ourselves to these four.

First let’s see if these claims are extraordinary.

To do that, we must agree on the goal of economics. Terms such as “economic growth” are not well defined for our purposes. Since we are looking for a common sense evaluation, mathematical definitions within the bounds of the current economic theory will not only be unhelpful, but in some cases amount to circular logic.

I propose that we adopt the notion of “prosperity” as the ultimate goal of all economics and all policy. This is because “prosperity” is immediately evident to everyone and does not require extra definitions or discussion. We all know that “prosperity” means “having more stuff”, or something along these lines. Of course, that prosperity can be distributed in different ways, and we need an additional concept of “fairness” to accompany it. But let’s first see the claims pass the initial test of prosperity: would it make sense for these policies to increase overall prosperity, or are we talking about flying unicorns?

Having agreed on the goal, we must agree on what constitutes “extraordinariness”, or disagreement with common sense. The proponents of these claims take the easy route: they present to us a logical explanation, saying, for example: “my spending is your income, therefore the more I spend, the more you earn, and this is why increasing spending makes sense”. This is a very logical-sounding claim, however it does not qualify as a measure of common sense. Consider a different claim: “Newton’s third law states that any force applied to a body results in an equal force applied back. Therefore, if I punch you in the face, I’d be just as hurt as you are”. Both statements make a logical-sounding claim; however it is evident that the second statement’s conclusion is highly counter-intuitive. Therefore, there must be something else that results in common sense agreement, something beyond a mere scholastic argument.

For our purposes, a very simple measure will suffice. We will need to find an everyday experience that is very similar to what we are describing in the claim, and ask ourselves: is this what you would normally do or expect to happen?

An immediate objection is proof of equivalence. Whatever experience we find that disagrees with the claim, it can immediately be claimed that it is totally different, and the same rules do not apply. However, we should keep in mind that we are not looking for a mathematical proof here. We are looking for common sense, no more.

Therefore, if we find that (a) it makes sense that the experiences are equivalent, and (b) it makes sense that you would act in a certain way in that situation, than whoever claims otherwise should bring some extra evidence that either (a) or (b) do not hold.

In the following post, we will use these criteria to evaluate the extent to which the claims above are extraordinary or not.

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Rob Ford is Still Popular Precisely Because He Is So Bad

OK, so we know Rob Ford has done some Bad Stuff. For those who don’t, let me recap briefly:

He smoked crack cocaine, has been drunk in public multiple times, hung out with people with criminal connections and initially tried to lie about all this.

Even prior to that, he has been reported to be a bully with no regard to other people’s opinion and generally hard to work and/or compromise with.

That short list is usually a political career killer elsewhere. Not for Rob Ford – his popularity is still somewhere in the 40% region, which is pretty darn good for a Mayor of this city. What is different with Rob Ford? – or is it Toronto?

Some answers have been suggested. Most boil down to the fact that people want a conservative Mayor so badly that they don’t mind a little bit of crack habits to go with it.

Somehow that doesn’t sit well with me. People in Toronto want a Conservative Mayor? Since when is Toronto a bastion of Conservatism? Sure, there have been some inroads made last Federal election, but that’s far from a tectonic shift in Toronto’s political map.

But that argument is being taken seriously, and small- and big-C conservatives have sprang to their feet to distance themselves from Rob Ford. “He is not a real conservative” – they say. “His financial record is not that good“, “There are other good conservative mayoral candidates to choose from” – etc. etc.

I’m thinking of a different explanation: Rob Ford is popular precisely because he is so bad, and because our politics (on all levels!) has increasingly become about grabbing a bigger share of a government handout.

Consider this example: you have to send a representative to a meeting with a number of other people. The purpose of a meeting is to split a pie between all representatives, which will then give the shares to people who sent them. There are no rules: arguments can be made, bribes offered, alliances formed, even physical violence can be used.

You have two choices: one is an exemplary citizen with good manners, known to be sensitive to other people’s opinions, while the other is a bully and a gangster who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Who will you send to the meeting as your representative – provided all you want is a bigger piece of a pie?

There is no right answer to this of course, but you can see that a lot of people will opt for the bully, and not for the politician. How many people? About 40%,  I’d say.

Granted, Rob Ford does not campaign on promising handouts. He is not vote-buying in that sense. What he promises is something more valuable to his voters: he promises to block others’ attempts to spend their money giving it out to interest groups. And he has hard fists to show that he may succeed.

The rest of his policies are not even very conservative: he still wants to build subsidized subways, and his financial “prudence” is limited to trying to find efficiencies –  and I think we have learned by now that this can only have a limited success.

Rob Ford’s continued popularity only serves to highlight the sad state of today’s politics: it is no longer about fiscal prudence and good governance. It is about who gets a bigger piece of the handout pie.

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