Category Archives: education

Oil or Nothing: Alberta’s false dichotomy

Leduc1_WesternExaminerImage_GlenbowAs long as I can remember in Alberta our defining narrative has been oil or nothing. Which, given that I was born in Alberta in 1968 and came of age in Alberta in the 1980s, rather coincided with how the rest of the world saw the story of modern human prosperity.

Fossil fuels, the industrial revolution, automation. We used to think of it as an uphill journey we had come to the end of. But it wasn’t an uphill climb, it dipped and soared. And the journey isn’t coming to an end, the resource is.

These booms and busts became the Alberta story. In the boom everyone celebrated oil, in the busts everyone became nostalgic for oil. Getting stuck in today’s self congratulation is not future forward. Nostalgia is not future forward. Oil is not future forward.

As decades have rolled by the global mindset has shifted, and there are significant swaths of the global physical and ideological landscape that have begun to look past oil (past fossil fuels in general) and toward a future we need to prepare for.

We lag behind in Alberta. We still tell ourselves that our future is oil or nothing. Sadly our stubborn refusal to lift our heads and look down the road has meant that we have not adequately prepared for our future on the immediate horizon.

This is why I am less concerned with Alberta’s current deficit than some are. I’m not happy about it. I think it absolutely could have been avoided, but that avoidance horizon was 20 years ago. It can’t be avoided now if we want our province to be prosperous into the real and looming future.

windturbinecropWe need to bring our infrastructure up to a level that makes us competitive. We need to educate our youth to a level that makes them competitive. We need to build an economy that is competitive.

Yes, we are creating a debt that will be handed down to our children, but at least this time the debt we are creating will be offset by their prosperity gain. Debts past were handed to next generations who had less to pay the debt off with.

Our young people, and our own generation, can and should invest now in alternatives to oil. For reasons of economic stability. For reasons of environmental preservation. For reasons of lofty ambition and creativity and what makes the humans unique as a species.

Close up of a graduation cap and a certificate with a ribbon --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

So, thank you Alberta NDP for reinvesting in education. Our kids will have the means to pay back the debt because we borrowed to give them the skills for future jobs.

No more boom and bust. No more oil or nothing.

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A pedant’s place (musings on work and work spaces)

A friend of mine recently posted a retrospective of the ‘typical’ office desk as it has changed over the last 30 years. It got me thinking about how what I do and why I do it has changed over the last 30 years.

I graduated highschool in 1986, 30 years ago. In 1986 I was expected to get a job, find a husband, buy a house, have some kids and blend into a suburban life. Post-secondary education was not on the radar in my family sphere but I bucked that trend and went to university, albeit it took me 5 years to do so.

Smith_Corona_4000DS_Word_Processor_Electric_TypewriterLiving on my own, my first ‘home office’ was in the unfinished basement by the hot water heater, furnace and washing machine. Half the desk top was cluttered with my art supplies. I remember writing term papers on my electric typewriter. In my second year of university I got a computer and I was able to word process. Aside from finishing the last term paper and graduating university, this is how my life stayed for the longest time. All my best laid plans sat in a dark corner of the basement gathering dust.

For the past 20 years my life has been more concerned more with my pay cheque and benefits and less with my dreams and ambitions.

Things have finally changed. What I want and what I will accept from both work and my free time has changed. I care a whole heck of a lot less about my pay cheque than I do about meaningful work. To be fair, my husband makes a good living so my priority shift is being financed by his desire to see me happy. We both choose to prioritize happiness and meaning for both of us, he just got there before me.

When I quit my government job to go back to school full time I made a conscious break. I re-trained for something new. I hated the old box. Hated being a cog in the big wheel. Hated the corporate speak. Hated the long sentences short on meaning. Hated, hated, hated, HATED every minute of it.

I loved my second round of term papers, and was giddy about my plan to reemerge into a world of meaningful, fulfilling employment. I got a contract right away and at the end I had a chance at full time employment, but I let it go.

Rent-Office-Cubicles-CharlotteIt turns out it wasn’t just the type of work (although it absolutely was the way they did the work), it was the work environment as well. Seriously, who the hell can be happy in a drab cubicle with no access to natural light for 7 hours?

Since letting that opportunity go I have applied for a few jobs. The few interviews I have had haven’t gone well because I chafed during them. I bloody hate the interview. I think I am just refusing to say what I know they want to hear. Three times now on my way out my interviewer has said “Thanks for your candor”. I’m pretty certain that’s code for “you went off our script”. Off script is good. It doesn’t equate to out of control, it equates to exploring new possibilities and thinking on your feet. The person who eventually hires me will want a person who thinks, and thinks a lot.

I have found some odd work here and there, and have lent my skills to some not-for-profit organizations. Oddly enough I communicate better with them because I think I just respect them more because they live outside the box by their very nature.

Long story short, I’m not working right now.

I’m OK with that because tof what has changed. I will work. But I will  not work in a box. I will be creative. I will take risks. I will make a difference. I will have access to natural light.

So that’s it, 2016 and 47 years of chasing ideas from a dingy, dark, dusty second hand desk wedged in a corner next to a furnace to this:

where i sitI think it’s an improvement. Certainly the office politics have improved. I think 2016 bodes well for outside the box.

 

Common enemies beg common allies

The pace of change and confrontation in politics is ramping up exponentially since I began this blog.

Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, climate change and missing and murdered aboriginal women fueled a lot of my writing, with the occasional lighter social comment mixed in. I actually had a blog that was a bit lighter written and scheduled, but after what happened in Paris I pulled it back.

We can now add terrorism and the issue of refugees to the list of required radical cultural shifts polarizing our societies and communities. I know that’s probably been a front burner issue for Europeans for some time, but it has been back burner here in Canada. I was aware, but it hadn’t yet disrupted my life so I kept on with my own causes.

I am so very glad that I am on firm political footing where I live. Alberta did well in our last election and our government is full steam ahead addressing many of the issues I mentioned in my second paragraph. Canada also turned away from the dark side in our last federal election, and so far the brand new government seems to be heading in the right, and righteous, direction on most of those issues as well. It looks like Canada is doing the right thing.

new appWhich is why maybe I am so heartily dismayed at some of the reaction I see on social media after Paris. I have seen extended family posting bigoted memes. Sadly I’ve have also heard that my husband and two of my son’s have this sort of hateful, ignorant rhetoric in their circles. I don’t and neither does the oldest boy, but I suppose that only attests to how narrowly we have selected for our social groups. I could continue to live in my comfy bubble of people that are rational and compassionate, but then who will work to oppose the hatred?

I can only think of one way to stem the tide of racism and hateful rhetoric. It is to look around you and really think. We are surrounded by reasons not to be so hate-filled. Just read the story below…

My husband stopped for a badly needed trim at a barber shop in Stony Plain (pretty sure it was there).

As my husband sat in the chair, the barber talked of nothing but Paris and how ISIS isn’t really Muslim and how he disagrees with them and how wrong violence is. The barber was Muslim.

Think about it.

Imagine being that barber right now. His ability to continue living in peace and harmony with his neighbours is being eroded by terrorists. Is he afraid his wife or children will be attacked – verbally or physically? Is he afraid he will be attacked? Is he afraid his business will suffer and he will lose his ability to support his family? Is he afraid that nothing he has done to this point matters, and all that counts now is what people who claim to be like him have done?

Does he lay awake at night wondering how he can protect himself from an enemy who claims to be his ally against an ally who claims he is the enemy?

Think of that. Then realise what you and this barber have in common is that both of you are victims of the extremist terrorists who are using Islam as a false shield for their evil.

Planning for preferable politics, in baby steps

 

This federal election seems to me to be a culmination of  all the dissatisfaction felt by progressive Canadians with our electoral system. The system, after all, dictates how well we are able to exercise our democratic rights. It dictates how responsive our government must be to the will of the majority of the people they govern.

There is more to Canadian democracy than electing a member of parliament. In fact, I would argue that the health and efficacy of a democracy should be measured not by the simple freedom to cast a ballot, but by how well those ballots cast inform the government and the plurality of views that government must represent.

And I ask you, how can either of those two requirements be met when our range of choices is restricted to two? A or B. Good or bad. Black of white. For nearly a century and half. It’s been ‘my way’, or the ‘highway’.

The system is not serving our better interest, that’s true. However, right now the first past the post system is the symptom, and our voting behavior is the disease. Our voting behavior can change the system and get us more of what we need from our government.

best doc crop

I don’t understand why we don’t intuitively realise that our system does not offer actual choice when we only ever give two parties power to form government. We praise capitalism, choice and competition, and by in large we regard it as the superior economic model. We boo and hiss at the mention of monopolies, or oligopolies that collude to restrict our perfectly capitalist range of options as consumers.

Yet, we don’t follow the same logic in our politics. Ours is a political oligopoly in which two parties collude to only work hard enough to appear to offer an alternative product, while actually churning out the same sense of entitlement to govern.

ice cream choice crop

We need democracy and choice, and we need the political innovation that comes only from collaboration. We should balk at having one party in power too long, or two parties sharing access to power unchallenged because these arrangements restrict our range of political options as voters.

Canada has swung between the Liberal and Conservative parties since Canada was Canada. We swing between centre right and centre left and feel as if we are experiencing the full range of political options available.  The Liberals make us mad, so we turf them and elect the Conservatives. The Conservatives make us mad so we turf them and replace them with the people who made us mad last time. What we have is revolving door politics and short term change for long term pain.

revolving door politics

It’s like the freakin’ hokey pokey. That’s not what it’s all about, trust me. It’s supposed to be all about real options and real political progress.

What does progress look like to you? Like what we had yesterday? Like what we have today? Personally, when I think of progress I think of what we could have tomorrow.

You need to think for yourself when you cast your vote.

Don’t fall for the fear of the unknown. Penicillin was once unknown, polio vaccine was once unknown, the sequence of the human DNA was once unknown. The unknown is just unknown. A party that is an unknown might also have new ideas. They might have more incentive to cater to us than to just try and look better than their only opponent. Right now the parties aren’t fighting for us, they are fighting each other for power. Elect three; two to wrestle, one to referee.

It will be no shock to those who know me that I voted NDP at the advance polls. One of the primary reasons is that I believe the NDP will bring in proportional representation because as a current political outsider they have a vested interest in new ideas and in breaking down the status quo. The Liberal platform was similar and current polls tell me they have the best chance of defeating Harper – AND THAT IS VERY IMPORTANT – but as a current political insider party they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I am not confident that they will bring in proportional representation. The Green Party – god love ’em – simply don’t have a chance at enough power to create the momentum for change. I am hopeful that change will allow them to become the political force they deserve to be.

My ultimate goal is long term change. You may have very different reasons to vote, but do vote. Vote for what you hope to have and not just against what you’re afraid of getting. Vote to make your voice heard now and tomorrow.

murrow quote

 

Missing & murdered …

 

six of one, half dozen of another

I have been so proud to witness the (overdue) change in attitude toward aboriginal peoples in Canada in the last couple of years.

The Truth and Reconciliation commission‘s efforts were so well done and so positive. I am not aboriginal, but I felt like I was bettered and healed by it. Certainly my society was. It’s a first step, anyway. Truth is a lifelong goal, and at least we are pursuing it now.

That Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson was so solidly and unflinchingly in support of the pursuit made me proud to be an Edmontonian. That our new Premier Rachel Notley consistently references aboriginal people and the fact that we are on Treaty 6 land made me proud that Alberta had grown up, finally.  Top that with hearing my local federal NDP candidate Heather MacKenzie reference the inequality in resources provided to aboriginal children in their education and point out that we are all on Treaty 6 land, and the NDP party leader Thomas Mulcair  talk about taking aboriginal issues seriously makes me hope that our federal landscape is on the threshold of a constructive cultural shift.

Today was the REDdress campaign to lend visibility to the issue of a crisis of violence against aboriginal and indigenous women in our nation. On social media, women were encouraged to hang a red dress on their homes to show they understand the issue is real and protest our current Conservative government’s refusal to take real action.

This is one of the issues that will define us a nation as we go forward. There are too many truly terrifying issues being lobbed around in this election, that this one flies just under the radar is shameful.

Vote better. Act better. Be better, Canada.

mmiv do better

This is the way we all lose #elxn42

A friend just sent me this article in a direct message. Probably because they know I am all over politics. Openly. I am choosing to be open in my reply to this article because I think we all need to be more open and vocal about politics, and stop misinterpreting political discourse as impolite.

READ THIS

My sense is that Stephen Harper is, to some degree, xenophobic. I say this based on statements he has made in the past and the people he has chosen to align himself with. I can only imagine how much worse his inner monologue is, because I also think he is keenly intelligent and knows what not to say out loud.

HOWEVER, my strongest sense about Stephen Harper is that he is very much a man who want power for himself. He is less concerned with how he gets that power than with any ideology. Which is not to say that when he is successful in securing his power that he will not then act upon his ideology.

We should be asking ourselves whether he is the master of manipulation because that is what he excels at. He manipulates people who, for reasons I do not comprehend and have lost the willingness to accommodate, seek simple, superficial and easy answers to the complex questions in life.

Those people vote in knee-jerk reaction to Harper’s masterful dog-whistle politics. Those people hand him the power, which he then uses to undermine each and every one of us. He undermines our access to information (which I guess most people don’t mind because clearly very few of us bother to access information before forming opinions), he undermines our public goods, he undermines our social fabric, he undermines our institutions. He incrementally takes power away from the electorate and puts more power in the hands for the few. And his own hands as Prime Minister.

So, does he believe that it is un-Canadian to cover your face when you take participate in a non binding ceremony? No. But he does believe those women should be able to do and not do as they wish as his whim. And that is terrifying. He believes he should have the right to define what is Canadian. Does he believe that stripping citizenship will survive a Charter challenge, or go unchallenged under international law? No. But he does believe he should have the right to rank Canadians according to his personal whim. And that is terrifying. Does he think he has evidence that the Alberta NDP government is a disaster? No. But he does think he has the right to declare any organization that has ideas contrary to his own to be wrong, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The scandals that he is suppressing with his dog-whistle and showboating xenophobic assertions are beautiful. They tell me that somewhere in this wounded democratic machine someone is still working for the public good and bringing the corruption to light. For every corruption you see I have no doubt there are ten of which we are not yet aware.

Harper’s ideology is control. He sees that tolerance and sharing of wealth undermine the extent of his control.

He wants us to re-elect him so he can tell us what is good for us. He wants us to re-elect him so that he can continue to do things on our behalf without our knowledge or consent.

He knows that a huge proportion of the electorate that bother to vote then immediately disengage. (Never mind those who simply don’t even care enough to vote)

Canadians want a government they can trust to do what is right, and so they trust without remaining vigilant or questioning.

 

I want YOU to re-elect a government that allows facts and evidence, and yes public preferences that are based in evidence, to tell them what is good for us.

 

Is Harper a racist? Probably. A little. But it isn’t his worst flaw. And that isn’t the important question. The important question is are you? Because if you aren’t you need to wake up and pay attention to the shell game we are calling #elxn42.

 

 

PLEASE challenge me on this. I do change my opinions if I hear good reason. What I don’t change is my world view or my sense of what is, and what is not moral.

Penurious Progress (as the sexual revolution marches on)

I was going to just post a reply on Facebook to this, but I started to run on…

What got me started was this article, posted in response to this article.

The tension building up from the sexual revolution is palpable and painful to the touch.

Sexuality is on the cutting edge of a huge cultural shift going on right now in our world. I tend to think of cultural shifts as being like the San Andreas fault. A whole bunch of tension builds up and then there is a sudden lurch. The lurches aren’t controlled and can be both good and destructive at the same time.

The problem faced by legislators trying to address sexual autonomy and rape culture is that laws are written as if the people they apply to have one culture. Our culture is hardly uniform. We have a culture evolving, with subgroups of that culture evolving at differing rates and developing differing ways of coping with change. Can we apply a law uniformly to a culture that is far from uniform? I’m not sure – which is not an argument against trying, it is just a comment on the difficulty of doing it well.

There are a couple other things these articles bring up that I’d like to touch on.

We do need to work on the culture of entitlement to sex. That means making (some) men fully understand sex is for mutual benefit. I firmly believe most men know that, and that the problem is largely that there is no good way for women to tell the good guys from the bad guys. You good guys, get to work on making that easier for us.

We also really really need to make sure women understand that both yes and no are valid. There should be no fear, hesitation, judgement, or repercussions associated with having, or not having sex. One of the things I hear a lot is that men are vulnerable to women accusing of them of sexual assault when they later regret having had sex with them. Forget the flawed premise that women are that vindictive for a minute for the sake of staying on topic. Why don’t we just make sure women don’t have to sort out mixed cultural signals that lead them to regret their decisions? Let’s get rid of the madonna whore complex that brands women sluts when they say yes and teases when they say no, because it’s hard to give a straight answer when neither answer is a winner for you.

Lastly, and I love this part, the article touches on commitment and relationships. The sexual revolution freed men and women part way, but kept both genders tangled up in old mores and attitudes. That left the rebellion against strict sexual codes open to excess. There has been excess. The hook up culture leaves everybody vulnerable to misunderstandings. Sex and lust are not really conducive to obtaining legally defensible consent. We get swept up in lust and it inhibits our ability to read other people. Again, not an excuse for men ignoring signals, just an explanation of how a subtle signal could get lost. Also not an argument against making consent the cornerstone of sexual assault laws. The better you know someone the more familiar you are with their subtle communication. Within commitment, consent is informed by an existing framework of mutual respect and affection. Now that we have the right to have sex we should make sure it is actually right to have sex.

I am fixated on this issue. I was so very lucky to be raised by a mother who never made me feel like sex was a dirty word and a father who never made me feel like having sex was a bad decision. I observe from a very safe place. I see all the tangled issues and all I can do is comment from my point of view as a woman who hasn’t been afraid to speak up, who was never called a slut for saying yes or a tease for saying no, in a society where women are pretty empowered, and as a woman who has a fabulous partner in her life and a stable and mutually fulfilling relationship. I wish everyone could have what I have. But they need my parents, and they need my background.

I am trying my darndest to spread the good stuff around. You can too.

Let’s start by outing men like Daryush Valizadeh who are not compatible with where we want to go as a culture. Let’s raise our kids to respect sex, and respect each other. Let’s admit that, in our desire to make change, we are going to make mistakes and will have to tweak how we deal with issues as they arise, and let’s work together to move forward.

 

…dee dee deedle deedle dee dee dee dee…

So Huffington Post has decided to put Donald Trump’s campaign coverage in their entertainment section as a way of indicating their refusal to take his parody of political discourse seriously.clown trump

Mother Jones is countering that the problem is that Trump is a serious contender. I agree. He has a frightening level of supportive.

They’re both right.

I understand what Huffington Post is doing. I one hundred per cent support refusing to give this …

trump ruprict

…a seat at the grown-up table. His ideas, beliefs and commentary are laughable. No intelligent, informed, mature person could possibly take his views seriously. America shouldn’t take him seriously. He has no place in serious political discourse. He shouldn’t be given any serious thought as a potential leader. Energy spent portraying him as a serious voice for the average American or as an advocate for the American way of life is energy wasted. While there is (sadly) a market for his kind of chicanery, that market demographic isn’t the intelligent thoughtful voter looking to cast an informed ballot.  He should be ignored for the same reason you don’t give in to your screaming toddler in the toy store.

I also understand what Mother Jones is saying. The right wing created the environment in which Donald Trump became a ‘credible’ right wing voice, and now the joke is on them. He and his ilk have turned the American political and social system against the best interest of America by cranking up the volume on the least rational parts of American society. The right wing is feeding on itself, eating its own tail in an ever more desperate bid to achieve conservative political immortality and defeat progressive liberalism. Trump represents the monster that the right wing allowed to grow out of the childish desire to never admit the legitimate, demonstrable constructive progress America is making in the absence of conservative rule.

No, the joke is on the whole society. Donald Trump could be the undoing of the GOP, or worse, the undoing of the US as a respected world power. Really.

Trump sets the bar dangerously low for the GOP. Pretty well any looney they choose to lead them into the next election is going look like a right minded competent human being compared to the alternative – if the alternative is Donald Trump. Sadly this just sets the race up to elect someone who sits just a smidgen to the left of complete asshattery who will appeal to the rabble but inevitably damage the GOP and, if elected, do real damage to the country. Let’s be honest; politics isn’t about finding the best person for the job, it’s about finding the least bad person. Often, and I am tempted to say always in the American 2 party system, casting a ballot is like deciding to settle on a rock or in a hard place.

Ignoring Donald Trump could have dire consequences. America is in a tough spot right now.cob over trump

On a local note, I personally think this is where Alberta and Canada was/is heading but for our inherent tendency to be skeptical of the kind of tomfoolery and corruption that gives fodder to extreme thinking or behavior. We are a nation of moderates that can be roused from our political apathy when our moderation is threatened.

Unfortunately in the US moderation has never caught on so they take everything they do to the extreme, often to the point of defying logic. Donald Trump for President is the result. As much as it hurts our heads, the world would be wise to listen to this man talk so we keep tabs on the crazy before it gets any more out of control because clearly the US hasn’t got a handle on the situation.

 

Pork-barrel-pie Politics

So topic of the day has to be the pie. Look at this political poster.

pie politics

B Y W P … Bring Your Wife’s Pie.

In spite of the people who claim that this is not a real issue, I am going to explain why it actually is an issue and why it actually is offensive to progressive Albertans.

I know it can be subtle, but sexism in politics is a real problem. It seems minor in the same way that low dose daily exposure to a carcinogen seems minor. Sexist stereotypes interfere with the ability of women (and the non cisgender, non heterosexual members of our communities) to fully and confidently participate in political life. I am only able to personally address how it affects heterosexual women, but I know that other communities suffer the same type of ill effects.

Let me tell me what is NOT wrong with this poster and get that out of the way. Reaching out to people and creating community is very constructive. Calling people together to participate in the democratic politic process is admirable. And in my personal opinion, pie is the ultimate dessert – nothing beats a fresh apple pie with a good homemade crust.

What’s WRONG with this poster?

It is pretty clearly an invitation to men. Which, in and of itself, is perfectly acceptable. It can be acceptable to target specific audiences if you are addressing issues and concerns specific to that audience. For instance, is acceptable to exclude teenagers from a conversation about seniors housing …

… UNLESS that info is being handed out at a political rally during an election. I will explain that later.  The acceptability of the exclusion is negated by the tone and underlying message of the information that goes along with the invitation.

It is an invitation to men married to women. It passively discourages single men and men married to other men by painting a specific picture of who should attend. Not overtly, but covertly and passively, the call to participation looks straight married men in the eye while avoiding the gaze of everyone else. If it was direct and stated that it was a meeting for straight married men to discuss some concern exclusive to straight married men then it would be better. However, politics are in no way exclusive to straight married men, nor should they be.

Then there’s the ‘Bring your wife’s pie’ part. That is truly insidious. So much is between the lines of that text. Have your wife make a pie for you to bring along, it’s OK as the man of the house you are entitled to use her labour for your own gain. Of course she makes it, women cook, you couldn’t bake your own pie as you are too busy farming and calving and doing man stuff. It also somehow manages to neglect to include the wife in the meeting, almost as if it too manly for her; this politcking is man stuff. Bring her pie with you and learn important political man stuff and then go home and share your new knowledge with the little woman. It harkens back to a dark time for gender relations that we really should not be nostalgic for.

The poster doesn’t leave open the door for anything outside the straight male marriage in which the man does man stuff (like politics) and the woman bakes pies. I admit, it doesn’t close the door on it either, but it is intimidating to see one section of our population ushered through a door while we are left to open the door for ourselves (because they legally can’t actually keep us out). The poster paints a very narrow view of society that serves to exclude people who don’t fit that mould. AND THAT is not appropriate during an election campaign.

Everything about and all the information pertaining to policy, platforms, plans and intentions should be be made as broadly available as possible during an election. During the democratic process there is no room for the politics of exclusion.

During an election  not only do people get to do what our society grants them the legal and moral right to do – choose for themselves how they live, who they love, how they work and what they believe in – they get to decide who they will vote into office to make decisions about how free they are to continue doing those very things. There can be no exclusion at any point in the democratic process.

This isn’t like not letting men in the women’s change room. This isn’t like having men only baseball teams. This is the very core of how we currently define and continue to evolve ourselves and our society.

The world has changed. The world is changing. To have open, inclusive and accountable government we must start with an open, inclusive and accountable democratic process.

gender pie chart

I hope I’ve made my point. This may be my fastest blog yet.

For fun, watch this video of the much respected Peter Lougheed if no other reason that looking back at it is creepy and feels wrong for reasons that are difficult to put a finger on exactly. That is how our kids are going to look at the above poster.

WATCHhttp://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/peter-lougheeds-go-go-campaign

It’s subtle, but watch the men greet him at the door and the women stay inside the threshhold. At 1:15 he meets ‘Martha and Henry’. After the greeting Martha immediately goes back into the home and leaves the politics to the men  …  I don’t even know where to start on the go-go dancers at the end…

Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Corporate Taxation Effect

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said that “Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”

This is a good preface to a discussion of corporate taxation, the costs and benefits of which are debated among economists.

A commonly heard criticism of all taxation is that taxes hurt the economy and that, conversely, cutting them will increase economic growth. This is most frequently heard in relation to corporate taxation.

A corporate tax is a levy placed on the profit of a firm, generally operating earnings.

To be fair, from a purely economic point of view, all taxes are ultimately paid by people. So to really assess the effect of a corporate tax we have to tease out who the cost of the tax is passed on to. It is definitely not all borne by the owners of capital because capital itself is mobile and because the burden can be shifted to other places in production –  onto other groups involved in production. The other groups we generally really care about are workers, shareholders and consumers. It is possible that lower profits manifest as lower wages, lower dividends and higher prices.

All of these are worth considering and should be part of the considerations, WHEN a corporate tax is imposed.

I say WHEN because I am of the mind that corporate taxes are necessary – largely for the same reason that I accept that personal taxes are necessary.

Ask yourself, why do any of us pay taxes?

We pay taxes so government has the money to pay for the provision of the public goods and services that we benefit from. In the same way that I pay the plumber to install the plumbing for the new shower my family and I will use, I pay the government to pave the highway that my family and I will drive on it.

Now ask yourself, do corporations benefit from the provision of public goods and services? Do they benefit from paved roads? Yes; yes they do.

If they don’t pay taxes, they haven’t paid for the good and services. That certainly meets the definition of a free rider problem. No?

Some on the right side of the political spectrum portray corporate taxes as a way that governments force businesses to subsidize spending on programs. They frame it as if all the benefit goes to some vaguely defined proletariat, and these nasty anti-capitalist socialists are just out to punish the hard working drivers of the economy.

It is not anti-business to expect business to contribute to the upkeep of the community they do business in. Corporate taxes are a way a business pays for government provided good and services they derive direct benefit from.

Roads are a perfect example. It would be hard to get your stuff to market without roads. Or education. Do businesses not benefit from access to a pool of skilled labour? I think they do. How about policing? I am pretty sure that businesses benefit from government maintenance of law and order. And health. Healthy employees are efficient employees and  health and safety regulations lend stability to workplaces by providing parameters to how business is conducted that are common across everyone in an industry.

There is a good argument to be made for corporations contributing to the cost of government in the jurisdictions in which they operate.

So, while high taxes may influence where a corporation sets up shop, good infrastructure will also influence that decision.

As for cost shifting, there are constraints on how much a corporation can shift the burden of taxation on the two really vulnerable groups – consumers and workers.

Prices and wages are both sticky; wages downward, prices upward. Both are, to some degree, elastic.

Like capital, skilled labour is relatively mobile. I am sure you’ve noticed the number of eastern Canadians working in Alberta. The skilled labour followed the higher paying jobs. So, while lower wages and employment can increase profit, there is a point at which they will drive away skilled labour and decrease the efficiency of production.

For the same reason that high taxes can drive away capital, high prices can lower sales. Businesses will only pay so much, but the same can be said for consumers – albeit the elasticity of prices varies quite a bit from product to product. Businesses cannot foist the entire cost of taxation onto the consumer without eventually chipping away at their own bottom line.

Obviously there is a point at which corporate taxation will harm the economy, but I definitely believe there is also a lot more inelasticity in corporate taxation than our government is making it out to seem.

In Alberta, and specifically in the oil and gas industry, there is a fair amount of inherent inelasticity. First, the oil sands are physically located here and they have significant infrastructure investments in Alberta so taxing the corporations involved in that industry won’t immediately make them pull up stakes and leave their primary input behind. They need to be here to get the oil.

I don’t feel like Alberta has settled at the spot on the curve where there is a balance. I don’t think we have reached the place where the dues paid by corporations cover the cost the organisation that our government is capable of, and should be, providing. If we had achieved balance we wouldn’t suffer as much from this boom and bust cycle that plagues us. If we all paid our share we would have a little extra to get us through the lean times. That would be balance. We have to provide basics when times are good AND when times are bad. We don’t have a spending problem. We have a revenue problem. We have a government enabled corporate free-rider problem.