Archive for the ‘Statistics and Lies’ Category

Last night I invested several hours listening to the debate on populism between Steve Bannon and David Frum on the November Munk debate.  I turned out to me largely worth it, an enjoyable and surprisingly civil debate.  You can, of course, see the video of it on their site, which would allow you to digest it in smaller doses.

A few thoughts:

  1. The hype and protest against the debate because of Bannon’s “hate speech” was largely undeserved. Now, make no mistake that I disagree with Bannon very strongly and find some of his ideas disturbing.  However, I also believe that the standard has to be very high in order for something to be banned and labelled hate speech.  I saw the film on Bannon at TIFF (which was not protested) and have seen several other interviews, and I’ve never witnessed the level of hateful ideas that would be necessary to ban him as a speaker.  I can’t speak for all of his comments in past years, but what I’ve seen and what I saw last night did not rise to that level.  He’s not a David Duke or a Milo.
  2. I think that Bannon’s ideas are appealing because he is relatively good at pointing at real questions and issues. Like Sartre, he sees the problems, but has no acceptable answers.  I can agree that a form of “elite”, -the ones who caused the 2008 crash for example-, had and still have too much power.  I agree that there is a political class that needs to be shaken up.  But stating a problem doesn’t mean that any old answer/solution is worth trying.  Desperation is not a good motivator when it comes to political standards, and in this case the proof of the pudding was and is very much in the tasting.
    At the very beginning of his opening comment he stated that populism was inevitable and that the only question was whether it would be capitalist or socialist (like Bernie Sanders) populism.  Oddly, he never returned to that point in order to argue the benefits of one type over the other.  Personally I don’t think that either is inevitable, but if that was his thesis, it certainly would have been a point worth pursuing.
  3. The debate, as I said, was very civil and highly informative on both sides. It was worth the wait for it to get started (because of the protestors) and the hours of listening.  Unfortunately the ending was seriously marred by confusion over the audience voting on the question in order to determine a “winner”.  As is the tradition in debates, they polled the audience on the question at the beginning and at the end.  They also, however, added an additional poll as to what percentage of the audience considered themselves willing to change their minds as a result of persuasion in the debate.  The debate was running late and so the ending was rushed.  The result they announced was a win by Bannon with over a 30% shift.  This immediately seemed suspicious considering the amount of laughter at many of Bannon’s statements and the distribution of applause.  As near as I can tell, it turns out that they mistakenly used the numbers for those willing to change their minds instead of those that actually changed their minds, as those numbers are conveniently identical.  Later, on the Face Book site, they posted that the numbers did not shift from the beginning to the end, which makes far more sense.  Bannon’s performance was certainly not stellar enough to cause a 30 point shift.
    Of course this unfortunately gave rise to comments about “fake news” and a “liberal conspiracy”.  What is far more likely is that some poor tech person hit the wrong button or that the system glitched.  But hopefully they will issue a clear and accurate explanation on either the web site or FB page.  To not do this would place a serious blemish on the Munk Debates.

Let’s start with some facts. Something which some news media outlets don’t consider important.

  1. There is very little specific information about the content of the new curriculum available to the general public. That is not surprising as it has been made clear that it is still in the formative stage, with parent input still being sought and utilized. With such a politically and socially charged topic, parading it too early in the media would only lead to a circus which would hinder any kind of intelligent discussion. It eventually must be presented to a wider audience, before implementation and as a final formative stage, but at this point in time it would be counterproductive. Take the Sun Media pouncing on the “Anal 101” graphic behind one of the posters, with absolutely no context or explanation involved. Sex education is an easy target for sensationalism. Case in point, the Charles McVety attacks back in 2010, supported and advanced by the Ontario PC part, subsequently condemned by the Canadian Boadcasting Standards Council as shamelessly bigoted. Currently we see the same kind of shamelessness. It is interesting that a thorough Google shows that only SUN News and the various blogs that have simply cut and pasted their article, have any mention of the “Anal 101” issue. I find this unusual in that SUN is not the only conservative media outlet in Ontario, …just, I guess, the only tawdry one.
    The fact seems to be that parents are still being invited to provide feedback and input regarding this curriculum. If there are suspicions that this might not be a fair vetting, then address that and ask for a better representation of parents in that process. One parent from each school seems to be a good deal, although I can see how some religious groups might fear being left out of the process. There is a Catholic School system in Ontario, though, so they should easily be able to manage adequate representation. The truth of the matter is, though, that many of these religious groups would not be satisfied with anything less than abstinence based education and little more. Their cries of “secrecy” at this stage are not valid, and weren’t with the 2010 document where, clearly, enough was revealed about it to result in protests leading to its cancellation.
    However, I admit that after proper vetting, the provincial government does have a responsibility to release the final document to the public for more general scrutiny. There’s no scenario where that will go well. We live in a social structure with too many divergent values and world views. However, if the majority agrees (-not a majority of parents, but a majority of our society-) then moving ahead with it is the nature of social progress.
  2. This is an old story. As part of Wynne’s campaign when becoming leader of the provincial Liberal Party, she made it clear that she’d supported the scrapped 2010 curriculum document and that it was her intention to reintroduce it in some form. There are news articles to that effect prior to the last provincial election, and yet the Liberals won a majority. There are no transparency issues here. One can’t help but wonder to what degree Wynne’s own sexual orientation may be playing a role in the views of some more conservative critics.
  3. Most educators agree that the 15 year old Sex Ed. curriculum is woefully outdated for the changes that have taken place in that time. A little statistical research (not to mention anecdotal) shows how much of a shift there has been in the level of access to sexual material as a result of social media. Sexting and cameras on everything from home computers to laptops to tablets to phones are a game changer. Attitudes towards sexual engagement have changed and become more open, with the very definition of sexual activity having changed with terms like “wheeling” and “friends with benefits” becoming common place for lunch room banter. Access to pornography has become progressively easier and more commonly sought out than ever before, with most parents powerless to block it short of simply denying kids access to any form of technology. (And then they still have to contend with access that friends may have, -or as I’ve often hear, kids finding it on their parents computers, not realizing that kids are more tech savvy and better able to investigate search histories and hidden files than are the parent.) Having been a teacher (now retired) and a leader of several youth groups, I can say with a degree of authority that I’ve noticed a dramatic and significant shift in this whole area specifically over the past ten years.
  4. When creating and vetting a curriculum guideline, while parents certainly have the right to provide input, so should education experts and teachers. The indication is that most education experts feel that the new curriculum is largely a good thing. Now, I can hear the protest out there, the old adage of “What do experts know, anyway.” Well, I’m sorry but I’m reluctant to bow to the right wing, anti-intellectual movement that seems to be so prevalent in the U.S., and give experts the respect that they are due. It is too easy to disagree by simply dismissing the words of those who have made it their life’s work to study and understand education. What do you replace it with; folk lore and religious dogma?? I can assure you that while such people might be busy asserting such “values”, it will make no difference to the sexual activities of their children. The states in the U.S. with the most dogmatic and repressive attitudes towards sexuality and sex education are also those with the highest incidence of teen/unwanted pregnancy. In Canada it’s Quebec, which, coincidentally, has a largely Catholic school system.
    It is a sad fact that many parents, and especially the parents of kids that are in the highest risk category for early sexual activity, pregnancy and STDs, do not adequately exercise their responsibility of providing information and guidance in sexual matters. At the same time, they are often, though not always, the same people who object to sex education in schools. In many cases this is because they feel that exposing children to information about sex will encourage them to become more promiscuous. As stated above, the statistics are clear the ignorance about sex is directly related to unwanted pregnancy and STDs. By contrast to more conservative areas in the United States and Canada, in The Netherlands, where attitudes about teen sexuality are very open and liberal, teens are 15% more likely to use protection when having sex and the teen pregnancy rate is one sixth what it is in the States. There is one third the STD rate and The Netherlands has less than 1% the incidence of Gonorrhea. Ignorance does nobody any good.

I some ways it can be said that the need for the schools and the sex curriculum to step in is necessary for the very reason that many parents are ill equipped or often unwilling to do it themselves. If they were, the school curriculum would be less essential in properly equipping students to cope with the social media world. It needs to be done tactfully and with a measure of consensus and sensitivity, but it needs to be done.

In my teaching career there were many years where as a Gr. 6 teacher I had the “pleasure “ of administering the EQAO tests to my students. Today the Ontario results are released to the public and to students. Lists ranking schools become public knowledge, and placing students on percentile ratings are released to parents. All of this is done in the name of “accountability” and feedback, but that hinges on whether the tests are actually accurate indicators of student performance.

In light of that question, I wanted to relate one story from my classroom, during preparation for the test where we were using the questions from the previous year’s test. The math question seemed fairly straight forward. A man wanted to dig a hole in the ground with certain dimensions and move away the soil. He had a truck, also with dimensions provided, with which to drive away the soil. The question was how many trips would he have to make with the truck in order to remove all the soil. The question specified that the truck would be loaded so the top was flat, which was a good idea as without that info it would not be a doable question. The idea was to divide the volume of the hole by the volume of the truck and recognize that any remainder would require an extra trip. But there was no remainder, -a fact that became an issue. So we did the problem and it worked out handily that the truck would have to make eight trips. Problem solved.

Except that one boy’s had shot up and said, “That’s wrong.” Now, this boy was one of several in my class who was receiving Special Ed. assistance for math, but I like to think of myself as an enlightened teacher, so I was curious as to what he wanted to say. He said, “Everyone knows that if you dig a hole and then fill it up again, the soil takes up more space because it is not packed down. The truck would have to make more trips because the dug up soil would take up more space than it did in the hole.” Dead right!! And after that I began to look more closely at many of the questions that were included in the test, both in the Math and English sections. I noticed that there were always questions that had slipped by whatever passed for quality control and the EQAO writers.

Add to this serious concerns about the marking process for the more subjective parts of the test and the whole question of the suitability of standardized testing to measure anything accurate, and you begin to understand why many teachers are skeptical of EQAO. Add to that the fact that the process often removes two weeks of instruction time, for testing and preparation, from the school year. Add to that the philosophical question of what we are doing to our children by rating their schools publicly and individual performance privately.

Some may argue that this kind of feedback allows schools and teachers to focus resources on needy areas and schools. This has not been my experience. And when it does result in resource allocation it is often in the wrong way. For people obsessed with statistics, it is odd that EQAO proponents haven’t taken into consideration the Bell Curve. As teachers we all know that there are waves of classes that are either more or less capable. The random distribution of academic ability, social or family stability and other factors fluctuate on the Bell Curve. There are classes that have a mix of students who cause the class to be more challenging than others. Teachers know this and try to mobilize the available resources both for individuals and for the class in general. But if this class takes an EQAO test, feedback usually applies to that teacher and that grade rather than following the class as would be practical. I’ve seen EQAO results for the same school and teachers which have varied widely from one year to the next.

In short, the tests don’t really work and take up a lot of time that could be used for valuable instruction in something other than how to take a test. Whatever feedback that arises from the tests is often misunderstood or misplaced. However EQAO tests do benefit one group of people. The businesses that publish them have made a fortune. Publishers have benefited from selling new textbooks and resources that supposedly address the concerns raised by the testing. It’s quite the industry.

This morning there was an extensive discussion about the fact that it is far more hazardous for journalists covering conflict stories now than it ever has been before. In previous wars and conflicts, reporters and photographers were identified by wearing something that clearly stated “PRESS” or in vehicles identified the same way. There was a mutual respect offered journalists that reflected the perception that they were not part of the conflict, which not only protected them from attack, but also often allowed them to cross enemy lines and interview the adversary. This was beneficial to our understanding and the transparency of the conflict.

No more. Now, media teams are often in the line of fire, are targeted, are arrested, are kidnapped, and as in the case of James Foley, are executed. Why?

Part of it is clearly that the media takes more risks and are willing to insert themselves into more dangerous situations because the payoff is greater. Dedicated news channels on cable TV battle each other for ratings just as regular TV shows and movies do. Part of it may be that the adversary is more extremist in their beliefs, although I’m not sure that really holds up under comparison with extremist foes in past conflicts.

Personally I feel that the main reason is that the media has become part of the battle, and as such are now viewed as legitimate targets or hostages. There are two ways this has happened.

  1. So much of the battle has become fought in the media, where groups know they have the potential of swaying the beliefs of large numbers of people. This has an influence on potential funding (as in Israeli/Gaza), recruitment (as in ISIS) or even the outcome in legal situations (as in Ferguson). Putin’s control of the media in Russia, for example, allows him to act with impunity and still maintain the support and adulation of the majority of the Russian people. Western media interference with that is a serious threat to him. In Ferguson, much of the media debate became about itself, addressing the question of reporting potentially placing either race relations or police incompetence in one light or another, each having dire consequences both on the unrest in the town and on the climate within U.S. national, political debate. Nowhere has there been more consideration of media influence than in the Israel/Gaza conflict, where a very ambiguous and emotionally charged situation led to all kinds of accusations of unfair bias in reporting one side or the other. In this way, the reporting of journalists and photographers have achieved a higher level of interaction and connection with the conflict itself, potentially being used as a tool (or allowing themselves to be used as a tool).
  2. This is compounded by the political partisan polarization that can be seen within the media itself. It is not uncommon for particular news outlets to have well known biases, whether it be FOX News or MSNBC in the U.S., or SUN News here in Canada. Objective news reporting is hard to find, -and often when it does exist, it comes under attack from the tainted news sources as being bias, thereby kicking up dust to mask their own lack of objectivity. It becomes very confusing. (So, for example, pure, objective scientific reporting becomes “Liberalized” because it is contrary to the Conservative view, as seen with things such as Climate Change, Creationism, Environmental Research, etc. Objective Science is painted as being bias simply because it is not bias.)

In these two ways, journalism has regrettably become extremely politicized and, as such, have placed themselves in a position of global perception where they are no longer viewed as impartial but, rather, as part of the conflict. It most certainly is not true of all reporters and of all news services, but the overall perceptual framework exists and extends to all members. That’s what has changed the discernment and made their job more hazardous. They are now viewed as legitimate targets, part of the conflict, part of the attack or defense.

The news media have done this to themselves. Good, investigative journalism has gone the way of “talking heads” presenting opinions and counter opinions, often without any legitimate claim to being knowledgeable about their topic. Time has to be filled with idle banter which is often sheer speculation.

There was a time where the sharing of opinions was an important, but discreetly separate, clearly identified part of the News Networks. On “60 Minutes”, the attempt was to provide hard core, informative reporting, with any editorializing being saved for a few moments at the end of a segment or for Andy Rooney’s rant at the end. In the presentation of news, it was actually considered very improper for journalists to imbed opinion in their reporting. That’s what the editorial pages were for.

Now it seems that facts are secondary, and the indirect result of that is the erosion of the privileged position that was enjoyed by journalists as those who pursued the truth, -a position that gave them a certain degree of protection in situations of conflict. When your adversary sees a journalist as just another soldier promoting a particular ideological stance, it should not be surprising when their job becomes more hazardous.

The Ontario Hydro power situation in this province is a huge complicated mess. There is no doubt that the Liberals have mismanaged some elements of it, but I’m not sure that any party would have been able to do things much differently. Like most things, it is a not a straight forward analysis.

Over thirty years ago the environmental group I belonged to clearly stated that twenty to thirty years down the line the Ontario public would be paying far higher prices for their power. There were two primary reasons. The first was that much of our petro-chemical consumption was subsidized by the government through tax breaks, hidden costs rolled into taxes, and even direct subsidization. On the Federal level we see it more clearly with the Oil Sands, but it happens at the provincial level as well. Cheap energy was an illusion. When the nuclear power plants entered the picture this became even more the case. This is the second reason, and to properly understand it requires a little history and perspective.

Canada admittedly has one of the best nuclear programs in the world. Our CANDU reactors are heads above others in safety. Even so, the drawbacks of nuclear power are legion, and some of the principle ones are economic. Power plants have a phenomenal construction price tag attached to them, not to mention regular maintenance. The original cost forecast for Darlington plant, for example, was $3.9 billion, and it finished at $14.4 billion. That’s just the construction. It doesn’t include any of the other costs that are associated with the lesser known cradle to grave life of a nuclear power plant. The government costs associated with uranium mining were huge, not to mention the environmental catastrophe that is now being swept under the rug as a retirement community in Elliot Lake. The processing of uranium into fuel grade material was primarily done at Port Hope, and is associated with huge costs related to having to move radioactive, contaminated soil. According to reports, it is still being cleaned up and still being paid for with tax dollars. Storage of spent fuel bundles, highly radioactive and toxic, is still an ongoing question. Promised storage facilities in Northern Ontario have not materialized (although it is not certain that they would be desirable anyway). Currently this highly dangerous waste material is being stored in swimming pool like enclosures near the shore of L. Ontario. And finally, nobody wants to talk about the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant. What do you do with a radioactive mausoleum after it is no longer usable? Does it just sit there for the next 2 000 years?

Like so many other things, many of the costs associated with nuclear power are hidden, and this doesn’t even consider the billions of dollars that were spent on research and development. It was a long, expensive and rocky road which is very much related to current energy costs and the situation at Ontario Hydro. And regardless of the relative quality of CANDU reactors, the plant, and especially the peripheral elements of the industry, are far from safe. As we have seen in Fukushema, we can never be prepared for all possible situations, and when you’re talking about nuclear energy, the stakes are high.

When the anti-nuclear protesters were active 30 – 40 years ago, Climate Change was not a well know issue and factor in the environmental equation. In light of the carbon emitting alternatives, a lot of modern environmentalists claim that nuclear is inevitable, and they may be correct in the short term. However given climate change and the danger of nuclear power, it is only reasonable that alternative energy sources and the real power of energy efficiency/conservation be examined seriously.

Our federal Conservatives, through PM Harper’s recent statements about Global Warming, asserting that no country can realistically be expected to take step regarding Climate Change if it will interfere with jobs or economic growth, have made it very clear where they stand. They are willing to kill their grandchildren in order to allow themselves and their children to prosper. They are giving the middle finger to the future, more concerned about current economic growth than the well being of future generations or addressing probable future environmental catastrophes. This should not be a surprise. It is very much a Conservative ethic of taking care of current business interests and the power elite.

The Ontario Liberals took a chance on the future, encouraging and supporting a fledgling wind a solar industry. There may have been some errors, but compared to the investment and the travesties of the nuclear industry, it’s nothing. After the $14.9 billion Darlington plant came on line, it was exporting surplus energy at a loss to the U.S. for years. It’s nothing new. It is part of the growing pains of a new industry. And it is a support of growing pains that requires government intervention. Standing in the shadow of nuclear and petro chemical, alternative energy doesn’t have a fair chance. Competing with two other established sources of energy, each with their own serious drawbacks, alternative energy doesn’t have a fair chance. Like nuclear, when it first was introduced, it requires government funding at both the research and the implementation level to get a foothold. In the case of nuclear, that was very much shared by the federal government. Today, that’s highly unlikely considering that the federal Conservatives are so totally in bed with the oil industry. When Harper says that no country will take action on climate change if it threatens jobs and economic growth, read that as “if it threatens the oil industry”. If the federal government cared more about the future or the environment than they did their big business friends, there would be a national funding of alternative energy research and implementation. Other countries have done this, but they are, suspiciously, not countries that have large oil interests.

But most importantly, here is a quote from an article titled “Clean Energy Myths in Ontario”.

A comprehensive analysis comparing a green power portfolio to building new nuclear plants found that renewable power would be significantly less expensive than new nuclear, $13.5/MWh for green vs. $20/MWh for nuclear. Rates paid for wind and hydro power under the feed-in tariff system are lower than the cost of new or retrofitted nuclear power – 13.5 cents/kWh for wind vs. 19-37 cents/kWh for nuclear. Ontario is still paying for past nuclear cost overruns. The province has collectively made $19.6 billion in payments on the old Ontario Hydro’s “stranded debt” and still owe another $14.8 billion. Every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone over budget and over schedule. On average, final costs have been two-and-half-times the initial estimated cost. The vast majority of current hydro bill cost increases have nothing to do with green energy contracts, but are mostly the result of overdue transmission system upgrades, – See more at:


I’m sure that mistakes are being made in the alternative energy sphere. It would be interesting to see what kind of mistakes or dead ends are being stacked up by the Oil Sands and to what degree those mistakes are being bankrolled by tax dollars or tax breaks. I’m sure that Oil companies can just write them off. Having researched it carefully decades ago, I can tell you with confidence that the dead ends and waste in the nuclear industry would boggle your mind.

It is not fair to spotlight the troubles encountered by alternative energy without understanding that both oil and nuclear did and do have similar issues, hidden by time and the convoluted accounting of Goliath corporations. Alternative energy becomes a scapegoat. Wind provides only 3.5% of all of the generating capacity for Ontario. As you’ve seen above, nuclear is a proportional behemoth. How can anyone take seriously that alternative energy initiatives in Ontario are responsible for huge increases in power bills. Costs sited for alternative energy development often include billions for building new hydro transmission towers and lines, as if those wouldn’t have to be built or replaced anyway. New hydro lines compared to new or retro-fitted nuclear plants? Which do you think costs more? The pattern is always to compare the existing problem to another situation where the problems are hidden. Publications like the Financial Post betray their bias in articles about energy when they claim that companies like Magna and Caterpillar had to close their doors because of high taxes, knowing full well that Ontario has one of the lowest corporate tax rates around.

Once again this is not to say that parts of Ontario Hydro aren’t broken. Their billing system is completely out of control. I know several households that have not received hydro bills for over a year. (They’re in for a surprise when Hydro catches up!) General administration seems to have been in chaos for the past 8 years or so, and needs to be cleaned up. Other problems exist as well. But a very large part of it is having to finally pay the piper, just as was predicted decades ago.

However, when talking about energy costs, the elephant in the room tends to be ignored.

For a summary of Trickle Down Economics and why it doesn’t work, see the previous post. Or just look it up on Google. The critical articles outnumber the pro articles by about ten to one.

Nobody ever talks about “Trickle Up Economics” (except for Rush Limbaugh, who naturally demonizes it and defines it basically as government handouts to the poor). In fact I may have made the term up. Well … no I don’t think so.  Googling it produces a handful of results, the critical of which tend to follow the “Nothing can be consumed until it is produced” line of thought, -which to me is just counter intuitive.  One might also call Trickle Up “Demand Side Economics”, because it begins with the consumer, -the grass roots, if you will-, and works upward from there.  (Again, the critics say that, no, it begins with the government, -but no more so than the Trickle Down model.  Government initiates action in both cases.)

In order for corporations to expand, they need to respond to an increased demand. No matter how many incentives you give businesses, if the demand is not there, it won’t work. In fact, if the demand is not there the incentives tend to be pocketed as increased profits. In Trickle Down, the idea is usually that incentives to corporations will produce more jobs, which will give the mass of consumers more spending power, which will in turn grow the economy. Except that the premise, that incentives turn into jobs, is very highly disputed.

Might the opposite approach hold more promise? Instead of giving wealthy corporations more incentives, give the incentives to he consumer. A tax incentive that encourages consumers to upgrade energy efficient appliances or make other purchases, directly stimulates the market and can unavoidably lead to more purchasing from corporations. You don’t need a PhD in Economics to see that this will immediately lead to increased production and probably jobs. And there you have it, economic growth.

While the original stimulus may not continue indefinitely, the increased employment rate will stimulate the economy by itself and be longer lasting. As a strategy, it seems to have fewer steps and be far more direct. Both strategies involve the government offering tax dollars to stimulate the economy, but in Trickle Up that money goes to consumers who are likely to utilize it rather than corporations that seem content with squirreling it away.

Plus you have the added bonus of giving consumers an incentive to aim their purchases towards worthy social goals and perhaps even lowering their debt load. The reason that green incentives to corporations don’t work very well is that there is often not the demand necessary to make start ups successful.

One other important form of Trickle Up Economics comes from the field of education. I strongly feel that education is the most important investment that our society can make. Not only is it an investment in the skills and innovation that future generations will have, but is also a positive social influence in things like crime rates. Personally, I think that school funding should be doubled. It is worth every penny. (Of course it needs to be done efficiently and effectively.) You need the best teachers and the best resources. The businesses and corporations will ultimately benefit from a more prepared work force, which will boost their productivity and profits. They should contribute more to education. In Europe they do.

Nothing could be more “Trickle Up” than Education. Investment at the grass roots, consumer level to insure the best possible education will trickle up to benefit the country economically, socially, not to mention personally. One can see the devastating implications of failure to do this just by looking around the world at places that have dropped the ball on this one. The places that are the most dictatorial and underdeveloped are also the places where education is suppressed or struggling.

Paying attention to the people who are on the “Demand” side of the Economics equation doesn’t put more money into the profits of big corporations. It doesn’t widen the wage/wealth disparity that seems to be growing. It doesn’t promote cutting away essential services at schools and other places. But it does seem to be a simple, direct way of growing the economy (rather than the corporate sphere).

There don’t seem to be any graphics or comics for “Trickle Up”.

I’m far from an expert on economics. I have a few university economics courses and have been trying to read up on various issues. So I may be a bit better informed than many, but quite willing to accept debate, criticism or correction.

Trickle Down Economics is a bastion of the Right Wing. Right now it is the strategy of choice by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and their leader Tim Hudak. It claims that economic growth works best in an environment that encourages the supply side of the economy equation. This would include business owners, corporations and manufacturers. The benefits are claimed to be more employment, lower prices and more government revenue with which to pay down debt. The last of these plays double duty as it is also a rationale for smaller government and public sector cuts. On that side, the means by which to accomplish this is to reduce government spending and programs plus reducing tax rates for corporations and businesses.

Except it doesn’t work … for quite a number of reasons.

1. Reducing tax rates for is supposed to make investment in Ontario more appealing and therefore encourage more businesses to locate here. (Hudak is proposing to cut provincial corporate taxes by 30%. No mention is made of personal taxes.) However Ontario tax rates for businesses is already one of the lowest around, competing favorably with other Canadian provinces and most U.S. states. It would be a very small number of businesses that would be enticed to move here if the rates were decreased even more.

2. Whatever increase in business which might be attracted to Ontario would add an additional expense to the infrastructure needed to maintain it, which is paid for by tax dollars. With the corporate taxes cut, additional expenses would either be paid by greater personal taxes or by redirecting massive funds from public service areas (like education).

3. There is no guarantee that reduced taxes will transfer into reduced prices, greater employment or economic growth. It is just as likely that it will simply be transformed into greater profits. There is actually considerable evidence for this alternative, which I will point out later.

4. In order for businesses to produce more goods or services, they have to have the market. That’s a central problem with Supply Side Economics. It addresses the Supply side of things, but forgets about the Demand side. Pink slipping 100 000 public sector employees doesn’t exactly stimulate spending. Don’t forget that this subtraction will have a domino effect on the health of other businesses. Aside from workers who have lost their jobs no longer having money to spend at restaurants or buying new products, further cuts in things like the school budget will impact those companies that provide school supplies, books, etc. This negative trickle down effect is well documented and more certain than the positive one the Right is counting on.

5. There is considerable statistical data showing that this formula cannot be regarded as straight forward as most politicians would like. For example the Laffer curve in economics (often referred to by Right Wing politicians) states that there is an optimal taxation rate for government revenue , above an below which that revenue diminishes. If that rate is 30%, that means going above 30% diminishes government revenue. But it also means that going below it does as well, because of reduced income. This is very significant to an agenda that wants to reduce tax rates to stimulate the economy and pay down the debt.

6. But wouldn’t the increased employment counter that? That would depend on whether decreased corporate taxes translates into increased jobs. If there is no larger market, barring export, why would it? And the data tends not to support that at all. In the first graph I looked at (
which showed corporate tax rates plotted against employment rates, the general correlation is that the lower the tax rate, the lower the employment rate, and the higher the tax rate, the higher the employment rate. Granted, when comparing countries there are probably a multitude of other factors, however the point is made.

Looking at tax rates plotted against employment in the same country (the U.S., as data like this for Canada or Ontario is hard to come by),
over time, we find no correlation between corporate taxes and employment, although we do find that (as has been pointed out frequently) there is a notable increase in the share of wealth possessed by the top earners. That increase has to come from somewhere.

7. The one convincingly pro tax cut graph that I encountered stated that tax cuts modestly stimulate employment and economic growth when they are received by small businesses, but not when given to large businesses. This makes sense as small businesses are coping with difficulties different from large businesses, and very often have an untapped market due to limited resources. Giving small businesses a break allows for growth and new employees. I suspect that the same would be true of start-ups. However this can often be better done through grants or tax credits, aimed directly at these demographics. (It is noteworthy that the Hudak proposal is planning to balance the 30% tax cut by eliminating the grants and tax credits, -which he refers to as corporate welfare.)

8. How exactly does cutting 100 000 public sector jobs translate into more jobs? It certainly will reduce government spending and therefore help to reduce the debt, but what does that have to do with jobs? Will a smaller debt make Ontraio more enticing as an investment opportunity, or encourage existing companies to expand?   I’m having trouble understanding how. In fact if smaller government and curtailed services lead ineffective beaurocracies or inferior infrastructure, then I can see it being a strong negative. People have to want to live here.

As I read from one commenter, what is needed here is a scalpel rather than a machete. Not just smaller government, but smarter government. I don’t think that is what is usually proposed by trickle down economic policies, and certainly not by Hudak’s P.C. party in Ontario. In fact Hudak seems to have just bought and slightly renovated Rob Fords’s whole “gravy train” philosophy. Corporate taxes in Ontario are low compared to our competitors (unless we want to emulate the labour conditions in China or Mexico). Job creation in Ontario has been progressing at a decent rate. At best the P.C. plan proposes to pay off the deficit one year earlier than the Liberals, -and they’re probably both lying. But underlying that is the fact that our current provincial deficit is far from the worst it’s been and is quite serviceable. It’s always good to pay it down, but it’s not the crisis that so many people want to make it. And studies show that, unless it goes off the deep end, it has absolutely no relation to employment, corporate investment or GDP. Not all cuts are good cuts. Government has to provide certain services not just to benefit corporations, but also individuals. Nobody wants another Walkerton.

And then there is the whole question of exactly what kind of economics we want in the province of Ontario. Do we want an economic policy where money is the most important thing? Or should be be including the environment in the equation. Does society exist solely to provide resources for the economic aristocracy, as in the Middle Ages, or do we recognize a social responsibility to spread wealth and opportunity in a more equitable way?

Economics is complicated.  It probably shouldn’t be reduced to a few talking points or a simplistic policy.  It’s hard to say what combination of factors will have what effect.  But it is fairly easy to see what is likely to be folly.  Without some kind of explanatory note, cutting 100 0 jobs and decreasing corporate taxes by 30% looks like just another tactic to widen the income and wealth disparity in our society.

Neatly overshadowed by the circus of American politics, last Wednesday saw the Throne Speech presented to Canadian Parliament by Seven Harper’s Conservatives.

It was a monument of words, being one of the longest ever and including such phrases as, “We are on the cusp of a moment that is uniquely Canada’s.”  In it’s style and introduction, it clearly plays on Canadian feelings of superiority, trying to make our country and government look good standing beside the travesty that Americans are currently forced to call governance.  …Perhaps rightly so, but it still amounts to lowball manipulation.

The most heavily leaked parts of the Throne Speech also highlight this high regard for ourselves and our government, almost with a liberal flavoured self righteousness.  Consumer rights and citizenship for Malala accompany a crackdown on unscrupulous pay-day lenders.  Wow.  The anticipated speech looked almost NDP in it’s concerns and goals, perhaps aimed squarely at those in the middle of the political spectrum who might be swayed by Justin Trudeau.

And yet, it is easy to see through this Throe Speech sleight of hand.

1.)  The amount of space actually devoted to consumer rights pales compared to passages about continuing the crackdown on crime and the cutting of public sector wages and benefits.  Interestingly, those details of the speech were not leaked prematurely.

2.) As Paul Wells points out in a Maclean’s article several weeks ago, the Harper administration has a long, untarnished history of ignoring promises made in the Throne Speech.  Past Throne Speech references to consumer rights, credit protection, “better oversight of food, drug and consumer products” are all gathering the dust of inaction.  One Throne Speech which highlighted “Parliament should be an expression of our highest ideals,” was followed only months later with the proroguing of government.  Harper has discovered that he can include as many promises as he wishes which may appeal to centrist or liberal voters, and it is of no consequence because he’ll just not bother to follow through.

Like the Toronto Subway Grant, it’s all designed to get re-elected, not to govern responsibly.  That insane motivation behind government action (or inaction) currently enjoys the spotlight in the U.S.   Hopefully our Canadian “smugness” and our clear view of the show down there will help to keep the same thing from happening up here.



Here’s a clip from Piers Morgan’s interview with Ben Shapiro around the date of Jan. 10.  Whether you agree with Shapiro or not, he is a fantastic debater and, as the title suggests, “owns” Morgan.  Watch as Morgan squirms when accused of “standing on the shoulders of the dead” to make his point.  I am sympathetic to gun control activists, but even I can see the point that Shapiro is trying to make.  It’s true.  If a guest’s opinion on gun control differs from Morgan’s, he tries to make them look guilty for ignoring the death of innocent children.  The Newtown deaths were a terrible tragedy, but were also a virtual drop in the bucket compared to child deaths from handguns or from countless other social ills, like poverty.  To put them in the centre spotlight is a valid emotional response, but not a rationally sound one.

Watch Morgan change the subject when Shapiro’s arguments cut through the hypocrisy that Morgan’s been spouting for the past months.  Watch Morgan desperately try to control himself when finally faced with a pro-gun person who wasn’t hand picked because he or she was a nut job.  Watch Morgan sidestep the important questions which are brought up with Shapiro, deflecting them with his usual tactic of ignoring direct question that are posed to him and retreating to talking points much like a Republican leadership nominee or two.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here, again.  As long as the anti-gun people insist on resting their arguments on emotional foundations, there is not likely to be a change.  Moderates will look at Morgan’s interviews and see it for the emotional swill that it is, thereby siding with the people who are afraid that misguided liberals are going to take their guns away and tell them what they should and shouldn’t do.

Bad tactics.

This conversation is incredibly sensible, especially for something with Bill Maher.  Sam Harris reflects my opinions perfectly.  The bald guy (…sorry, didn’t catch his name…) is a perfect example of the emotional reaction.  His passion blinds him totally to what the other person is saying.

Can’t embed this so you’ll have to follow the link HERE.

Make no mistake, I am totally in favor of certain types of gun regulation:

1. High capacity magazines should be banned.
2. People should have to go through stringent background checks.
3. Accreditation courses should be more comprehensive than they are now.

However there are certain other regulation proposals that are not realistic or effective.

1. All handguns and almost all rifles and shotguns, whether intended for hunting or self defense, are semi-automatic weapons.  Tho only ones that aren’t are the ones where you have to insert a new bullet each time you fire, or pump it to get the next round.  Almost all .22s are semi-automatic.  It is not a realistic goal to try to restrict these guns in the U.S., or even Canada for that matter.  Making this a goal will dilute and possibly cripple the good that can be done in other issues, like the ones mentioned above.

2. “Assault-style weapons” is a slippery term.  If it refers to high powered weapons, then there is an argument for more restriction, although a weak one as most shootings, even the mass shootings, don’t involve these weapons.  If it refers to the cosmetic appearance of the rifle, then it is a straw man argument.  Two semi-automatic 22s (or higher caliber rifles may look very different.  One may be a straight hunting rifle with a classic design.  The other may be a military style with various cosmetic embellishments and perhaps even a pistol grip.  The truth of the matter s that from a performance perspective they are exactly the same.  To condemn one because of it’s cosmetic appearance is an emotional rather than a rational response.  It’s like saying (-and I know this is a weak analogy-) that people should be prevented from wearing camo, military style clothing because it promotes a certain idea.

Why would people like military style weapons?  It’s a form of entertainment, like having a flashy sports car that can go double the speed limit, but you never are able to do that.  in fact, the gun lobbyists have a point when they say that cars kill more people than guns do.  You can’t ban cars, but you could legislate mandatory governors on the engines to prevent them from excessively exceeding the speed limit.  My speedometer goes to 160, and yet there’s no place I know of that where I can drive that fast.  Nobody considers putting mandatory speed regulators on vehicles, but it’s supposed to be illegal to have a firearm that has a certain cosmetic appearance.   I know the analogy is weak, but I believe that it still has some validity, and as long as gun regulation people have an emotional rather than a rational outlook, they’re not going to be successful.

Another point that I think needs to be made is that these pro-gun militia types, even the ones who rant insanely about the need to protect themselves from an oppressive government, are almost never the ones that are involved in either criminal activities or mass shootings.  They have their war games on weekends, and probably have stockpiles of weapons, but the reality of the situation is that they are not responsible for gun violence.  If they feel to be unjustly singled out and restricted in what is for them an important part of their lives, they’re totally justified in feeling that way.  I think they’re a bit nutty.  I would never associate with them, other than perhaps to amuse myself.  But they don’t deserve to be condemned or misjudged, and they don’t deserve to have restrictions motivated by emotions placed on them.

There was a book released years ago called “The War Against Boys”, by Christina Hoff Sommers.  It made the case that the current climate in American culture and schools is to try to turn little boys into little girls, because “girl values” are what are deemed as being politically correct.  There are signs of this in Canada as well, but not to the same extreme.  Boys are discouraged from playing cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, and war games.  Their school experience has been sanitized to the point that well-meaning  primary teachers only read aloud storybooks that would appeal to girls, and as a very direct result boys have stopped reading and regard it as a girly pass time.  Think about what books boys have traditionally read in the past.  Many of them were war stories or ones that had violence, action and sex in them.  How many boys learned to read from comic books or from the Letters To The Editor in Playboy magazine, with a flashlight, under their covers, at night.

There is what I call a “misplaced Liberalism” that has emerged in our society.  We see it in the overdone political correctness that is often made fun of.  I think that we have to be careful that this does not become an obstacle to legitimate, rational gun regulation.  If we have an emotional reaction to gun control, wanting to restrict things, not because the restriction would be effective but because of our emotional judgement, then the end result will be the same as it’s been in the past.

First, let me say that my contributions to this blog have fallen off in the past few weeks largely do to a few trips and also because my writing energy has been applied to another project that I hope to talk about here soon.  I hope to add a few new posts soon and know that I’ll have to struggle to draw back some old readers.

I recently came across an American gallop poll that really surprised me.  The question was about creationism and evolution.  Three statements were asked of the American population.

The surprising result is that a full 40% believe that God created man the way it is described in the Bible, fully dismissing the evidence for evolution.  One might surmise that these same people are likely to believe that the Earth is only about 8 000 years old, as that goes with  the territory.  Another 38% believe that God had a hand in the evolution of man, which is a lot easier to understand and is a vague enough statement that I might even agree with it in one form or another.  At least that 38% are not claiming that the entire sciences of biology and archeology are bogus. The good news from the graph is that the trend seems to be moving slowly (very slowly) towards a more realistic belief, being at the lowest level now than it’s been in the past 30 years.

So, I immediately wondered how that compared with Canadian statistics.  Did we also have almost half of our population still living in the eighteenth century?  An Ekos poll found that only 14% of the Canadian population believed in a strict divine creationism, while 19% believed in God’s guidance of evolution.  Wow!  What a significant difference.

Let’s make sure it stays that way!