Money or Mission? A Simple Test of Policy

In a discussion about politics in America, Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short and Moneyball, said the rift isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, it’s between the people who are in it for the mission and the people who are in it for the money.

This “mission” or “money” distinction is a good way to understand and evaluate the political rhetoric Albertans will be hearing from the UCP in the runup to the 2019 election.

Mission or money? 

Jason Kenney has asked his supporters to lay off their hateful, racist, homophobic rhetoric (yes, it’s a big ask) and focus on the “NDP’s failed policies”.  Assuming Kenney succeeds in muzzling his supporters we should brace for a tsunami of misinformed, if not downright dishonest, attacks on NDP policies.

Kenney

Jason Kenney’s message to his supporters:  Tsk tsk 

These attacks will include strawman arguments that allege:

  • the progressive tax punishes the rich and therefore hurts the economy
  • regulatory oversight of business is excessive, chases away capital investment, and therefore hurts the economy
  • unions and the new minimum wage inflate wages, negatively impact competitiveness, and therefore hurt the economy,
  • privatization of education and healthcare is more efficient, saves tax dollars, and therefore helps the economy while giving Albertans greater “choice”

All of this will be wrapped up in a shiny blue “Bring Back the Alberta Advantage” bow.

The partisans will lap it up.

Partisanship

A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail (Aug 4, p O10) stated “…the absolute partisan doesn’t only believe strongly in her party’s values; she loathes people who don’t.  What’s more, she hews to those values not because she finds them valid, but because the party has decreed them.”

For decades Conservatives have decreed the path to prosperity is through balanced budgets, lower taxes, privatization, deregulation and a minimal welfare state.  This belief is set in stone, consequently there is no need to provide evidence to support this position and any evidence to the contrary can be dismissed out of hand…because, well, because Jason says so.

Partisans may be deaf to contrary points of view, but Albertans with an open mind will be interested in additional facts.

Writers like Robert Kuttner have outlined the advances made in the US, the United Kingdom and Europe in the post war period with the election of “activist” governments that regulated private capital, broke up monopolies, protected and empowered unions and created a social safety net that provided public healthcare, public education and social security which ushered in a period of great stability and opportunity.*

Kuttner says this period of broad prosperity and democracy began to erode in the 1980s when conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher adopted economic policies that emphasized deregulation and privatization, curtailed the power of unions and drastically reduced social welfare programs.

These destructive changes came with the promise of unparalleled prosperity which failed to materialize as income inequality increased and the world became even more insecure.

They don’t care  

Okay, let’s assume Kenney and the UCP are banking on the fact that most people don’t have the time or the inclination to research the economic and political history of the western world;  a simple way to assess the merits of the UCP attacks on NDP policies is the application of Michael Lewis’s “mission” or “money” test.

Assume “mission” means most Albertans and “money” means a select few who will benefit financially and ask:

  • if we return to a flat tax on income who benefits, most Albertans or the top 10%?
  • If regulatory oversight of businesses is relaxed who benefits, most Albertans or shareholders of companies with less rigorous environmental, health and safety, and financial reporting obligations?
  • If unions are weakened and the minimum wage is decreased who benefits, the 300,000 Albertans making less than the minimum wage and the 90,000 unionized Albertans working in healthcare, education, government and the private sector or business owners making higher profits?
  • If education and healthcare are privatized (paid for with public tax dollars but delivered by private corporations) who benefits, most Albertans or owners of businesses profiting from the new business model and the small segment of the population who can afford to access private services?

At end of day, Albertans need to ask themselves whether the UCP attacks on NDP policy are based on a desire to improve the “mission”—a better government for most Albertans—or improve the “money” for those who demand prosperity regardless of the social cost.

*Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? By Robert Kuttner  

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22 Responses to Money or Mission? A Simple Test of Policy

  1. Lawrence Braul says:

    Good government. I think we have seen this in spades (literally and figuratively). Instead of amplifying the downturn, the NDP chose to protect the most vulnerable by stimulating the economy. Schools, hospitals, and seniors facilities are the result. Lowest tax burden and fastest growth. No faux pas or scandals. I don’t think we have seen better government in years, despite very tough times. NDP deserves another term because they have given Albertans good government.

    • I agree Lawrence. Yesterday the U of C economist Trevor Tombe posted a comment on Twitter saying the “broad monthly index of Alberta economic activity reached it’s all time high in May. Exceeding its pre-recession peak for the first time.” Tombe says this statistic is a proxy for GDP which is only available annually. The UCP say the government has to put the economy first, if they truly believe that they should be applauding the NDP’s accomplishments not tearing them down.

  2. David Hay says:

    good one! spread those words far and wide … 👌✌️

    • Thanks David. I’ve had many interesting conversations lately with people who tell me they think Rachel’s government has done a good job in difficult circumstances. They’re not impressed with Kenney saying all he does is complain without offering any alternative solutions. If Kenney runs a no-policy campaign in 2019 it may backfire.

  3. ed henderson says:

    Susan asks..”At end of day, Albertans need to ask themselves whether the UCP attacks on NDP policy are based on a desire to improve the “mission”—a better government for most Albertans—or improve the “money” for those who demand prosperity regardless of the social cost.”

    In my honest opinion the UCP attacks the NDP and the NDP attacks the UCP and all Political Parties attack all other political parties for one reason only…Power. They all want to be the party with the majority so that they can be the ones to decide who gets what. They each give to those who they believe will reward them back the most.
    Dick and Jane Citizen are out in the cold.

    • Ed, you’re right that all political parties want power, the critical question is how will they use that power once they’re elected. The NDP’s track record demonstrates they will use their power for the “mission” to improve life for most Albertans; the UCP’s track record (based on Kenney’s actions as a federal MP and his comments as PC and UCP leader) indicate the UCP will implement policies to generate “money” by “stimulating the economy” by cutting taxes and social programs, deregulating industry, privatizing government services, and imposing austerity. This creates great wealth for a few, not prosperity for all. That’s why I think Dick and Jane Citizen are better off with the NDP than the UCP.

  4. jvanl says:

    We have the governments we deserve.

    If any Dick or Jane Citizens are out in the cold, it is likely because they choose to be politically disengaged and cast themselves as victims of those who choose to be engaged.

    People who show up get to shape policies and make decisions, and that is that.

    The issue most worth discussing is why so many of us *aren’t* showing up.

    To exercise political power as a democratic citizen is to enter the realm of social and intergenerational responsibility, whether we want to or not.

    Today, far too many of us either cannot or will not take on the sometimes heavy intellectual lifting of responsible democratic citizenship, and we resort to mindless, reactionary partisanship.

    More than anything else, this intellectual laziness accounts for the dismal condition of our public polities and overall political discourse in Canada.

    This has become a serious and growing liability to our nation’s progressive social and economic development, and accountability for it lies mostly at the feet of our Boomer Generation.

    If our Boomers had any collective sense of mission as a generation, it appears that it was to liberate themselves from social and intergenerational responsibility… i.e., to never grow up.

    We have left it mostly to today’s younger generations to respond to the daunting challenges that our democracy and our nation now face in a world of accelerating social, economic and environmental change.

    As individual citizens, our choices are to lead, follow, or stay the hell out of the way.

    Something to think about as we approach a century since the end of the Great War.

    What did all those Canadians fight and die for, and what difference has it made to today’s Canadians?

    May we live as nobly as they died.

    • Excellent points jvanl, particularly your comment about mindless partisanship. It brought to mind the pictures I’ve seen on social media of two American men wearing T shirts to a Trump rally that said: “I’d rather be Russian than a Democrat”. According to Cleveland.com, when asked about the shirts, one man said he didn’t understand why Trump faces so much criticism about Russia, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did not (even if this were true, “he/she did it first” is not a good argument), the other said Democrats should give Trump a chance (to do what exactly?),

      Intellectual laziness is a serious problem. I read somewhere that years ago Albertans would show up in the Legislative Assembly to hear their politicians debate bills; if they couldn’t appear in person, they’d listen to the debate on the radio. Debates lasted for hours. Today a politician is lucky if we retweet a 30 second sound bite.

      Democracy will slip away from us if we don’t put in the effort to protect it.

      • Thank you Susan, I enjoy your blog posts.

        Your topics are consistently relevant and substantive, and your commentaries salient.

        I grew up in rural Alberta, and returned in 2002 after two decades in Calgary.

        Rural Canada has been stagnating for decades, economically, culturally and politically.

        This is mostly the consequence of shrinking and aging demographics in our rural communities, which in turn reflects the relentless mechanization and urbanization that has driven Canada’s economic, cultural and political development since Confederation.

        Canada’s widening urban-rural divide has been a slow-burn crisis that neither side has been sufficiently motivated to address.

        We are now reaping the bitter fruit of our indifference and neglect, in the form of crippling cultural and political polarization that hinders progressive economic and social development.

        To effectively address our urban-rural divide, we must start with:

        ‘WHO should be responsible for WHAT, and WHY.’

        This is not a question, but a ‘ruling ethic’ that all of our economies, communities and societies must evolve around if they are to remain resilient in any meaningful sense.

        Call it a ruling ethic of stewardship.

        [Historically, Canada’s economic and social development has evolved around ruling ethics of ‘WHO should control WHAT’ (dominion) and ‘WHO should conform to WHAT’ (identity)].

        Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms defines a clear and meaningful WHY for Canada.

        However, we cannot claim to be serious about protecting and advancing our rights and freedoms without a complementary Charter of Responsibilities and Obligations.

        Freedom is *never* free, yet most of our Boomer Generation seems reluctant to even acknowledge this truth… never mind advance a ruling ethic of stewardship rooted in personal responsibility and obligation.

        It now falls to our younger and future generations to take on this profoundly timely and meaningful mission, and older generations should be serving up all the encouragement, guidance and support they can muster.

        Imagine if Canada’s progressive leaders were to collectively declare this as their mission.

        Imagine the difference it would make to Canada’s political discourse.

        WHO should be responsible for WHAT, and WHY?

      • James you’ve posed a very thoughtful question. The addition of the WHY at the end of your question would force us to consider the rationale of our positions. A good example is Doug Ford’s decision to cancel the basic income pilot project in Ontario just one year into its 3 year term. The media coverage on this issue hasn’t been terribly helpful or comprehensive. Consequently the public reacts in a partisan fasion. The conservatives applaud the decision (why throw free money at lazy people the best social program is a job) and progressives condemn the decision (why kill an experiment before the results are in just because it doesn’t fit with your conservative ideology, etc). We need to do better.

  5. Jane Mayer author of “Dark Money – The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” outlines very well the cast of characters whose Mission is to destroy democracy, eliminate all taxes, and environmental regulations and allow industry to regulate themselves. It just happens that a couple of them happen to be the largest leaseholders in tar sands in Alberta. It is a must read for active citizens who want to better understand the economic – political context especially of Alberta.

    • Thanks Bruce. I agree.
      Mayer’s book, together with Nancy MacLean’s book “Democracy in Chains–The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” provide an excellent overview of what’s behind the “conservative movement” Jason Kenney espouses.
      Maclean discusses the twisted logic underlying this movement where the poor are the “exploiters” and the rich are the “victims” (this is why the rich support voter ID laws–the poor outnumber the rich so they have to be disenfranchised, or failing that brainwashed into voting against their interests).
      Maclean includes two quotes I’ll never forget. They are from rich men who will do anything to preserve the “old order”. One says “I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.” The other says society is separated into “those who ride and those who are the donkeys to be ridden.” (p. 19).
      That about sums it up.

  6. jerrymacgp says:

    While vacationing in Nova Scotia’s beautiful Annapolis Valley last week, I went into a small-town bookstore while my wife shopped in a nearby clothing store, and found a slim book called “What I Learned About Politics”, by Hon. Graham Steele, who served as Minister of Finance in the ill-fated Darrell Dexter NDP government. While there are obvious differences between the political cultures of Nova Scotia and Alberta, I think the defeat of the Dexter government, Nova Scotia’s first ever NDP government, after only one term has clear lessons for Alberta’s NDP.

    Among those lessons, are some observations Mr Steele lays out in Chapter 8, “So you want to be a Finance Minister”. Firstly, if spending cuts are called for, there will be no consensus about what should be cut. Secondly, people advocating for tax increases tend to want other people to pay them, not themselves. The “rich” should pay more, but “rich” is always richer than me. Luxuries are what other people buy. Non-smokers want higher tobacco taxes, non-drinkers want higher booze taxes, etc. Finally, there is no separation between services people want, and taxes they’d pay; services = taxes and taxes = services. He also states (pg. 108) that one of the Laws of Finance is that there are only three ways to pay for services the people want from a provincial government: raise taxes, get money from the federal government (in truth, this is also tax money), or borrow. This would seem axiomatic, but people here in Alberta seem to have forgotten this.

    • Jerrymacgp, Graham Steele nailed it, didn’t he.
      Perhaps we can add to Steele’s Laws of Finance to make it even more comprehensive. I’d add the following:
      (1) People love austerity budgets as long as they hurt the other guy (I’ll tighten your belt but you can’t tighten mine).
      (2) Government budgets are exactly like household budgets which have been royally screwed up by the current government (assuming it’s not you). .
      (3) After you’re elected, government budgets transform from household budgets into complex budgets; the balance sheet is worse that you expected and the budget is no longer immune to the impacts of macroeconomics, globalization, and dim-witted American presidents.
      I’m sure we can think of more….:)

  7. J.E. Molnar says:

    Another cogent analysis Ms Soapbox — well done!!

    While voters will have to contend with the litany of conservative orthodoxy and misinformation — much of it regurgitated from the Klein era — voters will also have to contend with an uptick in tendentious reporting from Alberta’s right-wing media. The NDP will be battling on two fronts — pro-conservative media and the UCP.

    Conservative newspapers and right-wing talk radio will be laser-focused on manufacturing consent for Jason Kenney and the UCP. It may be premature, but it should not surprise anyone when newspaper subscribers and radio listeners are shamelessly urged to vote for the second coming of the Klein Revolution. Let’s hope voters are engaged and paying attention.

  8. Thanks J.E. You’re absolutely right, the impact of conservative newspapers and right-wing talk radio cannot be underestimated. In fact that is one benefit of social media, if a conservative politician or supporter posts something that’s factually wrong or misleading, it can be corrected in real time. People like UofC economist Trevor Tombe do an incredible job of posting factual information refuting misinformation and lies, he includes links to articles that examine the topic in greater detail. Sadly, die hard partisans are not persuaded and revert to ad hominem attacks. I don’t know how many times Tombe has been called an NDP hack in response to a tweet he’s backed up with data or information from Stats Canada. This is bizarre given that Tombe will correct NDP statements if he thinks they’ve gotten it wrong. He’s the epitome of a nonpartisan commentator.

  9. Very thoughtful post, I also enjoyed the intelligent discussion. Thank you!

  10. Dwayne says:

    Susan: From what I see, Jason Kenney is trying to save himself and the UCP. He is grasping at straws. The UCP has already said and done too many unacceptable things. The provincial election is getting closer. He cannot risk anymore bozo eruptions. The bozo eruptions eventually caused Ralph Klein’s party to give him a poor approval rating and cause him to leave politics. It is one of the reasons that caused the Wildrose to fail. Alberta’s economy is the best in Canada right now. Rachel Notley and the NDP are doing a great job. It would also be very risky to try and go back to the bad policies that the Alberta PCs were doing for so long, since the late 1980s and onwards. The UCP will do that, if they are given the chance. Hopefully, people in Alberta have wisened up and will perevent that from happening. Thanks for another great blog.

    • Thanks Dwayne. You raise a very interesting point. Kenney says he’s going to take us back to the Ralph Klein policies of flat tax and program cuts in order to balance the budget. So the question we should be asking Kenney is how will rehashed Klein policies improve Alberta’s economy beyond what Notley has achieved to date? Alberta is already leading the country in GDP growth under the Notley government, what is Kenney going to do to accelerate GDP growth even beyond what Notley has achieved?

      • Dwayne says:

        Susan: If the UCP wants to go back to the failed policies of the Ralph Klein era, we will not be going further ahead. Not a good move and certainly not worth supporting.

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