Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why is it, to Canadian Columnists, "Bold" Means "Right-Wing"?

So I opined earlier about Canadian opinion journalism. I said it was almost uniformly terrible. (So is the American version, but you've got more Glenn Greenwalds and the like out there.) That isn't quite true: Gwynn Dyer is excellent, as is Antonia Zerbisias, whose old blog on Canadian media was a savage indictment that anybody would be proud of.

What it is more appropriate to say, I think, is that it's bizarrely conservative, to the point where it gives just plain bad advice. Case in point, Jeffrey Simpson:
Their new pitch would be: Elect us and we will eliminate the federal deficit fast and pay down the debt that Canada incurred to fight the recession. Not for us the Conservative approach of stringing out deficits and building up debt, thereby leaving Canada more vulnerable than it would otherwise be to external shocks such as inflation. We Liberals balanced the budget and kept it in surplus when last in government, and we'll do it again.
How? By raising the goods and services tax by two points, thereby bringing in about $70-billion over five years. With that money and reasonable growth, Canada would almost balance the books in 2012-13, and run a surplus the next year.
With budgetary surpluses, Canada would better prepare itself for the aging population. It could invest more money in health care or higher education. It could have some left over for reducing taxes on individuals and businesses....
...Politics aside, the risk of a tax hike is slower growth. But if the Bank of Canada knew fiscal policy would be tightened, because a government had been elected on that platform, it could ease monetary policy in a few years. Or the government could phase in the GST increase if a tax hike would unduly threaten growth. Or it could offset some of the GST hike with lower taxes on incomes – something almost every economist would applaud.
This is all babble. This over-focus on deficits in Canada is absolutely ludicrous: the Great Recession is not over and shows signs of double-dipping, unemployment is sagging (at best) and horrifying in certain regions, inflation is as unlikely there as it is in America and Canada doesn't have that bad a debt-to-GDP ratio to begin with!

He even acknowledges that the debt-to-GDP ratio will be declining in the piece itself!

Canada is now headed for a less-than-optimal postrecession landing. We'll get deficits stretching until almost the end of the next decade, with an accumulation of debt (although a declining debt-to-GDP ratio).
So why the hell are you babbling about debt, Jeffrey?
But more importantly, why on earth would the "bold idea" be to run to the right of the Conservatives on the issue of deficits? Yes, voters worry about such things, mostly because they are pushed to think of state budgets in terms of their own budgets, and aren't told that the situation is completely different. But the ones who may theoretically vote on such things are conservatives. Progressives don't vote based on deficits, because they know there are better things to worry about most of the time.
(Oh, and I didn't miss the veiled attempt to shift the tax burden downward by reducing progressive income taxes and increasing regressive consumption taxation, either. Shameless, isn't he?)
So does Simpson honestly think that conservatives are going to vote for a tax hike? During a recession? Against all historical evidence and common sense? And he thinks that that is how the Liberals should distinguish themselves? Sure, it'd be different. It'd certainly differentiate the Liberals from the Tories or the NDP, since neither of them are blithering idiots.
It just shows how out-of-touch people like Simpson are. They spend their time in that circle of (useless) Canadian elites that actually thinks that people are going to care more about deficits than their taxes or the programs that help them and their families. Regular Canadians (and Americans, and Britons, and Indians, for that matter) are not going to lose their minds over deficits crowding out spending or minor inflationary pressures. They aren't corpulent bondholders and creditors, for whom the prospect of deflation is a glorious windfall—another round at the trough.
I suspect that Simpson's circle are. He has no idea what people think, no more than Iggy does. So he should probably stop trying to give advice. He's got neither the aptitude nor the insight.

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