Update: Heavens to murgatroid! I agree with something from the IMF! So here it is, via the Tyee.
…is right twice a day. ( I wonder if this means that we have, through digital clocks, lost half our accuracy.)
The broken clock/record, in this case, is the Fraser Institute, that tireless advocate of all who champion less government, mostly on behalf of wealthy and corporate sponsors. Yet an article posted in this morning’s Vancouver Sun makes at least partial sense when it chronicles the vast amounts of money paid out by three levels of government over the period from 1981 to 2009. The surprising statistic is that the total of subsidies over that period exceeds the current Federal debt, and outlines some of the yearly costs to taxpayers as well as showing that some of the most egregious offenders were corporations that were already well-established and profitable. It also doesn’t account for loans, often forgiven, such as the $457 million paid to GM to upgrade plant facilities in Ontario (this was well before the last major meltdown and bankruptcy protection/bailout for GM) or the awarding of perhaps-fatter-than-necessary contracts for infrastructure and IT. It does include marketing management schemes like the Wheat Board, and the indications are that all governments at both Federal and Provincial level are involved. It would be interesting to see how the Rae government in Ontario handled this file, as well as the Doer régime in Manitoba, Romanow in Saskatchewan, and the Harcourt/Clark crowd in BC. I’m sure that there are good reasons for subsidizing some sectors of the economy to shelter them from predatory practices in the marketplace, providing some protection of the general citizenry from the vagaries of a sometimes twisted and tortured free-for-all in the business world. However it also seems clear that there are many instances where pork barrels are the appropriate metaphor and where, clearly, taxpayers are not getting good value for their taxes. For the most part, the Fraser Institute, through generous subsidies from their supporters who then write these contributions off their taxes as a business expense or as, ahem, a charitable donation, generally falls squarely in the category of an enterprise supported by people it seeks to disenfranchise.
Generally, subsidies ought to be used sparingly and only when there is clear benefit to the broad majority of citizens. Few citizens realize that they are not only paying high energy prices at the retail level, but that they are also subsidizing energy concerns through tax breaks, free use of infrastructure, exploration write-offs, and direct subsidies, not to mention the insane current levels of government support and media attention for energy megaprojects. The sad fact is that energy is more expensive than we’ve come to think, and a large part of that cost has been hidden in the tax bundle that we fork out, wherein we get to purchase at least part of the product, whether or not we use it. The same is true of the products of many agricultural sectors, meaning that it seems outrageously expensive to buy local produce because the price in the market is so much higher than an “equivalent” from the supermarket, and a great deal of the difference can be accounted for by that portion that was handed out as subsidies, meaning that you are paying the supermarket and the CAFO whether you eat the stuff or not. I suspect that many would make different choices in many domains were they confronted with the real price of the seemingly-cheaper goods, and this reckoning doesn’t yet take into account the costs of health, safety and environmental considerations.
Finally, it seems likely that many of the côterie of free market proponents wouldn’t be so keen to support a market that was really free based on broad knowledge of the practices of both business and government.
Again, the prescient wisdom of Mose Allison…Stop this world, let me off, there’s just too many pigs at the same trough.