Category Archives: money

Let’s talk about Niagara

There are two rules in blogging:

  1. Whatever you have to say will be old news in an hour.
  2. Don’t blog about blogging. It’s boring.

I have now broken both rules.

Basically, I was working on this great post about the future of Niagara Region when Niagara 2031: A Strategy for a Healthy, Sustainable Future was released. It would be silly to finish that post now without addressing Niagara 2031, but I hate to see that work disappear entirely into the ether. Rather than reworking the whole thing so that it is relevant, I’m just going to dump a section at the end of this post.

Instead of trying to get as much money out of other governments as possible, the Region should be pushing for a certain structural change in the way we do business:

North American Integration

And I mean this in the least conspiratorial way possible. I have some reservations about further integration with the US, especially regarding guns and culture, but a more porous border is a no-brainer for Niagara. There are over 1 million people just across the Niagara River, but Buffalo is, I think, an under-appreciated asset in Niagara.  Even from St Catharines, Buffalo is half as far away as Toronto. Granted, Buffalo isn’t the most glamourous city this side of Albany, but a million people are a million people.

This is mostly the domain of the federal government. First, the passport mess needs to be cleaned up. Hopefully the next US government will be more open to true free trade across our borders. People need to cross borders just as much as car parts. Second, have you heard much about the new international bridge at Fort Erie lately? Me neither. If this plan has stalled, let’s get moving on it. As for the municipalities, I wonder if some regularly scheduled joint meeting between municipal politicians on both sides of the river would be helpful. It could help us present a coherent message to our governments, and you should never underestimate the power of social bonds between powerful people.

Strong and Free

I do enjoy ranking above the US by most measures, even by one-hundredth of a point, but what are we to make of this? Canadians enjoy very slightly more economic freedom than Americans. We rank seventh in the world, close on the heels of Chile and the UK.

Does this mean we have reconciled capitalism and the welfare state, or that health care and all our other lefty goodies are going down the tubes?

Comments following the originating post also raised the issues of political and personal freedoms. A place like Singapore loses its lustre when you use a broader definition of freedom and include that in the equation.

(via Marginal Revolution)

None of You Will Ever See a Penny

Cutting the tax on fuel? Easing the burden on small businesses? Spending on northern sovereignty or southern economy?

Not going to happen.

No matter who forms the next government (and I’m getting a baaaad feeling), something is going to have to give. The economy has nearly ground to a halt, eliminating what little margin for error was left after the GST cut.

Either services will be cut or taxes will go up. Or the government will spend money it doesn’t have, which I wouldn’t rule out if the Prime Minister decides the political calculus will allow it.

Anyone who promises to change what the government gives without changing what it takes (or vice versa) is lying. Not just bending the truth or taking advantage of a loophole, but outright lying.

None of You Will Ever See a Penny – Final Fantasy [.mp3]

Minimum wage doesn’t reduce employment

The minimum wage, like most cogs in the welfare state, can be argued for on compassionate grounds alone. What is the minimum that an individual’s time is worth? If we let someone do a job for less than a decent amount, we are a poorer society for it, even if some of us are a little wealthier.

But then, by that argument one might justify a communist dictatorship. There comes a point when the costs outweigh the benefits.

So it heartens me to share with you some newly quantified benefits of raising the minimum wage. Two recent studies both found that a rising minimum wage doesn’t put people out of work.

The researchers say their findings may be due to the fact that a higher minimum wage attracts more workers and reduces a firm ‘s vacancy rate; in addition, decreased turnover increases productivity and reduces the cost of expanding employment, they say.

It always makes me happy when it turns out the solution to any problem isn’t a race to the bottom.

[photo] “Counting coins” by Marion Doss

Pay Your Own Way


Road pricing is back in the news as Metrolinx tries to fund transit improvements in the GTA. On the table are expressway tolls of 10 cents per kilometre. This would, according to the Globe and Mail, mean a one-way toll of $3.60 to get from Oakville to downtown Toronto.

This is a pretty good deal for motorists; GO riders pay $6.00 for the same trip.

While recognizing this is a good idea, we should hold off on implementing some or all of the tolls until certain significant improvements are made to transit. I know this is a chicken-and-egg problem, but the Yonge subway is at capacity during rush hour and GO has serious trouble arriving on-time. If we can’t fit people on the trains or get the trains to run on time it isn’t fair to punish them for hitting the highway.

And since we’re talking about road pricing, why not tolls on most of the 400-series highways? Ten cents per kilometre gets very pricey very quickly, but we might consider something similar to the New York State Thruway. Accordingly to my (shaky grasp of) math, it costs about 2.5 cents per kilometre between Buffalo and Albany. Applied to the length of the 401, a journey from Detroit to Montreal would set drivers back about $20. It isn’t a lot of money, but it is a reminder that driving has costs. You may not have to buy more gas when you get on the 401, but you always pay a small toll.

Gas taxes encourage people to use gasoline sparingly which is a worthy goal in this age of climate change. Getting people to leave their car – Hummer or Prius – at home is a part of that, but setting aside inconvenient truths, fewer cars on the road has independent merit. It isn’t healthy to spend hours on the road commuting between or across cities. Cars turn people into monsters. Highways destroy neighbourhoods.

The financial and psychological impacts of road pricing make it a useful tool for combating climate change, urban sprawl, and low standards of living.

[photo] “Toll booths” by vagrantant

Military on Tory dole

AR2008-Z140-02 by lafrancevi

Our compassionate Conservative government has announced a plan to give the military stable, long-term funding so it “can answer the call in the face of future threats.” The 20-year plan is expected to cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $30 billion.

As an attitude toward governance and life generally, I wholeheartedly support our heartless leaders. Departments and ministries should be able to plan for the future with some certainty. Though the Prime Minister might disagree, the same applies to people: When the economy is rough or life deals you a bad hand we should get a hand up from our government.

That said, the numbers don’t seem very generous. Maybe the Tories have an aversion to welfare even when the penniless bum is Our Heroic Military. A billion dollars doesn’t go very far these days; It’s around how much we’re set to spend this year in Afghanistan. The government won’t tell us exactly how and when that money will be spent – something about keeping contractors honest – but I’m betting the bulk of the money won’t be spent for a few years. That’s just how governments work.

I suppose in a world of nearly 7 billion people, it doesn’t really matter how well we fund a military of 70,000 people. We may have to settle for repelling the Danes from Hans Island instead of civilizing central Asia.

[photo] “AR2008-Z140-02” by lafrancevi

Funding my education

It is fashionable among university students to demand a tuition freeze or, ideally, tuition reductions. A tuition freeze is a bit like a tax cut for the rest of you: it’s a selfish thing to want but not particularly useful to those selfish ends.

When middle-class folks (or the people who want their votes) cry out for tax cuts, they justify it in a variety of ways. They make appeals for smaller government, liberty, and so on, but it’s really about keeping more money for yourself. In the same way, when we university students talk about the increasing accessibility to post-secondary education, we mostly just want to keep more money for ourselves.

Given the cost of tuition in Ontario is somewhere around $5000 per year (and there are considerable additional costs like books), a difference of 6% or so each year doesn’t really affect the accessibility of post-secondary education. If you are able to spend $5000, you probably can spend $5300.

If we are truly concerned with making an undergraduate degree attainable for all, our relief efforts have to be focused on the people who need it. Instead of a freeze across the board, those people who can’t afford tuition as it is should receive the most aid. It only makes sense.

MPPs get richer

The Liberals and Conservatives at Queen’s Park are voting to give themselves a 25% raise today. This would bring the base salary of an MPP to about $110,000.

On one hand, there’s something distasteful about being able to give yourself a raise. Especially when MPPs already make way more than most Ontarians, and the less-than-rich are being squeezed on all sides by things like housing and energy costs.

Yet they still take home 25% less than federal MPs, and they have done some good work with raising the minimum wage since 2003. Bonus points for passing the legislation before an election, instead of waiting until after.

I think the pay hike will probably do more good than harm. In the grand scheme of things, it is a small cost for the government. And it will make provincial politics more attractive to “regular people” – rather than the already-wealthy lawyer/business stereotype who can afford to quit his or her job to run for a position that might go to someone else.

I would be happier if it weren’t such a shockingly huge amount (especially for cabinet ministers and the Premier) and if it didn’t go into effect until the next election, but I can live with these shortcomings. It feels a bit trite to say so, but I think this will be good for the state of democracy in Ontario.