The economy is overrated

Someone once told me they didn’t bring back the cart at the shopping center because it “helps create jobs”. It’s a bit like we have accepted that there needs to be Bullshit Jobs.

A speech I’ve always liked is this one by Robert Kennedy:

It demonstates so well how the GDP and so many other measures of “success” are faulty.

Even the way we measure the economy is all wrong. This NYT article does a very good job of showing why even with a low unemployment rate and a high GDP we have so much inequality and suffering.

It reminds me a bit of vanity metrics (A metric that makes you feel good without telling you anything about your business). We have started to optimize our government policy for those vanity metrics. Instead of going to the root causes of what makes a great society we have metrics that, while initially well intentioned, have distracted us from the real goal.

Leaving behind the old metrics in search of better ones would be a good start. (until we end up corrupting those…)

Without a Basic Income, I’d be Living on the Street

I’ve just read the news that the provincial progressive conservative government will be cancelling the basic income pilot.

I recently joined the board of Basic Income Canada Network and will be getting more and more involved in spreading awareness and doing advocacy work for a guaranteed minimum income.

To that end, I wanted to start with an explanation. The story of why I believe so strongly in the basic income movement.

In my late teens / early twenties I struggled with depression and generalized anxiety. I dropped out of university and was trying to start a web development business by freelancing. The cost of my medication was $650 a month. I wasn’t covered under my parent’s insurance since I had gone to university and dropped out. For reference, that was more than my rent. I struggled to pay my rent. I actually paid one month with one of those credit card cheques. It’s not that I didn’t know it was a terrible idea, that the fees were ridiculously high, I just didn’t have any other choice.

One day I was at the downtown bus stop and a man approached me. He was clearly not well, he started talking to me about the medication he had to buy. It was the same anti-depressants I was on. He wasn’t able to afford them, and now, he lived on the street.

I was very fortunate. I had family members, particularly an uncle, who was able to give me money. I got a basic income from my family and I managed to pull thru. Now I’d like to think I’m a good contributor to society, paying taxes, volunteering etc.

The only difference between me and that man on the street was that I had family members with money. That shouldn’t be the determining factor in someone’s life.

A guaranteed minimum income is not a handout, it’s a leg up. It allows folks to keep working without all the benefits disappearing. Right now almost all Canadian welfare programs will stop if you find a part-time job. You want to try driving for Uber? Your benefits are cut, sometimes directly to zero.

A guaranteed minimum income like the one Ontario was piloting has a gradual clawback mechanism which encourages people to keep working. It helps people start a small business by having a safety net. It helps folks stay in school, and helps reduce hospital visits.

That’s why I’m asking you to support a basic income by:

1) Sharing this post or the BICN homepage on your social networks.

2) Reach out personally to one or two people and talk to them about basic income. The personal outreach makes a big difference in convincing others.

3) If you’re in a position to do so, consider donating to BICN. Be it $10, $100 or even $10 000, that money will make a big difference to our ability to reach folks and spread awareness of basic income.

If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments or to email me at stboisvert@gmail.com.

Swing Sets and Orange Juice

I remember when I worked in the Leader’s office and the Bev Oda orange juice story came out. Many people in the office were genuinely aghast of this. They really felt that this was emblematic of why we needed to kick the conservatives out of power. It was mostly the older more long time partisan folk. I was never able to tell if they genuinely had come to believe after all this time in politics that this topic really mattered.

I couldn’t tell if it’s because they felt that this really was what our work was about or if they just did a big deal of it internally to motivate the younger / newer / more influencable folk. To me it seemed slightly ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong $16 for an orange juice is ridiculous, but here’s how I see that having played out:

You’re a cabinet minister, working late at the hotel. You have a rush meeting in the morning and you see the little breakfast card thing at the hotel. you check off a few boxes to get an early meal before you go to bed, prices probably aren’t listed. The next day you check out and since it’s the government you don’t get the bill for a few weeks, because of how invoicing and procurement works. A few weeks later it comes with the charges laid out and you just glance it over and sign to approve the charges. You probably never even realize that the juice was $16. The “opposition research” members of the parties comb thru expenses via Access to Information requests and gotcha, the famous “$16 Orange Juice” is born.

And really while $16 is a lot for orange juice, I don’t expect cabinet members to be spending their time trying to save $10 off some orange juice. They have much more important things to do.

But there we were making a webpage and an email campaign about this $16 orange juice.  It’s catchy, news reporters bite and folks click those links. For the record, Bev Oda fully repaid the amounts, agreed it was a mistake and publicly apologized for it. Regardless she was hounded for months about it and it ended with her resignation. What a great thing we had achieved. Force a cabinet minister to resign because of some orange juice.

The Globe and Mail wrote about this “problem” because a similar thing recently happened for the Prime Minister’s swing set. The Prime minister paid for the swing set himself, but not the installation fee. Regardless the $7500 swing set makes the news.

Now given that this is the prime minister, I’m willing to bet he can’t just pay $75 to Home Depot to get them to install it in the yard. There’s probably a bunch of rules about certified contractors and folks who need to pass various security clearances before you can start mucking around in the Prime Minister’s house. And I think everyone agrees that it’s not really a great idea to have someone you found on kijiji installing furniture at the PM’s house. Regardless, the swing set “cost” $7500 ($4,368 of that being the actual cost of the installation that the taxpayer paid).

The article ends with this:

I’m not sure what any of this says about our politics today, other than it’s not good. And the fact is, all political parties in this country are responsible for where we are today.

It seems like no matter what happens, it’s always someone else’s fault. I don’t think it’s the political parties fault. At least not entirely. Could there be some really principled folks who would not pick on such meaningless things? Probably. But we never see them….

Why is that? It’s perhaps because we haven’t voted for them, we haven’t reported the news on them, we haven’t clicked on articles about them. It’s easy to point fingers about this. But I think we should all start looking internally into what we’ve done that’s lead to this moment, what we are doing, and what we think we want to do about it going forward before looking to blame others.

On that note, Bev Oda, I’m sorry I contributed to ending your career. While I don’t agree with many of your views and opinions, I don’t think that should have been a career ending decision.

Campaigns don’t matter as much as they use to

Scott Reid asked if campaigns even mattered anymore. I think he’s partially right that they don’t. They don’t matter as much because the 30 odd days that are defined as a campaign are no longer the “real” campaign.

The “permanent campaign” has been a buzz word for a while but the implementation of it by the Canadian political parties has been lackluster at best. The digital outreach is strongly axed on fundraising instead of persuasion. I can understand why, with fundraising you see the results right away. There are easy to gauge metrics (what those mean and if they are the correct metrics is a whole entire post). Launching a year long persuasion campaign doesn’t show the results right away.

But that’s exactly what many conservative leaning organizations have been doing. A good example of this is “Ontario Proud“. The tactics for gaining followers are transparently obvious. Asking folks to “share if you’re patriotic” or posting some nostalgic pictures asking to “like if you remember this“. The idea is of course to be able to then target folks with the political posts.

It’s very smart and well done and an easy way to bypass the current campaign finance laws since there are no limits outside of election periods. I guess this is why they say campaign managers are always prepared to fight the last war.

Strategic voting

I really dislike First Past the Post as a voting system. It’s so incredibly flawed. It leads to situations that the current election in Ontario where I have a preferred party that has currently 0 chance of getting elected. I also have a strong preference of the remaining choices. I’m fine with the NDP who’s policies are similar to mine except often (IMHO) unrealistic in how they will achieve all (or any) of them concurrently. And there’s the conservatives which the leader (Doug Ford, which some of you may know as the brother of the late Rob Ford) is practically a caricature of how to be a terrible human being.

The problem is that the NDP and the Conservatives have been statistically tied in the race for a while now with the Liberals far behind. In a perfect world we’d have something like the preferential ballot which has a few other names but is basically that instead of writing an X you rank folks 1,2,3 etc. This has many advantages over the current system and has one very big advantage over all the systems political junkies try to get to referendum in that you can explain it in one sentence and folks will instinctively understand what you mean. In my current situation I would just vote Liberal 1, NDP 2, Green party 3, any random independent running 4, Conservatives 5 and all would be fine.

In the current context the choice would ostensibly be wasting my vote or voting the lesser of two evils. While I support people who want to always vote for the best candidate or the one who represents them the most, I find that in reality that leads to things like Stephen Harper, George Bush, Donald Trump, and potentially, Doug Ford. That’s too high a price to pay.

So at this point you could reasonably assume that I would vote NDP. The problem is my current riding. I live in Ottawa which is the only place the Liberals are actually still in  the running with polls showing the NDP with a slight lead but within the margin of error. The conservatives sadly are leading in the region (because of this split IMHO). From the latest polls I can see here https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/onvotes/poll-tracker/ the NDP has a slight lead. If that remains the case on election day I will sadly need to cast my ballot for them. Not because I think they are the best party, but because they are, by far, better than the alternative. Hopefully one day we’ll get election reform right and it won’t have to be this way.

The Ends Justify the Means (politics)

So the “whistleblower” Chris Wylie fell back to earth. https://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanmac/cambridge-analytica-chris-wylie-eunoia-trump-campaign it’s a shame because I was cheering for him. We worked together for, I don’t know, a year or two(2010-2011). He was a nice guy. A bit arrogant, but very smart.

He was always frustrated with how so many others inside the party just didn’t understand what data could do. He was always a few steps too far in front. I usually thought he was right but he would lose people by jumping too quickly ahead of where there thinking was at. We needed to slowly change minds, not try to blow their minds. Needless to say he would usually not get very far.

It’s strange because all of the nasty things about politics are exactly the same in those emails that Buzz feed talks about. The biggest sin of them all is the ever present “The ends justify the means” that is so prevalent in politics. His quote “Then we will cleanse our souls with other projects, like using the data for good rather than evil. But evil pays more.” is pretty much the common thinking. Destroying people’s careers, attacking people personally, releasing dodgy information to the media, creating companies to bypass election rules, making questionable uses of public funds for partisan purposes. It’s so prevalent. Often the excuse is “the other team is doing it, so we have to do it” or “We’re doing it for a better country” or “You have to pick your battles”, the last one implying that we couldn’t actually just do the right thing all the time and we shouldn’t focus on those.

I think something I fear is that it’s not just in politics. That it’s like that in many other places. I guess it really wouldn’t surprise me for some industries, investment banking for example.

It’s just become apparent to me that some people might think I’m talking about a whole bunch of secrets I might have. I’m not, all the stuff above can be found by in a few minutes via Google :).