or Why Debt Matters

Debt. It’s kind of a big deal, but governments don’t seem to think so.

It was interesting to discover that during our recent election I was tending more towards the ‘conservative’ side of the political spectrum than the ‘liberal.’

The “Liberals” have governed our province for more than a decade. They have hired about 300,000 civil servants since they took office, many after the economic collapse of 2008. From a Keynesian economic perspective, I get the whole governments needing to spend during downturns to keep things rolling along. It’s one thing though to invest in infrastructure programs, which create jobs for the short term, versus hiring permanent civil servants, because once you hire a full time employee it’s hard to get rid of them. And it would be great if we could all work for the government and have their awesome benefits and pensions, but in all of the places where this has been tried, it hasn’t worked out that well in the end. George Orwell really nailed it in his book, “Animal Farm”… ‘All the animals are equal… but the pigs are a little more equal.’

My Conservative opponent in the All Candidates Meetings carried around a government regulation book that was as thick as the New York City phone book. He liked to quote the number of regulations that the book now included versus a decade before and it had grown a lot. It just kind of follows that if you hire civil servants they’re going to come up with new regulations.

Now I understand why we have regulations. Civil society needs them. Workers need them. We want clean water coming out of our taps and governments can try and ensure this. My problem with the current ruling Liberal government is that they really have no idea how they are going to pay for all the money they spend. They have a $12 billion deficit this year (they are spending $12 billion more than they are taking in through taxes) and that will be added to an accumulated debt of $280 billion, or quarter trillion dollars. That is a crazy number. When you see it calculated out on a per capita basis it’s comparable to some of the worst-case countries in the Euro-zone like Cyprus and Spain.

So at what point does a responsible government say, “Houston we have a problem” and get their fiscal house in order and have a balanced budget and start whittling away at the debt? We’re 5 years past the economic collapse. Some would suggest things are more stable economically so we should start to get our house in order.

But we have an “activist” premier. This is how she has been referred to. That’s great, there was a time for that. Like the 1960s and 1970s when money just poured into government coffers. It was easy to do cool progressive stuff because the economy was generating enough excess that the government would siphon some off and it would keep growing. But now we have this stagnant economy. In Ontario our manufacturing sector has been decimated, so we’re losing those high paying middle class jobs. Governments are competing with each other for companies to come and open so they all keep reducing corporate taxes, so that source of revenue is dropping.

At what point does a government get mature about the situation and say “you know what, we have to start living within our means”? We have to start spending money that we actually have. We need to have some money in the bank for a rainy day. Heck, we need to stop spending a third of the money we take in paying interest on the quarter trillion dollars of debt we took on borrowing money to live a lifestyle we can’t afford anymore. You can be an activist all you want, but sooner or later the cold cruel hand of reality is going to slap you upside the head and say ‘ENOUGH!”

I guess what concerns me the most is that the Liberals came out of the election with a majority. This means that most people voted to keep a government around that loves to spend money and really doesn’t seem to care about ever paying off their credit card. Is this how most households work so they’re comfortable with a government that behaves the same?

The Conservatives said they would eliminate 100,000 jobs from the government. First it was just a broad statement but when they got blow back they said they’d eliminate them over time through attrition, as people retired. Too late. The damage was done. The Liberals jumped on this and got everyone scared about the scary Conservatives. Really? How is reducing the number of civil servants by 30% of what was hired in the last half decade such a scary thing for people? It seems we were doing pretty well with the number of civil servants we had before we hired 300,000, so why would it be such a scary thing to say we’ll only keep 200,000 of those new hires?

Remember, I have nothing against civil servants. I have been very left on the political spectrum for a long time, but frankly I’m tired of governments that have no intestinal fortitude and are unable to make tough decisions. Personally I have no debt. I spend only what I make. (And as I have willingly shared in many previous blogs, my income is below the poverty level, so it isn’t like I have a slush fund of money to play around with.) That’s the way it should be for governments.  And they should have a rainy day fund for the next economic crisis that comes our way, not have some massive debt that will make them incredibly vulnerable to interest rate hikes or other nasty consequences of a world gone mad about credit.

The Green Party believes in a balanced budget. This was one of the reasons I was comfortable running for them. We also believe that you have to be honest with people. May, 2014 was the hottest May ever, worldwide.  Houston we have a problem with the climate, a huge one that threatens EVERYTHING else. But we keep electing governments that can’t seem to stand the idea of being the least bit unpopular. Or giving up power. Or doing what’s right rather than what keeps them in power.  I think the Liberal Party of Ontario that governs this province should be ashamed of itself rather than patting itself on the back for buying its way back into power with debt.

Debt catches up to you. I’m going to buy the Liberal government a DVD copy of “The Sopranos” and show them what happens when Tony Soprano lends you money and you can’t pay him back. It ain’t pretty.