Election diaries: Me vs Us: a quick look at some election goodies being offered

All the political parties are offering tax breaks or programs to enhance some level of ‘family’ life. The focus is very much on ‘families’ again this time around. Never mind that the definition of families for most of these programs is a rather outmoded one…one described by two opposite gendered heads with children living at home. In fact, the latest gambit by the Conservatives, their income splitting proposal, goes one step further by assuming (or encouraging) one income families. In fact, it is a subtle discouraging of two incomes. Yes, the Conservatives do have a social agenda.

Leaving that aside, there are significant differences in how we can enhance life for families. Programs favoured by the Conservatives lean towards individual choice and the purchase of services. An example of this is their child tax credit to recoup daycare costs. Approaches like health care vouchers and charter school initiatives fall into this category.

At first blush, it seems reasonable to give people money to make choices appropriate to their needs. Isn’t it empowering and more democratic to allow people to direct the social service sector by their spending choices?

Well, yes, if you see the world through a seller/consumer vs society/citizen lens. I have written elsewhere about how this applies to the education system.

The other approach is a societal or system approach. Instead of giving money to individual families to go and purchase, say for instance, daycare services, government can set the same amount of money aside and develop a comprehensive daycare system. An excellent example of doing this is the health care system. The Canadian system is about 30% cheaper to run than the American. By most measures our health care system is as advanced technologically as the American (taking into account the much larger volume in the American system). Our system is certainly much more egalitarian in providing a wider range of services to a far greater percentage of people.

Now that isn’t to say that there are not problems. Waiting times are an issue in our system. The delivery of services is not always equitable. Sometimes our system can be less innovative in finding new ways to provide services. But the American system has much larger issues. Aside from the obvious disparity in the provision of services to different economic groups, the American system is also far more wasteful administratively (spending a far higher percentage on admin than our ‘wasteful’ public system) and the complexity and confusion of paperwork in the U.S. is overwhelming.

There are real economies of scale to be achieved by a society approach to such issues as daycare. The same amount of money given to individual families to purchase daycare (when none may be available) is better given to establish a comprehensive structure to set up and administer daycare.

Will there be shortcomings in such an approach? Certainly. But fewer than encouraging individual purchase. And while there may be some fear of a homogenous one-size-fits-all approach, at least there would actually be a system. And political agitation has always provided the impetus for creativity within a public system in a way that private purchase never quite does beyond superficialities in a private system.

So when the political parties offer incentives and tax deductions for certain social programs take a closer look at what they intend to achieve. For the Conservative, individual ‘family based’ tax credits further their agenda of less government and more individual ‘choice’ in the narrow sense. But just as importantly, they are less likely to actually achieve the provision of services intended.

Another approach, and I would suggest, more efficient, more equitable, and certainly more likely to achieve its goal of actually delivering a service, is to deliver a program in a comprehensive manner.

That is why we fund public transit, public schools, public utilities this way. They are all ‘public’. Do we give up consumer choice by doing this? Yes. Do we get a better and cheaper provision of services this way? Yes, I think we do.


March 28–Post Script: The Liberal’s new tuition aid plan (announced March 29) might be seen in this light as not being adequately targeted to low income would-be students and not dealing with the systemic issues of stable post secondary funding to ensure availability and standards for all attendees.


March 29–PostPost Script: (I may just have to add another article):

As discussed in the above article, this article (Parties agree: Tax breaks trump social programs) on the Globe and Mail’s Politics app discusses just this topic of individual tax cuts versus program development.
The left has allowed conservatives to frame the discussion regarding the nature of social services. And most of the press, which has been giving the right a free ride, is too lazy or uneducated to question the thrust of events.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: