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Oct 18 2011

Bacon, porn, and rainbows: poverty edition

I am a liberal. I am not a hyphenated liberal, or a centre-left or a “social liberal, fiscal conservative” or any such nonsense. Probably the least liberal thing about me is that I refuse to dither over whether or not I am a liberal. I believe, proudly in fact, that people can get together and solve social problems. I further believe that government, properly scrutinized by the public, can be a place where those solutions can be implemented. I am aware that there are arguments for and against public sector involvement – I am far more comfortable with democracy than I am with unregulated free markets.

When we apply our shoulders to the wheels of social policy, we can make monumental changes that make life better for the people who need it most. When we fail to make the commitment to act, it makes life worse:

The federal government could save billions of dollars if it tackled the roots of poverty, according to a new report from a government advisory body. The report from the National Council of Welfare urges the governing Tories to take a long-term “investment” approach to preventing poverty, rather than a short-term program spending approach. It says the public cost of poverty is easily $25 billion a year, and climbing — all while the poverty rate does not improve. “The costs and consequences of poverty are much larger than direct spending on social programs. We see the total costs when indirect and societal costs are taken into account,” the report says.

As someone who cares about public policy, particularly the economic aspects thereof, this kind of stuff is bittersweet for me. Well, more bitter than sweet for reasons I will explain shortly. I say bitter for reasons that I think are obvious – we are wasting literally billions of dollars on an ideological approach that is accomplishing nothing aside from winning the votes of the short-sighted and keeping thousands of my fellow Canadians in poverty. Poverty, as I’ve pointed out previously, is a social problem that has an effect that persists long past simple low income.

The sweet part of this story is that the report points out, in no uncertain terms, that there is money to be saved by reducing poverty. This, for me, is like discovering bacon-flavoured porn. We can raise the quality of life of our citizens, avoid major health and social problems down the road, all while freeing up tax dollars that can be better spent on something that actually works (like, for example, inventing bacon-flavoured porn).

The reason I am more pessimistic than optimistic is that, even when there is solid ostensibly-conservative evidence to support such a policy move, the current administration in Canada is particularly resistant to the idea of evidence-based policy, or really any policy that operates outside their pre-conceived notions of how the world should operate. They tried, for example, to overstep the jurisdiction of the federal government to shut down a municipal health program, simply because that program disagreed with the federal approach to drugs. That program also saved money and was highly successful – this did not matter to the Republican North voter base.

That being said, assuming that someone somewhere within the Republican North party structure can bend the ear of the Prime Minister long enough to get him to realize that there is real political capital to be gained by legislating in such a way as to appeal to both liberals and fiscal conservatives (which he claims to be), we have a real reason to suspect that a strong anti-poverty position would be the bacon porn Canadians have been waiting for.

Why do we think this? Because anti-poverty approaches work:

South Africa is among the world’s most unequal countries in terms of income distribution, and the gulf between rich and poor has only widened since apartheid ended two decades ago. But researchers have found a surprising change in the racial composition of the country’s wealthiest few: while a white minority still dominates the economy, there is an unexpectedly fast-growing number of wealthy black South Africans.

(snip)

Being young, entrepreneurial and having some post-secondary education appears to be the recipe for getting rich in the new South Africa, according to researchers. The study found that about 70 per cent of wealthy South Africans are between the ages of 25 and 49.

There’s so much to unpack about this story that I will have to devote an entire post to it. I will, however, use part of it to illustrate my point that marginalized groups can improve their situation if investments are made. Investments like, for example, public subsidy of post-secondary education. It would be hard to make the argument that black South Africans don’t represent a marginalized group, and yet intelligent social policy has been able to reduce many of the barriers to participation in the economy.

Now conservatives in the United States seem to have a serious hardon for the rich these days, even if they’re black. It’s nice to see that they’re so progressive-minded and inclusive. Here’s the thing: those rich black South-Africans (who are the job creators, donchaknow – they actually are, and I will talk about this later) didn’t get there on their own – the availability of post-secondary education made it possible for these kids to get rich. Social policy made post-secondary education available.

So while it doesn’t happen often, it seems that poverty in Canada might just be one of those issues where conservatives and liberals can join hands under a rainbow and pass intelligent, forward-thinking and profoundly helpful social policy, all the while saving money and creating rich people. Whether or not that will actually happen is quite another story – maybe if we lived in a better world where politicians were elected based on ability to govern rather than ability to raise money for campaigns. Maybe someone should get out on the streets and start protesting for that…

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7 comments

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  1. 1
    pornalysis

    Bacon flavored porn…hmmmm. I guess that could be tastier than the usual fish flavored stuff…

    As long as it’s kosher bacon…

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    Your porn tastes like fish? Are you into like… mermaids or something?

  3. 3
    Riptide

    We *are* talking about the “d’awww, those union workers think they’re people! Isn’t it precious!” Harperites, here. They don’t even care about *working* people. They’ll only care about poor people if poor people start shutting down cities like they’re threatening to do in Europe. It’s all ideology to them, reality be damned.

  4. 4
    pornalysis

    yeah-I could get into mermaids…as long as they eat sushi…

  5. 5
    Crommunist

  6. 6
    Etcetera

    As I’ve said before, Harper isn’t an idiot, he’s a politician and he’ll do what will get him elected and keep him enamored within his base. Facts simply don’t matter. He was elected by the “fuck you, I’ve got mine” crowd to make their lives easier by putting immediate halts to strike actions, feeding into revenge fantasies and getting rid of anything that might smack of a “free ride.”

    That’s exactly what he’s doing.

  7. 7
    pornalysis

    I prefer the words “unique and content…” and I march to the tune of a different cowbell ;-)
    http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/719364/

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