Jun 302011

We the PeopleI do not normally use the word sacred but if there was any unholy thing on Earth worthy of veneration it would be The American Declaration of Independence. At once it is not simply a political document but a moral one. Its preamble, in so few words expresses more than any tome or volume preceding it. Its simplicity in purpose is almost sublime.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

While it is true that the Americans had just cause to form their own nation and valid grievances with a despotic monarch it may be said that the same lust for individual freedom was felt by those in the other British colonies. As Jefferson said: “all men are created equal.” We all share a desire for individual freedom.

It is ironic then that the 13 colonies of the United States saw fit not just to declare themselves independent but to invade Canada when the inhabitants of Canada did not share the same grievences with King George III.

While these invasions were successfully repelled with the aid of the aboriginals, the remainder of British North America saw a different way. A way to advance the cause of independence and even freedom while maintaining a hold on the hundreds of years old institutions of Great Britain, including the monarchy. Our way was more conservative, more in the vein of Edmund Burke.

Burke was sympathetic to the American Revolution and used his position in the British Parliament to try and persuade the King to ease the duty levied on tea lest the American’s choose to rebel.

Again and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace and ensue it; leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it….

The King did not relent and the Americans choose freedom over British sovereignty. But in doing so they did what Burke feared, they began to mark the boundaries of Rights, first with the Declaration of Independence then later with the Constitution of the United States. Burke correctly saw the danger of listing the rights of man, for even though in the Declaration of Independence Jefferson said “among these” and later in the Constitution the ninth amendment said “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Burke seemed to know that once you begin to mark the boundaries of rights what is omitted is said not to exist at all. Rights not clearly included in Constitution would be trampled upon by government.

As I said, the Declaration of Independence was a remarkable document. If left to that alone the United States may have achieved so much more than it already has. And while the demarcation of rights and the Constitution of the United States may have seemed like a good idea at the time I suspect that it marked the beginning of the end for freedom in the United States.

The Constitution gave Congress the right to impose taxes on its citizens and to borrow money on the credit of the United States. Both flaws have been magnified over the years to the extent that today taxation is several fold what King George taxed them and their debt is, as we know, astronomical and quite impossible to repay. The writing is on the wall for the United States of America.

By contrast we here in Canada have nothing to compare to a Declaration of Independence. The British North America Act is a piece of dry compromises and dealings, the result of many years of negotiations with the four original colonies and PEI. Our nation was not born of blood in the way the United States was. It was an orderly, organic and a slow reformation of British colonies. But this was not such a bad thing; in fact, over the test of time I would dare say that ours may have been the better way.  That is until the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was folded into the BNA Act to become the Constitution Act. With the Charter of Rights we have endangered every right we had recognized before by their exclusion.

Consider Karen Selick’s column in National Post of June 28th where she notes that Justice Anotonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada rejected any economic rights and raised doubts about whether economic liberty should be considered part of the “life, liberty and security of the person” which were guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since economic rights were not mentioned therefore he apparently concluded we do not have them. This of course is how governments begin to fall, with the trampling of rights based on their exclusion from Charters and Constitutions.

In the same article Selick notes that as far back as 1909 the B.C. Supreme Court recognized that

Among the normal rights which are available to every British subject against all the world are…the unmolested pursuit of ones’ trade or occupation and…to one’s own property.

Before their enumeration in Constitutions rights were living things freely recognized by all and by the Courts. Canada fared relatively well without a demarcation of rights in a Constitution relying on 700 years of jurisprudence and common law. Burke said it best when he said,

…the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen…. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles.

He was not only speaking of the American colonies but of all the British North American Colonies.

Tomorrow celebrate Canada Day. I suggest that just before we set off our fireworks we give a thought to the hundreds of years of legal tradition, thought and care which went into creating this nation and some thought as to how fragile our rights are and how, with the stroke of a Judge’s pen they can be violated.

On July 4th our neighbours celebrate their day of Independence from Britain and the forming of a country which although reveres the rights of man has endangered those very rights by enumerating them. They too should give pause as to how much longer than can celebrate living in a free country. They should read again the preamble to their own 235 year old Declaration of Independence especially the line…

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destrucetive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

Happy Canada Day. To those over 40 a happy Dominion Day, and to our southerly neighbours a Happy July 4th.  May we all celebrate many more.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #206, June 30, 2011.)
Jun 232011

Canada PostOver the past 46 years since the formation of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) there have been 20 work stoppages at Canada Post.  Most of these happened in the 1970s and 1980s and recently there has been little disruption in service, if I can use that word to describe mail delivery in this country. However with the latest work stoppage and lock-out Canadians are coming to realize just how little they depend on Canada Post.

Technology has passed Canada Post by.  But Canada Post has recently taken steps, outside of its legislated mandate in my opinion, to expand its service range.  On Oct 26th 2010 it launched a comparison shopping service called Canada Post Comparison Shopper which allows shoppers to find and compare products from over 500 stores across the USA and Canada.  This intrusion into the private realm of price comparison websites is, to me, a clear overreach of a government monopoly’s position and not at all mandated in the Canada Post Corporation Act.  This use of its resources will undoubtedly take business from private sites like PriceGrabber.ca and PriceCanada.com which have been around for years offering the same service.

This isn’t the first foray outside CPC’s mandate to deliver mail.  In 2000 it created ePost a service allowing customers to receive bills online for free, competing directly with banks which also provide the same service.

The time has never been better for either the complete privatization of Canada Post or the removal of its monopoly on the delivery of lettermail.

All that would be required, other than a government with the guts and brains to act, is a repeal of Section 14 of the Canada Post Corporation Act which states:

“…the Corporation has the sole and exclusive privilege of collecting, transmitting and delivering letters to the addressee thereof within Canada.”

It’s as simple as that.  As it stands now it is against the law for a private company to deliver lettermail. In the United States the monopoly laws are even more restrictive.  In that country it is against the law for anyone to deposit anything in somebody’s mail box.

Other countries, like The Netherlands and Germany, have already completely privatized postal delivery. Still more have opened up competition in the area of lettermail delivery as they have in Great Britain, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden.  The 27 member nations of the European Union have all agreed to end their mail monopolies in the near future.

There is then the mistaken belief that Canada Post actually makes a profit.  With billions of dollars in unfunded pensions CPC is so far in the hole that it can never dig itself out no matter how it pretends to show a surplus.

Federal Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt and the Conservative government’s solution to this latest work stoppage is wrong-headed.  The legislation she should have introduced is not back-to-work legislation but a repeal of Section 14 of the Canada Postal Corporation Act.  She should let CUPW and Canada Post argue all they want.  Let them hold up mail deliver all they want.  If private firms where allowed to deliver the mail you can bet that within days the courier companies would be up and ready to take the place of both these dinosaurs.

Without a strong government willing to end Canada Post’s monopoly this country will be left behind as the rest of the world transforms their delivery systems into modern and private entities separate from government monopolies and immune from organized labour’s monopoly.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #205, June 23, 2011.)

Jun 232011

CBC Loonie LogoAs with Canada Post the CBC should be another government corporation on the auction block.  Except that unlike mail delivery the CBC could fold tomorrow and few of us would miss it.  In fact, it could be argued that the country would be far better off without the CBC.

But the CBC is not primary focus of this article.  I only want to use it as an example of an economic theory called “The Broken Window Fallacy” or the “Parable of the Broken Window.”

The parable goes like this:

“A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop.  The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone.  A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies.  After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection.  And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has it bright side.  It will make business for some glazier.

“As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it.  How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars?  That will be quite a sum.  After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business?  Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum.  The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles.  The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

“Now let us take another look.  The crowd is a least right in its first conclusion.  This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier.  The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death.  But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit.  Because he has had to replace a window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury).  Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window.  Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit.  If we think of him as a part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

“The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new “employment” has been added.  The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier.  They had forgotten the potential third party involved the tailor.  They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene.  They will see the new window in the next day or two.  They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.”

That was an excerpt from Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.  The Broken Window Fallacy was first conceived by the French economist and statesman, Frederic Bastiat who wrote it in 1848 in an essay entitled That Which is Seen and That Which is Unseen.  In over 150 years the lesson has yet to be learned.

Common examples of the Broken Window Fallacy are: war is good for the economy, government stimulus spending and inflation are means to stimulate the economy, public works projects create jobs, and minimum wage laws.

Now what does this have to do with the CBC?  On June 18th, in an article in the London Free Press by Brian Lilley we learn that

“The state broadcaster commissioned a study from Deloitte and Touche which claims its annual $1.1 billion subsidy generates an additional $2.6 billion in economic activity for the Canadian economy.”

This is incorrect for a couple of reasons.  Firstly we can think of the ever widening circle of economic activity as mentioned in the parable.  To stop at some arbitrary figure of say $2.6 billion from the $1.1 billion spent is just that, completely arbitrary.  But that is not the main error of Deloitte and Touche.  What is not seen, as Bastiat would have put it, is the effect on the economy if Canadians would have been allowed to keep their $1.1 billion.  They would have spent it on other things to be sure.  Perhaps a new suit would have been one of the millions of items bought.  But we will never know.  The CBC has taken that money and has spent it on other areas of the economy without our permission.

To complete the analogy, what if the glazier had secretly paid the hoodlum to break the baker’s window?  He would have been considered a criminal for this because he took the baker’s money with pre-meditated malice.  Now how is this different from our government taking our money knowing full well that they are going to give it to some third party to spend for their own benefit and we are left the poorer for the transaction?

The CBC in this case is the glazier, we are the baker, Deloitte and Touche would be the unthinking crowd, and the government?  The government would of course be the hoodlum.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #205, June 23, 2011.)

Jun 092011

The anti-pornographersThere are wide cultural differences in the attitudes towards pornography.  Main-stream videos from Europe, South America and Asia treat sex completely different than we here in North America.  To most of the world sex and the depiction of sex in popular culture and art is commonplace and acceptable.   Pornography is not an issue for most of the world.  In fact, I believe that pornography is not an issue for much of us here in London or Canada.  Anti-pornography however is an issue.

It seems that whenever thousands of consenting adults gather at the London Sex Show or similar events across this country there are a few mal-contents who object to the choices others make and try to control them through by-laws or legislation designed to bring their sexual appetites more in line with the extremely small minority of people who consider sex and its depiction as somehow immoral.

When hundreds of millions of people from all walks of life purchase and view porn every second of every day there always seems to be that one person who considers what vast numbers of people are doing in the privacy of their homes distasteful to the point that they feel the need to publically try to humiliate them and legislatively stop them.

Buying adult erotica or pornography is just fine if that is what you like.  In fact if you view porn you are doing what people, both male and female have been doing since we learned how to draw on the walls of caves.  In fact one of the oldest human artifacts known is a sculpture of a buxom naked woman.

The argument that pornography and the depiction of consenting nudity or sex are abnormal or immoral is simply wrong.  It can be dismissed easily.  But we are still left with the anti-pornographers and their agenda.  So how are they going to push an agenda we know to be false? They have made up a lie.  They tell us that porn leads to violence, that men who view porn are more likely to kill their wives and to rape strangers and run amok wreaking havoc on the streets.

These are of course patent lies.  “But,” they say.  “We have correlations and studies that show it to be true!”  Well as we all know, a correlation does not necessarily demonstrate causality.   The fact that literally billions of people, men and women, consume porn and the fact that we live in a relatively peaceful society should demonstrate the falseness of their claims.

The linking of violence with sex and pornography is the most insidious and yet obvious tool of the anti-pornographers.  While it is true that there are genres of pornography that involve themes such as bondage or rough sex the fact that the acts are consensual should remove any notion that violence is involved at all.

The same distinction between consenting violence and consensual physical force can be seen in a karate dojo.  Few people find the blood and gore of a boxing match objectionable because they know that the participants are adults acting consensually.  Why then when consenting adults participate in pornography, most of which does not offer more physical force than say an enthusiastic slap on the behind, do these anti-pornographers claim that violence is involved?

The answer is that it suits their goals to equate sex with violence.  It suits their argument to falsely suggest that the women in the pornographic industry are being abused or are being mistreated when the opposite is true.

There are a few people in the anti-pornography coffee clutch (I won’t call it a movement since a coffee clutch is more appropriate to their numbers) who are writing books and trying to dominate the discussion and who hold conventions on the subject for their own personal goals.  They are trying to sell books.  They are trying to drum up business.  They are asking governments for millions of dollars to be spent so they, as expert anti-pornographers, can become highly paid consultants to school boards, and abused women clinics, and various levels of government.  They are in it for themselves.

They can’t be in it for women because the anti-pornographers are actually doing more harm to women than good.  One of the bromides they usually spout is that ‘pornography objectifies women for the sexual pleasure of men’ well when the anti-pornographers get up on their soap boxes and tell women to cover up and stop degrading themselves how do you think these women should feel?  They are trying to shame them.  They are trying to tell them that sex is bad and that their natural tendency to show off their good looks is evil and will cause men to kill and rape.  What this warped sense of life does to the minds of some young girls who might actually listen to them can only be damaging.

If there is absolutely no erotica tolerable to the anti-pornographers the natural conclusion to anti-pornography is the clothing of women in burkas.  Perhaps this is why when asked why they have not become critics of Islam and the way countries like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan treat their women they change the topic.  It is precisely because the consequence of their anti-pornography campaign is the subjugation of women.

They wish to control one half of the population by telling them that consuming porn turns them into rapists and killers and they wish to control the other half of the population by telling them that they should cover up their bodies lest they tempt the other half of the population to rape and kill.

If we continue to give credence to these people we are aiding in their objectification of women and in the objectification of men.  Women will be objectified as sluts and men will be objectified as potential rapists.

It would be easy for anyone to say that anti-pornographers are prudes or are perhaps not good looking but not only is this a cheap shot it also probably incorrect.   No, the anti-pornographers have a low sense of life and an unnatural view on the sexual appetites of their neighbours.  They fail to see what most of the world understands, that consensual sex is good and healthy and that the depiction of nudity and sex is good and healthy and happily enjoyed by millions.  The only reason television, radio stations and newspapers ask for the opinion of these anti-pornographers is that the media know this one thing…the public loves a good freak show.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #203, June 9, 2011.)