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Why Governments Shouldn't Help So Much
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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's! We're in the middle of an election in Canada, so I decided to wade my toes in. This one is way more controversial than I usually am, but I've been writing these things for over eight years now. I guess I figure that if I get fired, at least I'm going out with a bang!

Governments love to spend your money. They gain power to establish sweeping new programs that will Make Everything Better and create the perfect society!

All too often, though, their ideas conflict with reality. Dalton McGuinty, for instance, is launching full-day kindergarten, because it will better prepare kids for school. What he didn’t take into account is that Head Start in the United States has already spent billions—and any benefit evaporates by grade four. That’s a lot of money on an idea.

Or take the green job promise. Each green job in Spain cost $500,000, and eventually Spain had to pull the plug. Green jobs are lovely ideas, and I hope and pray that somebody figures out how to build a bigger battery so that solar power is feasible here in the Great White North. But until that day comes, let’s not kid ourselves. We can’t prop up an industry which could never be profitable on its own indefinitely. Government subsidy stops truly profitable—and sustainable—industries from developing. Ideology has trumped reality.

In another burst of ideological fervour, government has banned incandescent light bulbs. We’re now supposed to use environmentally friendly CFL bulbs, which are apparently wonderful even though they’re not nearly as bright, don’t last as long as promised, won’t turn on in cold weather, cost eight times as more, and can lead to migraines. Oh, and they also contain mercury, so they need to be disposed of at the hazardous waste dump. How many people do you think are going to drive to the dump to get rid of lightbulbs? All that mercury is going to end up in the landfill, but we’re all supposed to exalt that we’re saving the environment.

What government doesn’t seem to understand is that when they do something, they upset the balance, and so people are going to change as a result. In the United States, for instance, deducting mortgage insurance from your taxes seemed like an easy way to encourage home ownership. The only problem was that it also discouraged paying off that mortgage. So then when real estate prices fall, people’s mortgages are suddenly worth more than their homes. But how do you get rid of that tax loophole once it’s in place?

Or take our Canadian election. If government gives seniors more money, as Ignatieff is advocating the provinces do through the CPP (though how the provinces come up with that money is beyond me), then people will save less for retirement, and my generation will be absolutely and completely up a creek paying for our parents. We’ll end up with less for our own retirement because our higher CPP payments will have to pay for all the Baby Boomers. We won’t be able to save as much, and our parents won’t bother to save as much. It’s horribly inefficient.

I’m not saying government should never do anything. I just believe government should tread lightly. It’s like what Reagan said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Just because a problem exists does not mean that government is in the best position to fix it. Usually those who can really fix problems are those who are closer to those problems. Give us the freedom to fix our communities and our families, and we’re more likely to do it. Try to do everything for us, and throw money at problems, and you distort what we would naturally choose to do. So please, don’t help so much. Reserve handouts for those who truly need it, and ask the rest of us to stand on our own. And then trust us to make the right decisions. We can’t do much worse than you.

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At 9:26 AM , Anonymous Wendy said…



At 9:34 AM , Blogger hothoney said…

I love this statement: "Reserve handouts for those who truly need it, and ask the rest of us to stand on our own." That sums it up quite nicely.


At 10:10 AM , Anonymous Karen said…

I agree with you, except I wanted to mention something about the head start program. I know one of the project evaluators who leads the evaluation of head start, and his interpretation is that while benefits seem to disappear around mid-elementary level, longitudinal studies indicate that the benefits reappear later on. Kids who participated in head-start show greater aptitude for success in their late teens and early twenties.


At 11:13 AM , Blogger Mary R. said…

Never thought about the tax break for having a mortgage discouraging people from paying them off and then their mortgages are worth more than the house if things go bust. Wow.


At 11:20 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Karen, that's interesting. I hadn't read that.

And Mary R., I think that's one reason that Canada's mortgage system is strong and the U.S.'s isn't. We don't have that deduction. There are other reasons--our banks are sounder, and we have more rules about the amount of downpayment, but the tax deduction definitely is a disincentive to paying off your house!


At 7:21 AM , Anonymous Arlene said…

The worst example I heard this week was from a man who quit his job of 3 months because he had more money while on welfare. Talk about a disincentive to actually go out there and support your family.


At 2:22 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

I've heard of several stories of people staying on welfare because they make more there than they would working too. And that makes no sense to me. But why work if you can get everything handed to you?
Also, because my husband and I income split I get an employment tax credit. Wouldn't it make more sense for SAHMs to get a tax credit because they're raising our next generation? Instead they give those who work even more? Wouldn't a SAHM incentive help those who make that decision?
As for the kindergarten thing, aren't there tonnes of studies showing that formal studies aren't best for children until they're 8 or 10? And girls are ready sooner than boys for formal studies. It kind of comes back to the full time preschool thing.
And CPP.... I pay into it but there are restrictions if you're not a Canadian citizen, regardless of whether or not you contributed all your life. Or maybe that's OAS? Anyway, very few people actually get to collect the full amount of it.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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