Saturday, February 17, 2018

On Inequality: Our Own Elite

The Occupy Movement of recent years drew attention to the gross inequality between the income and wealth of the 1% and that of the other 99% - the rest of us. Other groups release statistics like: the richest x% of people own more than the bottom 50%/60%/75% of people. These are shocking statistics to be sure, but in his important book The Vanishing Middle Class, MIT professor Peter Temin argues that in the United States of America there exists two parallel economies, one for the FTE sector (people who work in Finance, Technology and Electronics)  and all the rest. He suggests that the FTE sector consists of about the top 20% of income earners, and the cutoff line is income of about $60,000 annually. (A first class high school English teacher would earn about $50,000, leaving him/her out of the top group.)

Temin makes two important points: any analysis of the economy in the USA that treats the entire economy as a monolith will badly skew the real results. When the same metrics are applied to the parallel economies separately it becomes clear that the rich are doing very well indeed, and the others are not doing well at all.

He also suggests that for most of the folk in the FTE sector there is little chronic worry, and little apprehension about what the future will bring. They do not endure food insecurity or shelter insecurity, they have good health insurance, they do not fear prolonged unemployment, they reasonably expect that their children will have a good education and will prosper, and that their children will inherit substantial assets. And one of the reasons that they feel secure is that governments in the USA work for them; policies and programs are introduced or massaged for the benefit of the top 20%. News coverage of the recent tax cut in USA has made that very clear.

The bottom 80% of income earners generally do endure chronic worry, and the future of their children is not at all ensured.

On Inequality: Government Policy

I would like to be a member of a special interest group, a big group that can catch the ear of the Premier. I want to be one of the insiders, the ones in the know. I want to be a member of the group that actually influences public policy. That group currently consists of Liberal party insiders (not the rank-and-file members), personal friends of the Premier, the industrial barons, and the senior bureaucrats

Our special interest group actually exists, but we have not yet come together. We are citizens, taxpayers, voters, many of us volunteer in the community, many of us want to make a bit of difference in the lives of others. We care about future generations, we care about leaving the earth in good condition for our grandchildren. We think that jobs that degrade our environment are not really very good jobs, and not jobs that we should encourage. But government does not seem to hear us, or if they do, they try not to let on.

There was a telling pundit comment in the media a few weeks ago at the time of the announcement of a new candidate for the job of leader of the Progressive Conservative Party; it was that this particular fellow (I have already forgotten his name) would learn to be a retail politician and then he would become Premier. I took that to mean that he would learn to sell himself to the voters without really committing to anything, so that he could later do what was good for his party and his supporters and his donors and his bureaucracy. I have lived with retail politicians for most of my life.

I always find it interesting (and infuriating) when government consults with us, and then ignores the results of the consultation. Sunday shopping was a big issue a dozen years ago, and the government of Premier MacDonald asked the voters what they thought. The results were about 53% opposed to Sunday shopping, 47% in favour. But Premier MacDonald would not stand up to the big retailers, so we got Sunday shopping. Notice that government offices did not open on Sunday.

On Inequality: Government Spending

Most days I walk 10,000 steps along my paved rural road. Sometimes it's for my heart, sometimes it's to turn off my brain, and sometimes it's just to fill time. In spring it's to listen to the birds, and in fall it can be to watch the leaves turn. But the walk always reminds me, in a small way, of the basic inequality that defines government in Nova Scotia. My road, despite being a busy thoroughfare, is so badly maintained that cars have to drive on the shoulder to avoid the potholes in the centre, and elsewhere squeeze to the centre to avoid the rough edges where the pavement has been peeled away by the snowplows. My road is in Cumberland South, formerly represented by PC MLA Jamie Baillie. And everyone on my road understands the basic reality in 2018: no good thing happens in an opposition-held riding, and no bad thing happens in a government-held riding. Our curse is even worse, because Cumberland South has been held by the Tories in every session of the legislature that I can remember, except for a brief period in the 1980's when Cumberland Centre was divided between the other two ridings and their incumbent, Liberal Guy Brown held the seat until he retired.

The sad reality of our unswerving political loyalty is that the Liberals and the NDP, in government, will never spend money in Cumberland South because there are no votes for them here. And the Tories, in government, will not spend money here because they don't have to - they will get our votes anyway.  Were we in Britain in the 1830's we would have been called a pocket borough. If you missed that in Civics class back when they taught Civics, you can find an entertaining essay on Wikipedia.

Lake Road April 2017

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Frank Corbett Stayed-To-Do-Well Award

Just over forty years ago I worked in Frobisher Bay (as it was then known; Iqaluit now), a northern town of about 2500 people. About 1/3 of the residents were from South - we were mostly Hudson's Bay Company staff, school teachers, government employees, a few clergy. There were a number of small businesses around, and many were owned by folk who had come North to work for government at some level, and ended up in their own business. Their best customers were always the government. There was a phrase we heard often: Came to do good, stayed to do well.

It's a phrase that has stayed with me these four decades, and it almost perfectly describes the political career of Frank Corbett, recently retired MLA for Cape Breton Centre. According to his official biography he was a TV cameraman at the CTV station in Sydney, and more importantly, he was a good union man, rising in the union ranks. Eventually he became an MLA, and then - wonder of wonders - in 2009 the NDP formed government and our shop steward became Deputy Premier among other jobs. His real job, as revealed by Graham Steele in his political memoirs, was to be the guardian of ideological purity in meetings where Premier Dexter was absent.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Failure of Leadership

Hon. Karen Casey
The new school year has just started and the Wentworth, Maitland and River John students are all enduring their long bus rides. Parents are upset. The basic premise of schooling for our children has always been that the little ones go to local schools and the older ones travel farther to middle and high schools. That compact is now broken.

It is easy to point the finger at the senior staff of the Chignecto Central Regional School Board, and especially now-retired superintendent Clarke and the current Director of Operations Steeves. They have long forgotten the concept of community schooling and community engagement, if they ever truly comprehended it. The CCRSB is now just another civil service empire presided over by bureaucrats whose principal occupation appears to be the maintenance and expansion of their empire, with providing education for children a distant second.

The communities of River John and Maitland have different troubles with their schools. They have large schools with empty wings. Wentworth, however, has a small school with no empty space. We have two classrooms, a small gym, a library and a smaller all-purpose room. We have a growing enrollment, currently at 23 and soon to rise to 30 students. Our school is in fairly good shape.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Watch Out, Wallace! Your School Is Next!

Wallace Elementary School
Parents in Wallace should be very worried about the future of their school. They have a nice little school that has been expanded and maintained over the years but the enrollment has been dropping. That's usually a good sign that the Chignecto Central Regional School Board sees a chance to chop another rural school and bus kids to larger schools.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The New Face of Entitlement

Gary G. Clarke
There is a class struggle coming to Nova Scotia, but it won't be between the 1% and the 99%, as is happening in the USA. Instead, it will be between the civil service elites (which includes our MLA's) and the private sector taxpayers who actually pay the bills.

This man, Mr Clarke, is the recently retired Superintendent of Schools and CEO of the Chignecto Central Regional School Board (CCRSB). He is the man most responsible for the closing of the schools in Wentworth, River John and Maitland, and he is the one who set the tone for the whole school review process.

It is important to understand the school review process from the point-of-view of the communities involved. There was a regulated process that was to be followed, with the Board staff making the case for closing the schools and the community making the case for keeping the schools open, and the elected Board would make the final decision. But the whole process is predicated upon both sides acting in good faith. The communities have no power in such a process so we have to rely on the Board staff acting in good faith. The Board staff are under no compunction to actually do so, and so they didn't.