On labels – and my own views

Frequently, when engaged in what I consider to be discourse spiralling off the rails, I find people who can no longer defend their position and cannot withdraw with some manner of decorum like to throw out labels and expletives and end. Sometimes I accept this as inevitable, sometimes I feel like I want to push on to make clear.

My Twitter profile describes me as a “recovering conservative”. I actually got that, sort of, from a Tori Amos T-Shirt. I think it’s a line from a tune but cannot think of which song it is that contains the line. No matter. It gets the point across at least.

Amusingly enough, when it’s Canadians I’m talking to, people tend to think I’m fairly sharply right-leaning. American right wingers in particular label me a liberal (or their more juvenile variations of the word). Not surprising then that I like to think of myself as a pragmatic centrist. I have views that fall all over the spectrum. So the purpose of this entry, started as I wait in line to get my car washed, is to try to set out some of my points of view and perhaps that’ll help those who choose to read this. I’ll go through a myriad of major issues and try to let you now how you can expect me to argue on any of them.

Origins are a good place to start, to give you some context as to where I came from. I grew up in a fairly wealth suburb of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My father, who immigrated to Canada in his early 20s from England, worked for one of the Big Five banks. My mother is from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. She came from a working class family, who lived a modest life. She left Cape Breton to work as a nurse, a career she practiced until being forced into early retirement after a car accident.

My mom’s family was Roman Catholic, but religion wasn’t much to her. I got baptized in an RC church as is the custom primarily, I think, to appease her parents. My father is non-religious. I know he believes in something – or rather – that he did as he was a Master Mason before I was born. He’s actually mused about joining a lodge again, but that’s another matter.

I started in Montessori School when I was three, and when the time came to go on to “regular” school to start Grade 1, my parents decided to enrol my in a Catholic School. Without getting too into the weeds, in Ontario, due to some bizarre historical reasons, There is a publicly-funded Roman Catholic Separate School system, and that’s where they decided I was going, as they felt the school was the better option. You might have the idea of a parochial school being taught by nuns and that sort of nonsense, but that’s actually not really at all what it’s like. It’s more or less like any other school, with a little catechism mixed in. In any case, even as a kid I didn’t really buy into the religious nonsense, and it certainly wasn’t reinforced at home so it didn’t bother me much.

I took no real notice of religious anything as a kid, until I was about 10 or 11. The world was a changing place then, and that’s when I started watching the news as things like the fall of Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that sort of thing happened. I was also a voracious reader – of history, or science, of all sorts of things. I started to realize that fairy stories about gods and so on were basically nonsense – a part of the evolution of the species, perhaps, but one no longer needed.

I rejected religion completely and finally in Grade 8, which is when you make the Sacrament of Confirmation. Rather than doing the course of study required to prepare for it, a sympathetic teacher instead had me study all sorts of religions, which was actually quite enlightening. The next year I started high school, and went into a regular public high school.

I gravitated toward a lot of right wing ideas initially. Even to some extreme ideas at first, because it was easy to be targetted as a white kid in a multicultural city when you started to wonder if you could live as well as your folks did. Canada was slowly emerging from a severe recession, and it looked like the future was pretty bleak. Blaming newcomers for our perceived miserably bleak future was easy. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to see the stupidity of those ideas, and I realized that being surrounded by so much from all over the world is actually amazing. Toronto is a phenomenal city to grow up near for that reason – you can find literally everything there as long as you know which neighbourhood to go to.

As I got to high school the views I hold now really started to gel. I became a very staunch social liberal in most cases. I took up an interest in debate then, arguing heavily for legalization of marijuana, for example – but also against pointless efforts are gun control, and so on. I believed that the idea of fiscal conservativism, but that government should largely not interfere in people’s private lives – but I also saw what I would later learn more explicitly in university, about how the free market is not perfect, that it doesn’t deliver socially optimal outcomes, and that the reason we created governments and societies is that we realized a need to organize certain social structures.

Into university I started to get involved in politics, becoming a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, provincially and federally. At that time, the effort to “Unite The Right” was in full force, and I found myself immersed in those of the more right wing ideas, and as a Red Tory I started to feel unrepresented. When the merger of the Reform Party and Progressive Conservative Party of Canada happened, I gave up my membership and watched as the social conservatives from the Reform side get more and more clout in the party. I think that’s when I started to adopt the “recovering conservative” label. During university I joined the Army and politics didn’t mesh so well with it so I just stopped really caring, other than to vote.

So I guess I could now go into a few of the issues that tend to be top of conversation, and you can slot me into whatever pigeonhole you feel like slotting me into.

Religion: Well – this is pretty clear. I’m a fairly fervent atheist, though I fit mostly into what has been labeled the “weak atheist” camp. I don’t really care about what most people think in terms of religion. If that’s what you need to get through the day, I feel a little bit of pity perhaps, but that’s fine. If your beliefs don’t in any way interfere with my life, or you have respect for those who reject religion, then I’m fine with you. I’ve actually had some very, very enjoyable discussions with religious people, including Chaplains in the military, and even pastors in some cases – of course, progressive, decent ones. The people I hold in complete contempt and have no issue grappling with (because honestly, it’s pretty fun at times) are the evangelical nutcases that I really fear gaining any sort of political power. The rich irony of these people bleating about freedom, liberty, and so on is priceless, when the reality is that they crave some manner of theocracy that will be the end of freedom. I fight their influence because it has to be fought. It’s evil and malignant. The people that want to displace science from classrooms, give mythology equal footing with reality, who want to put theology into government and rewrite history to support that aim – these people are enemies of liberty, of freedom, of society, and I hold for them nothing but contempt.

Government “size”, taxation, etc.: I believe in relatively limited government. I don’t see any reason that government should grow infinitely, but at the same time I accept that it is vital. A basic course in economics reveals that free markets are prone to fail for a variety of reasons and that’s why we have governments. I believe in progressive taxation, keeping corporate taxes low so long as income flows into personal incomes and is taxed there, and in effective regulation of markets. Since externalities are not priced into markets effectively, the tax system and legal system must be employed to attempt to do so.

I do not accept the assertion that governments are necessarily inefficient or wasteful, or at least, that they are any more of these things than corporations can be. That being said, governments should only involved in sectors where there are market failures – healthcare being chief among them. If you’re reading this blog though, you’ve probably already figured that out – I’m a staunch supporter of universal healthcare because economically it makes sense. The evidence is pretty clear.

Climate change: See previous blog entry. Denying this is like supporting creationism. Just plain fucking stupid. We can debate to what extent it’s anthropogenic until we’re blue in the face, but the facts remain clear. There is piles of science that shows how severe the problem is – and there’s basically nothing credible opposing it. Ironically, I believe there’s a good “Pascal’s Wager” type argument to be made for doing something about it. We have basically nothing to lose by getting on the problem – and it gives North America the opportunity to reinvigorate our economy, because the old “manufacturing” economy is not coming back. Innovation is what will preserve us.

Marriage equality: gays have been able to marry in Canada for a few years now. What impact has that had on my life, or the general public? None. None whatsoever. Like most controversial issues where wingnut people expect doom, nothing happened. Pretty simple.

Gay Rights In General: I like Pierre Trudeau’s POV. “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” The ideas that right wing people have about homosexuality are so insane I can’t even really understand how they formed them. I love, in particular, the assertion that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice”. It makes perfect sense that someone would choose to live a life that invites persecution, social ostracism, etc. The idea that they can be “cured” is even more pathetically laughable, given that organizations dedicated to this sort of tomfoolery are constantly embarrassed by being “outed”. Similarly, I’m glad to see the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. This policy is just lunacy, and the arguments supporting continued discrimination are pathetic.

Abortion rights: I’m pro-choice. Like most issues, this is simply none of the government’s business. I find the anti-choicers’ ability to make up new and more ridiculous arguments in favour of their POV a little humourous, and a little sick. I particularly love ignorant Christians from the south now playing the “black genocide”. As if they really care about that. Brilliant. I’d suggest a read of Freakonomics if you want to see a more disturbing, if direct, explanation of impact of Roe Vs. Wade. In Canada, we just scrapped laws about the issue. Again, the sky didn’t fall on us.

Gun control: I don’t see anything wrong with law-abiding, decent citizens owning firearms. I enjoy shooting recreationally and own guns. I comply with the laws of the land, but in the case of Canada’s laws, I think they’re also stupid. The long gun registry in particular is probably the most ridiculous bureaucratic structure there is. It is of basically no value, and it stole $2 billion from Canadian taxpayers, money which could have been used for actually fighting crime in some manner.

That being said, the shit that goes on in the US is ridiculous. Open carrying as a form of protest just makes me shake my head. Handguns as an accessory is just fucking stupid, and that’s all there is to it. I don’t have as much a problem with concealed carry, but even that seems foolish. There’s something stupid and juvenile about needing to carry around a pistol.

Far worse than that is the shit with the teabaggers wanting to use their Second Amendment right to add some drama to their protests. It’s intimidation, really. Incidentally, though it doesn’t really matter to me, I don’t think their interpretation of the Second Amendment (especially since they omit the beginning part, the whole “well-regulated militia” piece) is exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind. That’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Anyhow, if you’ve got this far, I’m pretty impressed. It least gives you an idea of who I am and why I don’t think I’m too easy to label. It’s definitely a matter of being mostly in the centre of things, and able to think critically. That’s what really matters – pragmatism.

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4 comments so far

  1. Jeremy Hoover on

    Nice post, Nick. I really enjoy your blog.

    Question about your economics, government size, and taxation point (since I’m clearly not as well-versed as you are): You say that corporate taxes can be kept low and money taxed progressively via personal income taxes. This requires some moving parts. What happens if corporate taxes are kept low, corporate profits do not flow into workers’ wages, and personal income taxes are not progressive and are low?

    • warriorbanker on

      Some question! Okay, here goes. First, profits don’t go to workers. Wages for workers are part of the cost of business, and profits are what are left after they are paid. They belong to the corporation’s shareholders. The corporation has a choice, either to retain those earnings to invest in the business’ growth, or to pay them out to the shareholders in the form of dividends. Those dividends are then taxed in the hands of those shareholders.

      While it is tempting to try to extract as much tax as possible from corporations in the form of income tax it’s made complicated by the ease with which a corporation can choose to locate itself. There is a reason, for example, that so many US corporations are headquartered at least for tax purposes, in the State of Delaware. Corporations have an ability and duty to shareholders to arrange their affairs to the best advantage. Ever notice how UHaul trucks all sport Arizona plates? Or how semi-trailers are very often registered in Maine? All for tax advantages.

      If a jurisdiction cranks its corporate income tax up too high the corporations wherever practical will seek to relocate which can also impact other tax revenues – like income tax on wages, property tax, etc.

      On aggregate I think it’s better to attract corporations with good income tax rates in order to reap the other benefits – employment and thus growth of the personal tax base being chief among them. I’ve seen arguments for outright abolition of corporate income taxes in favour of simply collecting personal income tax, but this is sort of what led to the growth of income trusts in Canada – and the tax impact of them was so significant that the Tories had to abandon a promise not to interfere with them because they feared more corporations converting to trusts and the erosion of the tax base.

  2. Jeremy Hoover on

    Thanks, Nick. Makes sense. I hadn’t thought about it this way. I see a problem when corporations continue to reap giant profits while not enriching the workers. In that scenario, neither workers’ wages nor income taxes increase. Government revenue stagnates. It’s a system that needs to work together, with all pieces contributing. Is that fair to say?

  3. warriorbanker on

    There are many people who see a problem with that. There have been proposals to deal with that in the form of “windfall taxes” or my personal favourite, taxing “excess profits”. No one who advocated the ideas that I’ve actually met or been able to engage in discussion on the topic can come up with any sort of description of what “excess” means. The thing is that if corporations reap huge profits and continue to retain them, the shareholders should, in theory, get agitated by this and demand that payout of dividends be made. I don’t know of any example of that actually happening – but it easily could because of the rise of “say-on-pay” structures where shareholders have input on compensation paid to executives.

    The argument about where profits go is a key argument made about a number of things like for example the automotive industry. To illustrate: I used to live in Oshawa, Ontario, the home of a massive General Motors manufacturing complex and their Canadian headquarters. When GM went into decline resentment by some workers of “foreign” vehicles being driven in the community got higher. I witnessed an incredible exchange between the driver of a Honda Civic (built in Alliston, Ontario) and a GM employee. I can’t remember what the GM guy was driving, it was a GM product, but it was built, as I recall Mr. Honda pointing out smugly, in Mexico. The discussion got into relative economic benefits, with GM guy highlighting that all the profit on the car goes back to Japan. However, the economic benefit of the Canadian-built Civic I would expect to be higher because of the wages paid out, even if the profits went offshore. As I understand it, their profit margins on cars aren’t excessive high but a lot of money gets put into the local economy regardless of where the company’s headquarters are.

    Back to corporations – and shareholders – this is where the movement advocating “corporate social responsibility” gets important. I think CSR is going to continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the realities of externalization of costs and start to demand accountability from corporations. It’s even becoming a theme in investing (socially responsible investing). My employer, which is a household name in Canada that I will not name myself for obvious reasons, publishes a CSR report along with its annual report each year and it’s keenly read by our clients and stakeholders, it seems. They want to know about our efforts to manage energy and other resource use better, how we give back to our communities, and that sort of thing. It’s good marketing to be seen as responsible and as people continue to demand this, we’ll basically force more internalization of costs of doing business, and that should actually help prevent the sort of scenario you mention.


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