Thursday, January 6, 2011

Deficits and Perspective

The morning papers greet me with stories about deficits in capital cities everywhere. Today there are tales of imminent debt walls in Quebec, in Ontario (terribly inconvenient in an election year), and in Nova Scotia. Even the Harper government, gang of fiscal conservatives that they are, get noted for high deficits and no plan to deal with them.

The universal nature of the problem should, in some ways, be comforting. First, in every province, people should know that thief is not some horrible black cloud following your province around like poor Schleprock, about to do you in. It should also make it clear that the problem wasn't caused by a rash of politicians' perks, civil servant largesse, or that old whipping boy, bilingualism. None of these saw a multibillion dollar splurge that transcended jurisdictions.

Governments made a rational, and universal decision to spend through a recession. This is true across party lines, and across borders. After all, businesses once shuttered do not magically reopen once recessions end, nor do schools and hospitals reopen. If we lay off thousands of public servants, nurses, teachers, social workers, (and usually young workers go out first), they do not sit in blissful suspended animation until we are ready to rehire them, they leave.

Just as one doesn't greet the first week of a layoff by selling the house, scrapping the car and pulling the kids out of school so they can work, neither do we slash social programs based on temporary revenue slowdowns. Deficits didn't happen to us, they were a deliberate choice As the best of a tough lot of options.

If you read the rather judgmental words of the Adam Radwanskis and Donald Savoies, feeing off on politicians, you would swear only they have the courage to tell it like it is. Yet look closer....besides calling for vague "tough choices", what do they call for? What tough choice are these oracles of tough love actually brave enough to put their name to? Haven't we had enough of puffed up editorialists claiming that they are saving us by issuing a call for someone to save us by, y'know, doing something?

Deficit reduction is now needed to pay for what we borrowed to keep people working during the economic slowdown. We don't need hysteria. Let's define our fiscal goal, yes, but also our needs from the school system, the health care system, and other public services. Let's have a summit, not to awfulize, but to figure out how to slow the fastest growing expenditures and protect what should be protected.

They both begin with H, but honesty and hysterics aren't the same word.

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