Dollars and Donuts

Ontario recently raised its minimum wage to $14/hr, and the impact this had on businesses both large and small became a talking point du jour. Debate crystallized, due to selective journalism, around a single business: Tim Hortons. A handful of franchise owners announced to their staff that, in response to the increase, certain perquisites would be cancelled, and a thousand online scolds were unleashed.

A common question posed by fans of the higher minimum wage, angry that their victory had been undermined by greedy capitalism, was thus: ‘Why can’t Tim Hortons, a billion-dollar franchise, just raise their wages a little, be happy for their employees, and not be so concerned about profits?” After all, as many photo-ops and profiles would show, there are plenty of small coffee shops that happily pay their employees a ‘living wage’.

The first Tim Hortons restaurant opened in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1964. In the 50 years since, it has expanded to over 4600 locations across the globe and employs 100,000 people. It achieved this growth because it focuses on profit. Were it not for a desire for profit, had the franchise been content to focus its energies solely on coffee and the wages of its handful of employees, Tim Hortons would have remained in its single Hamilton location serving coffee for the past 50 years, not become the empire it is today, and there would be 100,000 fewer jobs available for people who need them.

 

Any job is better than no job to the person who chooses to work that job. Otherwise they would quit. I’m sorry, but it’s true. 100,000 jobs are better than 0 jobs.

To criticize a large, successful business for not adhering to the business model of a smaller, less successful business is to wilfully ignore what made the former so successful in the first place. For all the wonderfully dark, ethically sourced, french-pressed coffee that small-business Ontario cafes produce, and for all the living wages they nobly pay their half-dozen staff, by focusing on profit and greed Tim Hortons has done more for the common good of the world than a single, principled coffee shop owner could ever hope. They should be celebrated for this achievement.

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Trudeau’s Useful Protestors

In any debate, the goal is not to convince your opponent, but to convince your audience.

Justin Trudeau is spending the first month of 2018 travelling the country in a series of town hall events, taking questions from Canadians and offering fairly well-rehearsed answers in return, in what is, admittedly, great PR. In many ways it’s theatre, a stage play.

Political events bring crowds, and crowds bring people who loudly disagree. From Nova Scotia to Ontario, the press has breathlessly covered every heckler to raise their hackles, their cameras swooping to focus on the security scrum while Trudeau gently admonishes them as only a teacher knows how.

I accept that each question at these town hall events is likely scripted and planned for by Trudeau’s team, but is it a stretch to wonder if these more raucous moments were gently massaged as well?

In the 2017 NDP leadership race, then-candidate Jagmeet Singh ‘calmly and positively’ responded to a woman’s emotional questions about the Muslim Brotherhood, and the internet ate it up. The moment went ‘viral’ (I loathe to type the term), and many saw it as a turning point that clinched Singh the leadership position. Whether or not this exchange was actually the race’s deciding factor, it doubtless won him a great amount of good-will. The optics were on Singh’s side.

It would be entirely reasonable for Canada’s Liberal party to hope to gain the same kind of buzz by showing our PM smiling affably as he suffers the verbal tirade of a disgruntled constituent. As above, these events are about optics, not politics, and ”smiling, reasonable liberal humours angry, irrational conservative” is a pat narrative, easily condensed into a news article.

What’s interesting is how the CBC’s treatment of protestors has shifted along with the party being protested.

In 2011, well into Stephen Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister, Canadian Senate page Brigitte DePape disrupted a throne speech by sneaking in and unfurling a ‘Stop Harper’ sign. She was promptly scuttled out of the senate, and into the CBC’s welcoming embrace.

If you're going to go to that much effort, plan your margins accordingly

Her protest led to immediate news stories and interviews. She was titled the ‘Rogue Page’ (and later the ‘Former Rogue Page’), and given a national platform to discuss her distaste of Stephen Harper. Long after her protest DePape remained a CBC celebrity. In 2013 an interview asked for insights on her favourite MP, and dreamily wondered if she had any plans to run for parliament. In 2015 she was again brought in to discuss her thoughts (ie. gloat) on the new Liberal Government.

Protestors of conservative governments are ‘Canadian Activists’, de facto political experts and spokesmen for the everyday Canadian. I doubt you’ll see many follow-up interviews on the CBC with the protestors escorted from Trudeau’s performance in London and Hamilton. Although just as angry and disruptive as DePape, they had the misfortune of being angry at wrong government, and are doomed to be cast as the villains in Trudeau’s play.

CBC Thinks Justin Trudeau Is Just Dreamy

There’s an argument to be made that the CBC provides a valuable service to Canadians that justifies its billion-dollar annual cost. Canada is a geographically vast country with many isolated communities, and for many the CBC is the only easily-accessible source of news or entertainment. But surely the value of the content provided by the CBC should be factored into this argument. A strict adherence to journalistic integrity and ethics, and a commitment to always serve the public interest is what distinguishes Canada’s state broadcaster from the fatuous, idol-worshipping propaganda we see in foreign dictatorships, right?

Justin Trudeau recently visited Saskatchewan to promote his carbon tax, and stopped in at a Regina firehall for speeches and a staged photo-op. The local CBC branch was immediately smitten by photos of Justin half-heartedly donning a fireman’s jacket. Fair enough, for the heart wants what it wants. Not content to doodle in their trapper-keepers though (JT + CBC = <3), or maybe limit their Tiger-Beat fawning to an opinion piece, CBC Saskatchewan published a full news story to keep Canadians informed that “things got … steamy — at least on Twitter.

What’s slightly more embarrassing than the idea that this ‘news’ article was even considered in the first place is how far the author had to search to find corroborating opinions on Twitter to validate their premise. Without someone, somewhere, making a comment about Trudeau’s looks, the author wouldn’t be able to call this mash note ‘journalism’, and so they scoured Twitter’s feed just long enough to find sufficient evidence to adhere to CBC’s double sourcing guidelines. 3 accounts with about 1200 followers apiece, (only one of which it would appear actually belongs to a Canadian) represent ‘Social Media’ in the author’s opinion.

Thank you CBC. It’s good to know that you have Canadian’s backs when it comes to reporting on events that shape our lives in turbulent times.

Just be glad to know that the CBC is not a cheap date. Sweet talk and shiny gifts are nice, but at the end of the day nothing says ‘he loves you’ like cold hard cash.

Why A State-Run News Media Is A Bad Idea

Questioning the source of news stories is always a healthy practice, a beneficial cynicism we develop through years of experience. We understand that news programs aren’t produced by Samaritans with hearts of gold, but usually by corporations, for financial gain. That story at the top of the Camel Cigarettes News Hour, revealing that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend Camels Cigarettes for their smooth flavour and low tar probably isn’t Pulitzer material, and we’d be silly to think otherwise. Ulterior motives abound and should be scrutinized.

downloadIn Canada, one of our largest news organizations, the CBC, is funded not by a private corporation but largely by the government. That doesn’t make their motives any less deserving of scrutiny though. Even though an entity says it has your best interests at heart, it may not be telling the whole truth.

Consider the apparently pressing issue of incompetent financial investors. CBC raised the alarm in February that many bank employees, paid to give financial advice to customers, might bad at their jobs. Hidden cameras and flashy stacks of cash (and non-sequitur b-roll footage of babies on rocking horses) were deployed because that’s what news-y shows do, and otherwise the viewer might not believe that people might be bad at their jobs. The CBC introduced a dramatic problem that threatens the elderly, single mothers, and even you! But what can stop this villainous evil? Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Children

CBC then escalated the story in April, with concealed-identity interviews showcasing dark silhouettes and blurred faces dropping bombshells such as ‘Banks like profits’. With its foot in the door, the CBC ramped up its sales pitch. The only sure-fire, fast-acting, guaranteed effective cure to the scourge of financial investors? “Calling on the industry’s regulators across the country to implement something called a statutory best interest standard.”

bmo-insiderLest anyone think this was the CBC’s idea, they quickly published a follow-up news item citing polls that crow “89 per cent want the titles used by people selling financial investments to be regulated“! “It’s time for governments to stop discussing, debating and delaying, and start taking concrete action.” All the cool kids want regulations! You should too! Your friends and neighbours are doing it. You don’t want to be the last person on your block to demand government regulation, do you?

In short, a state-run media has gone out of its way to find a problem that not many people cared about, scare its viewers, and insist that it alone holds the solution, government regulation! What is the price of this miracle cure it’s selling? More laws, greater influence over the private sector, committees, studies, reports, debates, and new positions to oversee the whole works, employing government workers for centuries to come. All to fix a problem that could be addressed with Yelp reviews.

Private corporations are flawed, but at least we’ve developed a healthy skepticism for their tricks. Government has become so ubiquitous that we have a blindspot to the power we’ve granted it to feed us news, and the conflicts of interest that can create.

Rethinking Net Neutrality In The Age Of Trump

The topic of ‘Net Neutrality’ laws sits in the middle of a debate over which is worse: big business or big government. Internet access is a vital commodity, and exclusively provided by private, for-profit companies. With the established wired and wireless networks spanning North America, bandwidth is a vast, but not unlimited resource. The question posed is who should decide how this limited resource is distributed, and by what mechanism. The ‘for it’ side argues that private companies could artificially limit bandwidth for their own gain (profit) and should be regulated by government to distribute it according to the government’s definition of ‘fair’. The ‘against it’ side argues that private companies should be allowed to distribute bandwidth according to market demand, and that allowing governments to impose regulations on private companies is inefficient and a target for political coercion.

For years it was easy to cast each player in this debate in black and white caricature, government as good and business as evil. In the United States, Barack Obama’s administration was seen as principled and noble, treated with reverence by the press and defended passionately by the left. How could a government headed by a such an affable, jeans-wearing, bike-riding, smooth-dancing aw-shucks herald of civil rights and human dignity be distrusted? Obama was a champion for minorities of all categories, he fought for healthcare and the middle class, they said. Anyone who opposed such a benevolent and kind institution must surely be paranoid, unreasonable, or just on ‘the wrong side of history’.

Then, November came. Barack Obama was unexpectedly replaced not by the left-wing, media darling Hillary Clinton as so many predicted, but by Donald Trump, who had been portrayed for a year as unhinged, unstable, and unbecoming of the position. Republicans took a majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. The drum-beat accusations of fascist, nazi-pandering, totalitarian, rights-trampling evilness migrated from Clinton’s campaign speeches into the teleprompters and opinion columns of the media, and from there to the popular wisdom of the left. It became cool to worry about concentration camps and military raids, and to tweet of fighting back against totalitarianism.

Now advocates for Net Neutrality on the left are forced to confront a contradiction: Is access to the internet a fundamental right, the protection of which should be entrusted to the enormous and arbitrary powers of government, or is the government a malicious, dictatorial regime that must be #Resisted? Should such a critical resource as internet access be entrusted to an institution helmed by one so demonized as Donald Trump? This is a conundrum which could be foreseen as easily as it can be avoided: Don’t give government any more responsibilities than absolutely necessary. You don’t have to worry about it abusing power it doesn’t have.

The future is unpredictable, and laws outlive the political climate in which they were created. This has to be considered when deciding how much regulatory power to grant governments. Once in place, regulations are hard to rescind, and often only get worse over time. Without taxpayer funding and a police force to back them, private companies rise and fall entirely at the mercy of their customers, and rather than every four years, your ballot is cast every time you open your wallet or take your business elsewhere.

It remains to be seen whether people’s newfound distrust in government causes any to revisit their  opinion on the wisdom of Net Neutrality. Politics makes strange bedfellows, so with any luck Trump’s election will introduce some to the benefits of limited government.

 

Automation Is Not a Justification For Universal Basic Income

Hand-wringing opinion pieces on the rise of automation and its impact on minimum-wage jobs have become vogue online. News articles about automated check-out lines, touch-screen fast-food menus, and computer-controlled cars are inevitably followed by editorials predicting an impending collapse of society as workers are replaced by circuits boards and algorithms whose only cost is a monthly electrical bill, and who never sleep or need a vacation.

These authors immediately and without fail give their game away by insisting that this is a problem that can only be solved by imposing a Universal Basic Income, mandating that the government take money from a small segment of the population and distribute it more fairly amongst the entire population.

This is marxism.

Given the historical record and moral repugnance of communism, socialism, and marxism (as these ideas routinely follow each other around), the only thing more shameful than calling for marxism is fear-mongering and feigning concern for one`s fellow man in order to do so. Authors who use advances in technology as evidence for their necessity are as short-sighted and ignorant of human nature as communists, socialists, and marxists have ever been.

Jobs are not an artificially limited resource in finite supply, and subtracting those jobs that can be performed by machinery from the current total does not leave humanity with a permanently lessened sum. Jobs are any activity a person can perform to produce a good or service in exchange for goods or services provided by other people. Jobs are potentially as infinite as human wants and needs, and limited only by our ability to imagine new ways to help and serve eachother, to improve eachother’s lives. So long as humans have the ability to act, they will find goods or services to offer that technology can’t replace. Actors, hair stylists, journalists, all provide services that at one point in history humans didn’t even know they wanted, and to assume that we have achieved the totality of all services that we will ever want is laughable.

Humans adapt to change. This is the same fact ignored by proponents of minimum wages, price regulations, or government subsidies. If an employee costs more to hire, a business owner will adapt by firing employees to reduce costs or raising prices to increase earnings. If a service such as education is made cheaper by government subsidies, institutions like universities can quickly raise the cost without reducing sales, as the difference in cost isn’t absorbed by the customer. Similarly, if a person loses their job to obsolescence of any kind, they quickly adapt to find a new job. This may require learning a new skill-set, working in a different industry, or providing a good or service to the world that has never been explored before, but humans do not sit motionless, waiting for a mystical body to dole out work like rations in a food line.

Technological change is nothing new, and history has seen new technologies supersede entire industries before. There is far less demand today for chimney sweeps and farriers due to electric heating and the automobile, but the demand for electricians and mechanics has grown in proportion. The new jobs that arose are in place of the old are far safer and more comfortable for those who perform them, and the humanity is far better off for the change. The savings incurred in placing robots into the workforce has and will continue to allow companies to undercut each other’s prices, as lowering the cost of production allows for lowering the price of their products, motivated by market competition. The cost of living has and will continue to fall as a result of technological advances, and as this drops consumers are left with more money to spend, and new industries arise to take advantage. Interior decorators and wedding planners would seem ludicrous extravagances back when a solid meal required an entire day’s hard labour, but are now viable careers in an age of plenty.

That the kind of tasks in which robots and automation excel; menial, repetitive, and back-breaking tasks, can and will be replaced by something other than a human is a fact to be celebrated. There is nobility in every kind of work, as every job by definition benefits society, but if less human capital is spent on necessary but monotonous tasks,  countless hours of human life are freed to be spent on tasks better suited to human creativity. If a job can be performed better and more cheaply by a robot than a person, bless the person for doing that job until now, and bless the creator of the robot for making that job obsolete. That the miracle of human ingenuity would be used as justification for the type slavery imposed by marxism would be ridiculous were it not so horrendous.

Thursday’s Child

G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday  was subtitled A Nightmare, because it follows a man struggling to navigate a world absent reason and logic in seeming isolation. Infiltrating a secretive network of anarchists, over the course of the story he gradually comes to realize that his co-conspirators and supposed enemies are in fact allies incognito, each equally afraid and convinced of their own solitude as he. His true enemy’s greatest weapon is deception, empowered only by the collective willingness of those who would fight for good to accept a lie without question.

Over a hundred years after its publication, political discussion has become similarly nightmarish, with those holding innocuous views ostracized and segregated through a deliberate attempt to make opposing opinions dangerous and shameful to hold. Rarely can discussion on a subject be left to the realm of facts and logic. Economic policy is quickly entangled with questions of sexism, so that anyone who argues against government intervention in a free market can be labelled a heartless sexist. Environmental issues are bizarrely conflated with racial concerns, so that one can’t argue against extreme environmental policies them without navigating the murky waters of race relations. Matters of immigration policy are tinged with concerns of homophobia, so that those who advocate for open borders can label as homophobic anyone who doesn’t immediately capitulate.

The goal in inserting emotional issues into unrelated political debate is to provide a powerful weapon to those whose side is otherwise inadequately armed with reason, and to shame into silence anyone who might dare disagree. They attach an unwarranted and unjust social stigma to uncontroversial opinions, and in doing so intimidate people who may share the same opinions to remain silent, lest they be similarly shamed. The result is that people feel too afraid of being labelled a sexist, racist, homophobe, or worse, to discuss pragmatic issues like economics, the environment, or immigration, and withhold valid criticisms. As fewer and fewer people speak in opposition, as dissent weakens, the false perception that more and more people agree grows in its place.

This imbalance produces a society where discussion of important ideas and topics that affect our lives in very real and immediate ways is silenced for fear of public recrimination, and faulty ideas are allowed to spread unchecked. Like The Man Who Was Thursday, people are reluctant to voice their opinion for fear of horrific consequences from their peers, and a false illusion of a much greater conformity is maintained. It’s important to recognize when unrelated issues are conflated for political gain, and to be willing to stand against this practice. The discussion of big ideas should be free from the fear of undeserved reproach from those who unfairly frame and structure the issues.

Talking freely with friends, family, and coworkers about matters both controversial and pedestrian, poisoned rhetoric removed, is important and rewarding. Often you’ll discover that, like Thursday and his co-conspirators, your enemies turn out to be allies engaged in the same fight as you.