Monday, April 28, 2014

A Reading Recommendation.

I have a deep respect for Alex Himelfarb, the director of the Glendon School of International and Public Affairs and tireless proponent of responsible, progressive taxation. The latter, as one can well-imagine, likely makes him persona non grata in many circles, but those are likely the same circles that close out responsible thought or discussion on any topics that might threaten to puncture the artificial and insular world they encase themselves in.

It is, of course, easy to take the expedient route, as have politicians like Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Mulcair at the federal level, and, here in Ontario, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath, all essentially proclaiming the evils of taxation, some more stridently than others, as they promise no tax increases. Clearly, in taking such positions, they are playing to our basest impulses.

Alex Himelfarb refuses to play that game. In his latest reminder of things our political leaders would rather we not contemplate, Without a tax debate, we risk sleepwalking into the future, Alex and his son Jordan present this thesis:

Canadians have a right to know what they’re giving up before celebrating the next round of tax cuts.

The article makes reference to the Himelfarbs' book, Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word, a collection of essays that explores the tax question; its central purpose is perhaps best expressed here:

In the book we do try to counter the view that taxes are simply a burden from which people must be relieved. Simply, they are the way we pay for things we have decided to do together because we cannot do them at all or as well alone. Our approach has yielded reactions both positive and negative.

And this is the crux of today's Star article as they argue that we cannot have an honest discussion about taxation because we do not have a clear understanding of the relationship between taxes and what they buy:

Two successive parliamentary budget officers, whose job it is to know, admit they cannot get the information they need to determine the costs and consequences of tax and spending cuts. So how are we expected to know? And without information about the trade-offs, how do we make informed democratic decisions?

They argue that without this basic knowledge, we as a society cannot make an informed decision on what constitutes proper taxation:

Whether we’re taxed too much or too little is a perennial debate that now needs rebalancing. It’s all well and good to say that many Canadians want smaller government but that means nothing unless it’s based on some understanding of how this will affect our ability to pursue our shared goals. We ought to know what we’re giving up before we celebrate the next round of tax cuts.

That seems to me to be the crux of the problem we face today as a society. The Harper government would have us believe that the only thing we are giving up when tax rates go down is an unwarranted intrusion of government into our lives. The Himelfarbs argue that if we look beyond the self-serving rhetoric of our political overseers, what we lose in embracing that mentality is something much different and ultimately much more costly to all of us.


  1. As long as we accept the thesis that we do not want or need to know what things cost, Lorne, we will be left with a very large bill.

    1. Ignorance may be bliss, Owen, until it comes time to pay its price.