Wednesday, June 7, 2023

We Need to Embrace Reality

Dear Editor,

It’s a good thing we aren’t roommates. Two guys wandering around the house in the dark, wide awake at 3:00 a.m., muttering “What are we leaving for the kids?! The grandkids!?” are bound to thump heads at some point. It’s inevitable.

I agree completely. Those problems are going to be tough to fix. They’ll cost money. And far too often the problems you listed are met with a dismissive “Where you gonna find the money for that?”

I have a suggestion many of your readers won’t like. We need to embrace reality. And make better informed decisions based on that reality.

Reality starts with where we truly are. It’s too easy for some to argue we can’t guarantee a minimum basic income or provide affordable housing. Or provide better healthcare. Or fight Climate Change. And do a better job of caring for our aging population. But what if we were to compare how much we’re really chipping in to fix our problems with what other countries are? How’s our reality compare to theirs?

Pretty poorly really. Downright bad in some cases.

Taxes differ between countries. Smart countries don’t tax income (to encourage hard work and earning more) and hammer consumption (to encourage saving). Our GST is only 5% (Stephen Harper lowered it. Twice.) The EU average is 21%. Income taxes? All over the map. A measure was developed to compare the taxes people are compelled to pay in their country (at all levels, for us, what Mayor Kentner needs to keep the street lights lit, all Provincial taxes/mandatory fees, and PM Trudeau’s income taxes and GST) to their country’s GDP. A gauge of taxes collected relative to the size of each country’s economy. “The ratio provides a useful look at a country’s tax revenue because it reveals potential taxation relative to the economy.”

The number itself isn’t nearly as important as the spread between countries and what it tells us about those countries.

Most of the happiest, healthiest, longest living, best educated, best socially supported, climate conscious, and generous people in the world live in countries with the highest tax-to-GDP ratios in the entire Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The more those people pay in taxes the happier, healthier, and so on, they ALL are. Denmark (46.9%), France (45.1%), Austria (43.5%), Finland (43%), Sweden (42.6%), Norway (42.2%), the Netherlands (39.7%), and Germany (39.5%) are great examples. Zero or near zero tuition for university for students in France, Austria, Norway, and Germany, among others. Respected military. These guys get all the nice stuff everyone wants, and make sure their fellow citizens do too. They pay for it! They “get” it.

The country with probably the lowest health levels and life expectancy in the OECD leads the world in complaining about how overtaxed they are. The USA tax-to-GDP ratio is 26.6%. Almost the lowest taxes collected relative to the economy size in the entire OECD. 32nd of 38 countries. Students run up debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars to graduate from university. No wonder U.S. citizens can’t get nice stuff like everyone else has. They won’t pay for it.

Canada ranked 24th in terms of the tax-to-GDP ratio. 33.2%. 6.6% more than the USA (Canadians’ favourite comparison). A whopping 13.7% less than Denmark. Canada dwells somewhere in the lower murky middle. We get some nice stuff, we want more, pay for some of it. We know or ought to know we neglect our Armed Forces, we don’t do enough for affordable housing, resist establishing a decent minimum basic income (to replace our convoluted mish mash of overlapping and inefficient social support programs). Too many would prefer to avoid dealing with Climate Change if it’s going to cost us money. We’d all like to wait for less time in the ER. If only the damn Government would find some else to pay for it?

One simple and timely example? 1n 1976 Canada had 6.92 hospital beds per 1,000 people. To serve a population of 23.45 million people. In 2020 Canada had 2.55 hospital beds per 1,000 people. To serve a population of 38.25 million people. The people telling us that public healthcare is broken and only privatizing it will fix the problem are the kind of people who cut our hospital beds per 1,000 people by 66%, while our population was increasing by 63%. For comparison, Germany has 8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Now. France has 5.9. Austria 7.3. Belgium 5.6. Canada 2.55? The people with the nice things know they have to be paid for. Do we?

I wonder how many of our social and environmental challenges would get better or even disappear if we were to, I don’t know, deploy the same (relative) amounts of tax money as the countries doing better than we do?

The second half of reality involves confronting our friends and neighbours who refuse to embrace it.

We let too many Canadians get away with sitting at their kitchen table drinking tap water that is safe to drink, eating food that is safe to consume, gazing at our road (plowed in the winter), so that they may take it to a doctor or hospital (at virtually no additional cost to themselves), or maybe have our police, firefighters, and EMS travel on it to them in an emergency. While they tell their kids and family (who we paid to educate) that “The Government can’t get anything right. And that’s why we need to let private companies do it all. At a juicy profit.” Natural disaster? They’ll be the first people to demand that the Government deploy our Military to help out. See, they trust our Military. They’re just very reluctant to pay for it.

We’re not getting anywhere until more of us embrace Reality, Editor Vance. And more of us make better informed decisions using that Reality.

Bruce Mason, Meaford

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