Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not the worst thing to wake up to

So Mrs. Aldini turned on the news this morning, and discovered that our family's net worth has increased by $1,600.00:
Every man, woman and child in Alberta will get $400 from the province's unbudgeted surplus, the Alberta government announced Tuesday.

My personal reaction to this is, of course, "Hot damn!" If I were to complain about it, it certainly wouldn't be from this angle:
"These cheques will mean some people can pay their heating bills but for other people it might mean a ski trip or a fancy dinner," said Liberal Leader Kevin Taft.

"If we added it all up, and used it together, we could provide hospitals for everybody in Edmonton and Calgary, we could provide free tuition for university and college students for years to come. We could do all kinds of wonderful things.

So, economics author Kevin Taft appears to believe that ski trips and fancy dinners are objectively a waste of money. Seriously: there is zero difference in principle between his statement and arguing that all ski hills and fancy restaurants should be shut down, and that the money that Albertans might spend there should be confiscated by government for the greater good.

If I were to complain about it, it would only be to argue that there may be better ways to return roughly (3 million X $400) $1.2 billion to Alberta taxpayers.
Clint Dunford, Tory member for Lethbridge West, said the plan is the simplest way "to give back to Albertans without having a huge bureaucracy."

Almost! But by that logic, they probably ought to have eliminated health care premiums instead, since then not only would ~$1B be returned to taxpayers this year, but they could also eliminate the bureaucracy that exists to assess and collect the premiums.

(Sidebar: for the uninitiated, the Alberta Health Care Premium is not an actual premium, which I would quite possibly support. It's a tax you pay that has no connection whatsoever to your consumption of health care, and like too many taxes & programs, the single-income family making $40k/year is hit hardest).

Anyway, I had a related discussion (rant?) about this in July with Jardine and Mapmaster. I said that I wasn't as hard on Ralph Klein and the Alberta Tories as I ought to be in principle, but that I could basically live with their way of doing things in the name of "staying under the radar", the radar in question being that of central Canada and the federal government.

That is, Alberta cannot be overly aggressive with lowering taxes and the like because if the difference between the standard of living here and in the Rest of Canada is too great, then the Rest of Canada will take it upon themselves to even things out. So fine: let's have the lowest provincial income tax, but not by an order of magnitude; let's pay our nurses and teachers the best, but not by 25%; let's have cigarettes and cases of beer be a buck cheaper, gasoline 5c/L lower, etc. etc. - but nothing so stark as to make the envious-minded in the RoC get any big bad ideas.

Riding this train of thought, eliminating health care premiums should be an obvious move for Klein; since most other provinces don't have them at all, no one can cry, "Unfair! Alberta's so rich, they don't even have to charge health care premiums!" Conversely, the absolute worst thing he could do in this regard is mail cash to everyone in the province.

I can only surmise that Klein et al have decided that Ottawa's radar gun has gone off, and there's no more hiding. If that's the case, then politically (and in principle), it certainly makes sense to force your local and national opponents to come out against giving your constituents some of their money back - i.e. to force people to say things like the Kevin Taft quote above. Yeah, we're basically a big government country, but there is still a large cohort in the centre of the political spectrum who seethe when they are forced to confront politicians who are clearly stating, "We can spend your money better than you can."

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Maybe Klein isn't going all-in -- Colby Cosh still has his poker face on.

UPDATE2: Yes, Cosh's update does go without saying. In fact, just to spite Mr. Taft, I am going to spend some of the money on a fancy dinner for my family. Hah! Then my restaraunt operator and waitress will put that extra money under their mattress forever, where it will benefit absolutely no one. No, wait. Is my waitress going to university? Hmmm.

Dangit! I wish I had taken more economics classes. Anyway Taft, we're also going to get a new kitchen table and chairs. If you'd prefer, I can use the cheque to pay my heating bills for the next year or so, and use the money I would have used for the gas bill to buy furniture. Would that make you happy? If not, I beg you to explain how, in economic principles, there isn't a lick of difference between the two options. But you won't, because said principles, when applied broadly, are more useful for me advancing my goals than you yours.


At 11:36 a.m., Blogger sacamano said...

Couldn't agree more. The Health Care Premiums drive me bananas.

The logic of them, so I'm told, is to "remind Albertans" that Health Care isn't free. Presumably this encourages us to not waste resources by running down to the Emergency for sprained ankles, etc.

But, honestly, writing a cheque that is related to the costs of Health Care in name alone cannot possibly help in this regard?

It would be more effective, I suspect, if they mailed out an "invoice" at the end of every year outlining the health care services you used and how much it actually would have cost if you had been forced to pay cash up front. At least then I could see how many resources my frivolous trip to the emergency actually wasted and feel good about the cheque I'm mailing.

If you want to have a bureaucracy, at least make it a useful one.

At 9:41 p.m., Anonymous Status Blow said...

Great post....

Getting Rid of Health Care Premiums... the only thing I've seen the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation and the NDP agree on.

So why haven't we gone and done that yet?

At 11:08 a.m., Blogger TimR said...

Great post! And put me down for eliminating health care premiums as well. As you pointed out, they are not a premium but a tax.

What bugs me the most is that pretty much every level of government or public institution pays the health care premiums for its workers because of negotiated labour agreements. And utimately the taxpayers have to foot the bill for this. I feel like I'm being taxed twice - once to pay my own premiums and once to pay the premiums of some government worker.

At 7:12 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with elimiating Health Care Premiums. Most of my friends have been in arrears several times including myself, and I have had my wages garneshed by the province for failer to pay premiums. I suspect that I am not the only low income earner that has been abused by this tax. In my opinion this premium is a tax reminiscent of the costly gun registry. A knee jerk reaction to forward a government agenda (health care was to bankrupt the country but that has not happened)and I suspect that it cost more to administer than it collect in premiums


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