Farmers for economic freedom
Updates from the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network, Canadian Farmers for Justice and the Prairie Centre. Several of the items appearing here originally appeared in an email list operated by Dwayne Leslie at http://www.prairielinks.com.
web posted July 24, 2000
You have two cows
By Craig Docksteader
In an attempt to explain how different government systems work, someone once penned the following "two cow" analogies. Although humorous, they effectively communicate important truths in understandable terms. The author is unknown, its origin uncertain, but after reading it, youll probably agree that their message is clear.
web posted July 17, 2000
Who is the real threat to freedom?
By Craig Docksteader
As the leadership race for the Canadian Alliance party unfolded over the past few months, the mainstream media became completely absorbed in Stockwell Days position on social issues. It seemed that many journalists only wanted to talk about Days religious values and viewpoint on issues such as abortion and gay rights.
At times, there was a type of muted hysteria implying that, if given the opportunity, Day would pass laws that would strip citizens of their individual rights and take away their personal freedoms. The implication is that he would govern with an iron fist, forcing everyone to live by his moral values.
Although the medias feeding frenzy over Days personal values is mildly absurd and their sudden interest in individual freedom blatantly ironic, the situation does remind us about the importance of citizens casting an informed vote at election time.
Studies have shown that many Canadians know little about the party that gets their vote. To make a decision they rely largely on media coverage and name recognition. It is not uncommon to find people who cast their ballot on the basis of a candidates position on a single marginal issue, apart from considering the primary beliefs of the party they endorse.
This doesnt mean you need a doctorate in political science to know who to vote for. In fact, most parties are separated not by their stand on taxation, health care and education, but by their position on one key issue. That issue is property rights.
In general, attitudes toward property rights fall into three broad categories: Communism, capitalism and socialism.
Websters Dictionary defines communism as, "A theory advocating elimination of private property". If someone says they are a communist, they believe all property should belong to, and be controlled by, the government. A communist rejects the idea of property rights.
Capitalism is defined as, "An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by the investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market." A capitalist recognizes that property rights are vital to a healthy economy and society.
Like communism, socialism rejects the concept of private property. Socialists believe in the "collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." A socialist places no value on property rights, and sacrifices them at every opportunity in an attempt to manipulate a desired social outcome.
A candidates perspective on property rights reveals more about how he or she would govern, than any other single issue. It determines how much of your money they think the government is entitled to through taxation, and how they would use your money. It also reveals where they stand on a whole range of policy issues including gun control, compulsory marketing boards, compulsory unionism, and endangered species protection.
By understanding what a candidate and his or her party believes about property rights, you have the ability to clearly discern which direction they would take the country. At this point it becomes easy to determine who is the real threat to freedom.
web posted July 3, 2000
The nature of government
By Kevin Avram
Most people believe that whenever there's something wrong with government, it's the government workers who are at fault. This is simply not true. Government workers are like people everywhere else - just ordinary folks. The real problem with government is the nature of the institution itself.
Consider the fact that there are four characteristics that define a government's performance. They apply equally to federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. Interestingly, they're polar opposites of what characterize a private sector business.
INEFFICIENT: Privately owned businesses strive for efficiency because profit is the objective. Managers and workers are rewarded on the basis of efficiency and performance. The penalty for inefficiency is bankruptcy and ruin -- investors lose their money, workers lose their jobs, managers lose their reputations. Government is a different story. The amount of money a government manager gets paid is based on how big a budget he handles and how many people are in his department. The incentive works in the opposite direction. And unlike private sector operations, government agencies can't go bankrupt. Instead, they go to the legislature for more money.
OVER-PRICED: Government is overpriced because it's inefficient. It has no competition, and the design of most agencies ensures that government managers focus on process, not results.
UNDERCAPITALIZED: When private companies want more money, they rely on profits and innovative ideas they can sell to investors. Junior investors and even heavy hitters on the Stock Exchange invest their money where it will do the most good. Private companies that are innovative and ideas-oriented have the opportunity to raise all the investment capital they need. Expansion or corporate restructuring can be facilitated.
There are no similar incentives or opportunities for government. When a government entity -- be it a school system, health department, or data processing agency -- wants more money, its only choice is to pressure the legislature for more cash or push for higher taxes.
UNRESPONSIVE: Private companies are responsive to customers because that's how they stay in business and maintain profitability. They know that customers go elsewhere when they're not happy. With government, there's nowhere else to go. That's why you can stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and no one is all that concerned about it. They know you can't go to a competitor across the street or down the block.
The bottom line is that government is no good at providing services. It's inefficient, over-priced, undercapitalized, and unresponsive. That's not a criticism. It's a statement of fact. That's why a growing number of people who are at the forefront of figuring out how government could be more effective are looking for ways to introduce competition, privatize services, and create performance-based rewards for government managers. If government is going to be changed and made effective and efficient, its incentive systems have to match those of the private sector more closely.
For example, why should the government own hospitals, if it can have private service providers and successful hospital corporations compete against each other for the privilege of running them? Why shouldn't ordinary teachers have the opportunity to form a shareholder-owned business and use that business as a means to educate kids and run a school? Why does the government have to do it?
The government would still cover the costs to run the hospitals and schools, but the advantage of competition and an incentive-based management and staff structure would change the culture and the cost. Everybody would win. The same goes for building roads, maintaining highways, grooming parks, and a long list of other services.
To many Canadians, the concept may appear radical. But in many parts of the world it's gaining both acceptance and popularity, because it's an effective and cost-effective approach to delivering public services.
Kevin Avram is a former director of the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, and continues to sit as a member of the Prairie Centre's Advisory Board.
web posted June 26, 2000
Justice Estey's comments
By Craig Docksteader
On June 14, Bill C-34 was passed by the House of Commons. In so doing, Parliament amended the Canada Transportation Act and brought a three-year effort to reform the western grain transportation and handling system to a close.
In the weeks leading up to the Bill becoming law, the Standing Committee on Transport saw a steady stream of witnesses including grain companies, producer groups, railway executives, and cabinet ministers. Some had been asked to appear before the Committee, and others had requested permission to appear, but all were anxious to have their viewpoints considered before the Bill became law.
But for those who were hoping for substantive change, the process was futile. What began as a well-intentioned effort to reach a consensus on change soon bogged down in grain politics so familiar to prairie producers.
In the end, many stakeholders concluded that the resulting changes are more likely to make the system worse than better.
One of these individuals was Justice Willard Estey. Only days before the Bill was passed, Justice Estey appeared before the Standing Committee at their request and discussed his views on the pending changes. As the individual appointed to conduct the year-long review into the western grain transportation and handling system, his comments are worth consideration.
Following, are excerpts from Justice Estey's comments to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, June 8, 2000:
*On the changes to the grain transportation system...
[We have ended up with a situation where the board will have more control over transportation now than it did under the existing system.] "That may not be intended, but that's what this amendment is going to do. I think that's true any time you redecorate the same old Christmas tree; you get more baubles up there than you ever thought you had. Most of them aren't necessary, but you're too lazy to take them down. That's a Wheat Board Christmas tree."
*On the position of producers...
"I don't understand any part of business where your hands are tied behind your back and you can't fight for what's right. That's the position the farmer is in. He doesn't own; he has no status."
*On the CWB negotiating better freight rates for producers...
"I asked the then chairman of the Wheat Board point-blank... 'What's your view about the railroads, and what do you do when you think the rate is too high?' He said, 'We're not in the business of haggling with the railroads.' And they don't."
*On the grain marketing system...
"The existing system is accurately described, I think, as a centralized, state-authorized, state-operated function of selling and delivering. It's not easy to persuade people in that game to give up that game..."
*On the inevitability of change in the marketing system...
"Change is always slowed down by our reluctance to take a risk into the future. But it's going to happen. It doesn't matter who says it isn't going to happen today, because tomorrow it'll happen. So I think we should draw our horns in on this business that we're bound to stay with what we've got.
We're not, and if we do, we'll die."
*On the federal government's decision to trash his report...
"It doesn't bother me at all. They may be right. There's always that 1% chance. Secondly, though, you can't be a good democrat unless you can roll with the punches. All democracy doesn't flow your way, ever."
Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc. "Where Do We Go From Here" is a feature service of the Prairie Centre.
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