Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Childcare - funds YES - institutions NO


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Parents need help to raise children in the modern urban settings. The expectations of parents to work, provide elevated opportunity relative to the past and maintain a home is taxing the middle Canadian house hold; particularly women who tend to get burdened to a greater degree with domestic drudgery. Given this reality, it is expected that women are the strongest advocates for expanded government presence in daycare. Women also realize to achieve equality they, more than men, require societal intervention.

My position for years was that no one paid to raise my children, so why should we start now, that view has moderated over the years to the point where I think families need more support in raising children. The challenge I have is that people advocating for daycare support, seem to be thinking in terms of more institutions – government day-cares – more or less as an expansion of the education system. There are a lot of reasons this is a bad idea, government is crumby at running things generally, the service is standardized and never in the history of the world has a government institution loved anything – schools are bad places for children, they have no place in the lives of infants. We can do much better if we fund parents as opposed to institutions.


Please contemplate the graph above in the context of Quebec funding levels.  Let’s assume the cost of infant care to be $1000 / month or $12,000 per year, let’s also assume that there are two infants for a total family requirement of $24,000 per year. In Quebec the government is subsidizing the cost of infant care, for argument sake, in the amount of $12,000 per child per year. In Quebec, the $12,000 dollars is going to fund an institutional daycare. This is consistent with much of the daycare lobby’s intent; it seems that people are asking for an institution to care for their children. This funding solution is fine if you want to send your child to daycare, but it punishes the families that want to access other solutions ranging from live in help, accessing the help of extended family or just staying at home.

Many of the people accessing daycare are working at jobs that pay less than $24,000 / year, they and their children would be better off if they could access the $24,000 directly. When you add in $7,000 in tax, $3000 in clothing, $5000 in transportation and other employment costs, the home caregiver would have to make in excess of $40,000 per year to net out the same benefit financially; worst however, is that they will have had to leave the children in an institution for care, rather than having the children in their own care. Why I wonder is the childcare lobby neglecting this constituency, many people would rather care for their own children; they deserve equal consideration in government policy.

Tax breaks for people who purchase daycare are good, however, you need income to access them so there is a regressive element in deploying them. That is the beauty of the universal child allowance as a solution, it can be deployed at the discretion of the parents and those who can afford it, have it clawed back, whole or in part, at tax time. People should be lobbing to have this expanded to cover early childhood care and then as children access the school system it can be cut back.

We need to support families and early childhood development, the last thing we need are more big government institutions that only serve to have people working more and more for less and less.  We need children to be in loving spaces – institutions fail to make the grade. Be careful what you wish for.     

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pension Reform – Individualized Accounts Please


Pension reform, why? It seems to me we should be finding ways to encourage people to do. One of the biggest challenges facing our economy is that people are dependent on their savings to keep them, so they are very conservative in the way they invest; please see my blog entry Canada the Economic Stagnation Nation http://nthomson2.blogspot.ca/2015/04/blog-post.html: which points out that policy matters, good policy works and there is an absence of good policy in the creative deployment of capital.

The government is always on about pension reform, one should always be wary of an organization that has as their sole focus the collective interest, it is clear the government is wanting people to work longer – policy is moving that way, “retirement” age seems to be going up. Do you want to work longer? Now some are suggesting people save more of their earnings in the government system. The rationale, people are failing to save enough on their own – is seems a little odd that an organization that extorts as much of 65% of your earnings to sustain itself and spends the extorted funds with little or no real accountability, would be asking people to trust them with more of people’s money.

There are a number of challenges with pooling funds and government pensions systems. When you put money in the system, it is in the system, whether you die a day after you retire or 50 years after you retire, what you’ve put in the system stays in the system – so your kids never see a dime for your efforts related to your CPP contributions. There is merit in helping people save, the question is, “is mandatory participation in a pooled fund okay”, or even constitutional for that matter.

It makes a lot  more sense to individualize the system, that is to say, to provide everyone with an account and then set out the terms by which you can contribute to that account; in so doing, the government is permitted to offer incentives to save, but, in no way in pinches on personal choice or judgement. There is a wise saving level for an individual to save to over the course of a working life; the government can be generous in several ways to incent people to save to that level – rather than engaging draconian measures to force savings. Beyond that prescribed level, further savings should be discretionary: really, once a person is independent of government or has provided for sufficient income to sustain themselves; government has no role to play.  Presently, government policy is subsidizing saving exceeding necessity and complicating the tax system.

In the early 1980s the Swedish government instituted pension reform, they assigned accounts to individuals. A portion of the contribution was from employers, similar to CPP, and a portion from citizens. Each citizen was given an account in which to accumulate savings. The government provided a half dozen “portfolios” the people could choose from, one of which was the governments “standard basket” of investments used before transition; people were given the option to “self-direct” investments a well. The key in the Swedish model was choice, people treat their account in a similar way we do RRSPs, they had complete flexibility to save and there was a minimum prescribed contribution.

We all work to provide for ourselves, we also work to make a future for our families. By issuing accounts the government can track contributions and provision for intergenerational wealth transfer. Personal accounts also provide for direct incentives to generate saving to a minimum level. Personal accounts provide for a consolidation point of government related saving programs – RRSPs, tax free savings etc.. There is both better resolution for the individual and for government as well; resolution in terms of an individual’s utilization levels of all programs and perhaps most importantly, the saving level relative the citizen’s meeting minimum saving levels. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Foreign Policy - Demographics & the Evolving Perspective



The millennials (1980-1996), the Generation X (1965-1979), the Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), the Traditionalists (1900-1945) – Foot in his book Boom, Bust, Eco, called the Millennials – Ecos, so the name changes from one futurist to the other, but the facts are the same, we are now three generations away from the people who fought WW2 and lived through the depression.  The Canadian identity building apparatus has created a culture largely based on being other than “American” and on “diversity” along with other dribs and drabs. The societal “eye of the tiger” that had Canada provision 1 million people and build the third largest navy in the world to put down tyranny in WW2 seems absent now. I believe we need to get it back; this is in no way a call for exuberance in the pursuit of war, but rather a societal willingness to “throw down the gloves”.

I have a tremendous affection and respect for the Millennials & Generation X, I am a late boomer so my life experience is resembles Gen Xers more than Boomers. The Millennials are idealists, this is a good thing – the willingness to pursue the best of humanity is admirable. The Challenge is that the world is evolving in to a more complex place, multi polar and dangerous. Boomers and, Gen X to a lesser degree, had their world view forged by the Cold War – the world was largely bipolar and everyone else took up sides. The Millennials had their world view shaped by euphoria generated by the fall of the wall and the miss-framing of the most recent middle-east confrontations.

There is less of a willingness to support military action; this “anti-war” sentiment could be even more deadly than a more hawkish stance on foreign policy. We need to remember the cost of the hesitation of Roosevelt and Chamberlin in WW2, weak kneed policy generated an emboldened Hitler, who then took advantage of hesitation to build massive forces, with the net result being more people dead than if the West had been more aggressive. The modern version of this was the premature removal of troops from Iraq and scaling back in Afghanistan, we are paying the price for political pandering now, as the vacuum left by western withdrawal in the Middle East is being filled by ISIS & the like. It is grand to want “world peace”, the peace that made life grand for the Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials was earned by fighting and winning; that is the paradox of peace – it must be fought for. Simply putting other nation’s aggression on ignore or failing to respond to emerging threats is the road to disaster.

The challenge is that the affects of poor policy are buffered from the decision makers, the voters. Most challenging, the political process confounds a clear and concise message to the public – this is a particularly damaging externality of our political system.  The challenge in the Middle East is generations in the making, it will take generations to remedy and we have governments attempting to generate outcomes inside election cycles. There are violent, aggressive state entities at play in the world, unless we confront them, by force if necessary, and force them into the world community, they will gain mass until they can threaten or take away our way of life. Let history be your teacher, it keeps playing out with violent changes in power; the only time there is sustained peace is when there is a clear hegemon – the preservation and enhancement of a hegemon requires societal consensus and clarity in policy. The west’s hegemony is U.S. lead, and they are conflicted both generationally and politically; beyond that, other NATO players are fractured in preferred approach – internally and internationally.

There has been too little effort between western allies to solidify a long term policy by consensus, when we were in a bipolar circumstance with extreme threat we acted more or less in solidarity. Given the “pre WW1” circumstance now, multi polar and dangerously unstable – but with far less resolution – the world's security is insidiously slipping away.  

There needs to be strong leadership in clarifying the threats to our way of life and communicating them to people. People having been isolated from serious confrontation in their own space for generations are losing touch with the realities of power and what it means to them in their daily lives. It is important the people have a clear assessment on threats and outcomes, or apathy will rule until we all find ourselves stepping off a cliff, like so many Lemmings before. This is an issue that requires long term policy in the face of a changing circumstance, this is a place where political action can direct policy, however, political action should be withdrawn from policy actuation – the debate needs to be  had and consensus achieved before crisis hits.

        

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bring Back the Village, Yearning for a Connected Life



Introduction

In a recent Facebook posting my daughter used #bringbackthevillage, it was a concept that had resided in my mind absent a handle for some time. The village as perceived by me was an intimate place to live, a horizontal community where the whole family unit found a place of existence in, and with, an integrated entity. The village was never created, it was forged by necessity, the need to work together and respond more or less as a unit in response to environmental realities and threats largely. It existed bound by love in the face of often harsh realities – that was the foundation of the utopian element of the village, the people near were the people you loved, cared for and were most invested in.

Where the Village Went

In contemplating how to bring the village back, perhaps some contemplation on where it went is in order. It is clear that societal evolution since industrialisation and the accompanying specialisation has generated both the consolidation of the population and then, in an effort to manage massed populations institutions came into being and in consolidation to urban settings and with institutionalisation came the stratification of the population. Combine this reality with the transient work force, our built environment, our urban infrastructure and you have millions of people within feet of one another alone, detached and then the most wrenching element of modern society, redundancy – a reality boar of over supplied labour markets and technological advancement rendering people literally “useless”. 

The Misdirected Substitute

It is important to note; the village was a construct of individual actors – the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker – going about their daily life as artisans. This contrasts greatly with the “commune” where everyone is managed by a committee or an administrative body – the village found harmony through real demand for services and people provided a solution for those service requirements. 

Paradoxically the communitarian movement, or the socialists, tend to wax about community as a village substitute and yet their policies tend to eliminate, or at a minimum, compete with the imperatives that made the village in the past; that is to say, that in the provision of social services the need for cohesive community is reduced and so people tend to get pushed into isolation. Social services have a place; it is just the mechanics of their distribution that effects, or perhaps finances, fragmentation and isolation.

Marx gave capitalism a bad name, he viewed the consolidation of capital to a few as the source of societal inequality, what was at play in the massing of the population was the natural inclination of people to gain stature in society, and then a consolidation of the emerging social strata supported by institutionalisation. It is true that capital does mass to capital, however, it is unclear which force created the ill Marx set out remedy – the natural state of mass attracting mass OR the capacity for those of influence to mass capital in a time of change.  Marx witnessed and was affected by, the disintegration of agrarian society, the vacating of the village and the massing of ill prepared people to urban settings ill prepared for their arrival – squalor ensued. The point here is that the “financial” system is an adjunct to the human endeavour; it merely brings resolution to the ills of humanity and at its most powerful an exuberant tool for those human inclinations. The reason for referencing Marx is that people often yearn for the village, and Marxist Communitarianism tends to fill the vacuum, the danger here is that Marxist ideals actuated have all ways provided the same outcomes as any other government structure because they have humanity as their only substrate. The village never lived in the European welfare state and the village never will, it will wither there as humans do – subordinated by a little more than enough. 

Defining the Village  

Village life was innately “communitarian” as opposed to “institutionalised community”.  In the time of the village people knew one another, when their neighbour was ill they never said there should be more funding for medical, they did what they could to help – there, then and in an immediate way. This contrasts greatly with the circumstance we find ourselves in today, where the government extorts in excess of half our income and spends it – the money we put into social services tends to be consumed by the administration and the imperatives of professionalism.  

The point is that the village grew into being in large measure around agrarian capacity, it was the first point on the road to urbanisation, it emerged out of tribes becoming stationary – extended family units coming to rest around a technology. It is important to note no one engineered the village, it came in existence, firstly, out of capacity to come to rest in an improved state of being relative to being nomadic and secondly, in response to the commerce that emerged and lastly, the culture that evolved from a excess of goods, relative needs. Villages need reasons to be, real reasons to be, other than a few people to pick a place on a map to congregate. 

The agrarian Canadian society that existed prior to Canada’s deruralisation was a society of community with near village like qualities, the “building bee” community if you will. It held as inherent in existence being known, everyone knew your name “who you were”. It held intergenerational continuity. It was stable, inherently non-transient. People congregated, largely around a church of some sort – even people who were un-religious attended church because it was a social venue, a means by which to connect. The desirable elements of these communities hold commonality with the desirable elements of the Village.

I think there are means to regain some of the elements of the village, the connectedness of that way of life. The structure of the “village physical” is very hard to recreate, but the human structure, a horizontal association of people connected in common interest is possible. It is possible in a large urban centre to begin your day as a lawyer – speaking to lawyers and finish your day socialising with lawyers never having had contact with any other “type” of person. This stands in contrast to the richness of a rural community or the village, where on any given day you would “socialise” with people from all walks of life on a personal basis, knowing who they are and perhaps even what their dreams are about.

The village was a place of knowing and being known – that is the essence of connectedness. The waitress has a name; as opposed to someone you abuse a little to get better service. You may even take the time to ask how she is, where her brother is … you get the picture – the village is where acceptance is the first order and class is addressed through the progress of an individual. There is merit in taking the time to encounter the full array of humanity, that is to say, the segregation that has emerged out of the “large urban center” is unhealthy for us all – all people can contribute to the richness of our experience, one only needs a forum by which to access the extraordinary among the ordinary.

“Equality” is in no way a prerequisite for the village, just free association between people is required. The communitarian concept grew from just two paragraphs in the Bible – I remember reading them and thinking – this is where it all started. On the banks to the Sea of Galilee the concept of the “communitarian community” began, it was in no way a place of equality – it was a place of sharing. Inherent in the human condition is inequality, yet somehow, out of the communitarian ideal came equality. If we hold equality as a prerequisite for the modern village, then we are sure to fail as all other attempts at equality have done. The important thing is “sharing” each other, knowledge, and dreams – real attempts at assessing resources, the capacity of our neighbours and then mustering resources to ensure a full and rich life. 

Contemplation on Creating the New “Village”

It could be that most of the interest in the return of the village lies in connectedness, one wonders if some of the attraction might be as strongly anchored in cadence. The pace of life now is extreme compared to people’s contemporary perception of village life; a desire akin to the slow food movement – a chance to simplify life and have time to enjoy each other. One contrasts a mother in the “old” village wandering around the gardening, child in tow – with the mad rush to putting kids in daycare and to get to work. There is more than cadence at stake here, there is parenting, there is a challenge to the “phenotypes” that emerge when a specific family culture, or village culture, meet a given environment. The village provided an ever generating source code for the reprogramming of humanity. Massing populations to urban settings, a single state school system and mass media have effected a degree of societal homogenization unprecedented in human history.


The sheer mass of society – from institutions to infrastructure – generates an inertia that is antithetical to “village life”. Society fragments family, Mom goes one way, Dad the other and children the other – villages were constituted of family, innate humanity bore of intimate association facilitated care for those who were struck by miss fortune in a way the left them, absent family. While it is critical that we protect family or proxy structures and that we are compassionate and generous in our administration of society, we need to give a mechanism to the reconstitution of the village, where necessity forged the village before we only have a desire now. 

In business when there is a perception of a need or desire among a population segment, one contemplates the requirements to satisfy that need and then develops a business model that suits. As I contemplate the challenge of bringing back the village, of developing a model to achieve a modern village, the realities of modernity seem to present an overwhelming barrier. Clearly, the ability to co-inhabit a specific geophysical space is challenged for most people located in large centres.
When I think of village life, I think of living in a connected way – like Cheers (TV Show) where everyone knows your name –, in a socially vertically environment – all walks of life in conversations- and at a cadence that permits effective interface with family and other villagers. At the point of actuation one needs to think through how to motivate people to make the life changes requisite with moving from the masses to the village, how one might facilitate “congregation” and on what basis association would be initiated and maintained. The modern village then would take place with the association as the adhesive element rather than a place.

To some extent, “quasi-villages” are here now, in that, people have a collection of people they are in association with, they offer some degree of connectedness, but fail to provide for other elements of village life. The challenge is that modern society fractures human association in unhealthy ways, parent from children, grandparents from grandchildren, one occupational group from another – much of this reality is culturally driven – by way of example – people work hard to differentiate themselves in our society, there is very little cultural support for broadening association across occupation types, age types or “cultural” types.

For people with young families, constructing a village which has extended families, broad occupational contribution, gives support for all aspects of life. Children, instead of being dropped off at government institutions while parents attend to occupation, can be part of joint childcare, either pooled resources to a centralised facility or actual multi – generational multi-family childcare at homes OR better integrated into the “working” life of parents. The objective is to develop an association that broadens social cohesiveness, effects a truly connected life and one that reduces the burden on individuals. The modern village would be an organised co-existence within society.

In the creation of a village there requires an initiative to “start” the village; I had stated that one of the primary reasons for having a village was to “recreate” the vertical “social” construct (vertical social construct with a horizontal organization) that the early village had, the assertion being that more exposure to various walks of life makes a richer life. I began to ask the question, what would prompt people enjoying the fruits of our stratified society to verticalize their association, especially, in the face of a cultural inclination to elevate and exclude, rather than, to make horizontal and include.  The thought challenges my sensitivities, I have been conditioned to want exclusivity, so how does one overcome, harmonise or in some way effect a circumstance that would encourage the development of a village within the larger urban space by people one might describe as social innovators.

Absent the imperative of religion, association in the nature of Church seems to offer a mechanism. Church as an association model pulls people from disparate social strata, occupation and circumstances to a single organisation. It gives a point of congregation, a “reason” for the various social strata to mingle, to network, to seek common interest and benefit. The church is a stronger association than a mere “network”, the church tends to develop stronger “concern” for its participants and in many cases generates a sense of connectedness. Church also provides “common” place, offers some physicality to an association. There may be promise in a secular version of the Church, whereby, a collection of people purchase a “place” in the urban setting, congregate, and forge a co-existence together.

The vagaries that forged the “old” village provided association that we all crave now, we are social beings that require, one hesitates to use the term, ”love” to nourish us – it is a question of building a forum to gain access to each other.