As Prime Minister

When I was a teenager I was encouraged to participate in the As Prime Minister essay contest. (Since turned into a TV show, Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister.)

I didn’t participate because I was lazy. But it’s a good thing I didn’t participate because I was a fascist and I wanted to draft the homeless. (Seriously.)

Later, when I was a recovering libertarian, I wrote a book about how to fix Canada’s system of government.

Since then I’ve often mused about what I would do if I could convince some party to put me in charge and our party could somehow win a majority.

(Both things are so unlikely as to be beyond the realm of possibility: I am not charismatic enough, nor amoral enough, to run for office. And I could never convince someone charismatic enough that they should implement my policy ideas.)

But the internet lets me tell you what I think. Given my disappointment with the government’s response to the economic consequences of the pandemic, and some other things I have a bugbear about, I’ve decided to publish what I would do:

Universal Basic Income (UBI)

I have already written about this. (And written every MP and Senator in Canada.)

UBI solves many of the problems of the modern welfare state: when administration and enforcement are mostly eliminated, the costs of the programs basically disappear.

Moreover, the emotional and psychological problems of welfare disappear when everyone gets the money. UBI tests have been uniformly positive, with marked increases in emotional well-being.

Click the above link to see a more detailed argument.

I know of three objections:

  • People must deserve welfare
  • People on UBI will spend their money on bad things
  • UBI will cause inflation.

The first two are moral judgments. The first one is absurd on its face and a relic of monotheistic moralistic thinking that belongs in another time. We shouldn’t let our stupid beliefs get in the way of helping people.

The second objection is only valid if that’s what happens when we switch to UBI. There have been a number of UBI or similar experiments and, to the best of my knowledge, none have increased alcoholism or drug addiction. However, if a significant increase in drug/alcohol abuse occurs, or everyone just gambles it away, we can end UBI. (I am very skeptical that this will happen, but I cannot predict the future.)

The last objection to UBI – that it will cause inflation so bad that it will harm the economy – is the only criticism I am aware of that is an actual legitimate criticism. I am not an economist so all I can say is that UBI does not introduce more money into the economy, it just redistributes it differently than before. Why would this cause more inflation than the welfare state?

(I might actually go further and start with universal basic housing, though UBI presumably solves this problem. I think I’d much rather the government be in the business of redistributing wealth through payments than the government being the biggest landlord in the country.)

Simpler Progressive Income Taxation

Few if any economists like tax breaks. All tax breaks do, from a fiscal perspective, is make it more expensive to administer the taxation system. All tax credits really are are gifts to bases, they don’t really do much more than make a few voters happy.

Progressive taxation is a necessary requirement of any society that aspires to any degree of fairness. But tax credits make the system more expensive by increasing administration.

So I think we just have 5-10 tax brackets, including at least one bracket with a ridiculously high rate for those we define as “super rich”, making many multiples of what those in the lowest brackets make. (This should not be controversial but, for some reason, it is.)

And we need to create a penalty for governments who want to introduce tax breaks to discourage the practice.

(One proposal is to remove the ability to change the tax system from the politicians and give it to a central banker type figure. If there is a “Revenue Czar” who is appointed for 10 year-terms, for example, tax breaks are a lot less likely to appear.)

Progressive Land Rent Taxation

Income inequality is caused as much by (land) rent as it is caused by capital gains and excessive C-suite salaries. Arguably, it’s actually rental income that is the biggest driver of income inequality.

Economists from across the political spectrum have long viewed rental income as taxable because, at bottom, it is unproductive income.

Taxing rent can be a bit complicated: do you tax just the land or do you tax what people have built on the land? (There are many other issues.)

But I think the idea must be pursued. There are too many people on the planet and those who have way more land than others often have it because they lucked into inheriting it. And many of them get and stay rich off of that luck. That doesn’t make any sense.

Once we figure out how to tax rent we could make the tax progressive by taxing either by number of dwellings or total profits or some kind of mix of the two. The goal would be to make living off of the housing needs of others something you don’t want to get into.

[I had another idea about rent and landlords the other day but it’s not coming to me now. What the hell was it?]

Wealth/Luxury Tax

There are certain items that nobody needs. Rich people can buy these items if they want, but they should also have to pay a tax for the pleasure of buying stupid shit that nobody else in the country can afford. Society should profit at least a little bit off their largess.

I’d rather there be an actual wealth tax, as income tax regimes don’t usually capture wealth. But there are so many ways to hide wealth and avoid wealth taxes that a luxury tax is probably going to be more effective. “What’s another $10,000 on this million dollar purchase, anyway?”

One idea to make a wealth tax work is to reward the highest tax payers. Naming public works after high tax payers is a time-tested trick for getting people to be less angry about paying taxes.

Free Adult Education

In addition to child education we should offer more free adult education – funding to provinces to provide such – in areas what are socially beneficial such as

  • critical thinking (including how to argue)
  • basic science literacy
  • cognitive biases
  • basics of advertising/marketing
  • basic probability

Decriminalization of Drug Use

Drug use is not a crime issue, it’s a public health issue. It should be treated as such. Nobody should go to jail for possession of any substance for personal use.

Now, that being said, humans have created some really terrible substances that addict us in ways that are really mendacious. The unregulated manufacture of those substances is a problem as is the unregulated distribution of of those substances.

It’s pretty clear the drug problem cannot be solved by just trying to eliminate supply. But a public health approach to the demand-side of the problem is necessary before any successful steps can be taken on the supply-side.

Legalization of Prostitution

It’s the oldest profession for a reason. Criminalizing prostitution is dumb on many levels, and is just a moral crusade pretending to be something more.

Prostitutes should not go to jail. Moreover, they should have the same kinds of labour protections as other professionals.

Johns should not go to jail either, unless they commit actual crimes.

The only people who should go to jail are the Pimps.

National Detective School

Mandatory for the RCMP with incentives to regional and municipal police departments for attendance and certification. This school would teach:

  • forensic science
  • logic
  • probability
  • cognitive biases

In addition, I would like to create a system which all police departments sign up for (as part of the detective school program) where other departments are randomly assigned to audit the work of any other department, say every five years.

So, for example, at some point in a given five year span, some department from somewhere else in the country would come in to TPS and look at a few cases and then file a report with the detective school (or some other body) as to whether that case meets their standards.

Federal Incentives to Improve Education

The federal government should financially incentivize the provinces to improve childhood education. For example, if a province doesn’t want to teach contemporary Sex Ed, they don’t get this money.

Utilitarian Approach to White Collar Crime

I am not a utilitarian and I have huge issues with utilitarianism. But it’s time to treat white collar crime in a utilitarian manner.

White collar crime has a way bigger societal cost than “regular” crime.

But, as a society, we are way more mad about some murder or assault than we get about some company stealing millions.

We need to change this by building a progressive punishment system into the law, where the greater the (proven) effects of the crime, the greater the punishment and/or restitution.

That is, pension robbers need to be punished more harshly than burglars.

And they need to be registered like sex offenders.

Vickrey auctions for bidding on government projects

Really these would be reverse Vickrey auctions, I guess, since it’s one buyer and many sellers. Either way: in the interest of reducing government expenditures, I’d implement these auctions for the federal government, so bids reflect true prices.

Statutory Holiday Reform

Working Canadians should get a minimum of 13 workdays off per calendar year. Using the traditional British and Christian holidays as our rough guide, they would be:

  1. New Year’s Day
  2. Family Day
  3. Good Friday
  4. Easter Monday
  5. Victoria Day
  6. June Beer Company Holiday
  7. Canada Day
  8. August Civic Holiday (Simcoe Day where I live)
  9. Labour Day
  10. Thanksgiving
  11. Remembrance Day
  12. Christmas Day
  13. Boxing Day

These would be national, rather than some provinces having them and some not.

I propose two additional modifications:

First, Quebec and the territories can pick a different set of 13 days due to cultural distinctions. (And if New Brunswick wants to too, I see no reason to say know.)

Second, and far more importantly in my opinion, members of other major religions in Canada can choose a different set of 13 days to take off by signing an agreement with their employer.

Amending the Constitution of Canada

If I was somehow able to accomplish the above it would then be time to change the Constitution. There are two parts to this reform:

Geographical Reforms

There are two geographical reforms I’d like to make:

  • Make Canada’s largest urban areas their own provinces
  • Split Canada’s largest provinces in two

First, I’d like to make Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver their own provinces. Specifically, I’d like to make the urban areas their own provinces. Where to draw the boundaries gets dicey but the extent of constant urbanization could be a useful guide (but only for the present, which is a problem). These cities should no longer be subservient to governments in other cities which have other priorities. So that would bring us to 13 provinces and 3 territories.

Second but, to me, more importantly, we’d split Ontario and Quebec in two. The northern parts of both provinces are economically and culturally distinct from the heavily populated souths. They have tiny political representation in Ottawa and Quebec and they never get anything because they are dominated politically and economically. They should be separate provinces.

I don’t like talking strategy but I know that the Quebec proposals won’t fly so the changes to Toronto, Vancouver and northern Ontario would be packaged with the below reforms while a separate package would target Quebec (and wouldn’t get anywhere).

Political Reforms:

I want to get rid of the monarchy but I understand this is probably a non-starter. So, instead:

  • elect the Governor General as, essentially, a weak President
  • elect the Senate: 1 Senator per 18 provinces and territories and then additional Senators based on population

Celebrity Political Endorsements Must Be Qualified

Okay, I understand I couldn’t actually do this, so call it an “As Dictator” promise instead:

If a celebrity wants to wade into politics and endorse a politician during official campaign season, whether in an interview or in a paid advertisement, the celebrity must answer a quiz on the issues of the campaign. And this quiz should be published with the endorsement, i.e. next to the endorsement if it’s print/text and put in front of the audio or visual interview/endorsement.

Unfortunately, we citizens are stupid, and we need to be told that our celebrities do not know anything when it comes to public policy.

Tweets Cannot be Reported As News

Okay, one other “As Dictator…” policy: tweets are not news and cannot be reported as such. News organizations running stories based solely on Twitter content will be fined with those fines going to a fund which supports the aforementioned Adult Education programs.