Why wear a red tag of support?

Posted 04.17.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | In my extended-and-blended family, two broad approaches to staying alive regularly surface during our multi-generational meals: to spend less, be more frugal in everything, and require less income, and the other, maybe the opposite, is to earn more. Earn more, live with more abandon, spend more, work more, spread wealth around so it comes back -- option two.

Arguments at the table can easily get emotional and judgmental: if we live with more stuff, for example, we destroy more of the world. There is still a stigma attached to any amount of gluttony, even if gluttony is now a boardroom virtue and not one of the Seven Deadliest.

There is a lot to say for a Zen-like minimalist lifestyle, where all our stuff is traded for freedom and a slower pace. We all wish our lives were like that, a little. It's good to be free, to have choices, and to have fewer obligations, commitments, and rules to follow. This is the New Romanticism. It plays a huge role in today's politics.

But the other option, to earn more, work more, spend more, and have more of whatever you wish is not as gluttonous as it is made to appear. It is the intelligence with which it is done that makes the difference, makes it nurturing and supportive.

Here's an example of what intelligence might mean in this context. Suppose the provincial government brings in more revenues, not less -- all governments are self-financing -- and suppose it also spends more, not less.

It spends more on education: no increase in student university fees. Just the opposite, no fees at all for students who can meet a minimal test result. What would happen?

At first, costs jump. Economists project the jump ahead fifty years and predict the collapse of all universities. As usual, that doesn't happen. After a while costs level out because, first, fees are not the single largest source of university revenue, and, second, because there is more demand across society and the business community for upgrades to education: more courses, seminars, workshops, subscriptions, and more research are ordered. Of course, the better-educated public gets better-paying jobs and pays more taxes back to the provincial government. More people working means more people and companies paying taxes. More shopping, more GST.

There are a few countries where students receive a salary while they are studying. This outrageous practice has not bankrupted those economies for the reasons above -- in fact, it creates better salaries and tax payments start returning quicker.

This isn't magic. Austerity does have its place, especially within the bureaucracy. Everyone knows the rules followed by bureaucracies to increase their size, budgets, scope . . . so, end the spiral by sending unionized staff back to school. All this brainpower loose in a society will generate incredible businesses and jobs, from the Microsoft-Google world to new underwater vehicles.

None of this is gluttonous or immoral (except to Ayn Rand). The Zen option might or might not survive, depending on the challenges, which come along. But Zen is slim. There'll be an awful lot of slim people, unless population control is figured out.

Isn't the alternative closer to our Canadian ideals: more education, not less, more opportunity, not jobs shipped away?

The students across Quebec who are still boycotting classes, striking, marching, and doing everything they can to get everyone's attention in our maniacal world, are fighting for more education. They are risking a lot to get Premier Charest to reconsider. We should support them . . . by wearing a red tag.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.12