Kicking Away the Ladder


(A Lament for Charlottesville, NAFTA and the proper use of Tiki Torches)

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him.  – Friedrich List; The National System of Political Economy

Georg Friedrich List was a German born economist who developed what is known today as the National System of Innovation.  He was a forefather of the German historical school of economics and many of his ideas formed the bases of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of today’s European Union.  His seminal work on the subject of economics and international trade, “The National System of Political Economy” is a three volume set originally published in 1841 which rivals the works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in terms of lasting influence in the minds of economists the world over.  Sadly List’s ideas were so controversial at the time that he was arrested and exiled to the United States.  He died shortly after the final publication of The National System and never had the opportunity to defend or expand upon his theories.

List’s work focused on a doctrine of national and international management of trade, global collaboration, and supportive interconnectedness.  In sort, Friedrich List was one of the first proponents of comparative advantage and globalization.  The fact that most of his work was completed while living in the United States and the United Kingdom is in no small part responsible for the rise of western domination in international trade over the last century and a half.

In today’s political and economic climate List’s observations regarding protectionism and oppression can be viewed as very timely and prophetic.  Just this past week, behind closed doors in Washington, the United States, Canada and Mexico began the first of several rounds of negotiations aimed at re-writing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  No doubt many of List’s ideas will be front and centre throughout the process, even if many of the negotiators aren’t even conscious of them.

The very people and systems that have used things like tariffs and subsidies to increase trade, and were once in favour of immigration to bolster the workforce and create wealth now actively oppose all attempts of others to use those same devices to achieve the same things.  That, in a nutshell is the current state of international relations and trade, especially in the west were populist sentiment and neo-conservative economic thought prevails.  America was built on immigration, subsidies and cheap labour, now they want to prevent Mexico and punish Canada for doing the same kinds of things in order to protect their own dominance on the world stage.

But that’s not all.

Economics isn’t just about money.  It’s about politics and inter-human relationships as well.  Earlier this week I watched in horror as white men marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia with Tiki Torches chanting “White Lives Matter” and calling for a return to white privilege and the establishment of a so called white homeland.  Nothing is more repulsive than privileged men complaining about a loss of privilege in the most heavily skewed white male privileged society the world as ever known.   If only these men really understood what it meant to be persecuted for the color of your skin, religion, level of education or economic status?

At the end of the day all violence is in some way about economics and a loss of privilege.  Even a miniscule loss of privilege is still a loss of economic influence in a rapidly changing world.    But change is necessary and hanging on to privilege while people scratch and claw their way up the economic ladder is simply impossible.  The only way to do it is to deny the basic humanity in those below you on that ladder.

And that’s what it comes down to; Humanity.   That is humanity defined in terms of benevolence, not just a collective description of the human race.

In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  At the time it was a progressive document that envisioned a world very similar to the one proclaimed by the founding fathers in the United States Declaration of Independence.  Among the 30 points adopted by the UN are such stalwarts of humanity as;

Article 1 – We are all born Free and Equal.

Article 7 – We are all equal before the law.

Article 12 – The right to privacy.

Article 20 – The right to public assembly.

Article 21 – The right to democracy.

Article 22 – The right to social security.

Article 26 – The right to education.

Article 30 – No one can take away your human rights.

http://www.youthforhumanrights.org/what-are-human-rights/universal-declaration-of-human-rights/articles-1-15.html

Within the laws of western democracy and any country that is signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, racist rallies like the one that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 13th are an aberration that cannot be tolerated!  Nor can any attempt to restrict trade or curtail immigration.

Freidrich List warned against the potential for both the current contentious NAFTA negotiations and the riots in Charlottesville over 175 years ago.  He could see that at the end of the day, people are selfish and we need institutions like NAFTA and the UN to remind us of our shared humanity.

My prayers are with the victims of racial violence in all its forms and with the men and women tasked with re-negotiating NAFTA.  May we all, first and foremost, remember our shared humanity at times like these.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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Don’t Tax My Health Benefits!


taxRecent media reports suggest the Government of Canada is considering a new federal tax on the employer-paid portion of your health and dental plan coverage.

In 1993, a similar provincial income tax on the employer-paid portion of benefit plans was introduced in Quebec. It resulted in almost 20 per cent of Quebec employers (including up to 50 per cent of small business employers) terminating their group benefit plans. Under the proposed legislation, employee coverage would be considered a taxable benefit (additional income).  So that $500 visit to the dentist, would now have to be declared, not as an expense but as income on your T4.

So What?

Taxing the employer-paid portion of benefit plans may have the following implications:

  • As an employee, you would have to pay tax on the amount of the employer-paid portion of health and dental coverage, as it would be a taxable benefit. While it’s not clear how much such a tax could cost, the additional amount subject to tax might be hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  • Termination of employer-paid health and dental benefit plans could lead to serious public health issues. According to a recent IPSOS poll, without coverage through group benefit plan, 84% of Canadians would end up delaying or forgoing treatment or medication if they didn’t have coverage. This will ultimately drive up treatment wait times and public health costs.mental-health
  • Among many other health outcomes, Canadians’ mental health will suffer as their covered access to needed psychological and other mental health supports will be reduced.

Take action

You can help protect the health care coverage that over 22 million Canadians rely on. Visit www.donttaxmyhealthbenefits.ca to tell your Member of Parliament and the Minister of Finance that you oppose a tax on your health and dental coverage. To ensure your voice is heard, use the hashtag #donttaxmyhealthbenefits on Facebook, Twitter.

 

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Saturday Night Live vs Donald Trump


When Humor Isn’t Meant to be Funny

alecbaldwintrumpEver since Alec Baldwin created his Saturday Night Live caricature of Donald Trump and even a bit before that, the late night comedy shows have had a field day making satire out of the political landscape. Of course late night comedy has always gotten laughs through satirical commentary so why should things be any different now? I vaguely remember Dana Carvey’s caricatures of George Bush in the early 90s which rumor has it President Bush himself made it a point to watch so that he could take a moment to laugh at himself.

There is something honestly refreshing about our ability to look at serious issues with a bit of humour. It’s healthy too. Dr. Avner Ziv, chair of the educational sciences department at Tel Aviv University has written extensively on the psychology of humor as an aid to education. His 1984 book “Personality and a Sense of Humor” is his most cited scholarly work on the subject and contains a large section on the purpose of humor in public discourse.

Less serious and self-involved people have held that things might be changed by a less tedious approach – that is, by means of humor. Humor exposes ugly human phenomena (those that render the world almost unbearable) to mockery, in the hope of thereby eliminating them. Man makes a mockery of man. In his efforts at changing and improving mankind, man turns matters he thinks grave into absurdities. He does this sometimes with delicate casualness, sometimes with disrespect, and sometimes with ferocity. The laughter that derives from the perception of absurdity reforms the world. [Avner Ziv – Personality and a Sense of Humor]

For this type of humor to work it must be delivered as broadly as possible. Originally theatre was the means to deliver humorous political commentary today we have the late night comedy show.

thatresatireThe English playwright, Ben Jonson described comedy as an educational instrument its goal is not to make us laugh but to arouse in us a form of moral outrage that leads us to improvement. The French novelist Stendhal concluded that the main aim of comedy is to expose people to mockery. The person who is the object of ridicule may be able to accept a reasoned rebuke without making significant changes, “thanks for the input but that’s just your opinion”, they may say. But that same person may not bear to be laughed at. Just before he died Charlie Chaplin said in an interview that the function of comedy is to sharpen our sensitivities to the perversion of justice.

We are entering a time when politicians seem hyper sensitive to this type of humor. Why, in contrast to former president Bush does Donald Trump refer to Saturday Night Live as “over-rated”, “unfair” and “biased”? Why did a prominent Texas republican senator who once likened president Obama to a Nazi recently say that we need to show more respect to the new president?

Why indeed?

Mockery and satire are the final frontier of political debate. As government becomes more totalitarian descent must become more direct and mean spirited.

Comedy is generally received in a friendly spirit. Satire is not. Its victims fear it as a threat to their power and position. Thus in totalitarian countries satire directed against the ruling powers is banned, and any manifestation of satire earns harsh punishment. [Avner Ziv – Personality and a Sense of Humor]

freespeachWhile most western democracies are a long way from a curtailing freedom of speech it is clear that there is a large contingent of politicians and citizens across the political spectrum who either feel that their only recourse is mockery or that they are being unfairly attacked. As we stand on the threshold of the Trump administration we would all do well to remember that governments do themselves a disservice by prevent or complaining about humor against themselves. Laughter is a safety value for the release of tension and one that should point the ruling party toward what the masses are really thinking. When they ignore it, seek to oppress it or complain too loudly about it they do so at their own peril.

I’m not laughing at any of this political satire anymore. I don’t find it funny in that way, it is very serious and the reaction that Mr. Trump has had to it is downright horrifying. Satire is not meant to illicit laughs it is meant to spark debate in a society where reasoned discourse has been oppressed.  When president Trump consistently complains that his detractors are “over-rated” and “sad” he is doing nothing to advance his agenda or enhance his image, he is fanning the flame. By attempting to discredit his detractors in this way the feelings of hostility will likely continue to increase. As these feelings build up they will create a kind of “pressure cooker” which will explode in time. Without satire and the laughter it invokes this hostility might be demonstrated in far more violent ways.

During the Obama administration we saw the advent of the Occupy Movement, a largely peaceful protest directed at the banks and other large institutional elites. Obama met the concerns of the masses with reasoned discourse and eventually helped temper their fears through the democratic process. I fear that unless the politicians start listening to each other again and learn to laugh at the satirists rather than seek to oppress and discredit them, the next time won’t be so peaceful.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated farming operations, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, has written 3 books on Economics and Christian Ethics and presented his ideas to business owners and ministry leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

Quote of the Day – 12/30/2016


The countries that are likely to be more attractive and gain soft power in the information age are those with multiple channels of communication that help to frames issues; whose dominant culture and ideas are closer to prevailing global norms (which now emphasize liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy); and whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international values and policies… To the extent that official policies at home and abroad are consistent with democracy, human rights, openness, and respect for the opinions of others, America will benefit from the trends of this global information age. But there is a danger that the United States may obscure the deeper message of its values through arrogance. – Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

Democracy and Wealth


brandeis-quote

Louis Dembitz Brandeis was an American lawyer and associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939. He graduated Harvard Law School in 1876 with the highest grade in the school’s history, a record that would stand for 80 years. After graduation he settled in Boston and opened his own firm. Although, like all businesses it has undergone a number of evolutionary changes, Brandeis’ firm is still practicing today under the moniker of Nutter McLennan & Fish.

Beginning somewhere in the early 1890s Brandeis began to make a name for himself as a champion of progressive social causes. In an article he wrote for the Harvard Law Review entitled “Right to Privacy” he all but created the notion of privacy now so enshrined in the laws of nearly every democratic nation. In 1914 he would publish the book “Other People’s Money and How The Bankers Use It.” The book was an exposé on how banks use investment funds to promote and consolidate various businesses and industries at the expense of smaller corporations and sole proprietorships to prevent competition. He harshly criticized investment bankers who controlled large amounts of money deposited by middle class customers and used it build monopolies like Rail Roads and large industrial manufacturers that prevented those same middle class business owners from rising too high up the economic ladder.

By 1916 Brandeis’ work had caught the eye of then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who nominated him to the Supreme Court. For the next 23 years Brandeis would preside over human rights complaints, break-up monopolies and tirelessly work to maintain the democracy of wealth in America. Although appointed by a Progressive Democrat, Brandeis was not a social activist in the way we think of them today. He would be more accurately described as a free market stalwart who believed in open opportunity and sought to limit the power of corporations and the concentration of wealth.

Trickle Down Economics

eattherichIn the 1980s Ronald Reagan popularized the term “Trickle Down Economics.” It is the theory that says benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are usually tax breaks for businesses and other high-income earners. In theory these people use the cash from these tax breaks to expand business growth and thus benefit the rest of society.

At least that’s the theory.

In practice Trickle Down Economics serves to increase economic inequality and concentrate wealth in the hands of a lucky few. In a social welfare state, like America and just about every other democracy worldwide, Trickle Down Economics places too much of the burden for funding government social programs on the middle and lower classes. By giving tax breaks to the wealthy, without cutting social programs the cost must be borne by the very people the programs claim to support. So when you give people free access to universal health care, to use one example, and then increase their taxes to pay for it, any gains they receive through so called Trickle Down economics are cancelled out. The middle-class are no further ahead, the poor feel the pinch and the rich, who could afford to pay for their own health care anyway, laugh all the way to the bank.

The Winner Takes All

The problem lies in the very nature of democracy itself. When the majority of people want free health care, they vote for it and the government is forced to provide it. But then everyone also wants to vote for lower taxes. This is where the power of wealth skews society and serves the real purpose of Trickle Down Economics.

americandreamEveryone is an optimist. The American dream is built on the premise that if I work hard enough, I too can become wealthy one day. The proponents of Trickle Down Economics know this so they wrap it in a form of patriotism saying that by offering tax breaks to the wealthy the government is actually promoting a form of national pride, motivating people to take risks, start businesses and build the economy. “It’s the American way.”

In 1995, economists Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook published the book “The Winner Take All Society” The sub-title of the book is a succinct description of their main thesis: “How More and More Americans Compete for Ever Fewer and Bigger Prizes, Encouraging Economic Waste, Income Inequality, and an Impoverished Cultural Life”. The practice of Trickle Down economics has created the winner take all society. Democracy has become nothing more than a selfish pursuit of personal gain that resembles a snake eating its own tail.

The society that Louis Brandeis envisioned in the 1930s has come to fruition. We no longer have democracy in the way it was originally intended in its place we now have something far more sinister even than a dictatorship. What we have now is a pseudo-democracy that serves the interests of wealth, not even wealthy people, just wealth. The human element has been completely removed. In the interests of self promotion, people have voted themselves out of the system. Now it’s all about money, my money, your money and most importantly, other people’s money, and how it can serve me.

Brandeis was right. But it’s not too late. The question now is what kind of society do we want to live in?

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Quote of the Day – 11/24/2016


Democracy and political maturity must evolve in tandem through the engagement of all in the responsibilities of citizenship. Proper schooling and a strong civic culture are important, but in the end democratic citizenship is a practice, and the experience of doing it is our best teacher. – @dkorten David C. Korten; The Great Turning, From Empire to Earth Community