JWR Articles: Commentary - Less Is More (Author: S. James Wegg) - July 15, 2002
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Less Is More

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A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2002 edition of the St. Catharines Standard
I want to quantify my feelings of contentment with what's around me

Tax Freedom Day (TFD) should be a national holiday. The only problem is the actual day, (as determined by the Fraser Institute) on which we stop paying taxes and fees to all levels of government and start paying ourselves, varies every year.

It depends on how many new ways the politicians and bureaucrats have found to part us from our cash. Despite declines in personal income taxes, we paid more last year than in 2000—mainly through fees. Two examples: The federal airport security fee—“temporarily” levied to help keep terrorists off flights to Nunavet, and the provincial “convenience” fee for the pleasure of renewing my licence at a person-less kiosk in a shopping mall.

Newfoundland’s day (May 31), came nearly a month earlier than the national average (June 28), which is only fair since everything else there is thirty minutes ahead. Québec’s was last (July 3); probably a result of the huge increase in fees paid to the feds by its burgeoning advertising industry.

Still, we should reflect on all of the valuable services and institutions supported by our non-voluntary contributions while remembering that the notion of value for money does not figure into the “tax freedom” calculations.

In some ways, every day following tax freedom day is a tax holiday, so I guess we shouldn’t push too hard to officially commemorate our financial independence: that might lead to another fee.

Then on Canada Day, escaping the massive heat wave at my local air-conditioned watering hole, I watched a self-congratulatory commentary on our public broadcaster about Canada’s “surprisingly strong GDP.” Being economics-lite, I’d thought that Gross Domestic Product was the garbage baking on Toronto’s streets, not the market value of all goods and services produced by Canadians. With this important clarification and another round of product before me, I mused about the concept of growth as the best measure of Canada’s health.

Somewhere from the recesses of my mind came the memory that two consecutive quarters of negative GDP produced the dreaded “R-word.” Kind of like an Argos football game. To avoid recession (and the threatened elimination from our pension payoffs) we’ve being brainwashed into thinking that growth must continue—no matter what.

And in Niagara we’re doing our part. More students than ever are coming to Brock, easily justifying the addition of another mega-bar on James Street and, at least for eight months of the year, rectifying the embarrassing statistic that St. Catharines' population is declining.

But additional citizens can be expected through teenage pregnancies, which continue to increase despite the growth of prevention initiatives (Canada’s rate of 43 for 1,000 is five times greater many European countries).

Marineland’s expansion will increase tourism and end the blubbering about premature dead whale syndrome; the proposed superhighway from Hamilton to Welland should simultaneously relieve traffic and spread around carbon monoxide more equitably; plans to raise the speed limit will be a boon to rehabilitation centres and auto repair shops alike.

But in the midst of my reverie about our region’s future, my cranium dredged up another notion that I must have been suppressing since the ’87 crash: GDP only measures productivity; it doesn’t factor in the negative effects from such nasty bits as industrial waste. As if on cue, a severe air quality warning for all of southern Ontario flashed menacingly across the bottom of the big-screen.

But wait. If industrial growth produces smog, and that increases the number of people requiring treatments in hospitals and private clinics, then doesn’t pollution actually increase the GDP? Why don’t we drink to that?

Is bigger always better? I shifted uncomfortably remembering the result from my bathroom scales earlier that day. But my mood quickly brightened knowing that I had no requirement for the highly revered medication that some of my buddies needed to ensure temporary expansion of their limping limbs.

OK, if GDP’s about everyone, how, then, can we measure ourselves? What’s my Net Personal Product (NPP)?

If I took all of the pluses (friends, family, work, hobbies) of my life and, truthfully, subtracted the minuses (over-indulgences, pettiness, stubbornness, lies)—like a human balance sheet—what would my net worth be?

No math this time; that’s for things. I’d like to quantify my feelings of fulfillment and contentment with what I have around me.

But would I calculate my NPP honestly or, like those who must appear bigger to others, would I inflate my assets and keep certain liabilities “off the books?”

I’m not alone with these thoughts: As Virginia Woolf said, “Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than what is commonly thought small.”

What’s really important is growing the parts of us that make life worthwhile. JWR

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