Saturday, September 17, 2011

Top Down

The central tenet of trickle down economics is that the benefits of strong support for those at the top of the system will eventually drip down to those at the bottom. The late John Kenneth Galbraith, who grew up on a farm on the northern shore of Lake Erie, was fond of pointing out that any farm boy understood the theory for what it was.

Well, we have lived with that theory for thirty years now, and Jeffrey Simpson writes in today's Globe and Mail, that we are seeing its effects in the justice system, health care and education.

The court system offers one example. The courts are supposed to be there for people who need them to settle disputes, or for authorities to enforce the law. But the courts are plagued with huge expenses and endemic delays, as Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin keeps repeating in speeches. Judges blame lawyers, and lawyers blame judges (and everyone, of course, blames government), but the system is heavily tilted toward the conveniences of the lawyers and judges, not the people caught up in the system.

The same is true in health care. Under the Harris regime, Ontario hospitals were merged into ever larger units, on the theory that such  mergers would produce greater efficiencies. The small hospital in our little town used to consistently operate in the black. Now, as a subunit of a larger organization, services it used to perform have been sucked to the center, and the super hospital consistently runs a deficit.

And, in  higher education, Simpson writes

In universities, research drives professors’ time allocations. Tenure, promotion and salary depend more on research than on teaching, except in a very small minority of cases. Naturally, they pursue their own self-interest by focusing on research (which can help their teaching), so that today’s professors generally teach less, and sometimes much less, than professors did several decades ago.

The losers are the very people for whom the universities were designed: the student, especially the undergraduates who don’t figure, as do graduate students, in the research world of the professors.

Modern conservatism claims to be all about efficient use of resources. The truth is that modern conservatives have never been concerned with efficiency. They have sought to centralize resources and the levers to control them. And, after thirty years, it's clear that what they have accomplished is increased privilege for the few at the expense of the many.

Galbraith knew that it all amounted to a pile of what comes out of the back end of a cow.


William Hayes said...

Why does a Progressive Blogger give Jeffrey Simpson airtime?

Why not instead trumpet Rick Salutin here?

Owen Gray said...

A good question. There is much that Mr. Simpson writes that strikes me as thoroughly wrong headed.

But, without mentioning trickle down economics, he has pointed to its essential flaw.

As Salutin -- with whom I agree more frequently than Simpson -- notes, we have bought the trickle down argument for much too long.

The problem is that theories are abstract. It's only the ruins the theorists leave behind which prove how wrong they are. Polls seem to indicate that Torontonians are having buyer's remorse.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how those in favour of "small government" who end up in power are nearly always supporting increased centralization.

Stronger support at the top of the system just lets them run the wealth vacuum on high.

Owen Gray said...

All too true, I'm afraid. It's interesting to note how government grew under Ronald Reagan.

And, of course, George W. Bush gave birth to that bureaucratic monster, Homeland Security.

Size doesn't matter. Who's in charge does.