Addicted to Government

Oct 14, 2011 by

For those who were once addicted to some substance or activity– such as alcohol, drugs, or gambling – but broke free of it, there came a time when they realized that their activity was more in control of them than they were in control of their activity.  Often this awakening occurs while performing an irrational activity to help pay for their habit.  Whether it is stealing money from work, pawning the belongings of friends or family, or breaking into their child’s piggybank, there is a sudden burst of clear thinking that shakes the addict to the core and informs them, “What you are doing is not right.”

We, as citizens of Canada and its provinces, have a serious addiction that needs to be dealt with.  This addiction goes by a few names.  Some may call it “big government”.  Others may call it “the welfare state”.  Whatever we decide to call it, the reality is that there is something that we once controlled but it now controls us.

Consider the following:

  • The Government of Saskatchewan alone spent over $11 billion last year (April 2010 to March 2011) to provide services for its citizens.  That works out to nearly $11,000 for every man, woman, and child in the province, or $44,000 for a family of four.
  • The average wage for a person in Saskatchewan is about $44,000/year.
  • If the provincial government relied solely on the income tax of its citizens, then a family of four would have no choice but to have both parents work…one to provide for the family and one to provide for the government.

Now consider what other levels of government spend.

  • At the municipal level, the City of Regina has an operating budget of about $2500/person.  Federally, the Government of Canada spends about $8,000/person.
  • All together our three levels of Government spend over $21,000/person….or $84,000 for a family of four.

We have reached a point where the average earnings of a two income family can barely support the spending of government….let alone pay for food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their children.

The reality is that “free” public services come with a cost…and these costs increase as we demand more “free” stuff.

One of the truths about addictions is that they require larger and larger “hits”…that provide ever smaller and smaller “highs”.   This results in people either becoming so dependent on the substance that they cannot function without it…or they pursue the addiction to its ultimate conclusion, an overdose.

When it comes to government, we are currently at the dependency stage, and if things aren’t corrected, an overdose is the eventual outcome.   We are seeing several countries in Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) on economic life support because of their addiction to government.  The United States federal government is also approaching the overdose stage, as are several U.S. states (California, Florida, Illinois).  It would be irresponsible for us to tell ourselves that things are different here and that we will remain free from experiencing what they currently are.

Another truth of addiction is that the pusher never tells the addict what the real cost of their newfound addiction will be.   The pusher says, “Try this.  It’ll make you feel great.”  They don’t mention anything about the resources required to sustain the addiction.  Nor do they mention the loss of personal independence and individual freedom resulting from the addiction.  Rather, the pusher focuses on the immediate benefits…and allows the addict to find out for themselves what the long-term costs will be.  When the consequences are eventually experienced, the pusher is long gone, having taken the money and run, while the addict, and those around him or her, must deal with long-term consequences of the addiction.

And so it is with all the “free stuff” from government.  We are told how wonderful they will be…and they are great in the beginning.   However, by the time we experience the true costs, those who originally got us hooked are long gone…usually still being paid a taxpayer-funded pension.

When people are addicted to something, they often rationalize their addiction.  “I do this to relieve stress”, “This is really good for me”, or “There is no real harm in it”.  With government services we are offered similar rationalizations.   In public healthcare some of the rationalizations are “Everyone is covered” or “At least no one will go bankrupt because of a medical bill”.

These are of little comfort when one considers that:

  • Canada is the only Western country where it is illegal to purchase essential healthcare services.
  • Canada is the only OECD country to not have a private delivery option for  healthcare.
  • Rationing and wait times result in lost time…a resource more valuable than money and that can never be recovered once gone.
  • Spending on healthcare has grown from 33% of the provincial budget in the 1980s to over 40 percent of the budget now.
  • In dollar terms, healthcare spending has grown from $2 billion in the 2000-01 fisal year to over $4.5 billion today.

Rationalizations also keeps our provincial government in the liquor and gaming businesses.  On the one hand, the provincial government is involved in the delivery of addictive substances (gambling and alcohol).  On the other hand they are also involved in the delivery of services to treat these addictions.  This is not unlike a drug dealer having a side job as an addictions counselor.  We would seriously question the ethics of an individual that did this, yet we somehow think that it is alright for government to do so.  The accepted rationalization is that the government uses these revenues for good causes….such as delivering “free” healthcare and “free” education.  How is this any different from the drug pusher being seen as a “good guy” because he donates some of his earnings to charitable causes?

Not only do addictions cause people to rationalize their behaviors, addictions also lead people to abandon principles in order to sustain their habit.  For example, when the Saskatchewan Government intervened in the BHP Billiton bid for Potash Corp., it violated several foundational principles of a free society – rule of law, free markets, and the recognition of individual property rights.  The main reason for this was a fear of losing resource revenues if the deal went through.   One number thrown out by the Government was that $300 million/year in revenues for the next ten years would be lost.   That is a significant number.  But would this have been such an issue if the current government hadn’t first increased provincial spending from $8.7 billion in the 2007-2008 fiscal year (the last NDP budget year) to $10.9 billion in the 2010-2011 fiscal year?  The government spends over  $2.2billion/year (or 25%) more now than three years ago.  No wonder the current government was concerned about the possible loss of $300 million/year…it needs every nickel and dime it can get to fund its current spending habit.

When any addiction is overcome there is usually a period where uncomfortable, and even painful, withdrawal symptoms are experienced.  Breaking the addiction to government will be no different.  Breaking the addiction to government will require us to reduce government spending, reduce government delivery of services, and eventually eliminate some of the “free” things that we have become used to.

The choice is ours to make – continued addiction or freedom.   Continued addiction is the easier choice to make because it requires no change and none of the discomforts  that such changes require.  The eventual consequence of not changing is either collapse or the even greater difficulty of changing when we are ultimately forced by circumstance to do so.

On the other hand, the path to freedom from addiction will not be easy and will require some serious adjustment.  However in the end it will be worth it, as freedom always is.

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  1. “We have reached a point where the average earnings of a two income family can barely support the spending of government” « Quotulatiousness - [...] Canadians have an addiction problem. They’re addicted to government: [...]