Different Canada April 2020

I think the two ways the world gets better are violence reduction (physical and otherwise) and technological progress. Setting aside those two issues, what could be done to create a different version of the Canada we have? Or put another way: assume we can’t make a “better” Canada, only that we can shift resources around from point A to point B. Setting aside the concept of decisions which somehow make things better with no downside, let’s consider trade offs. To do this, I copy/pasted the list of topics that every major party covered in the recent election.

Carbon Tax

I wrote about this here. I still think revenue neutral carbon tax is the most politically likely to work. The goal is to price externalities into the cost of oil-based products, and reduce people’s income tax so they end up with the same economic burden. Worth a shot.

Child Care

The biggest thing impacting cost is ratios. And for the most part, there are lots of options at the high end for good child care. I think you could probably afford to offer worse child care that implicated higher ratios of care providers to children. The focus would be purely on safety, as opposed to a nebulous focus on a particularly weird and modern brand of development. You could also probably develop monitoring technology that would make providers more effective. So: shift government spending away from providers to provider technology, and remove the laws about ratios. I recognize that care would get worse for some, but it’s the only way.

Climate Change

The biggest problem here from a government perspective is probably mispriced externalities. So you would need to read studies written by researchers largely in other countries, interpret the findings and then attempt to price in the inputs that lead to climate change. Make gas twice as expensive and subsidize solar energy until it is no longer such a preoccupation. I think there’s underinvestment in clean air, relative to other issues, so probably figure out how to fix the air. Drop projects involving subsidizing the impact of climate change on people entirely.

Deficits

All parties seem to agree that deficit spending is a good idea, and in a world of low interest, that is hard to argue with. The idea that the debt will get too big, and when the time comes to manage inflation, we’ll have no levers left. Inflation is good if you have a big pile of debt, but super bad for the savers in the actual country. So the experiment here would be to zero-based budget the entire government (e.g. have a shutdown) and then bring things online as needed. Air traffic control, paramedical services and so on would probably only take a couple minutes. Other things may end up forgotten about entirely. Commit to finding something more useful to do for anyone whose department ends up being forgotten about in the shutdown. I think the idea here is to apply removal cost to the government itself, and see what stands up to the test.

Education

This is a fun one. Education is basically two things: daycare and learning. It doesn’t necessarily do a very good job of either. Daycare wise the kids leave school meaningfully before parents are due home, so with a younger child it makes it impractical to have a full time job. Learning wise school clearly suffers because of the super high ratio of teachers to students. Individual learning typically ends up working for kids on all ends of the talent spectrum. So you would want to aggressively invest in technology that would enable kids to do self-directed learning at their own pace while maintaining ratios for the purposes of daycare. And you would probably want to extend the hours with physical activity, similar but more formal to the way things work now. Outside of that, deregulate the curriculum and replace it with Khan Academy and the like. There’s no way we need our own research bureaucracy when learning is a human universal.

Environment

Not clear the difference between this and climate change but I’ll take a stab anyways. Approve all the oil pipelines for the sake of the safety of the people who live near train tracks. Approve tall building permits that are connected to transit. Reject subdivision proposals that implicate cutting trees down. Mostly reject anything that implicates cutting trees down. Try to make things much more dense, with abundant public green space. Deregulate land use for things that don’t implicate cutting trees down. Let people mine, hunt, fish and pump things out of the ground.

Guns

Gun control sounds like an oxymoron to me, the whole point of guns is to provide control to the person with the gun and prevent the person without the gun from taking it from them. Make ammunition extraordinarily expensive for those who do not need a gun for work. Make everyone use their guns responsibly. Do not post the names or any information about school shooters as people in the media, just focus on the victims stories instead. Figure out who and how guns get in illegally and make it impractical for them to continue operating. Develop and maintain a list of people who should definitely not be allowed to own a gun and enforce that instead.

Health Care

The problem with health care seems to be the lack of quality for those with resources and the expense for those without them. A lot has been said for accessibility. Having had health care experiences in the recent past, things as simple as having enough IV machines seem to be a nightmare that no one takes responsibility for. Force hospitals to put the (real) email of their CEO on the website front page. Force insurance companies to set better expectations about what is and is not covered. Reduce the amount of arcane policy around health information handling and focus on enforcing security best practice instead (not currently the same thing). Allow a second tier of healthcare services for those who can afford it, that takes a significant tax, and put that tax into the free tier of healthcare. Make people pay for things they do to themselves, continue to aggressively subsidize things that happen due to bad luck. Shift some spending towards nutrition research and education instead of paying for treatment.

Housing

Housing is expensive because there are more people now on the same amount of land. Get super liberal about approving tall buildings that incorporate green space. Make it way harder to build anything else. Focus on density so you can avoid food deserts, make it easier for people to get Ubers and transit, continue to build high around green space until prices come down. Tell people with houses who don’t like density to stop using bylaws to abuse good faith land use requirements and just keep building high. Raise land tax in order to enable building high. Reduce the tax on condos where possible, they are clearly a cash grab considering how little there is in the way of services for condos relative to houses. It just doesn’t make sense.

Immigration

Focus exclusively on the merit of the individuals who want to move here. If they evidence being good people who will contribute meaningfully, let them in. If not, don’t. Don’t set an arbitrary cap to appease certain provinces, just make sure all those smart people go where they are wanted. Allow the provinces that don’t like that to regress into failed states. Keep on winning.

Indigenous

Seems like the approach doesn’t work and costs a lot. Consider just getting rid of the existing programs entirely and see what happens. Address the resulting problems as needed. More freedom, less overwatch, less nationalism, less spending, less weird business monopolies.

Jobs

Jobs come from productivity, which comes from trade. Reduce the amount of tariffs and taxes we take on exports to zero. Reduce the amount of tariffs and taxes we take on imports to zero, except the ones from China and other places that don’t take human rights seriously. That isn’t a moral judgement, just pricing in externalities. Make sure people are aware of the extent to which there is a huge need for labour in the modern sense, and that the lack of jobs comes from a lack of relevant skills. Focus on retraining people who are displaced by technology back into useful things. It is not the government’s job to increase the number of jobs available, it is the government’s job to reduce how much bullshit stands in the way of creating them in the first place. Consider funding Stripe to provide SMBs with free incorporation and merchant services.

Manufacturing

We can only manufacture things if we are productive. This clearly comes from automation. Instead of paying unproductive manufacturers in rural towns corruption money to continue existing and employing people, funnel that money into automation research. Attempt to protect the automation research in industries where we have an intrinsic advantage (such as those in which the primary materials are sourced within Canada). Sell that expertise to the world. Take a tax on the earnings of the exports of that research to other places, and give it as basic income.

NAFTA

Free trade with Mexico is clearly not an advantage for us because the same people most likely to benefit from cheaper goods lose their employment to lower cost workers in Mexico. Free trade with the US however is good because we can offer them things in exchange for their wealth, while they can safely depend on the things that they buy from us. So focus on free trade with the US, and concede on things they care about. Get rid of free trade with Mexico.

Pipelines

Build as many as needed to make sure rail stops being the way we transport gas. Make gas more expensive to buy to disincentivize it. But, allow people to get the gas and move it around in the most practical way possible. As much as people don’t like it, the country depends on gas taxes. Make those taxes higher while removing the things that stand in the way of exporting it.

Seniors

Seniors are living longer and were given a good dice roll economically speaking. Which means many will unexpectedly run out of money despite having had abundant opportunity to make it. Give people the choice (national referendum) between giving up after fewer treatments in their final six months of life, or running out of pension funding. We can’t sustain both with the current value system we have where people get pensions for life and we try absolutely everything to keep them alive despite it only making a small difference in the end. Ideally get rid of pensions for life, and get rid of treating people an average of 7 ways before hospice care as well. That way people can live a more meaningful, dignified and sustainable life while they are still well, just like every country in the world that isn’t based on the North American continent does.

Small Business

Small businesses that aren’t productive should go out of business. Don’t create artificial success in small business, simply make sure regulations meant for big companies don’t bleed down and make it harder for small businesses to operate. Big companies that aren’t productive exist because of government dysfunction, both handouts and regulations. Reduce both handouts and regulation and you’ll end up with more startups and small businesses without the need to spend more. This is a case where less is more, so mostly get rid of programs in this area entirely.

Taxes

Raise the taxes on things that have second order side effects that cost money (e.g. sugar, smoking, alcohol, gas, low density building). Lower the taxes on things that are good (e.g. income, capital gains, healthy food, sustainable energy). Make sure incentives actually work. Iterate from there. Ideally take in less tax and spend much less as time goes on, slowly.

Technology

Focus spending on fundamental technologies, but don’t forget that step two is taking them to market. Make sure that it is very easy and painless to sell technology to the US (primarily) as well as Europe and Asia. Make it very easy to get technologists into the country from other countries, permanently or temporarily. Make sure not to be racist or mistreat those people.

Transportation

Self-driving cars will absolutely beat buses as personal transportation around smaller parts of the grid. So assume a future in which the goal is to have high speed rail following main arteries, and self driving cars connecting people to the high speed rail. Assume everything (personal cars, LRTs, busses) will eventually fail in the face of self-driving cars and high speed rail. Spend and set policy accordingly, given that the time horizon for this is less than two terms in office.