Crawl Across the Ocean

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Is That Desperation I Smell?

I've not a big fan of television commercials in general. Out of all television commercials, the most offensive are probably political commercials. Out of all political commercials, the most offensive are American-style attack ads, which say nothing about the party airing them, and instead just say mean and generally misleading things about their opponents. I guess the only thing worse than an attack ad, would be attack ads that are aired when there isn't even an election going on.

So, I see that the Conservatives are airing a bunch of ads attacking Stéphane Dion and his record on the environment. I am optimistic that Canadians are smart enough to reject this kind of dirty, empty, soundbite politics, just as they reacted negatively to fear-mongering ads aired by the Liberals in the last campaign. Politics in the U.S. often boils down to politicians spending all their time fundraising to pay for attack ads against their opponents and I know the Conservative want to make Canada like the U.S. in every way, but this is one road I'd rather not go down. I hope these ads blow up in the face of the Conservatives. That way, nobody will try to do the same thing again.

Oh, one more thing. Do the Conservatives really want to compete on the basis of who cares more about the environment? Do they think Canadians have such short memories that they don't remember where the spots are on this particular leopard?


  • "American-style"- the favorite perjorative of Liberals to attach to any particular subject they dislike. Look, the Canadian people deserve to know a little bit more about Stephane Dion, and the media has given him a free pass. If the environment is the #1 issue for the Liberals, then why did they not accomplish anything in this area during their last 13 year reign?
    Also, these advertisements are a form of protected political speech. Would you have the government censor or restrict this, as well? I guess there's no area that the government shouldn't intrude upon, unless it's gay marriage or abortion.
    Lest you forget, the Liberals produced nasty ads in the last campaign, suggesting that Harper and the CPC wanted to have Canadian soldiers occupy our cities.
    Would it be acceptable to want to have "American-style" GDP growth and unemployment rates in Canada? Because I want those things for our country.
    I suggest the Liberals choose another slur that is less transparently anti-American. Perhaps "Alberta-style"? Oh, I think the Libs used that theme to some success in 2004.

    By Blogger Albertagael, at 11:27 AM  

  • I write:

    "I am optimistic that Canadians are smart enough to reject this kind of dirty, empty, soundbite politics, just as they reacted negatively to fear-mongering ads aired by the Liberals in the last campaign."

    You comment:

    "Lest you forget, the Liberals produced nasty ads in the last campaign"

    Maybe you should read the post before commenting.

    Also, I am not a Liberal.

    Also, when I use the term "American-style" I don't mean 'any particular subject I dislike,' I mean things which are in a style which is like the style they are in America. Perhaps you have never watched an American television channel, but I have, and these Conservative ads are very much in the style of the American political ads one often sees on them.

    Keep in mind that by interepreting the term 'American-style' as an insult or a slur, you implicitly agree that being American is a bad thing.

    Also, the assertion that these commercials are telling people new information about Dion that they can't get in the media is laughable.

    Also, saying the Liberals accomplished nothing in 13 years is silly, as is trying to ignore the Conservative position for those same years which decried every action the Liberals did take. Only with a detailed analysis of all the pograms implemented and money spent, constructing a comparison between the results with those programs and the results without them could we really answer the question of what the Liberals accomplished. To take just one example, without Liberal funding, the new transit line in Vancouver would not have been built. Is that transit line 'notihing'? Also, see my earlier post (from December) where I talked about many of the Liberal programs which the Conservatives cancelled after taking power.

    I would have government ban political advertising on television, yes. I'm not sure I follow the leap from there to having government introdue on everything, or what has to do with gay marriage. To be honest, you're not really making a lot of sense here.

    As for wanting American-style GDP growth, I'm not sure if you mean GDP growth based on an unsustainable explosion of debt or GDP growth which only benefits the top 1% of society. If the latter, then I applaud your altruism (unless you are a multi-millionaire) but your generosity may be better directed to the poorest in socety rather than the richest.

    As for unemployment, see this Statscan report from a few months back, in particular, "For the last three years, Canada's employment rate has remained at record levels, surpassing employment rates in the United States."

    But if you are asking if I think it is better when there are fewer people who can't find jobs, then I would say yes. Again, I'm not sure i see the connection to my post. You might as well ask if I also want U.S. style torture and unprovoked war or U.S. style cheese.

    I always wonder why Con supporters get so cranky about the accusation of wanting to make Canada more like the U.S. and doing things in an American-style. It's obviously true, so why waste so much effort trying to deny it?

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:11 PM  

  • I didn't think you'd go for an all out Fisking. I'm going to refrain from doing that with your comments this time.
    You're not a Liberal? You fooled me.
    Have I watched an American TV channel? Well, I am presently doing my PhD at a top US research University in a swing state. I am a veteran of the 2004 and 2006 election years, so you might say that I've seen some political TV ads. I've also been phoned (my mobile phone) on numerous occasions by partisans on both sides and listened to recorded messages from celebrities. But you know what- as much as I am annoyed by the mailings, ads, and phone calls, they represent the exervise of political speech, which is constitutionally protected. I'm happy that this right exists and that money is spent reaching voters- it's representative of a healthy democracy.
    By proposing that we in Canada abolish political advertisements, what you are really saying is that the government should pick and choose which types of political speech are permitted. What you propose is a form of censorship: I think that's a dangerous road to go down, frankly, and I'm surprised that you're a proponent of it. Fortunately for the statists out there, there already is an agency that screens TV ads: Telecaster. And fortunately for statists, there's a Liberal partisan pulling the strings (
    /Levant_Ezra/2007/01/29/3473262.html). (See my previous post about concentration of power under the Liberals).
    As for my comment referring to abortion and gay marriage, I'm surprised you didn't follow- I was highlighting an inconsistency inherent in your political philosophy (from what I've read over the last 2 months): you think that if there's a problem, governmental regulation is the natural solution. However, when this intersects with issues like gay marriage and abortion, somehow this principle doesn't hold.

    Your definition of a slur is wholly incorrect. I think Webster could help you out with that, but I'm going to move on.

    The Liberals, vis-a-vis the environment, made little progress over the last 13 years. They made promises they didn't keep, and now are telling voters they're the natural choice for environmental stewardship.

    Tell me you're not serious when you tell me that the US and Canada have similar unemployment rates. You use the term "employment rate" which I'm unfamiliar with from a technical standpoint, and cannot find its US counterpart for a comparison. The US unemployment rate is 4.5% (Dec 06), and the Canadian unemployment rate is 6.1%, (which is near an all-time low, and is largely thanks to my home province, the most "US-style" of the ten, Alberta). I got those numbers from the US Dept. of Labor and StatsCan, respectively. I notice you didn't call me on GDP growth, which the US has a nearly one point lead, and productivity, which has never been close. As far as US cheese is concerned, I guess you've never been to Wisconsin. I'm not touching the "torture" bait- I'm glad that there's a world with a country willing to stand up to the Islamist Death Cult/Terrorist syndicate. Maybe deep down you are too, but just enjoy taking cheap shots for political gain. Who knows.

    By Blogger Albertagael, at 4:53 PM  

  • Hey I thought you were going to refrain :)

    So you've seen lots of U.S. political ads. You don't think that the Conservative ads were in the style of most of those ads. i.e. that they were 'American-style'?

    The point about employment is that a higher percentage of the Canadian population has a job than in the U.S. This means that the only reason the U.S. has a lower official unemployment rate is because supposedly a much smaller percentage of people with no jobs in the U.S. are considered to be looking for jobs.

    Given all the games governments play with their determination of who is 'looking' for work, I consider the employment figure a more reliable estimate of the economy's ability to generate jobs.

    I wasn't insulting U.S. cheese, by the way, just saying that cheese was about as relevant to political ads as GDP growth or unemployment rates.

    I agree with your assessment of the Liberal record on the environment (in your most recent comment), but for all that, the last decade and a half certainly suggests that the only people who would make worse environmental stewards than the Liberals would be the Conservatives, and most of that Liberal reign was under Chretien who was known for not caring much about the environment as an issue, so there is legitimate reason to think things might be improved with Dion in charge. Certainly Chretien never ran with the environment as a selling point.

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:18 PM  

  • Okay. First, you didn't discuss the TV censorship part of my comment, and I'm wondering how you can defend banning political advertisements, given that it really doesn't square well with free speech. Perhaps you just don't have much tolerance for things that annoy you. You're certainly permitted to be annoyed by any particular aspect of society, but it doesn't follow that said item deserves to be abolished. I don't like cell-phone commercials, and have, in jest, suggested that they be banned. But, of course, such a suggestion isn't defensible.
    Yes, the CPC ads aren't dissimilar the ones that air in the US. But if the sole intent of adding "US-style" is to criticize the object under consideration, then it has become a slur. The descriptor has morphed into a catch-all pejorative that is used by the left to attack a conservative idea. Have you ever heard "US-style" used in a positive way? Maybe you have, but I've never heard it used that way. That was why I brought up GDP growth and other things- because there are many aspects of the US that our country would be smart to emulate.
    The US is, by many measures (prosperity, science, influence, military) the most successful country in the history of the world. This is in many ways due to, not in spite of, its policies. It would be desirous of Canada to emulate aspects of US policy as suits our national circumstance.

    I'm not sold on the "Employment Rate" statistic. You didn't provide any evidence to support the claim that a larger portion of the unemployed in the US are not actively looking for work compared to those in Canada. I wonder whether it's one of those things that I often hear Canadians say to reassure themselves about their country, rather than having any basis in reality. An example: Canada is a nation of Peacekeepers.
    Wrong. We're 32nd in the world, right behind Bangladesh (!) .

    Does supporting a redistributive government mean that you care more about people with lower incomes? Can people who support a free market system also care about the poor? Checking the box for a left-leaning party doesn't mean that one cares more about the poor, it just means that one thinks the state should be more heavily involved in the economy. I think that having pro-business stance helps add jobs and increase the amount of taxes that the government receives in its coffers. There are plenty of success stories for this approach, namely Alberta, Chile, Ireland and the US from 1962-1965 and 2002-2007.
    Anyway, back to work.

    By Blogger Albertagael, at 8:30 PM  

  • Advertising is an example of a 'collective action problem', also known as a Prisoner's Dilemma.

    What that means is that what may benefit an individual is at odds with what is best for the whole of society, and even the individual won't benefit when others imitate them.

    For example, while one party using American-style attack ads might benefit - as long as their opponents refrain - once everybody does it, we are all worse off. Even though we all recognize we are worse off, nobody has an incentive to change unless everyone else changes too and there is some enforcement mechanism to make sure nobody backslides.

    Society couldn't function unless the vast majority of these prisoner's dilemmas were avoided through moral suasion, aka codes of ethics. But where ethics break down or have never been developed, the state can step in to enforce a rule which benefits everyone involved.

    This is why you sometimes see companies asking for government regulation (see the payday loan industry for an example), because they know what they are doing is harmful to society but they can't stop or they will be driven out of business by their more ruthless competitors. The same is true with oil companies asking government to set universal rules with regard to emissions standards. Even if the folks at Exxon want to cut their emissions, if it will raise their costs vs. their competitors, they can't really afford to - again there is a need for government action.

    So, in fact, it is pretty easy to defend a suggestion that cell phone commercials be banned. I know I'd support it, with the caveat that it is unfair to single out the cell phone companies. A ban on advertising would only be fair if applied equally across the board. And it would benefit society in many ways.

    The question is whether that benefit is enough to offset the loss of freedom of people to create paid advertisements and embed them in cultural content (e.g. TV shows). I would say yes, but others might disagree. Imagine how much cheaper products would be if the cost didn't include billions upon billions of advertising costs.

    The use of 'American-style' reflects the Conservative tendency to make our politics more like American politics. While there are certainly good things about the U.S., I generally think their politics, especially at the moment, are pretty screwed up.

    "Does supporting a redistributive government mean that you care more about people with lower incomes?"

    Yes, I would say so, all else being equal. Much in the same way that supporting government plans to cut GHG emissions means that you care more about cutting emissions. The idea that lower taxes more than pay for themselves with added growth has been debunked over and over and over again. It just doesn't happen (unless taxes are far, far higher than what we have now).

    Also, there is no conflict between having a redistributive government and having a free market economy. Studies show little or no correlation between tax rates, rates of redistribution and economic growth. Naturally at the extremes (anarchy and communism) growth is lower, but in the broad range with government spending being between 20% and 45% of the economy, there's no strong evidence one way or the other. And that's despite the fact that tax rates are another collective action problem.

    For example, in a world where every country had a 30% tax rate and companies were perfectly mobile, one country could cut its tax rate to 29% and see a big boom as businesses move there. But this boom would not reflect a stronger global economy, just that businesses had moved from one jurisdiction to another. If all other countries responded by cutting their tax rates to 29%, nobody would end up benefitting. And if 30% was a more optimal tax rate than 29%, everyone would be worse off. But evn knowing they were worse off, nobody could change because nobody could act alone - only by acting together would the countries regain the freedom to set their tax rates efficiently.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:36 PM  

  • Declan:
    You provide a good explanation of the prisoner's dilemma, but you fail to do justify banning political ads: please explain why (negative/US-style) political advertisements are bad for society. All that I've gathered so far is that you have an emotional dislike of these ads. Could it be possible that such ads serve to inform the voting public about something that had escaped their notice? Even if you do provide a good rationale for these ads being bad for society, to suggest that they be banned is a substantial curtailment of our Charter Rights regarding freedom of speech. Shouldn't government let free individuals make choices for themselves, or does it know best?
    I don't know who and how pro-market policies have been so effectively "de-bunked". I gave you examples of countries that have improved their economic growth rates due to tax reduction. The Bush tax cuts of 2001/2002, most analysts agree, released money into the economy, spurred growth and resulted in an increased growth rate and increased net gov't revenues. That is, instead of increasing the slice of the pie the government took in, the tax cuts indirectly grew the pie itself.
    We're already talked about the US vs. Europe in terms of GDP growth, so I don't know which studies you're referring to. We could also, as an example within the EU, compare Ireland to Germany, the former having a pro-business posture and turning its economy around over the past 20 years in no small part because of this.
    We both agree that government should help the less fortunate. I think that more often than not, "welfare" programs do more harm than good and keep people in poverty rather then encouraging economic mobility. I've seen this firsthand in my work for Habitat for Humanity.
    I think that we can increase gov't revenues using a pro-growth agenda, maintaining funding for health care and other governmental programs, while reducing the punitive burden of punitive high taxes on hard working high income wage earners.
    I think that a motive you haven't explicitly revealed is to create income equality though steeply progressive tax rates. Is this the case?

    By Blogger Albertagael, at 5:32 PM  

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