Saturday, 16 May 2015

Does universality equal fairness?

Recently in the House of Commons during Question Period Prime Minister Harper thought he was handed a gift from Justine Trudeau when Trudeau apparently made a "gaffe" by premising his question to the Prime Minister: "Benefiting every single family is not what is fair..."

Harper could hardly contain his glee—actually for someone with a reputation for being a cold calculator he doesn't have much of a poker-face—as he pounced on Trudeau with a comeback: "This is what happens when you get off-script". Truly, it was his Count Olaf moment.

But it got me thinking about fairness and universality (ie, 'universal' in the sense of being a flat rate for all instances of application regardless of circumstances or situation).

A qualification of individualized "consequentialism" that seems to define Harper's political understanding of governance, I think, can and should justifiably be made here.

-Individual consequentialism is a vicious variant of the Utilitarian philosophy in that it takes on some of the coloration of Machiavelli's political philosophy which holds that a state's actions are justified (ie, should not be questioned) if the ends serve the purpose of preserving and maintaining order and constancy of its political structures (ie, serve the interests of the 'benign' ruling class).

It is in this light I think that the true context of Harper's "politics of meanness" must be understood. After all, small governments are 'good' and 'lean' not so much in terms of their 'distributive capacity' to the greatest good but if, and only if their policies and means to exact taxes and levies on big business and the rich remain checked and emaciated. Forget "trickle down economics"; this is unabashed Darwinian corporatism.

Universal child care allowance that the Harper gov't is proposing is simple and seemingly 'fair' in that it treats everyone 'equally' regardless of income and socioeconomic standing. But it is really a 'regressive' benefits scheme by any other name (ie, it is tied to the notion of further decreasing the tax burden on the rich in relative terms whose take-home pay increases significantly at the expense of those who need the assistance the most simply because it adds to the tax avoidance toolkit that the poor do not have access to).

The means-tested scheme that Trudeau is proposing seems to be a complexification of the tax and benefits system in comparison to Harper's proposal because it would make these benefits to Canadian families dependent upon their ability to draw household income in absolute terms (ie, the proportional distance between benefits and entitlements as in relation to real income and wealth: the wealthier one is the smaller the gap between needs and means).

In theory, under the Trudeau scheme, the burden on tax payers is more evenly and fairly distributed because it is tied to that hypothetical zero gap between need and means.

Jay

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