No Longer Topical Canada Post Post

Now that I’m on Twitter, I realise that if I want to keep up with the daily polemics I have to be willing to masquerade knee-jerk reactions to some super-topical event as studied expert analysis. I was still unable to keep up, so here are my no-longer-relevant thoughts on Canada Post’s decision to eliminate door-to-door urban service.

One of the more pronounced voices in this “debate” has been the National Post‘s Andrew Coyne, who is pushing for privatization and liberalization (which he more or less conflates) of postal services. Prior to this recent announcement, Coyne already tried to make Canada Post’s “monopoly” a cause célèbre.

The following rhetorical question posed by Coyne reveals much about the assumptions he brings to his position: “By what principle of social justice are city residents, rich or poor, obliged to subsidize the correspondence of gentleman farmers?”

The answer to this question lies in the history of the state-building function of essentially all national postal services (obviously, Coyne has never seen Kevin Costner’s The Postman). The principle is one of social cohesion and political enfranchisement (or more cynically, state control). It is the same principle that guided the construction of a national railway in the early days of Canadian confederation. For there to be a coherent nation-state called Canada, its citizens need to be able to pay taxes, fill out censuses, and communicate with other Canadians. In order to ensure the political enfranchisement of all citizens, regardless of wealth or where they lived, access to communication needed to be ensured (indeed, those in the rural fringes were the most important to ensuring political coherency; just consider the government’s current interest in Arctic populations). Equal access to the post went hand-in-hand with democratic visions.

By the way, Coyne is actually wrong about his rhetorical assumption. City residents do not subsidize the mail of rural-dwellers; the most expensive postal codes to service are urban.

Coyne’s real question is, why is the government involved in the delivery of mail at all? To understand why this is so and whether it makes sense one needs to look at the nature of the service being provided. There are compelling arguments as to why things like transit systems, police forces, and sewer infrastructure are publically controlled. It’s hard to imagine how an open market for subways would work, or how a coherent connected public transportation system would come about in a free-market environment. So, is mail service like public transportation? Is it essentially a public service, or merely a commercial enterprise? Does it make sense for mail to be centrally controlled? Does it make more sense from an efficiency point of view to centralise mail distribution? Does it make sense from a logistical point of view to have only one kind of mail box on the streets of cities and towns? These are questions that Coyne and others who rally against the “monopoly” of Canada Post dismiss out-of-hand. Continue reading “No Longer Topical Canada Post Post”

The Conference Board of Canada Greatly Overestimates the Degree to which Drivers Cover Road Costs

Recently the Conference Board of Canada released a study that claims that upwards to 90% of Ontario road costs are covered by drivers. The purported findings of the study were gleefully touted by all major news sources, and if one was careless enough to read appending user-comments, one could expect that they were rife with remarks of smug self-satisfaction and entitlement, and perhaps claims of moral superiority in the horrific “war on cars.” I was immediately sceptical of the findings because previous studies have estimated, on a national level, that driver-related revenues covered upwards to 64% of road costs, and I argued that even this was probably an overestimate.

Predictably, most of the media reports did not pay close attention to the ranges (often just reporting the 90% figure) and methodologies used, nor did any of them spot or comment on any of the obvious issues in the study. I figured this was typical journalistic inaccuracy and sensationalism. But then I read the press release on the Conference Board of Canada’s website. It leads off by claiming “Majority of Ontario Road Infrastructure Costs Paid by Motorists.”

This is a false statement. Continue reading “The Conference Board of Canada Greatly Overestimates the Degree to which Drivers Cover Road Costs”

The Publicly-Funded Convenience of Cars

Like most issues, people engage with transportation mainly in an individualistic way. Hence most “debate” about transportation infrastructure, as in this most unoriginal and unthoughtful piece, merely amounts to recounting a set of personal anecdotes such as seeing cyclists riding on sidewalks, without extrapolating any broader insights beyond expressing one’s peevishness. Maybe this is just systemic – people are “inherently” selfish (or encouraged to be so), and have great difficulty considering some issue beyond their immediately personal wants and experiences – say on a societal or structural level. Whatever the case may be, what’s frequently missing from the constant stream of indignant rants about transportation (and even transportation debates by our finest politicians) is a discussion about what the relative societal benefits (and costs) are of differing transportation schemes. What kinds of transportation systems and urban planning are most efficient, affordable, safe, and least damaging to human and environmental health? Continue reading “The Publicly-Funded Convenience of Cars”

Conversing with Capitalists, Or, I am not a Communist

Occasionally I meet people who really love capitalism. They proudly call themselves capitalists. They extol  its virtues. They confidently explain to me how capitalism fairly distributes scarce resources and encourages productive competition. They prattle on about something they call “trickle-down economics.” Apparently capitalism is just the best. It makes everyone’s life better (this hyperlink might be a satire. It’s hard to tell with these capitalists). I’m told that if it wasn’t for capitalism, I wouldn’t have a computer or a smartphone and I would have polio. Continue reading “Conversing with Capitalists, Or, I am not a Communist”

Do Cyclists Pay for Drivers’ Use of Toronto Roads?

Last week I  happened upon this story about Washington State representative Ed Orcutt who, in a defence of a proposed flat $25 tax on all new bike sales, questioned the environmental benefits of bicycles on the grounds that cyclists produce extra CO2 while riding their bikes, and thus “are actually polluting when they ride.” When contacted for clarification, he replied, “You would be giving off more CO2 if you are riding a bike than driving in a car,” though he humbly acknowledged he hadn’t done a formal analysis. Due to our love of hearing politicians say preposterous things, this story swiftly made the rounds and appeared on major news outlets. Equally swiftly, Orcutt apologized for his obviously preposterous statement, and acknowledged that bicycles do not emit more CO2 than cars (for those wondering, the European Cyclists Federation conducted a study on the relative CO2 emissions of bicycles and cars, including the emissions associated with the entire lifecycle, from production, operation, and maintenance, and found that cars emit over 10 times the amount of CO2 as bicycles). Continue reading “Do Cyclists Pay for Drivers’ Use of Toronto Roads?”

Kevin O’Leary is a Stereotype of a Rich Person

If 25% of the content on the Toronto Star website can be viral videos (the Huffington Post’s is around 95%), then I see no reason to continue upholding my self-imposed restriction against reposting videos to my blog. It’s still lazy blogging, but since I realised that no one reads this blog (and, as usual, making this very post an excercise in existential futilism), I am less inclined to care about blogging standards. Here’s a recent video that’s making the rounds of a “conversation” between Kevin O’Leary and Chris Hedges concerning the “Occupy Wall Street” phenomena on the CBC’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange (a transcript of the video can be found here).

Besides this being a somewhat entertaining (though slightly depressing) video, and besides it reconfirming what most people are already certain of, namely, that Kevin O’Leary is a jerk, there are a few other things about this video worth reflecting on.

Continue reading “Kevin O’Leary is a Stereotype of a Rich Person”