Thursday, September 11, 2008

The curious coverage of election promises

We have elections in full-swing, now, both north and south of the 49th parallel, and I'm always struck by the ridiculous tax-cut-happy bias displayed in media coverage of campaign promises. A candidate or party can propose a tax cut with hardly anyone asking where the correlative spending cut will occur, but they can rarely propose new spending without explaining - immediately - how they'll raise the money to cover it. It makes sense that both should be subject to the same degree of scrutiny, right?

Naturally, this is a fundamentally Bad Thing for the parties whose promises are staked on new social or cultural initiatives, rather than on reducing the tax load. In the Canadian election, the two major parties find themselves hilariously separated both in terms of their ostensible spend/cut philosophies and their transparency: but while the Liberal party has been, to my mind, quite explicit in explaining how they'll balance the new taxes with the new spending, little attention has been given to what the Conservative party will have to cut in order to meet their tax cut promises.

Take, for instance, a proposed cut to the diesel fuel tax. It'll remove a not-insubstantial $600 million from the piggy bank, but the Conservatives didn't even bother to suggest where that $600 will be struck from their spending. And no one asked.

I'm also amused by the underlying assumption that more fiscally conservative governments will necessarily be more fiscally responsible. The largest budget deficit ever posted by a Canadian government was posted by the Conservatives in the early 90s. (Which is, in part, attributable to a larger recession, but has also been blamed on PM Brian Mulroney's disastrous "zero inflation" economic policy. The Liberal government that followed him turned it into a surplus in less than 5 years, though at high cost to government services.) Likewise, the Reagan and Bush #1 years saw a combined $3 trillion dollars worth of debt and Bush #2 posted a record deficit in 2004 of $415 million. (Clinton's last year, by comparison, saw a budget surplus of $236 billion.) So where does this myth of conservative budgetary savvy come from, anyway?

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