The consequences of irrational decisions



I’m dreading the irrational news that I think will come out over the next few weeks.

I live in Ontario, where we recently elected a new provincial government. From everything I can tell, the voting decision was made in the absence of facts. In other words, non-rationally. And if you make your decisions in the absence of reason, you can’t predict the effects.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative party ran on a platform that had plenty of promises, but was remarkably light on facts.

“The party on the taxpayer’s dollar is over.”

“We’re for the little guy.”

“Ford for the people.”

“We’re going to find efficiencies.”

“Get rid of the six-million dollar man.”

Ford promised he would:

  • reduce personal income taxes
  • eliminate the carbon cap-and-trade system, which brings in billions of dollars of revenue to the province in a deal with Quebec and California
  • reduce the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a litre
  • all while reduce and eventually eliminate the deficit and balance the provincial budget
  • not eliminate any public-sector jobs.

Reduce revenue and balance the books without cutting any spending. Interesting. But whenever asked “How can you do that?” Conservatives refused to answer.

And we elected them.

It’s not rational. Rational means something that follows clear rules of reason. Where anyone can observe the link between statements and reality.

Where have we seen this before?

While Doug Ford and Donald Trump are very different people, and Ontario and the U.S. very different places, they used similar election tactics. Both appealed used bumper-sticker slogans that sound appealing on a mean level, but don’t stand up to analysis.

We see this playing out in the U.S. right now. Trump campaigned on (partly) “America first,” and keeps saying that other countries are “taking advantage” of the U.S. in trade. In particular, Canada’s wheat and dairy systems are hurting U.S. farmers, and our steel and aluminum industries are hurting U.S. businesses and consumers.

In fact, even a cursory look at the facts pops those statements. The U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada, particularly in dairy. The steel and aluminum industries are tightly integrated, which means punishing one is punishing companies on both sides of the border.

American manufacturers are suing the government because the tariffs are driving their costs up.

The European Union imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products, prompting Harley Davidson—a manufacturer that Trump had recently lauded as an American icon—to move some manufacturing to Europe. This prompted threats from Trump.

Unintended consequences. They’re playing out all over the place.

Non-rational arguments internationally

The fact-free decisions about migrants has led to decisions that the U.S. administration had to reverse. In Europe, stable governments are threatened by fact-free arguments about migrants. Angela Merkel of Germany is being warned to “get tough on migrants.” What does that mean? What is the problem? And don’t just say “There are too many.” How many are too many? What are the consequences of so many migrants? What problems are they causing in Germany and elsewhere?

And when it comes to “getting tough,” what does that mean? Keeping migrants out? Punishing them somehow?

I love specifics.

What we can expect in Ontario

Even though the new government hasn’t formally taken over yet, we are getting an indication of what we’re going to get from them.

  • Freezing on new hires in the public service—except for police and jail guards. But there will be no new personnel in areas that have been crying for more resources for years, such as personal support workers for seniors and disabled people, mental health services, or teachers for our overcrowded public classrooms.
  • Scrapping the carbon cap-and-trade system, which not only addresses our carbon emissions problem, but also funded other programs.
  • Cancelling the GreenON program, which subsidized citizens who installed solar panels or other alternative energy generation, installation of better insulation and windows, and otherwise helped people save on energy costs.
  • Cancelling or at least blocking supervised injection sites for drug users.

That’s just the beginning.

These are not going to have the results their proponents say they will. They’re just going to exacerbate the problems we have now.

Don’t believe me? I like empirical evidence. Let’s look at what’s happening in a year and in two years. Let’s see what’s happening with the number of jobs in Ontario. With affordability. With the profitability of small businesses. With public health. With the opioid crisis.

Then maybe let’s get back to talking rationally.

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