14 February 2012

The Fragile Economy: addictions management #nlpoli

The provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador spends more per person on delivering services for most things than does any other provincial government in the country.

Health care is the one the Premier highlighted a couple of weeks ago.  There are others.

This is not something new.  Here’s a snippet from a post in 2009 back when Paul Oram lit the issue up from inside the current administration.  Note, though, that the quote highlights the situation three years earlier:

That level of per capita spending [second only to Alberta] is unsustainable in the long run. As a recent Atlantic Institute for Market Studies assessment concluded:

“If the province fails to reign in its whopping per capita government spending (about $8800/person [in FY 2006]) and super-size me civil service (96 provincial government employees /1000 people) it will quickly erode any gains from increased energy revenues.”

The reason for all this spending and the generally high cost of government in this province is simple:  government spending is all about paternalism, patronage and pork

Note that the largest employer in Grand Falls-Windsor these days is the local hospital.  The town is also a centre for government services and, as in Stephenville, the major provincial government response to the mill closure was to push in more public service jobs.

Public spending is all about jobs.

The problem with public spending is that it is easy to get hooked on it.  Not surprisingly, a recent post at the Monkey Cage went with the title “The Narcotic of Government Dependency”.  It’s a pretty concise discussion of the issue from the American perspective with plenty of interesting links.  Follow the links and you’ll find plenty of stimulating stuff. 

Canadians might find it especially interesting to see reference to David Frum’s assessment of the inherent contradiction in conservative arguments.  While they rave and rant against public spending on a ideological basis, on a practical basis, American conservative constituencies are also among the biggest beneficiaries of federal government programs.

Now in this province, the local conservatives don’t really have an ideological basis to argue against public spending. They aren’t really caught in that trap.  But it is interesting to notice the gap between their self-image of being fiscally conservative, debt- fighting wunderkind and the reality of running up the biggest debt load in the province’s history and wanting to jack it higher.  Plus they’ve increased dependence on government spending and increased the public service to an unprecedented size.

looked at from that perspective, Kathy Dunderdale’s recent speech about the need to tighten public spending wasn’t so much about putting the province on some kind of methadone program for patronage junkies so you could get ‘em off the junk.  It seems more likely to have been about another type of addictions management, more like “b’ys we gotta lay off the pipe for a while and just do the oxys and some percs”.

- srbp -