Saturday, February 13, 2010

Canada's fiscal advantage

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

According to the latest governmental estimates, Canada is heading toward a record federal budget deficit of close to $56.9 billion. That's disturbing, yet Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has good reason to insist: "This country looks so great compared to most of the other western industrialized countries."

Consider, for example, the United States. President Barrack Obama is projecting a gargantuan budget deficit of $1.56 trillion deficit in 2010. That amounts to 10.6 per cent of the country's entire economic production, far higher than the corresponding Canadian ratio of just 3.8 per cent.

Flaherty projects that as the economy recovers and government revenues increase, the government of Canada will be able to eliminate the federal budget deficit over the next five years without having to resort to tax increases or any major spending cuts. While some experts consider that view unduly optimistic, no one thinks that Canada is in serious fiscal trouble.

The same cannot be said for the United States. The Economist magazine has warned: "Mr. Obama’s budget reveals a road-map to fiscal catastrophe." Correspondingly, in a news analysis headlined "Deficits May Alter U.S. Politics and Global Power," the New York Times reported: "By President Obama's own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years... His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water."

Britain is in even worse shape as the Labour government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown is running up a government deficit of no less than 14.2 per cent of GDP. Meanwhile, after years of reckless deficit spending, the socialist government of Greece is hovering on the brink of outright bankruptcy.

What accounts for Canada's relatively good fortune? The Liberals deserve much of the credit. In 1998, former Liberal finance minster Paul Martin ended 27 consecutive years of deficit spending, by means of a series of major tax hikes and spending cuts. In doing so, he set the basis for 10 straight years of budget surpluses that lifted Canada out of the kind of serious debt crisis now confronting the United States and Britain.

However, it was those same Liberals that got Canada into fiscal trouble in the first place. When Pierre Trudeau took over as prime minister in 1968, he inherited a budget surplus. But when he left office in 1984, his government ran up a record peacetime budget deficit of close to nine per cent of GDP.

The Mulroney Conservatives made only a half-hearted attempt to rein in deficit spending. Even so, the opposition Liberals made matters worse, by strenuously objecting to any major spending cuts that the Conservative government might propose.

Martin was more fortunate. In his struggle to eliminate the deficit, he got considerable support from Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who kept urging the Liberals to slash spending.

The current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been less consistent. Just a few months ago, he was admonishing the Harper Conservatives to increase deficit spending even further as a means of stimulating the recession-bound economy. Yet now, he decries the size of this year's federal budget deficit.

Last week, Ignatieff announced that a Liberal government would introduce a national child-care system. "We will find the money, because it seems to me an excellent investment," he promised. "I am not going to allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice."

We have heard that line before from Trudeau as well as big spenders in the United States, Britain and Greece. In all cases, such folly has led to a debt crisis that compels major cutbacks, not increases, in government spending on social programs.

It will be interesting to see how Ignatieff reacts to the new federal budget due next month. Should he decide to bring down the Harper government on the ground that it is not proposing to spend enough on new social programs, he could lead the Liberals to a calamitous setback in the ensuing federal election.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The twisted morality of godless academics

The Interim
By Rory Leishman

Why are most pro-life activists Christians?

Udo Schuklenk, professor of philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics at Queen’s University, thinks he knows the answer: The pro-life position is so irrational that it is only likely to be espoused by fanatics who look to the Bible as the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and morality.

Schuklenk is an atheist. He rejects God and dismisses the Bible as an irrational product of “the human imagination dating from pre-scientific and often barbaric eras.”

Like most atheists, Schuklenk bridles at the suggestion that there is no reason to be good without God. In the introduction to a recent collection of essays, 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, he writes: “The absence of God does not mean that we are lost at sea as far as living a meaningful life – a life that is worth living – is concerned. Secular ethics has much to offer to those of us who have chosen to live an ethical life.”

Perhaps so, but Schuklenk begs the central question: Why should anyone chose to live an ethical life without God? No atheist has come up with a satisfactory and compelling answer.

Christians have always read the Bible in the light of reason. Guided by both reason and revelation, they have rationally and logically concluded down through the centuries that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death.

In support of the atheist position that reason alone is a sufficient guide for people who chose to live an ethical life, Schuklenk cites Practical Ethics by Peter Singer, the notorious atheist and professor of philosophy at Princeton University. Yet Singer commits numerous outrages in this book, including the suggestion that the mother of a handicapped baby should have no compunction about killing her baby before or after birth.

In defence of this proposition, Singer argues that “birth does not mark a morally significant dividing line.” He adds: “Neither the fetus nor the newborn infant is an individual capable of regarding itself as a distinct entity with a life of its own.”

On both of these points, Singer is right. But, alas, he fails to draw the only reasonable conclusion: that regardless of cognitive ability, all human life is sacred.

Instead, Singer advances the diabolical argument that there is nothing inherently wrong with either abortion or infanticide, because preborn and newborn babies lack “characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness.”

Schuklenk likewise argues that the value of human life is a function of cognition. In 50 Voices of Disbelief, he chides Christians for opposing death-dealing embryonic stem-cell research on the ground that embryos “have no central nervous system, no brain, no capacity to suffer.”

Within a few weeks after conception, the developing human being has acquired all these characteristics, but that is of no account to Schuklenk. He supports abortion. In his opinion, not even pain-suffering babies in the womb have a right to life.

Schuklenk sometimes seems almost unhinged in his implacable hostility to Christianity. He charges: “To organized Catholic Christianity, fetuses are of greater value than real people. I never understood how organized Christianity justifies discarding adult women’s lives during birth, if there is a conflict.”

That, of course, is complete nonsense. The Catholic Church does not regard fetuses as of greater value than so-called real people. Moreover, in those vanishingly rare circumstances such as some cancers of the uterus where a physician can only save the life of a pregnant woman by a procedure that will kill her baby, the Catholic Church holds in accordance with the traditional principle of double effect that the physician who acts to save the life of the mother does not commit an abortion.

As the Ontario Chair in Bioethics at Queen’s University, Schuklenk should be aware of such basic moral distinctions. His woeful ignorance of the pro-life position is a disgrace.

Schuklenk rails against churches for allegedly supporting "special rights for religious health care professionals in law." He says: "A consequence of this view has been that the personal preferences of individual professionals are prioritized over the needs of individual patients to receive professional services.”

As it happens, Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians, not just health care professionals. By clear implication, Schuklenk suggests that the laws and the Constitution of Canada should be amended to require all nurses and physicians, regardless of their religious and moral convictions, to assist a patient in perpetrating an abortion.

Schuklenk also denounces churches for opposing physician assisted suicide. “This is surprising,” he writes. “If at the end of a decently lived life we would go to heaven and enjoy eternal life, why are they fighting our earthly death so vigorously?”

Such a puerile argument would be unworthy of a high-school essayist. Yet Schuklenk is held in such high esteem by his academic peers that the Royal Society of Canada has chosen him to chair its “Expert Panel on End-of Life Decision Making.”

The panel is supposed to advise the public on the “various pros and cons of decriminalization of physician-assisted death from well-reasoned ethical and legal standpoints.” With the group headed by Schuklenk and stacked with other like-minded intellectuals, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Such is the twisted morality of godless academics who presume to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To paraphrase William F. Buckley, Canadians would surely be better off governed by the first 1,800 people in the Ottawa phone book than by the 1,800 members of the Royal Society of Canada.