Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The math of satisfaction

What  makes you middle class: (roughly)

Income:   (29.00/ hr.)                                        $60,000
Income tax: 39%                                             -$23,400
Other taxes 10%                                             -$6,000
Net:                                                                  $30,600

$200,000 mortgage payment:                         $12,000
Heating, electricity  and carbon taxes:            $6,000
Warm clothes, cable TV and stuff you
need when it's cold outside:                            $4,000
So called disposable income:                         $8,600

That works out to about $4.00 an hour. If you own a car or want to take a vacation, your $60,000 salary suddenly goes no where. You are in essence working only to exist. I find this very depressing, now admittedly the $60,000 figure is low personally, but not for the average person.  I've been pretty lucky in that regard but the past aside I want to point out that our limitless wealth isn't real.
As we see now, governments are panicking to deal with an economic slowdown they have no control over, we still have the model that slowdowns are temporary, yet we continue to spend like we will just pay everything off in the next boom. The GOA could not balance the budget at $100.00 oil, they could not save either. Not just because they want golden palaces, but also because the demands of the publics are so high that any reduction is viewed as totally unacceptable.
It's a balancing act, every one wants more, schools, doctors, buses, LRT, safety nets, social services, and governments are quite comfortable, as in obvious with the Federal Liberals, to borrow to make people happy.  Two fundamental problems exist:
1) We are consumers without limit.
2) We demand instant gratification.
We have no ability to say no to ourselves, and are very unhappy about anyone else who says no to us,  politicians exist to redistribute wealth and say yes.  The yes is either an ideology driven mentality or a simple pandering. 
So why do I call this the math of satisfaction?
Let's talk about Belize:
The government of Belize, which is constituted exactly the same as any commonwealth country, is grappling with a TOTAL national debt of almost three billion dollars. Not an annual deficit but TOTAL debt.  
There isn't much service to cut in Belize, the government of the little country only has 300,000 citizens and relies on a lot of other agencies to provide some of their infrastructure, as a result the citizens of Belize are libertarians whether they know it or not.   It does not occur to people in Belize to protest for a lack of funding for some pet project, everyone has a gig, they are tour guides, cab drivers, cook road side barbecue or do laundry.  Jobs are valued as is education. People are essentially happy and grateful.
The big holiday in Belize is Easter not Christmas, Christmas in Canada is a shopping spree, nothing more and we pay for it all year. Easter in Belize is a big party, some of it is Christian, most of it is not. 
The government tries to make sure that government stays out of the way.  Property taxes are pennies a year, income tax is under ten percent, the GST is twelve percent  and import duties can run to eighty percent, all of which is geared toward consumption. The best way to avoid tax in Belize is not to buy something.  A direct benefit  of is this it does not fit the business model of Wal-Mart, Costco or McDonalds, none of whom are present in Belize. Consequently the local economy, small business and town centers are relatively thriving, market day is Saturday and it's as much a social event as it is a shopping event. You can also buy a weeks worth of groceries for twenty bucks.
This appeals to me for a couple of reasons: I believe that government cannot do anything for me that I cannot do for myself. I think laws like distracted driving are nanny state interference and I'm very sorry it passed when I was an MLA and I don't care if milk is homo, 1%, 2%, or soy; milk is milk and all breakfast cereal tastes the same anyway.
It also speaks to the idea that  there is enough in this world for everyone and left to their own devices, people treat each other fairly and help each other.  
Stewart Brand, the author of the Whole Earth Catalog would call this a "long now" and I wholly support this idea. Our now in Canada and Alberta is very short, this is evidenced by the lack of fiscal prudence we individually demonstrate in our daily lives. I'm guilty of this too, for sure. we consume but do not appreciate.
I've been thinking about this for years, not everyone is geared toward being a libertarian, some people like big government and paying taxes, I personally do not. So my stand is very simple and very personal.
I figure I am doing something very wrong when with an income well above the national average, I do not enjoy the satisfaction I see present in people who do not even dream of the wealth we possess, yet who have everything we most want. 
It's a hell of a thing to climb the ladder of success only to find it leaning against the wrong wall.