The Misnomer of the Olympic Medal Count

As I write this, China and the United States each have 30 medals in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England.  China, with 17 golds, leads the standings while the USA, with 13, is on their heels; both have more gold medals than the total accumulated by the next closest team, South Korea with 6 golds and a total of 12.

Every time the Olympics roll around I can’t help but be stunned by how quickly everyone turns into a macro-economist.  As always, the focus is the raw medal count, which astounds me because it tells us surprisingly little about a nation’s real success.

Aggregates are really unimportant here; instead we should be looking a variety of relative measures.  Take a look at Fig 1; China, Russia and the US have fewer medals per person than the other nations on the list, which is quite interesting. Inherently these nations should have more elite athletes simply because they have larger populations.  (Consider that though only a limited number of athletes qualify for the Olympics; China, for example, trains tens of thousands of athletes at elite camps in hopes of having them qualify.)  Assuming the percentage of potential elite athletes per person is fairly constant across geography, this suggests that elite athletes in smaller countries have a better chance at international success relative to their large-nation peers.

Fig 1.  Major Olympic Countries: populations and medal counts

(A technical note:  Some people like to look at medals per athlete, but this perspective has two problems.  1) It will overstate a nation’s success because of athletes competing in multiple events. This can be solved by treating each event as a “separate athlete”, thereby increasing the denominator and displaying a medal-attempt ratio.  This unfortunately understates the value of a prolific athlete; sometimes you come across what I call the Michael Phelps effect.  7 Medals in one games is beyond extraordinary, and would overstate a nation’s expected performance.  2) The Olympic athletes all have to qualify, but there are limits to the number  of competitors each team can send.  China may well have 180 Olympic caliber swimmers for the 100m freestyle, but only a handful can go, and they may not all be the best (politics and luck during trials obviously play a part.)  The notion of medals per athlete feels like it should be tidy, but leaves a lot to be explained and questioned.)

I feel I should take a moment to draw attention to one of the few media talking points worth thinking about.  When it comes to athletics, how much push is too much?  Six American high school football layers died of exhaustion last year.  Nations like China are frequently targeted for their obsessive devotion to athletic superiority, and who can blame the critics when stories like this hit the news cycle.  This really raises the question of what the medal is worth.  Of course athletes will say it is a lifetime achievement and worth all the pain and suffering, but bear in mind that most of them have been in Olympic feeder programs for years; that sentiment has been bred into them.  Competition is a religion to these people, and it’s all well and good to take the relativistic approach of “that’s what makes them happy”, but we’re still left with two questions.  1) In the long run, will they actually be happy?  (Consider the impact of instant stardom on most youth celebrities.  Consider also the expedited decay of their bodies.  Now remember that many of these athletes have sacrificed academics and opportunities at work outside their competitive field; if they fail as trainers/coaches, what will they do with themselves?  Olympic athletes generally aren’t millionaires, so there is the important question of sustenance.) 2) Is there no objective point where people can generally agree “that’s just too far, period”?  Is this any different from the near-abusive indoctrination a devotion practices we tend to condemn in various religions?

I tried to figure out “what exactly a medal costs”, both socially for the average athlete, and fiscally for an athlete and country, but unfortunately I’ve had no luck getting my hands on national athletics expenditure data (I’ll keep trying.)  In the meantime, take a look at some interesting research that was done using data from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, looking at the relative cost of medals for different nations.

This is far from the only way to look at Olympic victory.  As usual, I just want to point out that a) there are a lot of ways to look at things b) some approaches are definitely better than others and c) the media’s approach is usually far from the best.  Go watch the Olympics, cheer for your athletes, and think a bit about it all; you’ll get more out of it that way.

Posted in Cost of winning, Country, Medals, Olympics | Leave a comment

A good cause

I can’t lie to you: economists are human.  Regardless of the deistic support granted to some of the more esteemed members of the profession, they are working from models that only partially reflect reality.  At best they are making highly educated guesses, and at worst, well… I could rant about a number of economists who are more concerned with self-preservation and keeping their incomes than with being right, but I don’t really have anything new to add to the conversation.

To get information from the source, here is a small list of top-notch economists who admit their mistakes and are extremely vocal in the community:
Paul Krugman
Brad DeLong
Keep an eye out for Justin Wolfers’ and Betsey Stevenson’s prescient articles (

There are many more, and reading through some of their articles should provide ample opportunity to explore the issues further.


Check out the link below and, if you agree, sign it. Having functional, open and legitimate discussions about economic policy would be a huge step in the right direction. Obfuscation of reality is one of the core problems with our economic recovery and planning, hopefully this will go a long way toward alleviating that.


Regular posting will be resuming in the near future

Posted in economics, Progressive Thought | Leave a comment

How an Economist Breaks Up

So life is full of emotional ups and downs, and one of the meanest downs is a breakup. They happen to all of us, and they aren’t always easy to get over. It seems to be that there are two major steps in the healing process: the first is accepting that you should not and will not be getting back together, the second is finding ways to keep yourself happy and distracted long enough that you reprogram your body to understand that it can function just fine without your former mate in your life.

Naturally I’m discussing this because it happened to me just over a month ago. I wavered on stage 1 for longer than I would like to admit, but within just under a week I was on to stage 2. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I think a lot, and in this case that is evidently going to be to my detriment. So I started applying some “operational break-up” theories. First things first: figure out what kind of assets you have and how you can re-arrange your capital structure given the organizational change.

Since I keep extremely detailed financial records, I looked at the total cost of our relationship that came out of my pocket, removed excessively abnormal expenditures, and then made a forecast of spending, including all un-paid in-couple plans that existed prior to the termination of the relationship. I took the net-present-value of our relationship over the next 3 months, and discounted by expected expenditures on entertainment and dates (assuming I’ll be ready to date sometime in the next 2-3 months), which I calculated based on an average of “entertainment” costs over the last three months that I spent single. I then added in a “you only live once” premium, as well as premiums to take into account money I had saved for undefined future expenditure in the relationship, and the result was my “break-up slush fund.”

Step two is to take on a “project” that will maximize firm utility. In my case, I needed to be happy and I needed to be distracted.  For me the former follows naturally from the latter, so it was simply a matter of determining what would keep me distracted for a while. At the advice of a few friends, I took my “slush fund” and turned it into a 15 day trip to Morocco, Spain (the Canary Islands), and England (London).

The end result: best two weeks of my life, some amazing memories, great new friends, a stronger hold on what I want from life, and my first major international trip under my belt. Not sure I’m ready to date just yet, but I am happier and accelerating into my life once again. Considering what I’ve gained in the past month, if anything, I should break up more often! (Ok, I’m joking… kind of.)

A suggestion for anyone who isn’t as anal-retentive as I am about personal finances.  Doing my kind of NPV calculations can be irritating and nearly impossible, so try this: as soon as you are seeing someone exclusively, start saving 100-200 (or more) per month that you are together.  Whatever you have saved if/when you break-up is the maximum that you get to spend on getting over your ex.  No person is worth becoming poor over, especially someone you aren’t seeing anymore.  Spend the money on whatever will keep you happy and distracted (I’d steer away from alcohol, but whatever floats your boat,) and you’ll pull through and probably get an awesome experience out of it.

Posted in Break-Ups, economics, Opportunities, Personal Finance, Savings | Leave a comment

Dear fellow Canadians: If you want to help RIM, stop buying BlackBerry phones

RIM would be better off if you hadn’t bought a BlackBerry

The punchline: RIM has never made outstanding products, but novelty, loyalty, and eventually network effects helped them compete beyond their league.  It’s a great short-term business proposition, but it masked their problems from management and let them fall far out-of-step with the competition.  RIM is starting to get the picture (about 2-3 years after major complaints became accepted in the mainstream) that Canadians in particular are a poor indicator of their business potential.

A few years ago, Research In Motion (RIM) was an unstoppable Canadian powerhouse, sweeping across the globe.  The only phone secure enough for POTUS; the only phone that could keep you perpetually connected; the golden standard for governments and businesses.  The allure of such institutions drove college kids and young professionals to buy the phones as a status symbol, a means to belong.  BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) wooed the young, social generation with instant gratification that surpassed texting; what’s more, now you know if your message has been read.  If you ignore the social ramifications, this is a phenomenal business strategy that blossomed greatly; the BlackBerry held an iconic position as THE phone to have.

Even once the iPhone entered the market, BlackBerry held its ground in the social and “serious people” demographics.  As more smartphones hit the market, thruth behind BlackBerry was exposed, their interface is awkward and their OS is clumsy (it had never been top-droor, but it never really had competition before.) Don’t forget that their phones break easily.  And frequently. (Keyboards and trackballs/thumbpads are the most common.)  These were never amazing phones, but they were “ahead of their time” so they didn’t have to be perfect.  Granted RIM has tried to upgrade the phones, the OS, and just about everything else, but their massive innovation seems to have stopped soon after BlackBerry hit the market.  Now they have to play catch-up.  They were late to the touchscreen game and have yet to make a sure-footed foray into that market.  Their regular line has barely changed in an appreciable way and the increases in functionality pale in comparison to the field.  (My phone comes with a stock video game that is better than anything I played on my N64 as a kid; I don’t expect that on a BlackBerry, but I expect to be wowed in a commensurate way if I’m going to shell out the same amount of cash.)

I’ve watched a surprising number of friends purchase BlackBerry phones in recent months and it continues to baffle me.  Review after review places the advantage squarely in Android’s court, as well as the iPhone’s to a lesser extent.  There are some great sites for comparing cell phones, in terms of components and features; often the articles are long, but it’s a small price to pay when you’ll likely spend 2-3 years with the same phone.  Despite generally positive reviews, BlackBerry phones almost never stand up to the competition, and the rational world has accepted the brand’s inferiority as a now-forgone conclusion.  So why do people keep buying them?

A tweet by friend of mine, who only just bought an Android and has lamented the error in his lack of willingness to change, sums it up succinctly:

“Hard to give up on a Canadian company. My patriotism is my bane.”

Loyalty; how fickle a virtue you are.  It is the most-cited reason proffered by my friends and acquaintances for buying a BlackBerry.  (Second is “I want to talk to my friends on BBM.”)  A very close friend received a BlackBerry for Christmas.  I tried to talk her out of it, listed all of the technical reasons I knew, but it was to be a gift from her parents and they were going to get a better price from some family friends who work at RIM.  Oh and she wanted to support the Canadian company, had always dreamed of being an exec with a BlackBerry, and naturally wanted to support family friends who work for RIM.  Not a month later and she’s noticing issues (some I hadn’t even known about) and realizing why people don’t really like BlackBerry anymore (she’s doubly pooched because she got their touchscreen phone).  Bear in mind that this is her first smartphone so she has nothign to compare against and she still “gets it”. I’m sure she “loves” the phone, it was a gift and it seems to get the job done, but was it the right phone for her?  No.  Is it the right phone for anybody?  Probably not.  (Note: Smartphones make bad gifts.  They entail extra costs in the form of network connection and phone number transfer fees, acquiring a sim card, and then the necessary data plan.  BlackBerry phones are worse because you need a separate data package if you want to connect to their network for push e-mail and BBM.  There is little to no point in owning a smartphone if you don’t have a data plan.  This “gift” will end up costing the recipient upward of $200 more per year [obviously a fair amount less if they decide that they want their smartphone to be pretty but not do anything, avoiding data.])

Now let me ask you somethign: would you smoke because your cousin works for Marlboro?  Would you wear t-shirts to the office because your buddy works for Gildan? (Actually, Gildan makes fine products, but just because they are Canadian doesn’t mean you’ll purchase them if they aren’t the right fit for your life.)  There is no amount of associative support or pride that you can offer that will outweigh the mediocrity of a BlackBerry phone.  You aren’t supporting a friend or family member working at RIM by buying a BlackBerry.  The company won’t notice YOUR few hundred dollars, your purchase won’t get them a bonus and it won’t save the company; what’s more if your friend/family member is proud of the products RIM now churns out, they need to be given a shake anyway.  Here’s what your purchase actually does: it signals that you are OK with a mediocre product.  People buy BlackBerry phones whether they are the best on the market or not, so RIM has not had the incentive to be truly innovative for quite some time.  Unfortunately it may be too late for them now (a reality that drives more “devoted Canadians” to cling to the brand; not enough to save the company, mind you, but still quite a few.)  What RIM has needed for close to three years (two for sure), is for Canadians to make intelligent decisions when purchasing phones.  When the smartphone race was first heating up, RIM could have stayed in the thick of it, but probably didn’t realize that they needed to truly improve their phones because they were still growing at a reasonably strong rate.

Rim’s descent is being slowed by the expansion into developing markets, where cheaper phones and network effects are premium values.  There are a lot of people without smartphones, meaning that there is plenty of room for growth for every major player, but inferior products will catch up with RIM, especially once mobile phones have spread through the world.  Quality and price-point will become paramount, and RIM has too much pride to become a discount brand.

The good news is, BlackBerry has recently changed leadership and may be able to right the ship.  If the management team takes a page from their origin and becomes truly innovative (like their major competitors), they have the positioning to become a major force once again.  A focus on quality and fluidity of use will go a long way.  Also, a free strategy suggestion for RIM – allow other phones to have access to BBM and your push e-mail newtork.  Make them sign up through wireless carriers like every BlackBerry user; it’s free money for R&D in phones and the network, and a strong signal to the market that you are really going to compete.  I bet a lot of people would pay the extra $5 a month to connect (I know I would.)

Prototype for this year’s new BlackBerry

Here’s my call, either they nail the next two product launches (likely they’ll do passably, at best, on this coming year, but hopefully step up next year once the new management’s direction can take hold) and be a relevant force again by 2013-2014, or, more likely, they will fade from the market by 2016.  They will still hold 20-30 percent of the Canadian market for a while until the network effects of Android and iPhone (and maybe Meego or Symbian?) dominate the last crepuscule of loyalty Canadians have.

About 4 months ago I called that RIM would get purchased by Samsung once they start to fade.  At the moment I don’t think Microsoft/Nokia are positioned well enough to use RIM, and Samsung is the dominant provider of middle and upper-tier Android phones.  RIM’s patents, network and proprietary tech would give Samsung a great position against Apple and better bargaining power with Google when it comes to OS development, meaning tailor-made OS builds wouldn’t be out of the question.

The Industry in General

You need to realize that your new smartphone is almost as powerful as my first laptop, which I got in 2006.  A 1.6Ghz Dual-Core Processor with 2 GB of RAM vs. my 1.2 Ghz dual-core phone with 1 GB of RAM.  The q-HD screen on my phone is better than my laptop was, despite the 256M Graphics card my laptop boasted (which served little purpose for me beyond scalding my lap.)  Oh and my phone battery lasts longer, my phone has portable internet access, it’s smaller and it interacts  What’s more, a $200 Android phone has 80% of the functionality of a $600+ iPhone.  (Bear in mind that technology pricing is frequently exponentially priced, which means that each minor level of improvement above the current standard results in a far greater price.  A new iPhone is significantly better in a mostly, but not uniquely cosmetic way.)

Let’s be honest, even the worst BlackBerry SHOULD be an improvement over an old feature phone.  (Some would contend that less-than-functional extra features are a significant detractor; I don’t disagree but if that’s the case, read some reviews ahead of making the purchase and avoid smartphones until they hold up to your standard.)  But that’s hardly the marker you should be using; by that logic, using letters is acceptable because they are a massive improvement over smoke signals.  No, you need to look at what is available at the time (or projected to hit the market within a month, if you have enough patience) and pick the best value; this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

One thing to note is that American bandwidth is going to reach a deficit soon.  More people hogging more bandwidth is going to fill up the usable spectrum, resulting in slower speeds and more dropped calls.  In fact, the spectrum may reach capacity as early as 2013.  This would give RIM’s data-compression technology added value, and a great stepping stone for future development; the question is will they capitalize on it?

Knowing What to Buy

Academic literature in the fields of decision theory and choice optimization suggest that the differences between comparable products are often so small that deliberation costs time that could be devoted to other things, like using the product; the suggestion is just to pick one and go with it.  What the literature does not say is “anything will do.”  It tends to take as granted that a base amount of research will be performed  to isolate a target group of products that will fulfil your needs in terms of quality, features, costs, etc…  (This is largely a tacet assumption.)  What’s surprising is how few people actually do this research; while I tend to over-research, the average person is content to rely on your resident BestBuy salesperson (or equivalent.)  Sometimes they know their products well, but more often than not they know the talking points.  20 minutes of research on RAM allowed me to steer my sister away from a new laptop model that would later garner much ire in the public forum because if would lag relatively easily.  Depending on the product, bookmarking 3-4 wikipedia pages and skimming them before you make the purchase can make a huge difference.

(As an example of my over-researching, I once looked into the component manufacturers for cell phone parts, discovering that a certain semiconductor is only produced by two firms, naturally one with a high quality reputation and one with a low quality reputation.  I then pared down my list.  Do I regret my decision?  No.  Would I go to that much effort again?  Probably not; it turns out that the issues with the low quality products are frequently mitigated by redundancy, something I didn’t know.  The lesson for me was that I can know a lot, but I don’t have the time to know everything about everything, and as much as that bothers me, I have to accept it.  I’ll still research more than most of you and often make better choices because of it, but my time is too precious to throw away to that extent.)

Also, know that it is proposterous to argue that you don’t need a feature because you’ve gotten along just fine without it.  Everyone I know who has said at one point or another “I just need a phone that calls and texts,” then bought a smartphone and told me “it’s so cool, there’s all these awesome features I didn’t know about, and even things I didn’t think I’d use are pretty good to have.”  1) Remember that texting wasn’t a “necessary” feature a decade ago.  2) The vast majority of these people have not become phone addicts.  If your worry is that you will “over use” the phone, just learn to control yourself better.  These smartphones are meant to make life easier, and in so many ways, they do.  Embrace it!  Maybe you don’t need a fancy camera with a dedicated photo button (though I tend to use my phone camera more than I ever used my top-of-the-line point-and-shoot) or higher RAM, or a front-facing camera, or any number of other features.  But you never know, so don’t shy away just because the phone has them.  You have no idea which features will and won’t be useful until you play with your phone and explore its capabilities.  Some you anticipate to be great and won’t ever use, and others seem pointless but wind up getting a heavy amount of screen time.  Avoiding data is a self-declaration of membership to the tribe homo troglodytus.

Instead of just figuring out which features you want/need, see which features are available in each price range.  Pick the range you are comfortable with and then compare phones from there.  Also, be open to new ideas.  I was dead-set on an iPhone or a BlackBerry last summer.  I came away with an amazing Android that is still competitive with the top phones on the market today.

Posted in BlackBerry, Canadian, cell phones, Mobile Phone Industry, RIM, smartphones | Leave a comment

Why "11:11" is incredibly stupid

“Make a wish it’s 11:11!”

Until recently, I lived in blissful ignorance, believing that this was a relatively confined “observance,” obligating a handful of believers to announce the coming of four instances of the digit 1 to all in their vicinity, as if this we’re some rare and magical incident.  Increasingly though, I have witnessed random individuals sharing in this belief, individuals raised in developed, thoughtful, scientifically-driven societies!

The strongest challenge I face from supporters is “you can’t prove that it isn’t real” and they are technically correct (you cannot entirely prove/disprove something’s existence); I can, however, raise a fair number of reasons why it is incredibly ridiculous.

1) You celebrate it at 11:11AM and 11:11PM, but since a day is 24 hours long, 11:11PM is actually 23:11.  Technically 10:22PM (22:22) is the third celebration – 12:00AM (00:00) of course being the first – unless of course 1s are the only magical number, which seems rather arbitrary.

2) There are 28 time-zones worldwide… so there is an 11:11 every hour (2 if you count both AM and PM), as well as 4 (8) on the 41s because the other 4 time-zones are off-set by 30minutes.  Whose 11:11 is correct?  If everyone’s is, then can’t you celebrate the magic at any 11-minutes-past-the-hour?  Are you going to tell me that the magic of 11:11 has decided to respect the arbitrary boundaries that humans have established as time-zones.  REALLY?

3) Our clock is pretty arbitrarily established as well – there’s no reason that 5:00AM couldn’t be 12:52AM if we so decided… so this magic decided to conform to a random clock as well?

4) What about when you are moving at high speed and perceive time differently?  Do relativity and special-relativity apply?  If so, then the magic SHOULD be able to work at ANY time and not just 11:11 because anyone could experience 11:11 at ANY time given sufficient speed.

5) What about other planets?  Should we observe 11:11 zulu-time?

6) Why is the 11th second not critically specified?  Does magic have a skewed distribution of it’s abilities?  Or can magic only specify 60-second intervals?

I’m going to take this a step beyond 11:11 as a time – several cultures (without strong histories of astrological measuring or arithmetic) claim to hold various days in high regard.  A recent example is a spiritual gathering (claiming an aboriginal origin) on November 11th, 2011. (Just a coincidence to my earlier comments; or is it?… Yeah, just a coincidence.)  Note: The webpage has been significantly modified in the past two days.  Because a natural harmony JUST HAPPENS to occur on a day with repeating numbers, as determined by a particular type of calendar developed by some aggressive Europeans, which has been adjusted a few times, and is employed globally for purely functional purposes (many cultures maintain their traditional calendars for to keep with important observances) ; I totally buy that story.  It is a profiteering opportunity; groups organize “gatherings” and offer trips so that you can be with others while living through this “spiritual experience.”

Oh and #Occupy movement?  I don’t think you can blame the top %1 for this, but I’m sure you’ll try!

I know that I sound like I’m just coming down on a bunch of people who want to have something goofy to believe in.  Look, I’m fine with superstition: much of it is derived from real-life experiences, but can we keep it reined in to only moderately-ridiculous things?  Please?  Our world proves that no matter how smart we get, we can still make stupid people in SO MANY WAYS, if the quasi-functional among you would try to not be inculcated by these idiots I’d really appreciate it.

Posted in 11:11, Stupidity, superstition | Leave a comment

And a side of hipster to go

With a looming food crisis, Americans are looking for alternative sources of nutrition.  Fortunately, a few creative enterprises have taken it upon themselves to find solutions, the most notable being tapping into America’s abundant population of “undesirables.”

Leading the charge is the recently re-branded KFH (Kentucky Fried Hipster).  “Hipsters are actually a surprisingly accessible source of lean protein.  Though much maligned in some circles, hipsterism’s coming in vogue of late has massively grown the existing population of hipsters” Jim Caroosh, VP of marketing, told reporters at a recent news conference.

Caroosh also said that “what’s great about this is that we can tie the shift in with our health-conscious initiative, since most of these hipsters were either very health-conscious or too poor to eat junk anyway.  Furthermore, with proper breeding facilities and procedures, we feel that we’ll be able to maintain a strong position as a global quick-serve food distributor.”  While some activists are complaining about the conditions that both free-range and farm-raised hipsters may soon endure, many hipsters recognize that it will still be a step up from the squalor they would otherwise have faced.

A representative from the United States Board of Commerce has suggested that this shift could provide much-needed stability for commodities markets specializing in hoodies, skinny jeans, lumberjack shirt, fixie-bikes and indie record labels.

Other firms are advertising the use of alternative food sources.  McDonalds has begun to make their burgers out of recycled tires, Manchu Wok will replace all current protein sources with scorpions and Taco Bell has announced that it will continue its longstanding history of serving a “meat-like substitute.”

Posted in cannibalism, Fiction, hipsters, satire | Leave a comment

Politics: Sometimes it gets spoiled

Today is election day, so I figure this is an a propos topic…

I am a fervent believer in your civic responsibility to vote.  True, if you don’t vote you really don’t deserve to complain about the government, since you could have played a role in it being different.  My opinion stems more from the belief that it is like paying a tax – a responsibility borne by those who benefit from the social services, infrastructure, security and climate that the town/province/ nation stands for.  That said, you have an option when voting that doesn’t involve picking a candidate: spoiling the ballot.

Unfortunately, sometimes voting sucks.  I’m not referring to the long lines, the awkward locations or the obnoxious campaigns (though as a long-time conservative, I’ll tell you that if their policies hadn’t made me abandon ship, their overly aggressive GOTV tactics would have.)  No, I’m talking about the possibility that all candidates/parties suck.  It isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence.  Again, I’m not talking about disliking a leader for his/her lack of charisma, but fundamentally disagreeing with his/her views and policies.

Without getting down to the nitty-gritty, here’s my problem with Ontario’s parties as they stand.

Liberals: McGuinty has been deceitful through his past two terms, and doesn’t have a legitimate platform beneath his feet.  He’s going with the flow and pandering for votes while making decisions that neither reflect public opinion, nor promote a fair or competitive province.  I’m tired of the lies, I’m tired of watching him and his party alienate his constituents, I’m tired of waiting for him to lay down a policy so blissfully ignorant that it drives myself and like-minded Ontarians from this wonderful province.

PC: Tim Hudak scares me.  He is a hard right conservative, and proof that the PC party has dropped the progressive component all but in-name.  In fact, some of his ideas are downright regressive, and that has never been good for society.  Traditionally a fiscally-sound party, the PCs have adopted an extreme stance that would bankrupt countless social programs that need to be improved and streamlined rather than shuttered, all based on quasi-developed economics that tend not to work.  Normally this could be shrugged off as an election bluff, and a more balanced policy would actually end up being implemented except for one thing: historically, the Ontario PC party keeps their promises.  Remember Mike Harris?  Forget the stigma for a moment: he kept his promises.  John Robarts?  Yup.  Bill Davis?  Yes again.  That’s a horrifying track-record when you look at Hudak’s promises.

NDP: Apparently nobody remembers Bob Rae.  Do some research, and you will find out how absolutely terrifying his tenure as PM was.  The NDP blows through your money like a lending your credit card to your sex-addict-friend so he can go to a strip club.  You wake up one morning and realize that you’re so far in debt it’ll take you 10 years to get out.  If you want to be mad at Mike Harris, you need to blame Bob Rae.  Harris did what he promised – he balanced the budget after Rae destroyed it.  All of the damage that Harris caused can be attributed to Bob Rae opening up pointless social programs and overspending your tax money, and all because of another bad pool of candidates on election day (more on this later).  The NDP is O.K. in theory – look out for everybody, fairness, equality and balance (among other things), but their policies tend to focus on those who WILL NOT help themselves, rather than the “cannots.”  They are the counterpoint to the Conservatives, because they throw their weight behind any quasi-progressive policy, regardless of its usefulness or actual fairness.  They are best kept as a scare tactic to keep the major parties in check.

Green party: Honestly I don’t know enough complete details about this year’s policies, but here’s a quick run at it – they are unsustainable and limited in scope, and frankly just don’t have the experience or knowledge capital to handle a position of power.  Their presence should help keep some focus on green initiatives, but they aren’t a viable option.

Back in the early 90s, when Bob Rae was elected, the electorate was faced with a similar conundrum.  No party had a good leader/platform, so when voting time came, here was the shared public idea “I don’t want to support the liberals or the progressive conservatives… Nobody votes for the NDP so I can show up and do my civic duty without having to back the big guys.”  Unfortunately, so many people did this, the NDP took power and did immeasurable damage.  It’s too bad, because they had another option.

Spoil the ballot.  Just about anything you do to the ballot beyond marking an X in a single candidate’s box will spoil it – marking it multiple times, for example, writing on it, etc…  If a large enough pool of people do this, the parties will get the hint; we don’t want any of you or your policies!

This is an important tool in the democratic process because it provides a great deal of feedback that parties need to hear.  They are so busy listening to their supporters and lecturing their dissenters, parties often don’t get to hear reasonable objections, and when they do, often go into attack-mode out of sheer habit.  Getting wrapped up in the passions of the campaign is part of the romanticism of politics.  Trying to best an opponent so you can make things work “the right way,” looking out for the people who got you elected, setting up policies that will get you re-elected; these often lead to forgetting about the whole “greater good” that a politician is meant to strive for, let alone the myriad of constituents that s/he is supposed to represent, regardless of their political affiliation.

Bear this in mind the next time you vote: if you don’t like the options, the best way to make your voice heard is to make it publicly silent; a glut of spoiled ballots is exactly the medicine Ontario needs to get its politics in order.

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