Why I wrote the column
This column in the National Post has become the most read column I have ever written. It was picked up by websites, discussion boards and forums and e-mailed tens of thousands of times. It seems I struck a chord.
A lot of people have e-mailed me. One guy offered the highest praise: "I was born in 1962. Your column has made me think differently about the student protests". Of course a lot of people have offered harsh criticism: "I was in the war and raised my kids without any help from the government thanks. Now I get a measly pension while young people think they deserve everything". Don wrote: “As a 55 year old I was wounded when I read your piece. Why? Because the truth hurts".
I wrote the column because for three days in a row I was on radio and television with panels of angry men who make six figure salaries complaining about all these horrible kids and all these awful lazy unemployed people who don't want to move to find work. I am not siding with the students but I just don't want to be one of those men. That same genus grumbled its way through the sixties, indignant about young people who were too selfish to die in Viet Nam. They also spent the 1890s fighting reforms to get kids out of factories and into schools. What was the point of educating them when they were just going to go back to a factory anyway?
I didn't write the column to divide people into groups. I wrote it to point out that almost everyone benefits from one government program or another. So to collect one entitlement while calling those who collect another "lazy" is a bit rich. More importantly, you've been sold a bag of goods when anyone tells you these programs are unsustainable. They were perfectly sustainable up until government started cutting taxes below the floor of what is needed to run government. More importantly, they were sustainable before the financial meltdown. Now government money is being used to prop up banks instead of people. And those who run the banks arrogantly declare they’ll take their obvious talents elsewhere if anyone cuts their entitlements.
People the world over are being told "You have to tough it out and get by on less and government has to cut the programs everyone benefited from for fifty years because we can't afford them". Of course the people delivering that lecture make very good livings, have gold plated pensions and never met a government entitlement THEY didn't want to collect. That's what the column is about.
The attitude that prevails right now is precisely what is going to keep us in crisis. If everyone thinks they're going to lose their jobs tomorrow they don't buy anything. If students enter the lowest earning years of their careers carrying tens of thousands of dollars in debt they aren't going to settle down and start families.
All of this is a repeat of previous times. The profligacy of the Golden Age brought about reforms to labour, prisons, public health as well as the income tax which shifted a greater burden onto those who enjoyed the greatest wealth. The 1929 crash and the ensuring depression brought about more reforms as well as the notion that in bad times government provides a floor so that in good times government can balance the budget and pay down debt (a lesson government sadly forgot in the 1970s).
My prediction is that the student protests in Quebec are only the beginning of something. People are tired of being told they have to tighten their belts and get by on less while a small portion of the population ensures it never wants for anything.