Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Insipid St. Not Allowed

(a poem) by Theo Caldwell

If someone you know says what can and can't be,
And insists you matter less than some endangered rainforest tree,
If she or he declares you're just a face in a crowd,
Then you might have had a visit from Insipid St. Not Allowed.

Insipid lived long ago, when people were still allowed to do and say things,
When holidays were holy and not just children's playthings.
Of course, children are important, and Insipid knows that too,
Which is why St. Not Allowed wants to raise them instead of letting you.

Left to your devices, you'd teach them nonsense about Easter and Lent,
Instead of the most important things: Self-esteem and the Environment.
You'd teach them there's right and wrong, as if you could judge,
Instead of embracing their open minds and giving them organic, low-fat fudge.

“What’s wrong with an open mind?” Insipid asks, and it’s a fair point,
And if the Saint’s words meant just that, no one’s nose would be out of joint.
But “open mind” means shut your yap, you exclusionary lout.
In the name of tolerance and diversity, your beliefs must be stamped out.

If you don’t teach your kids that the marriage of two Rons is alright,
Then Insipid will do it for you, and please don’t put up a fight.
You may win on Election Day, but Insipid won’t be done yet,
The Saint will come for your house, your church and your pet.

Insipid is a Saint in the most modern way,
With no God but the Earth and only gender-neutral things to say.
In Insipid’s time, firemen were men, not combustion intervention counsellors,
But the Saint killed off differences, as the Patron of language heptachlors.

Insipid loves all people, but the Saint keeps a list,
Of non-recyclers who don’t know that Columbus was a racist.
“No free speech for hate speech,” Insipid says, and it’s really true,
That if you look ‘round and don’t know who the oppressor is – it’s you.

Insipid was martyred by having to choke,
On the intolerance of others and a plume of secondhand smoke.
But whenever some pure soul tells you what you can’t think or say,
Rest assured that St. Not Allowed still lives to this day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Power to the People - Tax Cuts as Stimulus

On Tuesday, January 27, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have a rare opportunity to change the landscape of Canada’s finances. That is when Harper’s embattled government will present its budget to a skeptical and ambitious House of Commons. If he has the nerve and the will, the Prime Minister can reverse the way Canadians think about taxes and spending, to the betterment of the nation.

In these troubled times, citizens have taken it upon themselves to become more literate in the ways of the economy and government. One of the first terms they have acquired is “stimulus,” which is broadly defined as anything the government does to give the slumping economy a kick in the behonkus.

Most commonly, stimulus is thought of as the government spending money on various industries and projects. But if we unpack what stimulus is meant to mean – that is, government finding ways to get investment flowing among businesses and individuals – one of the best ways to do this is to allow folks to keep more of their own money in the first place. To wit, tax cuts are a kind of stimulus.

In order to embrace this concept, citizens first need to understand that the government doesn’t run the economy – private enterprise does. Governments establish and maintain the parameters within which businesses create jobs and investments. With the right regulations, structures and laws in place, the best thing government can do is empower people to spend their money, take risks and reap the rewards of a free market system.

A cut in personal and corporate taxes, as well as a holiday from the capital gains tax (which would be relatively painless, since not many Canadians are fretting about how to offset gains just now), would place billions of stimulus dollars in the hands of private citizens and go a long way toward helping our country through its economic troubles.

This mission, should the Prime Minister choose to accept it, will require a selling job, since it defies common wisdom as to the role of government and taxes.

Decent and otherwise intelligent people will say, “We have to raise taxes so the government can create jobs by hiring more people.” There are at least three things wrong with this simple statement. First, raising taxes doesn’t necessarily raise revenue; indeed, it can easily do just the opposite as investment and innovation are squelched and taxpayers find ways to stash earnings. Second, government does not create jobs, businesses do. Third, even if government did create jobs by hiring people, swelling the civil service ranks is no way to steer a country into the economic fast lane.

There is, of course, a role for government expenditure, and infrastructure spending is a concept many people have embraced. One of the best things that can be said about this form of stimulus is that, at the end of it, there is actually something tangible and useful, like a bridge or a highway. Compare this with stimulus spending on interminable programs that help no one and never die. One is reminded of Milton Friedman’s maxim that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.

This is a risky proposition for the Prime Minister, make no mistake. Canada is only weeks removed from seeing opposition parties attempt to topple the government, ostensibly because of a lack of stimulus in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s November 27 fiscal update. Now, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the entire coalition imbroglio was about one man’s ambition (Bob Rae, call your office) that ended up costing another his leadership (Stephane Dion, call a cab). But if the lack of economic stimulus were really the cause of the inchoate coup, then Harper can address that issue and help the country simply by redefining the terms.

Politicians win or lose on contrasts. In deciding how to stimulate the economy, Stephen Harper has the chance to give Canadians a contrast like they’ve never seen.

Sell it, Prime Minister. There are plenty of overtaxed Canadians who believe in the concept and will be glad to help you.


Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.

Friday, December 12, 2008

We Wish You a Merry Euphemism

If you insist on saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” it doesn’t mean you’re a bigot – but it helps. Whether you’re a government type who declares that the arboreal splendour in the public square is, in fact, a “Holiday Tree” or a corporate whiz who calculates that “Season’s Greetings” will offend the fewest number of customers, you know who you are and what you’re doing. It’s Christmas and you know it. Clap your hands.

In this cold world, a kind word is always welcome, so if one person genuinely hopes for another to enjoy his or her holiday, or wishes to greet that person in the spirit of the season, far be it from me to cast a stone. But, in the weeks leading up to December 25, if you make a conscious choice to avoid saying “Merry Christmas,” there’s a good chance you have decided that a divine gift that was meant for all mankind, and in which billions of people rejoice each year, is too offensive a notion to cross your lips.

Yes, yes, I know – folks say “Happy Holidays” and other insipid nonsense because not everyone is Christian, so this is a way to be inclusive. But there is no inclusion to be had by euphemising the warmest wish of a particular religion, presuming it to be objectionable to non-believers.

Of course, there are many different religions and faiths in the world. This is something folks are taught by the age of, say, 4 or 5. So, if you are older than this, yet you eschew “Merry Christmas,” what you are putting forward is that one of the world’s religions is uniquely unsuitable for public acknowledgement.

No one frets about being ‘inclusive’ during Passover or Ramadan, nor should they. Ironically, the purported inclusiveness of the “Season’s Greetings” Stasi is actually about exclusion. To wit, it’s about excluding just one religion, Christianity, from any rightful place in modern society.

Showerless know-nothings of the Left have long since extrapolated their vague, fashionable notions of history – from the horrors of the Crusades to the dull intolerance of the 1950s – to name Christianity the culprit for all the world’s evil. This is the stupidest concept to achieve mass acceptance since acid-wash jeans, but here we are.

And so, budding iconoclasts can tee off on the faith, or inflict their petty “Holiday Tree” policies with impunity. And well they might, for it is a riskless proposition. The worst that will happen is they may stumble across a column like this one, calling courage-free conformity by its name. Indeed, those politically correct storm troopers who browbeat Christians in movies and television, classrooms and print, would be much more credible if, just once, they decided to try their censorious tactics on one of those religions where the practitioners react, shall we say, stringently to being muzzled or criticized.

Christians, their antagonists point out, are in the majority, and so their holidays do not merit the same exclusive attention and protection as those of other religions. The reasonable reply to this, of course, is “So bloody what?” Is tolerance a numbers game? Is courtesy quantifiable? Is the respect a religion merits inversely proportional to its number of believers? If so, how do we tally just how blessed rude we can be to the faithful? Is it calculated like a marginal tax rate, off the last adherent rather than the last dollar earned?

Folks may say that a contentious column like this one is inconsistent with the Christmas spirit, and so detracts from its purpose. But Christmas is not just about hand-holding and bad sweaters. I will gamble the false comity of a Sears catalogue photo to stick up for my religion. Too often, folks assume turning the other cheek means rolling over.

Christmas is about Jesus Christ, Son of God, coming down to Earth to show us how a proper life should be lived, then dying unpleasantly for our sins. Believe it or don’t. I am arguably the worst Christian in the world, but we do one another no favours by pretending this Happiest of Holidays is about anything but Him.


Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bloodless Coup at Disneyland

Canadian politicians aren’t making history, they’re taking up space. In other countries, particularly the United States, the decade preceding 9/11 is often referred to as a “holiday from history,” wherein the population was benighted to the realities and dangers of the outside world. In Canada, that halcyon respite can be measured not in years, but generations.

As just one example, while the powerful play of history unfolded over the last 30 years, Canada’s political class subjected us to repeated, lugubrious exercises – complete with tears and tape measures applied to French lettering on business signs – to determine whether one of the most blessed nations God gave to man should even stay together. If Canadians truly understood the misery of much of the rest of the world, and how lucky we really are, such nonsense would never even come up.

And now, weeks after spending $300 million on a pointless election, our sheltered and shallow Parliamentarians are creating a trumped-up “crisis” and have the gall to insist it’s “historic.”

There’s making history, and there’s making noise. For example, whether one agrees with the Afghanistan mission or not, 2,500 Canadians are in that dangerous country making history right now – in practical, not political terms – and putting their lives on the line to make the world a better place.

Meanwhile, back at home, our lightweight politicians refer to proposed spending cuts as an “attack on women.” Those who hold such hysterical views of Canadian government budgetary policy should consult with an Afghanistan war veteran, or a survivor of the Taliban’s regime, to find out what a real “attack on women” consists of.

This is less a question of policy than of culture. Yes, the prescriptions put forward by opposition leaders who are striving to force their governance on a population that did not elect them are probably wrong. Opinions vary as to whether it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cuts to social spending, or the elimination of taxpayers’ subsidies of political parties, or his lack of an economic stimulus package, or good old-fashioned political manoeuvring that prompted the Liberals, Bloc and NDP to cobble together their proposed coalition government – but none of it matters. The real question is, with the nation at war and a global economic crisis ongoing, should we be focused on the constitutionality of a hackneyed power-grab?

As this country and the world face extraordinary challenges, the events of this week remind us that some political cultures are too slow to move beyond the Mickey Mouse, navel-gazing mentality of fatter days. This is a bloodless coup at Disneyland.

In any photo of international heads of government, Canada's prime ministers invariably wear hopeful smiles that go unrecognized. Our politicians are hangers-on. Monday’s display of three electoral also-rans – Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe – holding forth as if they were the victors at Yalta goes a long way to explaining why this is. They have no idea what’s important.

Canada could and should be one of the most significant, powerful nations on Earth. With our resources, developed capital markets, rule of law and entrenched freedoms, we have the tools to create the world’s most attractive environment for investment and skill. But our politicians’ priorities are too puny. Small dreams stir no hearts. Think bigger, sirs, and history will take care of itself.


Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.