James Allan

Canada today, Australia when?

A trip to Canada and the United States, however attractive the prospect, is marred by the realization I will be entering through Los Angeles and LAX airport. What a dump of an airport! What over-the-top and ridiculous security protocols! What a lengthy passport-checking queue for those lacking a US passport! Thankfully I went through this ordeal before Osama Bin Laden was rightfully assassinated. One can only imagine the checks in place immediately after that became known.

A short night at an airport hotel in the midwest and it was up to Ottawa, Canada. I arrive during the Canadian election campaign. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government had recently had its budget defeated by the three other parties and so an election had had to be called. Not a single poll back then was predicting what was coming, namely the near destruction of the left of centre Liberal Party of Canada, the twentieth century’s most successful political party in the western world. The Canadian Liberals were in power for over two-thirds of the last century. The Liberals ended up being squeezed by the further left NDP party, one that shares with our Greens the same dislike of free trade, the same other worldly grasp of economics, and the same strands in the party of people who dislike the State of Israel.

As the election campaign there progressed it suddenly became clear that the NDP were cannibalising the Liberals core vote. The more extreme left wing party the Liberals assumed they could tame ended up consuming them. It must have proved a very, very frightening sight for many Labor Party supporters in Australia, watching and drawing the obvious analogy with their relationship with the Greens. But at the same time Coalition supporters would be delighted to see a majority Tory government up in the country that is no doubt the most similar to Australia in the world in terms of size, history and constitutional structure.

From Canada it was off to St. Paul, Minnesota. I had to travel through Detroit, one of the most depressed and struggling cities in the US, and yet was stunned to discover that the Detroit airport was spacious, clean, well set out, easy to navigate, in short everything that LAX is not. The same goes for the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Why, oh why, I wondered, can’t more flights heading to the US from Australia land in San Francisco or Honolulu?

I’m giving talks at some law schools but can’t help noticing that the US news is dominated by the parlous state of their budget and finances. Out of every dollar of federal government spending, 40 cents are borrowed. The US government is borrowing $188 million an hour, every hour of every day of every week. That’s a fifth of a billion dollars it doesn’t have each 60 minutes. And even if taxes on the top 5% of earners were increased to 100% (and we assume they kept working out of some altruistic impulse), even that wouldn’t cover the deficit.

Let’s put this in plain terms. The US has a massive problem. It has spent like a drunken sailor along lines all hard core Keynesians would presumably welcome; it has future unfunded liabilities connected to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that make some commentators claim Greece is a model of good budgetary government by comparison; its political system with its entrenched checks and balances makes one long for a Westminster parliamentary system in such times of debt and deficit armageddon; oh, and did I mention that on my third or fourth day in the US Standard & Poors downgraded the outlook for US government debt from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’? It’s anyone’s guess what will happen if the country’s triple A status is ever downgraded – and this is no longer a far-fetched scenario!

Meantime unemployment here is above 9 percent, inflation is worringly high and rising, and all the claimed supposed benefits of the big Keynesian orgy of spending are nowhere to be seen. Proponents have taken to falling back on the old reliable line ‘that things could have been worse without it’. Of course that claim is a bit like Freudianism and old-fashioned Marxism. The core claims are not open to testing or falsifying. It’s like religion. You take it on faith.

On a different note, once my law school talks are out of the way I’m in the US to compete for Australia in the men’s 50 and over world curling championships in St. Paul, Minnesota. There are 21 countries competing. I was a second rate curler when growing up, someone who gave the game up when living in the UK and Hong Kong but picked it back up when living in New Zealand. In fact I went to two regular world championships as part of the Kiwi team. Then I gave the game up a second time when I moved to Australia in early 2005. A phone call early this year from the head of the Australian team I used to play against, asking if I had an Australian passport and confirming that I’d just turned 50 changed all that.

Curling is prime time television in Canada all winter. In the rest of the world it’s something you do to your hair. That said, the thrill of highly competitive sports cannot be beaten. It’s one of the great pleasures in life. And wouldn’t you know it? We got a bronze medal, behind Canada and the US.

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