Downloading and Outsourcing

Conservatives on both sides of the border have been demonstrating their principles by relentlessly outsourcing government services and downloading functions and costs. This does occasionally lead to amusing sequences in the news – like the recent CBC discussion about the questionable stockpiling of an expensive remedy purported by the vendor to slightly reduce symptom severity. The government did assemble a panel to discuss the merits of this plan – all the members have been funded by the pharmaceutical industry, but of course vigorously defend their integrity. And I am sure that there is a revolving door for the executives on the government side – as recently the CRTC was revealed to have. In an era when governments do not fund fundamental research and all the experts and decision-makers come from the ‘regulated’ industry it should be no surprise that the rules and decisions tend to be a bit self-serving.

And as for this recent Tamiflu issue let us not forget that in an era of soaring deficits, declining tax revenues and an aging population that it is the cost of medications that leads the cost curve. And while I am on that rant let us also not forget that the medical community (no doubt the folks mentioned earlier) have been relentlessly lowering the recommended therapeutically threshold for medications. So that someone a few years ago was considered healthy is now in serious trouble and must be medicated with a range of expensive drugs. And as a recent study showed, there is only a purported link between laboratory results and good health. So pushing your cholesterol down may not have any real benefit besides changing a lab result – if cardiac problems are in the cards for you it will happen anyhow.

And the interesting thing about outsourcing, besides the popular means of destroying the middle class by shipping their jobs elsewhere, is that the outsourcing agency loses control but not the costs. And unless they were really inept the cost will probably go up – as the root costs now have profit margins tacked on top. And given the arcane rules of government contracting it is pretty much a given that there will be a short list of bidders for taking the work. So for all of this loss of control the cost to the public will not come down. But the plausible deniability by the politicians for any responsibility for issues will be improved. And their buddies will be grateful.

So to it goes on transportation – both urban and rural. At one time Toronto had a world class clean subway, I remember my first encounter with it, quiet, clean, and useful. But no longer. We lived in the west end of the city – in an hour I could walk to the ROM from where we lived but taking transit to work after dropping my son off at school took 1.5 to 2 hours. I learned that TTC really does mean Take The Car – I was a contract worker in those days and the extended commute time cost me so much in billable lost work hours that I could not afford to NOT take the car, even with the cost of a leased parking space in the heart of Bay Street. In a sense one might think that the lack of a transportation policy at all levels is the ultimate form of downloading. I understand from my wife’s relatives that in her grandfathers time maintenance of the adjoining roads was part of the way farmers paid their property taxes. I would not be at all surprised to see that idea come back. Individuals already do road cleanup around here.

The troubling subtext of all this is that we are gradually becoming a feudal society with visibly different rules for the elite and the masses. The society where many were comfortable is being dismantled. I am not sure that their world is one that I want to live in. Given my age I probably won’t have to, but my children will.

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The Power of Advertising

Science Daily had an interesting article about the power of advertising to create false memories.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110509114019.htm

This reminded me of the constant barrage of attack ads from the ‘Cons’ in the recently completed Canadian election (not just during the election campaign but over the five years prior to the final election) and the decisive rout of the Liberal party. Interesting. I think during the 1950’s this kind of approach was referred to as the ‘big lie’.

Hopefully, now that the ‘Cons’ have the reins of power there will be a break from this stuff — i.e. the old opponent is gone and the new opposition is still fresh and largely untried.

Makes me wonder if there is not some point to banning this type of ad, particularly outside of a campaign, as an aid to facilitating democracy?