I received my natural gas bill yesterday. For the last month, spanning parts of January and February, the coldest stretch of winter, I used $31.58 worth of gas to heat my home and provide hot water. (In summer months, it is often less than $10.) The gas company charged me an additional $67.97 to deliver the gas to my home, which seems excessive. I guess pipelines are expensive.
I was also charged $24.43 in carbon tax, $.40 in a clean energy levy (whatever that is), and an additional $6.20 in GST. In other words, I spent almost as much in taxes as I spent on gas. The federally mandated carbon tax is currently calculated at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 and will rise to $50 per metric tonne by 2022. However, I am in British Columbia, where the carbon tax is currently $40 per tonne and is scheduled to rise to $50 by 2021. That means that in a little over a year, I will likely be paying more in tax than I will be paying for gas. Experts say that to actually achieve Canada’s carbon reduction goals, the carbon tax would have to increase to about $150 a tonne.
I have a small house, about 1600 square feet (slightly smaller than Justin Trudeau’s house, but then taxpayers are paying his gas bill and his carbon tax). I have added whatever insulation I could and added a second layer of windows, years before there was a carbon tax. What else can I do? Stop heating my house? Shower in cold water? (We are already washing our clothes in cold water.) A tax to force people to change their behaviour can only work if there are viable alternatives to switch to.
I could spend $8,000 to upgrade to a more energy-efficient furnace, but my furnace expert tells me that the savings would be minimal and the furnace would likely only last about ten years. (My current furnace is about 45 years old.) Furthermore, any reduction in my carbon footprint would likely be offset by the carbon emissions created in the manufacture and transport of my new furnace.
I could spend $10,000 to install solar panels on my roof and switch to electric heating, but that would likely save me at most only a little money on my monthly heating bills (it rains most of the winter here in British Columbia), and I simply don’t have the $10,000. Too often, “going green” is a rich man’s luxury and a poor man’s burden.
The carbon tax is supposed to force Canadians to reduce their carbon footprint. But I have already done everything I can reasonably do and can reasonably afford to do in order to reduce my carbon footprint. So, tell me: what earthly good is that $24 a month I am paying in carbon tax actually doing? How is me paying tax to the government saving the environment?
“I don’t know how that guy ever got elected or why people still support him. He is self-centered, egotistical, obsessed with his own image, and vindictive to those who oppose him. He broke the law, then lied about it and tried to cover it up. He has manipulated the electoral process, shown a limited grasp of public policy, made a mess of the immigration file, been accused of sexual misconduct, and shown disturbing racist tendencies. He has deeply divided his nation, and his lack of judgement and his offhand comments and tweets have made him a national and international embarrassment.”
“You’re right. Trump should be impeached.”
“Trump? I was talking about Justin Trudeau.”
Question: Why do the people who despise Donald Trump excuse Justin Trudeau, and the people who despise Justin Trudeau excuse Donald Trump? Are our moral judgments, righteous indignation, and political analyses just a cover for partisan prejudice? Are we able to judge both men (a well as other political leaders) by the same standard? If we do, I expect that we will see that both men have fallen far short of the ideal.
When my daughters were teenagers and began to bring home young men, I would attempt to engage them in conversation.
One day, the conversation gravitated toward music.
“Are you a musician?” I asked one prospect.
Yeah,” he replied. “I’m a drummer.”
The problem wasn’t that he thought drummers were actually musicians. The problem was that he was a drummer.
Oh, I admit that drummers may be useful in some ways, but they are hardly husband material. You see, drummers travel to a different beat.
Way back, when I was in the school band at my high school, the band was playing in rehearsal one day when they conductor suddenly stopped us by banging on a music stand with his baton.
When silence was achieved, he glared at the drummers and demanded, “Is that what is in your music?”
The drummers looked stupefied. They looked at the conductor, looked at each other, and then looked back at the conductor. Finally, one of them reached forward to his music stand and opened his music book.
The drummers didn’t care what the rest of us were playing. They didn’t care what the composer had written. They were just doing their own thing.
Matthew 2:1-12 tells the familiar story of the “wise men” coming to worship the baby Jesus. The story forms part of Christmas celebrations every year all over the world. In fact, in traditional church calendars, the wise men have their own special day, Epiphany on January 6. But do we ever think about the significance of the story? Who were these men, and why did they come? The Christmas carol calls them “kings” and focuses on the expensive presents they brought. But the Bible does not call them kings. It calls them “wise men” or “magi,” from which we derive our word “magician.” They were probably astrologers, people who thought they could interpret and predict world events by studying the movements of the stars. And they came from “the east” to Palestine to worship Jesus.
So, we know who these men were, but why would they come to worship the one who was “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2, NIV)? Judah was not even an independent nation then. One might undertake a journey of several months to see the future Roman emperor perhaps, but why the king of an obscure people like the Jews? And why bring expensive presents? These men weren’t Jewish, so why would a Jewish king matter to them? They obviously had some knowledge that convinced them that the birth of Jesus was important to them. What could it be? They didn’t know the Old Testament prophecy of Micah (5:2-4, quoted in Matthew 2:6) that had foretold that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem or they wouldn’t have had to stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions (Matthew 2:2).
The answer to that question may lie in the Old Testament book of Daniel.
In 605 BC, Daniel and a number of other young Jews were sent into exile in the Babylonian Empire. There they were taught “the language and literature of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:4), trained to serve in the Babylonian civil service. Fundamental to Babylonian knowledge were the secret arts of “the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers” (Daniel 2:2), the rituals and tricks which these practitioners could use to manipulate and coerce the gods into doing what human beings wanted.
Daniel 2 tells the story of a dream that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, had. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers to interpret the dream. When they could not do so (claiming that that this was impossible because such a task could only be performed by gods “and they do not live among humans”), Nebuchadnezzar decided to execute all of “the wise men” (Daniel 2:11-12). That is, he decided to execute essentially the entire civil service, including Daniel and his fellow Jews. Daniel, however, was able to save all of the wise men because “the God of heaven” (that is, the true God who had revealed Himself to the Jews) gave him the proper interpretation of the dream.
The dream was significant because it was a vision of a great statue in the shape of a man that would be destroyed and replaced by a rock that was cut out “but not by human hands.” Daniel explained that the statue, made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron/clay, represented four great human empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) that would follow in succession and then be replaced by a non-human kingdom, one not made by human hands, that is, the Kingdom of God. Since Daniel’s interpretation had saved the lives of “the wise men,” it would have made a great impression on them. It also made an impression on Nebuchadnezzar, who told Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods” (Daniel 2:47).
In Daniel 3, however, Nebuchadnezzar had a giant gold statue made in his image and demanded that all of his officials bow down and worship him in a massive public ceremony. Daniel was apparently not present on this occasion, but three of his Jewish friends were. The men we know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down, and some “astrologers” denounced them to the king. Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into a fiery furnace, probably the blast furnace used for smelting the gold. The three were unharmed by the flames and were joined by one who looked “like a son of the gods,” probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. The astrologers must have been astounded at the result, and Nebuchadnezzar issued a royal decree praising “the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (Daniel 3:28).
In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar had another dream. Again he summoned his “wise men,” that is, “the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” (Daniel 4:6-7) to interpret his dream, and again they could not. So he sent for Daniel, whom he called “chief of the magicians” (Daniel 4:9), and Daniel’s God again proved able to interpret the dream. In fact, the dream was a message of God to Nebuchadnezzar, warning him that if he did not “acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign” and renounce his sins “by doing what is right and…by being kind to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:25,27), he would be deposed as king. Nebuchadnezzar did not repent, went mad, lost his kingdom, and wandered alone in the wilderness. When he finally acknowledged the sovereignty of the true God, his “advisers and nobles” restored him to the throne (Daniel 4:36). Nebuchadnezzar then issued a decree to his entire empire and to people beyond it, describing his experience and praising “the King of heaven” (Daniel 4:37). He had apparently become a follower of the true God.
The direct witnesses to all of these events were the Babylonian “magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.” It is certainly possible that some of them also became followers of “the King of heaven.” In any case, the story of the remarkable events that had occurred would have become part of the literature of Babylon and would have been passed down to future generations.
Furthermore, the book of Daniel is unique in the Old Testament. Except for a few verses, the rest of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews. But the central part of the book of Daniel was written in Aramaic, the diplomatic language of the Babylonian Empire. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the book of Daniel, as well as Nebuchadnezzar’s royal proclamations, were probably still present in the Babylonian libraries and archives, in a language the Babylonians could read and understand.
The obvious conclusion, then, is that the “wise men” of Matthew 2 were some of the successors of the “magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” of Daniel’s time.
But that still does not explain why the wise men were convinced that the birth of Jesus, “the king of the Jews,” mattered to them. Yet the answer is obvious. Daniel 2 contains the prophecy of the four empires that were to be replaced by the Kingdom of God. Six hundred years later, the descendants of the wise men of Babylon would have been able to see that the prophecy had been absolutely correct in predicting the fate of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires. They did not make the long journey to Bethlehem to acknowledge the new king of the Jews. They came to celebrate the arrival of the one who was “like a son of the gods” and who would establish the Kingdom of God that would supersede all other kingdoms. And they were not surprised to find the baby in humble circumstances, because their ancestors had seen the true God use four refugee boys to overawe the might of the Babylonian Empire.
Three decades later, when the church of Jesus Christ was inaugurated at Pentecost, there were present people from “every nation under heaven,” including “Parthians, Medes and Elamites” (Acts 2:5,9), people who lived near the center of the old Babylonian Empire, people from the “the east,” where “the wise men” had come from. Although it is not widely known now, the early Christian church expanded quite quickly into the area that had once been the center of the Babylonian Empire. Was the way prepared by the wise men, influenced by the remarkable events and accurate prophecies recorded in the book of Daniel?
This article is adapted from the book Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us by James R. Coggins(Mill Lake Books, 2019).
Do you ever feel confused or disappointed with what
is going on in the world? Do you feel helpless before unwelcome trends in
society? Do you feel pressured and isolated by what seems to be a pagan,
God-defying culture all around you? Are you unsure of what you should do about
This is scarcely surprising. North American
Christians are living in a society that is increasingly non-Christian and
sometimes even anti-Christian. Accustomed to living in an at least nominally
Christian society, many North American Christians are unprepared for the new
reality. Where can they find a model for how to live for God in a God-defying
My new book, Living
for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us, argues that the early
chapters of the Bible book called Daniel offer just such a model. Living at a
time when the people of God had suffered a crushing and shocking defeat at the
hands of the pagan Babylonians, Daniel and his friends were immersed in a
society where the state, the education system, the culture and religion were
all thoroughly pagan. In this situation, Daniel and his friends committed
themselves to a course of action that North American Christians can use as a pattern
to guide their own lives.
The book consists of an introduction and ten
chapters. It concludes with study questions on each chapter and then a
statement of commitment, which summarizes the teaching of the book and which
the reader is invited to sign as an indication that he/she is committed to
putting into practice the lessons of the book.
“If you want to understand the times, culture,
message, and life of Daniel, James R. Coggins’s Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Usis
a must read. It is accessible (easy to read), informative (filled with history
and explanatory notes) and applicable to our time. Looking at the early
chapters of the book of Daniel, Coggins leads us into that world with an eye on
how we, the people of God, can live in today’s pagan-bent world. This vital and
important treatment of this critical moment in the ancient world will be
helpful for study groups, pastoral preaching and personal reflection on the
ways of God, then and today.”
– Brian C. Stiller, Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance
“In his relatively
concise look at the book of Daniel, James R. Coggins gives helpful insights
into the background, meaning and application of this Old Testament prophet.
While one will not find a detailed interpretation of the ‘prophetic’ elements
of the book (this is not Coggins’s intent), this volume does provide the reader
with a glimpse of the stories that run parallel to the prophecies and
stimulates reflection on their meaning for life in the 21st century. Coggins
does a good job of helping us understand the narratives and what we can learn
from them. Recommended as an aid for Bible teachers and preachers who want to
get some practical handles on an ancient text.”
– Ron Redekop, Senior Pastor, Richmond Alliance Church, Richmond, BC
Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us (ISBN: 978-0-9951983-8-8)
is published by Mill Lake Books and is available
through online retailers such as Amazon
and through local bookstores.
Donald Trump has occasionally done some things that are
right (which is why he got elected and why he still has supporters). But
generally his term as President of the United States has revealed him to be foolish,
erratic, self-centered, spiteful, impulsive, reckless, narrow-minded, and often
untruthful and dishonest. I get that.
What I don’t get is other people. Every time Trump speaks or
tweets, his words are greeted by an outpouring of surprise, shock, anger,
outrage, horror, disbelief, mocking, and calls for his impeachment. His every word
is reported and analyzed endlessly in the news media. Comedians, late night
talk show hosts, and others in the entertainment industry attack him
relentlessly, making him the prime target of their rants night after night. I
have friends, many of them Canadian, who tweet or post negative things about
Trump several times a day. Why? Don’t they have anything better to do? Is it
like a car crash that is so horrible that they just can’t look away? I should
say that I also have contacts—not as many— who tweet and post—not
things about Trump. But why this obsession with Donald Trump?
And why is the focus on Trump’s words? Some of his policies
make sense, and some of them don’t. But nobody seems to care greatly about
them. It is his words that everybody focuses on. And if people do comment on
his policies, they comment on what he has said about his policies, not about
the policies themselves. In fact, I am not sure that many Canadians, or even
Americans, know what his policies are. We know what he has said, but do we know much about what he has done?
Why the focus on Donald Trump’s words? It is not as if he is
revealing anything new or, in many cases, important or insightful.
And what good does it do? While everyone is busy responding
to Trump’s first words, he has often already contradicted himself, denied he
said it, or said something else, which everyone feels they must also respond to.
Why so much focus on Trump’s words, which receive far more attention than his
policies? Why so much arguing about words, which leave everyone as confused as
Why is there so much focus on Donald Trump in the media and
social media? Most of his ideas are not profound enough to waste time on.
Giving him that much attention just feeds into his agenda and bolsters his ego,
showing him how important and ground-breaking he is. And the more he is
attacked by other politicians, the media, and the entertainment industry (which
has enough shallow, self-centered egotists and scandals of its own, including
Trump at one time), the more his supporters rally around him, defending him
against “the conspiracy of the liberal establishment.”
Why do so many people keep letting Trump set the agenda?
Do people think that if he hears enough criticism, he will
change? Maybe, instead of attacking Donald Trump, people should just ignore
him. Maybe if he was denied attention, he would just wither away into the insignificance
he so richly deserves. Maybe if everybody focused on some other Republican, that
Republican would gain enough attention and support that he or she could run
against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Why reinforce Trump’s
position as the most important Republican?
And why all the concern with impeachment? The checks and
balances in the American system have worked well enough for the past three
years that he has not been able to bring about the end of the world. If Trump
ordered something truly catastrophic to be done, I suspect that his minions
would quietly ignore him and wait for his attention to shift to something else.
Surely Americans can put up with him and his nonsense for one more year.
Any attempt at impeachment would take a long time and would likely
founder on the rock of political partisanship since the Republicans still have
a majority in the Senate—just as Democrats countered Republican efforts to impeach
Bill Clinton for professional sexual abuse. Any impeachment attempt, whether it
succeeded or not, would be seen as a partisan effort—as it would be in reality
since the only impeachment process in the American system is handled by
politicians. There is no impartial judicial process to get rid of a sitting
president. Even if impeachment succeeded, it would still be greeted by partisan
bickering for months or years afterward. And the impeachment process would keep
the focus right where it is now—on Donald Trump.
Why all the focus on impeaching him when a much easier solution is available in the ballot box? Is everyone afraid he might be re-elected? If so, shouldn’t people be focusing instead on why Trump might be re-elected? What is he saying and doing that might get him re-elected? Never mind what is wrong with Trump. What is wrong with the other candidates that many people think Trump might be preferable? Why is no one thinking and talking about that?
Why do Republicans put up with all of this? Why are they determined to let Donald Trump spoil their brand and drag them down with him? Why don’t they run a candidate against him in the primaries? Just about any candidate would appear intelligent, reasonable, and attractive by comparison.
I particularly don’t understand the Democrats. They are so locked into their feud with Trump that they go to the opposite extreme on every issue. He wants to build a wall, so they advocate for totally unfettered immigration. He is a capitalist, so they are pushing for socialism. He is labeled a “conservative,” so they seek out and promote the most extreme forms of sexual politics and social engineering they can find. Every policy they propose is presented in terms of how it is different from one of Trump’s policies. Their speeches are full of vitriol, accusations, self-righteous anger, and name-calling, all directed at Trump. In fighting Trump, they have descended to his level. They are so busy bashing Trump that they are not thinking clearly about the American people and about the real issues that led people to vote for Trump in the first place. If the Democrats put up a middle-of-the-road candidate who could appeal to even some of Trump’s supporters, I think they would win in a landslide. If they could present a positive platform and an attractive vision for the country and offer a candidate who would appear presidential and statesmanlike, rising above the current deplorable state of American politics, Americans would most likely welcome that platform and that candidate with open arms. But they don’t. Why?
Have you ever experienced opening a fortune cookie and
finding a message that seemed very appropriate to your situation?
A while back, I was in a Chinese restaurant. My dinner
companion ate three fortune cookies and found three messages:
• “You can be lucky today regarding your romantic
• “Fun and excitement will soon be yours.”
• “Today is the day to make your move.”
Together, the three fortunes presented a very clear message,
a very clear path forward for my dinner companion. My dinner companion might
have considered the message very seriously and moved forward in his quest for
it weren’t for the fact that he was four years old.
When a golfer hits a hole in one (puts the ball into the
hole with only one strike of the ball), it is considered a remarkable
achievement. But is it really? The European Tour has set up a “Chase
the Ace” promotion in which it gives one of its professional golfers
500 chances in a row to hit a hole in one on the same hole. Several have tried
and failed. Would it be so remarkable? Average golfers get a hole in one once
in every 100,000 tee shots. Professional golfers on the European tour do it
once in every 2500 tee shots. Skill will get the ball close to the hole but
will not guarantee a hole in one. Consider that there are multiple variations
in the golfer’s swing, minute differences in the placement of the ball, and
vagaries of wind, green slope, and grass blades. It is impossible for a golfer
to control all of these variables. The reality is that if a golfer drives
enough balls toward a green, eventually he will get lucky and one ball will go
The same is true for fortune cookies, fortune tellers, and
other forms of “magic.” If you make enough predictions, eventually one will
turn out right—and that is the one that will be remembered, just as it is
the lucky hole in one that the golfer remembers.
There is in the human mind a desire to have magical answers
to the dilemmas if life, to have someone or something tell us exactly what to
that we will be absolved of the responsibility to make a decision.
The God of the Bible does give guidance, and sometimes it is
clear, specific, and direct. But often God lays out the general realities of
life, the principles of proper behavior, and leaves it to us to choose to do
right or not. We want to know which option will bring success and prosperity.
God is more interested in us choosing the option that is loving, just, and
One of the anomalies of the environmental
movement is the sources of its strength. Support for the Green Party varied
widely in the 2015
federal election, but where it produced its best results was
The greatest area of strength by far was on
Vancouver Island, where Elizabeth May won the only Green seat. The other area
of strength in British Columbia was Vancouver and its closest suburbs. The
party polled poorly in most of the interior of British Columbia.
The Green Party also did poorly in the
Prairies. In Ontario, its best showing was in smaller cities such as Guelph, Barrie,
and Thunder Bay.
In New Brunswick, its best showing was in the
city of Fredericton. The Green Party also did well in Prince Edward Island.
But the Green Party results are not the only
indicator of environmental commitment. The Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau
also championed the environmental cause. That party’s greatest strength across
the country was in big cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. The
Conservative Party, which was considered the weakest party on the environment,
found its greatest strength in rural areas, the agricultural areas and the
The strength of the Green Party on Vancouver
Island would seem to disprove this generalization, but it doesn’t really. The
Green Party found its greatest strength in the city of Victoria and along the
eastern coast of the Island, including the smaller islands between Vancouver
Island and the Mainland. These areas have large populations of retirees
(particularly professional people who practised their careers in cities farther
east); communities of artists and writers; and people who work in the tourist
industry. Opposition to the Trans-Mountain pipeline also boosted environmental
concern in that area.
The irony, then, is that the environmental
movement finds its greatest strength in cities. Perhaps those who live
surrounded by steel and glass high rises develop a longing for green forests
and open seas.
It is odd that environmentalists are thus more
often people with the least experience with the environment. Their food and
other goods come to them through stores. They do not have the experience of
farmers, fishermen, and loggers, who know that the necessities of life often
have to be wrested from the environment by hard work at great cost and even with
some destruction. People in rural areas have a more realistic and practical
experience of nature, while city dwellers can afford the luxury of maintaining
an idealistic view.
Similarly, for city dwellers, electricity
comes from an outlet in the wall. This helps explain the popularity of electric
vehicles and of wind and solar power in cities. Electricity, whether derived
from water, wind, or the sun, is generated in rural areas and mostly consumed
in the cities. Electric vehicles and rapid transit work well in cities, but
don’t make sense in rural areas. There is no transit in rural areas, they don’t
make electric combines to harvest wheat, and electric vehicles are impractical in
areas such as the Prairies, where there are long distances between charging
stations and where farmers have to drive 30 miles on rough roads just to pick
up the mail. Besides, with no mountains and waterfalls, hydroelectric power is
impossible on the Prairies, and electricity there is often generated by burning
The urban nature of the support for the
environmental movement may also indicate that there is a socio-economic
component to that support. For instance, the Green Party’s best showing in the
Vancouver area was in the wealthy suburbs of North Vancouver and West
Vancouver. The upper middle class, including university elites, the media, and other
members of the intelligentsia, can afford to pay more in carbon taxes and buy
more expensive, electric vehicles. They are also not concerned about the job
losses (the loss of working class jobs, that is) that might result from
environmental protection. This is not true of the working class, including the
working poor. Similarly, environmental activism is a luxury afforded only to
those with leisure time. The working classes are often too busy working to take
part in demonstrations and too poor to travel to protests and environmental
conferences. If you ask what Elizabeth May’s job was before she became an
environmental activist, the answer is that she never really had one. Similar to
Justin Trudeau, she has dabbled in a number of occupations but never seems to
have had to work for a living.
It is significant that the early environmental
movement in Europe was seen as “a reaction to the
urban conditions of the industrial towns.” It was often supported by
the landed gentry, who were living off the wealth accumulated by their
ancestors and who saw the industrial revolution as a threat to their own power
and wealth. They did not want the lower classes intruding into their forests
and estates to gain food, building materials, and other supplies.
Many supporters of the environmental movement
are extremely passionate about the issue, sometimes to the point of obsession.
This is partly obscured by the fact that the environmental movement is also
strong in universities and intellectual circles. But the philosophical roots of
the environmental movement lie in the Romantic Movement
of the 19th century, which arose in reaction against the Enlightenment, which
valued reason and science. Its emphasis was on “emotion
and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature.”
It presented a view of nature that was “unified and organic” (a view that
derived from philosophy rather than scientific study of nature) and suggested
that understanding nature required “an attitude of admiration, love and worship…a
personal response.” Theologically, it found ultimate meaning in Deism
(the idea that religious knowledge comes from observation of
the natural world rather than revelation) and the human spirit rather than
in organized religion. In one sense, in spite of the many scientific studies
which endorse it, the deep commitment to the environmental movement is based
more on emotion than on reason and science. This helps explain why one of the
people considered to be a leading expert in the environmental movement is a
16-year-old girl from Sweden.
The Romantic Movement was promoted by some of
the radicals who provided the ideology for the French Revolution and by English
poets such as William Wordsworth. They put forth the idea that there is a
balance in nature and it will function best if humans leave it alone―even
though this belies that fact that many species have gone extinct in the past without
As a corollary, early leaders of the Romantic Movement,
such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, also promulgated “the
myth of the noble savage,” the idea that indigenous peoples live in
idyllic harmony with nature and are more noble and altruistic than urbanized
people. It is significant that Rousseau
lived his whole life in Europe, mostly in cities, and his understanding of the
state of nature was theoretical rather than practical; his knowledge of
indigenous people was secondhand. Again, in the modern world, support for
indigenous land claims and aid to First Nations people seems higher in urban
areas than in rural areas, where people rub shoulders with actual aboriginal
people and whose land (and the jobs that go with it) could be taken to settle
land claims. In contrast to the Romantic Movement and the myth of the noble
savage is Hobbes’s view that life in a state of nature is “solitary,
poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
One of the great strengths of the
environmental movement is its idealism, its desire to restore a more perfect
world. One of the great weaknesses of the environmental movement is its
idealism, its belief that the industrial revolution can be reversed and we can
go back to living in a harmonious state of nature without cost, without pain
and suffering, and without severe economic dislocation.
Imagine you’re a General Manager assigned the task of assembling a winning National Hockey League team.
Would you pay two players $12 million each to produce 100 points (goals plus assists) in the 82-game regular season? Or would you rather pay four players $6 million each to produce 50-60 points in a season? Or would you pay eight players $3 million each to produce 25-35 points in a season?
As a General Manager (or GM) in the current NHL, those are the kinds of questions you would have to wrestle with.
Under the current salary cap, an NHL team can pay its players no more than $81.5 million in a season. Since each team has a maximum of 23 players on its roster, that means that the average player gets a salary of about $3.5 million. However, it is not quite that simple. For technical reasons (contracts bought out, salary retained from players who have been traded, etc.), most teams are paying a little of that $81.5 million to players who are no longer playing for the team.
Furthermore, player contracts are negotiated based on what a player is expected to produce or what the player used to produce, not on what a player actually produces. All teams have some players who produce less than they are being paid for—such as a $6 million player who produces only 20 points a season. Most teams also have players who produce at a higher level than expected. This is especially true of younger players. The NHL agreement with its players limits the salaries of new players in the league to about $1 million per season for their first three years. It is not unusual for one of these players to produce 50-60 points in a season.
Regardless, the basic question remains: What mix of players should a GM assemble for his team. Should he assemble players with similar levels of skill and pay them all $3.5 million? Or should he assemble players with different levels of skill and pay some players more and others less?
Higher paid players are often expected to play more minutes per game; therefore, per minute, the salary difference, while still large, is not as large as it might seem at first glance. On the other hand, playing more minutes brings the risk of burning out the $12 million player.
Now let’s look further at that $12 million player. Every GM seems to want one or two of them. That is why they jockey to get a top draft pick, hoping that a young player will develop into a $12 million player. And that is also why they offer huge contracts to free agents.
But is that the best strategy?
If your team is behind by a goal late in a game, you would surely want to have one of those $12 million players to put onto the ice to try to score a goal and tie the game up. But putting so much emphasis on one player (putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak), can leave you vulnerable. If that player is injured or the other team puts enough focus on preventing that one player from scoring, then your team might be left with no other options.
Also consider this: The more $12 million players a team has, the fewer medium-priced players it is likely to have. There is a limited amount of salary money to go around. The result might be a team that has great strengths in one area and great weaknesses in others. For instance, if the top forwards are paid more, the team’s defence might be weak. Or the first line might be great while the other three forward lines don’t score very much (in hockey parlance, the team lacks secondary scoring).
Let’s look at some concrete examples. In 2018-2019, the highest paid player was Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers at $12.5 million. (For the purposes of this article, I am using the “cap hit” or average annual salary.) The Oilers also had Leon Draisaitl at $8.5 million. McDavid did his part, producing 116 points, the second highest total in the league, and Draisaitl finished fourth with 105 points. However, the team only had two other players being paid over $5 million. The team finished 25th in the 31-team league.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had two players in the top six mostly highly paid players: Auston Matthews at $11.634 million and John Tavares at $11 million. Matthews produced 73 points (while playing in only 68 games due to injury) and Tavares 88 points. The Leafs had only three more players being paid over $5 million. The team finished 7th, but tailed off in the second half of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In the upcoming 2019-2020 season, the Leafs have three players in the $11-$12 million range, making up three of the seven highest paid players in the league. Their top two lines are likely going to score a ton of goals—and they will have to because the Leafs’ bottom two lines aren’t likely to score many at all.
At the other end of the spectrum, the top player on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos, was paid $8.5 million, and five other players were paid over $5 million. The Lightning were by far the best team in the regular season, but lost out in the first round of the playoffs.
The highest paid players on the Calgary Flames were Johnny Gaudreau at $6.75 million, Mike Giordano at $6.75 million, and Gary Monahan at $6.375 million. Two other players were paid more than $5 million. The Flames finished second in the regular season and also lost out in the first round of the playoffs.
The highest paid player on the Washington Capitals was Alex Ovechkin at $9.538 million. The Capitals paid eight other players over $5 million. They finished fourth in the regular season but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The highest paid player on the Boston Bruins was David Krejci at $7.25 million. The Bruins paid six other players more than $5 million. The Bruins finished third in the regular season and were the second best team in the playoffs, losing in the Stanley Cup final.
The highest paid players on the St. Louis Blues were Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly at $7.5 million each. They produced 68 and 77 points respectively. The team had seven other players paid over $5 million. The Blues finished 12th (tied with two other teams for 10th) in the regular season but had the best record in the second half of the season and eventually won the Stanley Cup.
Also consider this: Of the 12 players paid $10 million or more, seven played on teams that did not make the playoffs.
Hockey is a team game. The best strategy to have a winning team does not seem to be to acquire one or two $12 million superstars. Rather, the best strategy seems to be to have a cluster of very good players in the $5-$8 million range.
When most Canadians look at a
federal government budget (or a provincial government budget), they look to see
what is in it for them. Is there some new program or subsidy or grant that will
benefit them or their children? Is the government going to provide a home
ownership grant or a child daycare grant or an increase in government pensions
or even a new highway to their community? They also look at taxes. Is the
government going to increase (or decrease) income tax rates or sales tax rates
or impose a new tax on alcohol or gasoline or something else?
It seems that most citizens
look at elections the same way. They focus on what promises the various parties
have made that will benefit or harm them individually and then often use that information
to determine who they will vote for.
But most citizens never look
at the bigger picture, the overall budget and whether the government is
projecting a surplus or deficit. Most citizens assume that is not their
problem. That is a problem for the government or the politicians or someone
else to solve.
They are wrong.
How wrong are they?
That is not easy to answer.
It takes extensive digging to discover the facts. For instance, the 2019 budget
presented by the federal government last March 19 was a 460-page document, but
it contained very little factual data on government spending. It was a
philosophical treatise full of vague generalities such as “investing in the
middle class,” “building strong communities,” “building a nation of innovators,”
“advancing reconciliation,” “delivering real change,” and “advancing general
equality and diversity.” It said very little about what is actually being spent
and on what. No company would ever get away with such inexact financial
reporting. Shareholders (not to mention government regulatory agencies) would
never allow it.
It takes a fair amount of
diligent research into other government documents and non-government studies to
ferret out the facts. (One would almost suspect the government does not want
Canadians to know what is going on.)
The Bottom Line
Here are some of the facts.
Four years ago, Justin Trudeau
was elected promising to run “modest deficits” (of less than $10 billion a
year) for a couple of years and then balance the budget. Those modest deficits
turned out to be closer to $20 billion a year: $17.8 billion in 2016-2017, $19
billion in 2017-208, a projected $18.1 billion in 2018-2019, and a projected
$19.6 billion in 2019-2020. Those add up to $74.5 billion. (The Parliamentary
Budget Officer has since reported that the actual deficit for 2018-2019
was a little lower and the deficit for 2019-2020 might be a little higher.)
That $74.5 billion is on top
of the $600 billion
or so in deficits previous federal governments had already accumulated. And
Justin Trudeau is now promising to add another $93
billion in further debt over the next four years if his Liberal government is
re-elected. And the New Democratic Party and Green Party are promising even
higher levels of spending, which might result in even higher levels of debt.
But let’s ignore that for
now. Let’s just look at the $74.5 billion in new debt.
Where did the government get
the $74.5 billion? The answer is that it has borrowed that money from Canadians
and from non-Canadians, anyone it could find willing to lend the money. Just
like anyone else, when the government borrows money, it has to pay interest on
that debt—and the
interest payments can come from only one source, the Canadian taxpayer.
Now let us look again at that
$74.5 billion. Given that there are about 37
million Canadians, this means that the increased government debt
incurred by the Trudeau government alone amounts to about $2,000 for every
Canadian ($74.5 billion divided by 37 million citizens).
Canada’s total accumulated
debt amounts to over $18,500
for every Canadian, but let’s just talk about the debt incurred
under Justin Trudeau.
The government reports that
it is paying about 3.5% interest on that debt, which is a pretty favourable
interest rate. In fact, it is a historically low interest rate, and the rate
will most likely be higher in some future years. That means that the annual interest
on the Trudeau government’s debt currently amounts to about $70 for every
Canadian ($2,000 X 3.5%).
That means that next year,
you are going to be paying $70 in taxes to the government to cover the interest
on the debt incurred over the last four years. For that $70, you are not going
to get anything at all. No roads, no schools, no hospitals, no police protection,
nothing. It is like taking $70 from your pocket and burning it.
It gets worse. You are also
going to have to pay another $70 the next year. And the next year. And the next
year. And every year after that for the rest of your life. And your spouse is
going to have to pay $70 a year for the rest of his or her life. And so is each
one of your children. And your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren. The
debt will go on forever.
And that is assuming that the
Canadian government never runs another deficit and always balances the budget
every year from now on. The debt will still go on forever.
Unless, that is, we decide to
pay it off. So, next year, let’s all agree to pay an extra $2,000 each to the
government and pay this thing off. Don’t forget to kick in an extra $2,000 for
your spouse and each of your children.
Too much? Okay, let’s pay
this off a little more gradually. Let’s all pay $140 a year instead of $70 (and
don’t forget to add another $140 for your spouse and $140 for each of your
children). Remember this is $140 for which you will get absolutely nothing. No
roads, no schools, no hospitals, no police protection. Nothing. It will all go
to pay off the debt, including interest. Will that work? Sure. But it will take
about 15 years. Can you afford that?
Remember, also, that every dollar
the government spends on interest is a dollar that it does not have available for
roads and schools and hospitals. In 2017-2018, the federal government paid
$21.9 billion in interest on its accumulated debt. In 2019-2020, the government
is expected to pay $26.2 billion on interest. And the amount is expected to
continue to rise every year in the future unless something changes. Think about
how much good the government could do with $26.2 billion if it wasn’t wasting
it on interest payments. Think of the new programs that could be implemented.
Think of the taxes that could be reduced or eliminated. (If it were not for
interest payments, the government would be running sizeable surpluses every
year.) Think of what you yourself could do with that extra money as a result of
the lowered taxes.
Let Someone Else Pay
Now perhaps you are saying
that you don’t make that much money, you pay very little (or even nothing) in
income tax every year, so you will not really have to pay your share of the
debt anyway. Let the government tax the rich or tax big companies. Let them pay
for your share of the debt.
But you are forgetting about
sales taxes (remember the GST?) and levies such as carbon taxes. You pay taxes
on almost everything you buy. But it gets worse. There are also hidden taxes on
some goods (such as gasoline). And don’t assume that the taxes that big
businesses pay will have no effect on you. Companies pay payroll taxes for
their employees and sales taxes and carbon taxes and import duties and various
other fees and licenses. There are taxes on everything companies produce, import,
transport, or sell. How do these companies get the money to pay all those
taxes? By raising the price of the goods and services they sell to you. There
is at least a slice of tax embedded in everything you buy. You are going to
pay. No matter how you try to avoid it, you are going to pay.
Now, you may ask: Isn’t there
some theory that says it is sometimes good for a government to run a deficit in
order to stimulate the economy?
You are talking about
something popularly called “Keynesian economics” (named after a 20th-century
economist named John Maynard Keynes). The theory is actually quite complex, and
it was not all developed by Keynes, but let’s simplify the issue.
In general, Keynesian
economics suggests that a government should spend more than it brings in in
taxes in bad times. This will stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.
Conversely, when times are good, the government should raise taxes, cut
spending, and run a surplus in order to slow down the economy and prevent
inflation. There is some merit to the theory, and it works in a general sort of
Something similar works for
individuals. Remember that year when you lost your job? You borrowed money to
pay your bills until you could get a new job. Then, when you were working
again, you began to pay off the debt or even put some money into savings to
help you out on the next “rainy day” when you would have some unexpected extra
expenses or some reduction in your income.
It works in theory, for individuals
and for governments. Except that too many governments (and, it must be said,
too many individuals) never get around to the second half of the theory. They
never get around to paying off their debt or saving for the future.
What Justin Trudeau’s Liberal
government has done over the past four years is particularly irresponsible. It
has run massive deficits (of close to $20 billion a year) at a time when the
economy was doing very well and unemployment was very low. It might be
remembered that the Stephen Harper government ran big deficits to counter the
effects of the 2008 worldwide recession, and it worked very well for the Canadian
economy. But once the recession was over, the Harper government began moving toward
running small surpluses to pay off the debt it had accumulated.
In contrast, there is
absolutely no economic justification for the deficits the Trudeau government has
It Could Get Worse
There is an even bigger
danger to governments running unnecessary and irresponsible deficits. Essentially,
it puts government finances in a precarious situation. It means that the government
will not be able to respond appropriately when the next recession hits. If it
is already running a large deficit, it will not be in a position to increase
the deficit to counter the recession without facing very serious consequences.
When a government’s debt becomes too great, lenders will refuse to lend any more
money and/or will charge higher interest rates. At that point, the government
will be forced to cut spending, reduce government grants and services, and
increase taxes. This will deepen the recession and throw millions of people out
of work. In essence, when a government (or an individual) gets too deeply onto
debt, it goes bankrupt.
If that happens, it will very
definitely affect you.
We may think it won’t or
can’t happen here, but it can. It has happened recently in Greece and Spain and
many other countries. Lending analysts have already begun expressing concern about
the increasing levels of Canadian government debt and issuing warnings about
possible interest rate increases.
So, does the Canadian
government’s budget deficit matter to you? Absolutely, it does.