Democracy is arguably the best political system we have. As the world scarily reverts to authoritarianism (see: Turkey, The Philippines, Venezuela, and most recently, Hungary), those of us who live in advanced Western democracies should feel fortunate that our civil rights have not been eroded to the same extent.
Of course, to say that democratic systems have extended full rights to everyone would be laughable, and moreover, our democracies are polluted by the ever-present stench of big money. Money is a two-way street: the rich fund political campaigns, and then governments spend money to appease donors. But before an election campaign, a third way opens up (don’t try too hard to imagine what a three-way street would look like): the vote buy.
When an election is on the horizon, the incumbent party magically finds money that wasn’t there previously to fund initiatives that attract voters. (After all, you can’t win an election if nobody votes for you.) And it’s telling whom the initiatives attract: they tend to be gifts to the middle class, leaving the poor in the lurch. One of the most salient recent examples is Stephen Harper’s Conservative government raiding the contingency fund in 2015 to post a budget surplus after years of running deficits while promising a doubling of the contribution limit to tax-free savings accounts (a financial instrument used mostly by the upper middle class).
Harper went on to lose the 2015 federal election, so vote buying has its limits, but that hasn’t stopped politicians from continuing to give it a go. Look no further than the upcoming Ontario provincial election for examples of this. Premier Kathleen Wynne recently made waves by promising free daycare for children aged 2.5 to 4. On the surface, this seems like a wonderfully progressive idea; after all, an inability to secure good childcare keeps thousands of women out of the workforce, contributing to gender inequality. But further reflection reveals how half-baked this plan is. There is no corresponding supply-side intervention, so the number of daycare spots probably won’t increase much, if at all. Moreover, there’s no lottery system, so the kids who are currently in daycare, including those younger than 2.5, aren’t going anywhere. And who could already afford daycare without the subsidy? You guessed it: the upper middle class. Make no mistake: this subsidy is a gift to them, and it will not help poor parents whose kids aren’t already in childcare. This regressive policy is no substitute for a government-funded and -operated universal childcare program, and we should be extremely wary of it.
What are your “favourite” examples of the middle class vote buy? Share them in the comments below.
This week’s addition to the Leftorium playlist is Phil Ochs’ “Love Me, I’m A Liberal.”